Monday, November 26, 2007


THE DESTROYED ROOM (Jeff Wall, 1978)

LA CHAMBRE (Chantal Akerman, 1972)

Both Jeff Wall and Chantal Akerman began making their major works in the 1970s, Wall working with photography and Akerman working primarily with film. Wall was producing highly constructed original images at a time when photography was primarily a conceptual outlet; the major works of the time being re-photographed images exploiting Baudrillard’s idea of simulacra. Akerman was highly influenced by American experimental filmmakers like Michael Snow and Andy Warhol, exposed to many examples of the materialist (or as Sitney would put it, structuralist) films being produced at the time. Both artists were well aware of the ideas behind the art being made at the time, but went about exploring these ideas in a manner opposed to the norm. Many of Wall’s photographs are often described as “cinematic;” they are completely fabricated and often seem to imply a larger narrative (which is of course dichotomically opposed to the completely anti-narrative re-photographic work). Akerman was also often using narrative to exploit concepts and techniques pioneered in the experimental work of the time. However, in the case of Wall’s “The Destroyed Room” and Akerman’s La Chambre, narrativity is used to do something other than tell a story. Both artworks establish a visual representation of a physical space; a bedroom apartment. The reason that Akerman’s film and Wall’s photograph work the way they do is due to the fact that both pieces establish and then deny the spaces they present as a performative space.

From the point of view of narrative, Wall’s constructed space clearly implies the result of a dramatic action. From some event that has transpired, a bedroom has been trashed, destroyed. But Wall’s photograph denies anything but the direct result of this narrative; there is nothing that signifies why or how the event transpired. It is arguable that the result of an action is enough to inspire a possible narrative, but Wall’s refusal to contextualize the room within a larger space (as explored in more detail below) means that the viewer cannot do this. The isolation of the room means that there is nothing from outside affecting the action, which takes away any presumed possibility of narrative. Akerman’s film works in a similar way, existing as what is essentially a ten minute establishing shot, revealing all aspects of the bedroom but having absolutely nothing occur within it. Akerman’s film even takes what is presented a step further, by placing a human character (in this case, Akerman herself) inside of the space. But once again, any narrativity is denied due to the character that Akerman places in the space doing absolutely nothing. The character may as well be another chair or lamp or object that simply exists in the room. Spaces are presented, and as bedrooms they are undeniably spaces where action happens, but no action is present.

The first step the artists take to deny the performative space is to subvert the expectations of the medium each is using in terms of temporal relevance. At the time Wall produced his photograph, the art world’s idea of the photograph was remarkably different from that of the medium's history. At the time, the photograph was primarily a tool for documentation and a conduit for concepts. But photography also holds the inherent concept of being a tool to “freeze” time. Wall manages to take both of these ideas and subvert them: Wall is not documenting an art piece or an event, rather he is building a construct for no other reason than to photograph it; the constructed room is not the art work, the photographic transparency displayed in a commercial light box is--he is not documenting anything. Rooted in traditional painting, he is also not merely presenting a concept, he is depicting a space with the medium of the camera. He is also subverting the idea of “freezing” time by not allowing any temporal signifiers into the photograph–the image that the viewer looks at could also be presented on film stock at 24 frames per second and the image would be exactly the same. There is an absence of anything living, and within it’s artificial construction, there is a total absence of life–-time has disappeared from the world of the photograph. There is nothing present in the frame that could indicate any sort of progression; the sun will not set because the light in the image is artificial, there are no people present in the frame to progress from point A to point B, and there is nothing organic that can decay. The image isn’t necessarily frozen, it never existed as a temporal space in the first place. Akerman’s subversion of the expectation of the medium also holds a reliance on time: film itself is a time-based medium; the primary reason one would create an image with motion-picture film over another medium is due to the fact that the medium allows a progression of time: painting, photography, and drawing all can present only what is essentially a single frame of motion-picture film (from here on out referred to simply as “film” for convenience). But there is ostensibly no progression in Akerman’s film. Rather, Akerman’s camera simply pans around the confines of a room: once again no temporal signifiers are present. Arguably there is a horizontal movement, but that is irrelevant to what Akerman is presenting. The camera examines the room in the way a viewer would look at any three dimensional artwork, circling the image to view all sides. There is no progression implicit in the artwork, rather the progression is only in the viewing of the art work. Akerman herself exists as the only character in the film, but she simply lies on her bed, staring blankly at the camera. She does nothing but pick up an apple and take a bite (which is arguably the only event in the film that contradicts the idea of no progression; but the element is so minute that it is largely inconsequential).

Both artists, in an attempt to deny the performative space, insist on denying a location of the “space” they are presenting in the context of an outside world. Wall’s photograph is an entirely fabricated space, and the image shows he has gone through great pains to reveal that. There is a remarkable signifier that reveals the space as a fabrication, there is no chance that the viewer can read the image as an actual room. This significantly present signifier is the bedroom’s doorway. Through the doorway the audience can see not only the wooden supports that allow the structure to stand, but also a clinical brick interior that dislocates the room from a placement in an apartment complex, hotel, house, or anywhere that a room would generally be located. The artificiality is also revealed by the lighting. While it would be possible for there to be two light sources invading a bedroom, natural light (the sun that would be permeating from the window) and artificial light (the light from the presumed “hallway” of the entrance) produce different color effects even in the most successfully color-balanced photograph. Akerman’s film also denies a relationship to the outside world in a more straight-forward manner: the doors of the apartment are closed, refusing to let anybody “outside” come in. Akerman disconnects from the outside world by overexposing the light coming in through her windows; masking any details of the outside world in a cloak of blinding white. She also presents the viewer with signifiers of artificiality; there is a breakfast that has been cooked and made, but the one character in the film refuses to interact with the breakfast. This lack of interaction elaborates the artificiality that is present. This refusal to create a larger context that the performative space exists in denies possibilities of narrativity; the rooms themselves are self-contained.

Note: I wrote this for an art history class that I'm currently in, and I'm not 100% sure that it fits the general Esotika criteria, but I haven't posted anything about film for a while and I'm tired of seeing my mug at the top of the page, so I thought, "Why not!"

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Continuing with the not-directly-related-to-films posts...

With Kimberly's recent post over at the always wonderful Cinebeats, I've realized there's a certain satisfaction I get out of knowing what the author of whatever I'm reading looks like. It's certainly arbitrary and doesn't affect my reading in the least, but as I'm a visual person, photographic documentation helps me to posit whatever it is that I'm reading at least partially as a dialogue. I guess, more accurately, it helps me to posit the idea that there is a person behind the writing, even though, as Kimberly points out, I also like the writing to speak for itself.

And I also realized that I haven't revealed anything about myself in this blog outside of my blogger profile which simply states, "Photography student with an interest in film, literature, contemporary art, and "underground" culture." True, but also fairly vague. So allow me to indulge in myself for a bit and expand!

As the "About Me" says, I'm currently an undergraduate student in the process of getting my BFA in Photography at Northern Illinois University. I'm also currently minoring in English for the purposes of creative writing. I'm 21 years old and only have a few semesters left before I'll be applying to graduate schools; though for what, I'm not exactly sure yet.

I'd say my interest in film is pretty obvious (I mean, that is what this blog is all about!), but I'll just add that I've been more or less obsessed with films (starting out with American horror flicks) since I was about 13 years old and I got my own TV/VCR combo. I had loved movies before this, but getting a viewing location of my own allowed me to start developing a much more personal taste.

In regards to the all encompassing "literature" that I proclaim my interest in: Aside from film books--that I read religiously (which, I will undoubtedly be posting about my favorite film-related books in the future)-- I am also very into the nouveau roman and new narrative "movements," specifically the authors Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Pinget, Marguerite Duras, Camille Roy, Dennis Cooper, and Kathy Acker. Other favorite authors include Georges Bataille (of course!), Peter Sotos, Michel Houellebecq, Pauline Reage (yes yes, I know 'she' has been revealed as Dominique Aury/Anne Desclos, but I refuse to change my associations!), William Burroughs, and many, many more! (Okay, okay, I'll admit it; at least in terms of writing I'm a bit of a Francophile!)

It's also probably fairly apparent that I have an almost obsessive interest in art, with some of my favorite (non-film) artists including John Duncan, Gottfried Helnwein, Marina Abramovic, Hans Bellmer, Thomas Ruff, Félix González-Torres, bookartist Keith Smith, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Gunter Brus, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Jacques Lequeu, Guy Bourdin, Robert Flynt, Yves Klein, Gregor Schneider, and Vito Acconci. Of course, this is another list that could be potentially endless, so I'll stop for the moment!

And now that I've endlessly listed my interest, I'll leave it at that. Hello! How are you?

Saturday, November 17, 2007


My posting has been admittedly sparse as of late. I could explain why, but I doubt anybody cares all that much, as this is a blog about film, and not about me! Regardless, I've encountered something recently that warrants thought.

Part of the reason that I haven't posted much lately (here I go again...) is that I've been throwing myself into contemporary critical theory. I find it fascinating, and aside from inspiring a number of ideas for my many creative endeavors, it's becoming a lot easier for me to discuss concepts that before I had to spend paragraphs trying to explain. In fact, it's raised a sort of problem.

In terms of the reviews that I post here/will be posting when the website is launched (more about this below), one of my main goals is to translate the idea of no-brow culture into criticism. What I mean by this is that I want to talk about and discuss the films that I'm writing about in a manner that isn't obtuse and utterly academic, but I also don't want to ignore the "academic" elements in the films reviewed, as for me that is part of their major fun.

Of course, I should clarify the way I'm differentiating between academic and "academic." By academic (without quotes) I'm obviously implying writing on film written for the academic world, academic journals, etc. While a lot of this specific strand of writing is enlightening, most of it (in my mind, I may eventually re-evaluate my ideas about this) serves only to perpetuate ideas within the academic realm itself; almost intentionally refusing something that a non-academic would have any comprehension or interest in reading-- and this isn't meant to be condescending, oftentimes I myself find these essays and articles obtuse; there is a point where ideas can get lost or obscured by too much jargon and academic wankery (if you'll pardon the somewhat vulgar term).

By "academic" I mean to imply the elements of these films that are ostensibly more "intellectual" than a reductive cinema incorporates. Take, for example, the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet. Traditionally there have been two opposing ways to read his films (and very rarely do these readings overlap). The first way is to ignore the "intellectual" elements of the film and focus on the genre elements; vampirism, eroticism, le fantastique. The second method seems to ignore or pay little attention to the genre elements and their contextual implications, choosing rather to focus solely on ideas of critical theory; narratology, structuralist construction, montage. Alain Robbe-Grillet is probably the most blatant example of this cross-pollination of readings, but obviously there are many other films and directors that fall into this divide.

My goal, which has hopefully become clear, is to read the films from BOTH perspectives, allowing the "low-brow" and "high-brow" readings to play off each other in order to create a much stronger way to think about the film. The reason for this introduction is that by engrossing myself within critical theory recently, I've encountered a lot of terms that specifically refer to a specific concept/idea, and this word/signifier serves to short-cut the paragraph long explanation that would normally otherwise follow.

So the question that I've come up with is this: would a more regular use of a critical theory lexicon alienate readers? Or is it condescending to directly avoid certain terms especially for this reason? If I start using this specific language, and I ignoring my original ideas of establishing a no-brow criticism?

The conclusion I've come to is that if the articles don't go overboard with a reliance on academic language, there's not a problem. Ideally the context of the term/word would reveal at least something it implies, and if it's something that's really unfamiliar, the internet allows virtually instant access to a plethora of knowledge. I'm not totally sure though. I mean, obviously the point of establishing this no-brow criteria is a desire to appeal to as large an audience as possible, to get people from ALL areas of film-love to start thinking about these often neglected films.

So what do you think? I'd really like to hear. If this is a stupid question that I've spent far too much time thinking about, also tell me that.

As I mentioned above, I am planning to launch the ESOTIKA website on January 1st, 2008. While it would be interesting, to say the least, if I ended up writing absolutely everything for the site itself, I feel I'd be limiting that information that could be there. The site would become more about MY opinions on film, and less about the FILMS themselves. This is not what I want.

I believe that there is a large community of individuals who love this specific, indescribable sort of film that I am personally obsessed with. I've never been able to come up with a term for it, but hopefully the idea is clear through the selection of films that I've written about throughout the 11 months I've been keeping this film blog. The point is, of course, I want ESOTIKA EROTICA PSYCHOTICA, as a website, as opposed to as a blog, to become a COMMUNITY and an extensive source of information. Most of the films I obsess over I've found very little about in the ways of information (most of the time, not always) either in books, or on the internet, or at least in English.

What I'm driving at here is that I'd love to have some help. The point is, if you feel passionate about the sort of films that I've obsessed over in this blog, to the point where you want to share this passion with readers all over the world, I would love your assistance.

I'd like to get a bit more content generated to debut with the website in the beginning of January, which is why I'm putting out this "call for entries" now-- it gives potential authors about a month to pull something together. So if you'd be interested in helping out either in writing, providing promotional images (poster scans/ press books / etc), please email me at


Also, if there is anybody who is bilingual and wants to help out by means of translation that would also be much appreciated! There are many great articles on the internet and in books that are in French, German, Italian, Japanese, etc. that could gain a much larger audience, and I've found that in many cases original authors are more than willing to have their writing exposed to a larger audience. So if
you'd like to help out in any way, please let me know!

Just to clarify--since Tim brought it up in the comments--I got permission from the author to translate the only article that is currently in the process of translation, and I wasn't intending on publishing any translations where I didn't have permission. Just wanted to clear that up!