November 25, 2009
I finally had a chance to see (Untitled), in a theater. It’s an independent film directed by Jonathan Parker. The film is a satire of the art world, set in New York, about Adrian (Adam Goldberg), a struggling avant-garde composer, his brother Josh (Eion Bailey), a successful painter, and Madeleine (Marley Shelton), a gallery owner, who manages Josh’s work to support her gallery. She won’t let him show his work in her gallery though, nor will she entertain him as a romantic interest, despite his desire for both. Most of the film focuses on her relationship with the serious Adrian, as she attempts to expose his work to the art world and takes a sexual liking to him as well.
The film has been very well-reviewed, which impressed me before seeing it, because the plot seems like one that could easily be too pretentious. I think the film’s biggest strength is in its simulation of its art world. This lends the film a degree of satirical credibility and, importantly, legibility. The music and art in the film, created by musicians and artists for the film, are actually really good and have obviously been thoughtfully made.
And, check this out. A parenthesis in the already parenthesized film?
This specific piece didn’t play a significant role in the film–it wasn’t really remarked upon, but I was lucky to find it in the trailer. It hangs in a show at Madeleine’s gallery; it is preceded on-screen by a tilt from its title card, which reads:
This was one of several pieces featured in a show (in the film) by an artist, who presents single found objects and presents them as art–such as a post-it note, a thumbtack, a pencil, and this parenthetical bit of rubber whose title is shared with the film itself.
I’d be interested in comparing this to Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know. These two films have a lot in common–both are independent productions about artists and the contemporary art world, and they both use parentheses prominently (in this film’s title, in Me and You‘s advertising, and both within the films themselves). Considering these films together, parentheses seem suggestive of independent and art-world aesthetics, and, interestingly, both films almost seem to conceive of themselves as parenthetical to the art worlds they depict, or vice versa–self-consciously and light-heartedly aware of their own statuses as art films.
These parenthetical aesthetics might be traced through other independent media texts as well. I’m thinking of (500) Days of Summer, the pop song by the indie band The Blow, called “Parentheses,” and the album simply titled () by the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.
(Untitled) raises questions about what art is today–questions that have, throughout art history, been asked when people confront new works of “art” that previously would not have been considered art, such as found objects like pencils and pieces of rubber.
This piece above is called Conversation Map (I worked on my film today. Are you dating someone now?). To generate this image, Warren Neidich attached lights to people’s fingers and arms as they conducted a conversation in sign language, photographing the light movement in long exposures, digitizing, superimposing, and then coloring the resulting “conversation map.”
In her book Digital Art, Christiane Paul writes of Neidich’s work, “Through the use of digital technology, Neidich’s conversation maps not only document and visually translate a process but also represent it as comparative conversational patterns. The original photograph is transformed into a seemingly painterly abstraction. A notable characteristic of digital images that focus on aspects of encoding and visualization is that the process and meaning of an image do not always reveal themselves on the visual level but often rely on external contextual information to help ‘explain’ the work.”
So, for example, in the case of Neidich’s work–and so much art–a key piece of “external information” is the work’s title, directing us how to form a relation to the work we are trying to experience. In this case, the title marks a point from which the image-generating process began, which the final image is somehow a representation of. But we would never be able to look at the image and read it as “I worked on my film today…”–we need the artist to give it to us in his title, in parentheses.