Anthony McCall, Four Projected Movements, 1975/2013. Installation view.

New York–based British artist Anthony McCall has had two artistic careers: one from 1973 to 1980, and another beginning in 2001. For the nearly twenty years in between, McCall worked as a graphic designer and editor, pursuing a different artistic trajectory. His current retrospective survey, “1970s Solid-Light Works” at Sprüth Magers in Berlin, reconsiders his earliest films, such as 1975’s Four Projected Movements, which he discusses here. The show is on view from November 22, 2013, to January 25, 2014.

FOUR PROJECTED MOVEMENTS is produced from a single fifteen-minute reel of 16-mm film. In it, a vertical plane of light is projected through the space, taking fifteen minutes to pivot downward ninety degrees until it becomes a low, horizontal plane. The projectionist then removes the take-up reel of film from the back of the projector, moves it to the front position without rewinding it, rethreads the film, and turns the projector on again. In effect, the film is now moving backward. In three-dimensional space, this produces a horizontal plane, which again then takes fifteen minutes to pivot sideways ninety degrees until it becomes a vertical plane. In the third movement, the projectionist once again moves the reel from the back to the front and rethreads the film; but this time, they give it a twist, turning the film inside out. This produces a movement similar to the first but in the opposite direction. Similarly, the fourth movement is a mirrored reverse of the second movement. If this were a conventional film, only the first movement would be “correct”; in the others, the scenes depicted would be upside down, moving in the wrong direction, or flipped back-to-front. In this kind of film, all possibilities exist as equals.

Seeing this work again in Berlin, I was suddenly struck by how important and how noticeable two things have become since the piece’s debut in 1975. The machinery of the projector appears so unfamiliar now, almost exotic. Moreover, all day long, for six weeks, and every fifteen minutes, a projectionist will change and rearrange the reels of film. The presence of the human projectionist is thus felt much more; this person becomes a central performer in the piece. In 1975, neither the projector nor the projectionist was particularly noticeable. Even the slightly shaky image produced by the 16-mm projector wasn’t so obvious then. But in the digital age, the imperfect mechanisms of the piece, including its human agency, come through. The work is perhaps more akin to a long duration performance rather than what would now be called an installation. Back in the ’70s, as a friend remarked recently, the audience probably went off, spoke to some of their friends, and had a cigarette in between reel changes. Now the reel changes are a special event—something to be watched carefully.

The invention of the haze machine also restored a possibility that I felt had vanished at the end of the ’70s when my work was shown in museums. The absence of dust and people casually smoking in the exhibition space made the volumetric dimension of the work—the blade of light—disappear altogether in the sterile galleries of the museum. When these solid-light films were first shown, the smoke emanating from the viewer’s cigarette or the dust kicked up by the viewer’s feet would activate the dimensional aspect of the work, making the viewer a participant. With the advent of this new machine, the original visibility has not only been restored, it has been enhanced. What was once glimpsed in a fragmentary way is now clearly legible across the entire installation.

The titles of the works back then were very matter-of-fact, as you would expect of that time. But my latest titles all reference the corporeal, like You and I, Breath, Meeting You Halfway, Leaving, and Face to Face. They are descended from the earlier works yet have undergone a shift in orientation. How far can you render an idea down until you have something irreducible? That question has led me to the idea that a form as simple as a line of light can represent both the body and the observer.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Coco Fusco


Promotional image for Coco Fusco, Observations of Predation in Humans, 2013.

Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco is well known for addressing abjection in her work. For her latest piece, Observations of Predation in Humans: A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist, which she will perform at the Studio Museum in Harlem on December 12 and December 13, 2013, Fusco will personify a popular film character—a chimpanzee psychologist who studies human behavior—in order to look at economic violence from an evolutionary perspective. Here, she speaks about the piece and her concurrent research project on contemporary Cuban performance that will result in a book to be published next year.

FOR THIS PERFORMANCE, I am reviving Dr. Zira from the science fiction film Planet of the Apes. She will give a lecture on her research about her observations into the current day Homo sapiens. Studies of animal behavior often focus on aggression and predation. We tend to think of predation usually in terms of the hunt for prey—carnivores attacking other animals to feed themselves. But in a broader sense predation means “to plunder,” and in animal psychology it is understood as goal-oriented aggression for the accumulation of resources. Dr. Zira comes from the future and focuses on our species’ drive for status, territory, and material. These are aspects of behavior that humans share with primates and many other animals.

I have explored the border between the human and nonhuman in several of my previous works. The history of colonialism in Western culture is a long story about who gets to be fully human; subordinated humans have frequently been caricatured as apes. This new performance is probably most closely related to Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West, in which Guillermo Gómez-Peña and I were displayed in a cage.

In evolutionary biology and animal psychology, goal-oriented aggression is seen as not only rational and acceptable but also desirable; it is considered key to survival and dominance. (A die-hard capitalist would probably align himself with such thinking today.) These issues are explored in Dr. Zira’s lecture and are similar to the set of issues that underlie my research into contemporary Cuban performance.

In Observations, I look at human behavior from a speculative angle. In my study of Cuban performance, I examine political rather than economic violence, concentrating on artists who confront and critique the Cuban state’s codification of “antisocial” behavior. The Cuban penal code has an article that defines the category of “social dangerousness,” a classification that has been used against many artists, intellectuals, and dissidents. Whoever is identified as such by the state is effectively turned into an outcast—another kind of outsider. The term is somewhat vague, allowing representatives of the state to determine whether a mode of behavior, statements, or actions carried out in public run counter to socialist norms. The penal code allows the state to impose several forms of discipline on those deemed socially dangerous: reeducation, forced therapies including electroshock, and surveillance. You don’t even have to be caught engaging in socially dangerous behavior to be identified as such; it’s enough to be seen associating with other “socially dangerous” people to be considered guilty. As you can imagine, the very existence of such a code generates a great deal of self-censorship among Cubans. But it has also generated some interesting responses from artists and activists who intentionally challenge the right of the state to enforce such a code.

There have been artists who have directly challenged the state’s right to decide which artists can exhibit publicly and which live acts are considered art. In 1990, for example, Angel Delgado walked into an exhibition and defecated on a copy of Granma, the Communist Party newspaper. He was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison. The artists’ collective Omni Zona Franca has also appropriated public space without authorization by creating music and poetry festivals, engaging communities from marginalized neighborhoods in the street. The punk musician Gorki Aguila, leader of the band called Porno Para Ricardo, routinely dresses in a Young Pioneer uniform and sings virulently anti-Fidel songs that appear in music videos, which are circulated on flash drives throughout Cuba. In my study I compare these kinds of performative confrontations with the strategies of media-savvy civil rights activists in Cuba who stage public events that dramatize their power struggle with the Cuban government.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Left: Cover of Bruce Hainley’s Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant's Volte-Face (2013). Right: Sturtevant, Muybridge Plate #97. Woman Walking (detail), 1966, gelatin silver print, 10 1/4 x 12 5/8”.

Bruce Hainley’s book on the artist Sturtevant is published this month by Semiotext(e) for their Native Agents Series. In addition to being the first monographic study of the artist in English, Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant’s Volte-Face surpasses the promise of formal ingenuity already established in Hainley’s previously published books of poetry and his co-authored Art—A Sex Book. On December 7, Los Angeles’s Ooga Booga will host a reception and discussion with the author at 3 PM.

FOR A LONG TIME, I thought I was writing a book on Warhol. Two things scotched that idea: Wayne Koestenbaum dropped his A-bomb, Andy Warhol, and I saw Sturtevant’s epic exhibit, “The Brutal Truth” (for which the entirety of the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt was given over to the artist’s work). Soon after, I was at dinner with a bunch of friends, and the Lady herself turned to me and inquired, “Hey, what’s up with that Warhol book?” I confessed, “Absolutely nada.” “Well, then, what are you going to do?” Without really thinking, I snapped, “I’m going write a book about you!” Little did I know where that hasty answer would lead.

Because Sturtevant’s art works the way it works, the book wouldn’t be a biography—although, certainly, there’s a delicious one to be written—or a hagiography, nor could it meaningfully probe her entire oeuvre. I also couldn’t launch things with a straightforward chronology: Sorry folks, no beginning at the beginning. There were many false starts, i.e., when Twitter launched, I was convinced that part of the book had to be written in exact, 140-character tweets; another version leaned too hard on the conceit of the eclipse. Thankfully, without a deadline, a contract, or the possibility of tenure hanging over my head, I had plenty of time to think and to try things out only to abandon them. So much of contemporary existence militates against such luxurious headspace and necessary failure. However much an initial mistakenness remains a crucial dynamic of Sturtevant’s methods, I did know it was time for someone to care enough to verify, with witnesses both for and against and a corroborating paper trail, every artistic move she made, the facticity of all the actions during her first, elusive decade of fun in the frenetic heyday of the 1960s and early ’70s. Of course, the book had to face up to the onslaught of right now as well, since Sturtevant maneuvers in two time signatures at once: the untimely and the instamatic.

Her various catalytic conversions prove that art can be (at its best?) an impetus for action—aesthetic, cerebral, insurrectionary. I wanted the writing to surf her energy waves, wiping out as infrequently as it could. With no words on the front cover, the book looks like Sturtevant’s Haring Tag, and the reader must flip it over to get the title and any other data, turn it over again to proceed. Divided into three parts and a coda, the text takes on a different form in each. What’s that great Grace Jones line, “Feeling like a woman, looking like a man”? Here, cohesiveness feels like reckoning with a single prismatic artist, but looks like discordant multiple genres. The first part, about her troublemaking in 1967, has three sections, and it opens with an in-your-face puzzle of two of its sections facing-off against each other: verso, and on every left-hand page until the section ends, a confrontation with the artist’s The Store of Claes Oldenburg; recto, an examination of her two Relâches. When those two sections conclude (clearly, but with little fanfare), the third section, on her Study for Yvonne Rainer’s “Three Seascapes,” kicks in, and the pagination becomes more regular. Genet, specifically his bracing text on Rembrandt, also from 1967, was the tutelary spirit, and I liked forcing the issue of two-different-things-at-once, a strange, syncopated forward movement and then a return to where one started—repetition and beginning again; illegibility and difference-production: sameness and homo-ness. Continuing the dance in another register, the second part delivers a Wildean dialogue going down, recently, at the Chateau Marmont, and concerning, among other things, her Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform). Part one uses no first person narration; in part two, mostly fictional personages speak, and the text operates like a script. It is only in the final, third part, dealing with the most mysterious period of the artist’s pursuits, from 1970–74, that an “I” appears to cause problems.

While the title nods, sempre, to Susan Sontag, I put matters under the sign of—in every patois—sick to grasp at as-is-ness and produce a psych. More than performing any mimetic relation to the artist’s work, I wished to terrorize how art history organizes itself, question how thinking sounds and the status quo of its forms. Hedi El Kholti at Semiotext(e) remained a fierce ally in his design of the book and in his spirit of adventure, allowing it all to be as bluntly elegant as possible while enacting many key Sturtevantian forces. Fingers crossed that the result happens to provide something like the anxious rush of a detective novel and/or of a game of hot potato played with a toy grenade.

— As told to Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer