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Mark Bloch on Arakawa's 1969 film Why Not (A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology)

Arakawa, film-still from Why Not (A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology), 1969, black and white 16mm film transferred to DVD, 110 minutes. ©2017 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins and Reversibvle Destiny Foundation.

By MARK BLOCH

OCTOBER 2017 Last night, October 16, 2017, I attended a screening of a rare 1969 film by the truly extraordinary artists Arakawa and Madeline Gins in Brooklyn. It was a black and white, meandering, sequential but anti-narrative classic experimental film of the late 60s, an extended glimpse into the inner world of the main (and ostensibly only) character, the mysterious and beautiful Mary Window, who lounged around a living space (actually Arakawa's studio), fiddled with the door and the doorway, picked up objects, set them down, positioned herself under them, sat and laid about, moved through the apartment with both intention and absent mindedly, and in the end conducted a very Duchampian union with a (ten speed?) bicycle before abruptly collapsing, something that had been previously foreshadowed and was dramatically enhanced with a nod to Antonin Artaud, who, like a photo of a dead man in the street and the scampering of naked children who came to life via the pondering of another photograph, seemed to hover dreamily but powerfully on the periphery as cast members in this otherwise solo performance. This was after our protagonist had smoked a cigar, another presumably Duchampian act and after a reference in the sparse narration to a naked woman once seen "in a film" who stared into a toilet while this particular naked woman stared into then sat on and stepped into a toilet, her legs wrapped in toilet paper. It was all presented, originally, the year after the filmmaker's friend Marcel Duchamp died.

Even the title "Why Not" is evocative of Marcel's 1921 "assisted" 3-D object
, "Why not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy?, a bird cage filled with random, disconnected readymade objects including disorienting pieces of marble playing the role of sugar cubes. Thus did (Shūsaku) Arakawa (July 6, 1936 – May 18, 2010), the late, great architectural life-prolonger, painter and stencil-er of diagrams and credited with making at least a couple of films, and his partner in work and life, the late poet and collaborator and in this case, narrator, Madeline Gins (November 7, 1941 – January 8, 2014) weave their cinematic magic while the persistent musical track by Toshi Ichiyanagi, student of John Cage and first husband of Yoko Ono, groaned and cycled and grinded its hypnotic way under and beside the "action" which consisted of naturally lit shots of New York apartment living and Madeline's single word enhancements, observations, proclamations and "extensions," a word that came into play more than once. If this was an extension of the couple's commitment to live forever, last night they did. I celebrated what would have been their good friend Ray Johnson's ninetieth birthday with a packed captive audience of curious co-viewers. The film was appropriately called "Why Not (A Serenade of Eschatological Ecology)" presented by the art couple's Reversible Destiny Foundation, the gallery Dillon + Lee and this Williamsburg space, National Sawdust, usually a music venue.

Afterwards there was a brief but interesting discussion conducted by Peter Katz, the Reversible Destiny Foundation Executive Director with Jay Sanders, the new Director & Chief Curator of Artists Space. Sanders was previously the Curator of Performance at the Whitney Museum. Miwako Tezuka, Consulting Curator of the Reversible Destiny Foundation and Diana Seo Hyung Lee, a writer and partner of Dillon + Lee also participated. The general conclusion from them and audience, alike, was that while not much factual information is known about the film except that it has been cited as an important milestone in 60s experimental cinema, it appropriately remains cloaked in unknowable-ness due to its simple but then-incomparable approach that anticipated some of what later became Performance Art. For me, while remaining steadfastly inscrutable and anything but narrative, the viewing experience did evoke essences and reactions from snippets of vaguely unidentified fictive cinema and TV I have seen. Most illuminating was a press release presumably written by Gins and Arakawa that was read aloud by Sanders, who previously also had invoked names like Richard Foreman, Robert Smithson, Maya Deren, James Broughton and others as valuable reference points for decphering this ethereal master work. The one-time viewing of this unique 110 minute film created a surreal atmosphere for the full house of bemused and slightly hypnotized viewers, some attending as part of the Asia Contemporary Art Week program. WM

 

Mark Bloch


Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at bloch.mark@gmail.com and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.

 

 

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