Press release / remote control revolts and psycogeographic cults
Three-minute occupation of the San Francisco Art Institute
An American Film critic questioned Jean-Luc Godard about his politics. Rightly or wrongly the interviewer’s question is phrased in such a way that the reader is given a suggestion of Godard's historically changeable political affiliations. As the film critic pursued the line of questioning further, asking if Godard was ever a Marxist, Godard's reply was that he never read Marx, and his only reason for talking about Marx was a desire to be provocative "...mixing Mao and Coca-Cola and so forth." This is typical Godard in many respects: A man who has spent the majority of his adult life quoting directly and indirectly from the writings of Marx and Mao in both interviews, critical writings and his films, and yet he will not even confirm his own reading of the material. This line of questioning early in the interview likely refers indirectly to the events of May 1968 and questions in what context Godard places himself in film history as a participant and an observer.
Critic: ".... are you still out on the barricades?"
Godard: "One can be a good critic and a moral observer, but one remains professionally detached as a writer and a film-maker. I didn't have to pick up a rifle to make La Chinoise.”
Godard continued, “¬There are no such things as just images, there are just images.” I suppose he meant that words are metaphoric and symbolic, a streamlined signifying system, whereas images, photographic and filmed ones especially, have something irreducible about them; they just are what they are. This makes them both less and more trustworthy than words. They are less so because they're pinned to the literal, the circumstantial, the contingent, the trivial; more so because they make no claim to platonic statements of truth. They lack the authoritarian bluster of words. Images are what they are. And we like them because we know what we like.
Debord’s understanding of the fetishism of the commodity, is stated as “the domination of society by ‘intangible as well as tangible things’ – attains its ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle, where the real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality.
The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. The world of the commodity is thus shown for what it is, because its development is identical to people’s estrangement from each other and from everything they produce.” So in essence the moment something emerges, it absolutely becomes part of the spectacle.
I created this piece to exist as an alternative history. It is a fragment of a larger cut up film that I imagine. One where 5 non-student subversive conceptual artists occupy the San Francisco Art Institute for a four-day weekend starting on a Friday. This is only a three-minute fragment of the film. It depicts the emblematic occupation of the school by honorably hanging and displaying a large red and black flag from the windows of the old school church tower. The red-and-black flags are the symbol of the anarcho-syndicalist and anarcho-communist movements. Black is the traditional color of anarchism, and red is the traditional color of socialism
In orchestrating and performing the happening, we were at full play and able to live in the moment. It’s ironic that in the act of making a film, an art film no less, we were living fully. I think it has something to do with making and altering signs and seeing reality change. It doesn’t matter if the school was never occupied, because it already happened. I want to add to your dreams, to your possibilities. However, I can’t help but hear Guy Debord saying “Art is dead, destroy the cinema.” He is so literal, were as Jean-Luc Godard’s work mixes metaphor with re-creation of texts and histories; a cinematic world where not only is everything possible, but a cinema and language that contests the viewer's knowledge.
In my undergraduate college career, which spans from 2000 – 2009, I have seen the fall of many administrations, many bankruptcies, and the loss of great facility and resources. This took some getting used to and actually led me to be politically active in a series of art schools and alternate subverted histories. However long it took me to digest and put to practice my subversive ideologies does not matter. Art is what shines in the moments when I can’t find my footing in this life.
I am a product of Hollywood. My mother is Cheryl the original Disney Mouseketeer and my father is a self-made post-production studio owner four times over. I was born in Corona Del Mar, California by the beach, and moved a lot from LA’s centry city to Aspen, Colorado and back with a lot of stops in the middle. My work reflects a certain kind of Hollywood: A Vietnam in the bosom of Hollywood.
I discovered the French New Wave and its critical awareness to which I am indebted. When I was about 22 I met my friend Daniel Fee who introduced me to Guy Debord’s writings and films. He insisted that I know, because I was in art school and I was hell bent on tinkering with the system. About a year earlier I was in big brother video in Chicago. I couldn’t help but watch the in-store movie playing from the ceiling-mounted television. I had never seen any film quite like it. It was “Sympathy for the Devil” also known as “One plus One.” The cut up images and political similarities to things I kind of knew about were so totally stylized and the format of the film was so new to me that I watched the whole movie in the store and rented it right there on the spot. I had to examine the film closer. Since these days I have reviewed every Jean-Luc Godard film and attended nearly every situationist lecture and workshop from coast to coast.
“A camera is merely a flashlight to examine your gun with.” Godard
I am producing a set of artifacts and an actual three-minute event. The artifacts were created with the aid of two cameras. One still and the other super-eight film. The work consists of a red and black flag seven feet wide by sixteen feet long. The two flags are displayed in the manner of activist banner drops. The draping was performed from the windows perched on the top of the famed tower at the San Francisco Art Institute. I filmed and photographed while two of my closest friends acted out this attempted symbolic occupation. The film is one shot that starts with no flags. The flags are then unfurled and flap in the wind only to have the film roll out to black. The end. A three minute icon of occupation, mythic or not. It serves to build a discourse of what if and what is possible. I also believe that this document serves to add to the potential for new dreams to emerge as this occupation would most likely never happen. For a brief moment I can envision a world where Godard and Guy Debord are both correct, both creation and destruction.
Godard attempts to guide and politicize the youth by giving them a means to better understand communication in "modern life, in which one is condemned, abandoned, twenty-four hours a day to limitless authority. The military system co-exists perfectly with the industrial system, the logic of money with that of the establishment."
My theoretical interpretation does not seemingly fuse with Guy Debord but the works per formative aspects are creating a new situation. As he states in Society of the Spectacle, “…there are now people who pride themselves on being authors of films, as others were authors of novels. They are even more backward than the novelists, because they are unaware of the decomposition and exhaustion of individual expression in our time, unaware that the arts are sometimes praised for their sincerity since they dramatize with more personal depth the conventions of which their life consists. There is talk about “liberating the cinema.” But what does it matter to us if one more art is liberated to the point that Tom, Dick, or Mary can use it to complacently express their servile sentiments? The only interesting venture is the liberation of everyday life, not only in a historical perspective but for us right now. This project implies the withering away of all the alienated forms of communication. The cinema, too, must be destroyed.”
The Cinema too must be destroyed?
Well I understand his point but I have to go on making things to discourse about. If I want to teach, I have to do so by practice. My practice is making art. To which I say I am fully alive within my work.
Debord continues, “The point is to understand what has been done and all that remains to be done, not to add more ruins to the old world of spectacle and memories. We will ask nothing. We will demand nothing. We will take, occupy.” Pg 23-24 (the complete cinematic works of Guy Debord) Both Godard and Debord understand the complications of language and both want to free it for political means. Godard is naive in his views historically but still an auteur and a prophetic one at that. Debord’s political apparatus is that of total subversion, an attempted utopian reversal of all systems.
An auteur is a film director who expresses an optimistic image of human potentialities within an utterly corrupt society.
Debord creates a context in which to hack anything.
In my work, I call upon the tools and perspectives of Godard and Debord to play out the possibilities of a revolution for the hell of it.
“Three Minute Occupation of the San Francisco Art Institute” subtly makes use of Debord’s idea of détournement in its simplest form. This is when an artist consciously reuses elements of well-known media to create a new work with a different message, often one opposed to the original. Détournement is similar to satirical parody, but employs more direct reuse or faithful mimicry of the original works rather than constructing a new work which merely alludes strongly to the original. It may be contrasted with recuperation, in which originally subversive works and ideas are themselves appropriated by mainstream media.
Debord describes détournement as “the flexible language of anti-ideology. It is a language that cannot and need not be confirmed by any definitive certainty. On the contrary, its own internal coherence and practical effectiveness are what validates the previous kernels of truth it has brought back into play. Détournement has grounded its cause on nothing but its own truth as present critique. Such theory is not durably autonomous.
By introducing into the theoretical domain the same type of violent subversion that disrupts and overthrows every existing order, détournement serves as a reminder that theory is nothing in itself, that it can realize itself only though historical action and through the historical correction that is its true allegiance. The point is to actually take part in the community of dialogue and the game with time that up until now has merely been represented by poetic and artistic works.”
(The Complete Cinematic Works of Guy Debord)
I think Debord is aware of his theoretical hypocrisy in the creation of the filmic Society of the Spectacle. As stated within the film and text, “The very style of the dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination to the prevailing standards of language and to the sensibilities molded by those standards, because while it makes concrete use of existing concepts, it simultaneously recognizes their fluidity and their inevitable destruction.
This style, which includes a critique of itself, must express the domination of the present critique over its entire past.
The meaning of words plays a role in the improvement.
Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it.
It sticks close to an author’s phrasing, exploits his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.
The central claims in Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One): "There is only one way to be an intellectual revolutionary, and that is to give up being an intellectual." This quote is indicative of his changing stance on both cinema and the appropriate ideology of the revolutionary. By 1969 Godard had revised this position, believing the only path was by being both an intellectual and a revolutionary.
Anne Wiazemsky's character Eve Democracy is one of the only characters who moves within the gaze of the camera. It is by her action, contrasted with the static, intellectualizing revolutionaries that she is judged to be a true revolutionary. The vision is representative of the shift Godard made between 1968 and the beginnings of his work with collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin. The flying of the two flags at the end of One Plus One suggests a split allegiance by Godard, and with the destruction of 'Democracy' between the two, it is not difficult to see that Goddard’s revolutionary aesthetic was still split both politically, and cinematically. His revealing of the cinematic apparatus in the closing minutes of the film suggests this division. Later work such as British Sounds (1969) and Pravda (1969) address this division, also flying flags, 'but only one flag: the red one'.
Godard internationalizes the focus of revolution in Sympathy for the Devil by his examination of both youth culture and what Revel perceived as the ten issues which illustrate the possibility of a revolution in the United States.
A new approach to moral values; the black revolt; women's liberation; rejection of economic and social goals; advocacy of non-coercion in education; poverty; social equality; rejection of authoritarian culture; rejection of American power politics; and concern with the natural environment.
It is these issues, which Godard most closely identifies with and wishes to address in Sympathy for the Devil. Youth in 1968 held the promise for Godard of successfully causing a revolution. Increasingly the issues of revolution were fought not only in a unified way, but also under the knowledge that 'the personal is political'. Battles were often fought between the individual and the evolving technocratic 'industrial system'. Godard's sympathies obviously lie with the revolutionaries; however, his perceived enemy is still the language each uses to employ their ideology.
Technology’s uses and availability were bringing about new methods of communication. But what is more important, it bought new methods of examining communication. Marshall McLuhan's influential book Understanding Media published in 1964, its popularity was immense amongst people such as Abbie Hoffman and provided a key to understanding the media and more importantly for Abbie, lessons in how to influence and get what you want from the media.
McLuhan's saying "The medium is the message" appears almost trite in today's media-saturated environment, but the book still reminds the reader how susceptible the media-watching public is. Godard's Sympathy for the Devil reorganizes many of McLuhan's principles into visual form, reinterpreting the visual and sound mediums into ill-fitting and incompetent forms of expression that are limited in their effect to communicate on a basic human level. Godard's cautious warning appears to be that the medium is insufficient, remaining a spectacle of its message.
'Cinema is not one image after another, it is one image plus another, out of which is formed a third, the latter being formed in addition by the viewer the moment he or she makes contact with the film . . .’
Last scene from Sympathy for the Devil
“Near by running around were a whole bunch of fools running around making noise. Who were they? Why were they running around? To be there like that, they must be making a film…”
Eve (Democracy) is dead and the camera crane carries her away in the sky, the beach below as the red and black flags whip in the wind framing the studio film camera.
Someone: Yes, it was all a waste of time; I’ve got to do some thing. I’ve got to get away from this mess….
[I used two whole reams of felt for the flags that were liberated from a going out of business sale and the film was financed with money earned by selling a beater guitar I found in the street on the way to SFAI. The cameras used were whatever I had available at my disposal, old and half-broken but functioning enough to let the images permeate. I hope this helps illuminate how my creative efforts makes these images come to life. In one way I feel this film is for the love of my art school and its potential, and what has come before my time. My time is now. I want to scream “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (“Network”)
This work is made for all the revolutionary contexts that have existed now and forever. This act is a metaphor that juxtaposes architecture, a political history of education, and the incorporation of the fine arts in capitalism.
I will try to make work that will help instill the concept of the freedom of life at play. With guidance it will slowly trickle down the meme falls of crystallized collective consciousness.]
This work had to be created. you see in the end of the the joy of learning another film by JLG that he is calling us to make the films that have yet to be made about revolution. everything has been left to be filmed.
The joy of learning excepts ending
narrator: Philosophers must themselves look to the unemployed.
Anne: Yea and there’s also that shot of them...
Jean: Other filmmakers will shoot them.
Anne: They will? They will for who?
Jean: Well, they will do it for the people.
Anne: It sounds like method and sentiment together.
Anne: It’s a bit vague what we have discovered.
Jean: In other words this film is a failure…
Jean: No, not really, in fact not at all. Listen whet better ideal to propose to the man of today. Other wise regaining through knowledge of the void they themselves discovered. Godspeed, Anne.
Anne: God is dead, Jean-Pierre.
Narrator: The film didn’t want to or could not explain cinema nor constitute its object, but even more modestly give an efficient method of achieving it. This film is not the film that needs to be made, but how if we have a film to make? We necessarily have to go through the well-known paths of film.
Godards "A letter to my friends to learn how to make films together."
i play you play we play at cinema you think there are rules for the game be you are a child who does not yet know what is a game and what is reserved for grown ups.
which you already are.
because you have forgotten
There are several rules.
here are two or three.
looking in the mirror of other people
quickly and slowly
the world and oneself
thinking and speaking
its and odd game and that’s life.
all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun
Interview, July, 1994, p. 84
The Complete Cinematic works of Guy Debord - Guy Debord
Society of the Spectacle - Guy Debord
Everything is Cinema - Richard Brodey
Beneath the Paving Stones - Darkstar
Godard on Godard - JLG