Dienstag, 30. April, 19.00 Uhr
«UNTITLED» (A PORTRAIT) 1991. USA. Felix Gonzalez-Torres. 5 min.
«MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT» 1968. Tomas Gutierrez Alea. 93 min.
The rarely seen video «Untitled» (A Portrait) presents the titular portrait without specifying the identity of its subject. Phrases that appear in white letters, mostly at the bottom of the otherwise empty blue ground, such as «a new lesion» and «a shortness of breath,» seem specific to individual experience.
Such incidents intermingle with apparently far-reaching
proceedings — «a stock market crash,» «a rise in unemployment» — thereby confounding the notion of a simply personal episode, and dislodging the boundaries of what is considered private and what is considered public. In A Portrait disparate events converge, assembling identity.
«Untitled» (A Portrait) invokes the mode Felix Gonzalez-Torres used in his dateline Photostat works, begun in 1987, which memorialize the collision of market culture and historical memory, with a list of non-chronological lists of events and dates typeset in italicized Trump Mediaeval Bold letters, which are reproduced in white at the bottom of a small-scale, landscape-format black field.
Patty Hearst 1975 Jaws 1975 Vietnam 1975 Watergate 1973 Bruce Lee 1973 Munich 1972 Waterbeds 1971 Jackie 1968
Gonzalez-Torres’s video also summons to mind the text portraits that he began making in 1989, beginning with his own self-portrait, and thereafter composed collaboratively by the artist and the portrait’s «sitter.» The text portraits consist of terms that denote benchmark events and dates, strung together to create a portrait of an individual and, in some cases, an institution. Those works also conflate signs of personal and social histories.
«Untitled» (A Portrait) can be viewed in two different forms. Most often it is screened in an installation for which the video is played continuously on a small monitor placed atop a pedestal. Located in front of the monitor are two Arne Jacobsen chairs, set side-by-side, suggesting the shared living experiences that typify romantic unions. With permission from the owner of the work, the video can also be screened as a one-time event, specified for «educational purpose.» –Julie Ault
Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s Memorias del Subdesarrollo was an important film to Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It begins with an open-air dance scene set to live Cuban music, which is punctuated by gunshots that don’t disturb the musicians’ tempo. In fact, as the music continues to play, it gets faster and livelier as the crowd begins to show signs of recognition that a crime has indeed taken place. A shot reveals that a young boy has been killed, and he is slowly carried out of the scene as people watch and the music
This is a film about the Cuban revolution and the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, but more than that, it is a film about the complexity of political engagement in a «real» political situation. To quote Sergio, the narrator we meet in the next scene, thinking about Picasso’s promised dove for the revolution, «it is easy to be a Communist millionaire all the way in Paris.» For Sergio, an educated and wealthy Cuban who decides to stay in his native country, the situation is far more complicated.
He says goodbye to his wife and his parents on the same day. Eventually his best friend will depart for the US as well. In the following scenes, sexual, emotional, and political desire become intertwined as Sergio sets off in search of a woman to replace his wife and selfconsciously analyzes how each woman he pursues personifies a different political reality. Cuban Elena, for instance, is underdeveloped, whereas German Hannah is Europeanized.
Yet this conflation of lovers and ideologies only underscores how gray the social and political reality is in Cuba beneath the blackand-white sloganeering of the revolution. The opening scene, for example, is never explained or linked to anything in particular, yet it returns and repeats again after Sergio leaves a round-table discussion about Cuban literature in the wake of independence. During the conversation, an American stands up and asks in English: «What is revolutionary about a round-table discussion?» As tensions escalate and the newspaper headlines proclaim Kennedy’s announcement about the existence of ballistic missiles off the coast of Cuba, the narrator moves from this main headline to the next story of the day about a dog with two hearts, and then to the next, and so on.
It is no wonder why this film appealed to Gonzalez-Torres: Gutierrez Alea’s work asks questions about how one is to act «revolutionarily,» and how complicated and impossible it is to extricate such a practice from everyday life. – Amy Zion
These films are shown on the occasion of the exhibition Tell It To My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel.