William E. Jones, Discrepancy, 2009
Series of videos, color and b/w, sound, 9 min 30 sec each 1/4 + 1 A
Courtesy of the artist and VeneKlasen/Werner
William E. Jones, Discrepancies
Discrepancies, the latest show at VeneKlasen/Werner, features the work of Los Angeles-based artist William E. Jones. Jones started out as a filmmaker and has lately expanded his practice into video, prints and photography. This exhibition includes the first complete showing of Discrepancy (2008-09), his largest work to date.
The six videos that currently make up Discrepancy are part of an ongoing series. They are the focus of the exhibition. The synchronized videos fill up the gallery's first main room and share a soundtrack based on a manifesto written by Isidore Isou about discrepant cinema. The manifesto is read by a soothing, yet creepy, computer voice (remember HAL?) and contains some amazing soundbites. Though written in 1951 about cinema they are uncannily reminiscent of how I feel about the art world today. (For example the lines, “I believe the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It has reached its limit, its maximum.” and “The cinema already has its masterpieces.”) The six videos vary from US Army Cold War footage of adversaries, to unrecognizable high digital affects. They have no real connection to the narration. Yet, as Isou claims, and Jones attests, the vehemence between image and text is not destructive. If anything, something new is created in our understanding of what constitutes a story line; eventually we reach a point where a narrative is not dependent on its images.
When you stand alone in the gallery and listen and watch, you become quite hypnotized. It is something of a sublime experience, listening to the steady voice and be overwhelmed with images. The narration is like an anchor, keeping you from getting lost in the possible overstimulation. Then again, according to the narration, over-stimulation is not such an undesirable effect: “Let people come out of a movie with a headache. There are so many movies from which one emerges as stupid as one entered. I'd rather give you a migraine than nothing at all.” In embracing the narration and images, and using disconnection as a connection, we abandon expectations and ultimately witness a new creation emerge.
Beyond these six videos are two rooms filled with prints, the first suite Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard Automatically Illustrated (2009) is an array of collaged images paired with seemingly poetic writings. The “automatic” in the title relates to Surrealist practices of creating from the unconscious. (Perhaps another way to combine discrepant ideas?) Although these works are in the same vain as the videos, where image and text are not necessarily in accord with one another they didn't, for me, pack the emotional punch of what had just been seen in the main room. They are beautifully combined and contain interesting images, but their presence feels sparse in the large room, and seems merely to offer a visual break on your way to the back rooms.
William E. Jones, Stéphane Mallarmé‘s Un coup de dés jamais n‘abolira le hasard, Automatically Illustrated, 2009
c-print, 12 parts 1/3 +1 AP
panel 1: 29,5 x 21 cm (11.6 x 8.3 inches)
panels 2-3: 29,5 x 42 cm ( 6 x 16.6 inches)
panels 4-12: 29,5 x 84,5 cm (11.6 x 33.3 inches)
Courtesy of the artist and VeneKlasen/Werner
More interesting are the prints located in the last main gallery, where one encounters several historical image collages. Two that stand out are Public Address (2009), with its images of people in front of microphones, and Photo Opportunities (2009), where press photographers are gearing up for their shots. The former reminded me one of the videos in Discrepancy that consists of man in front of a multitude of microphones at a press conference. While the latter's images are particularly arresting, their combined effect creates the feel of a media frenzy. Both works maintain a tangible sense of the tension present in each individual photos and I couldn't help but hear the loud flashes of old cameras in my mind.
Although the grandeur of the main spaces are both physically and psychologically filling, it is also nice to tuck yourself away in the last room and view Youngstown / Steel Town (2008). Positioned on opposite walls from each other, you can sit on the benches between the two and keep your eye on both as they played simultaneously. While the other works in the exhibition seem to stay historically bound, this piece seems to pointedly speak to the here and now as well. Both videos feature footage from the town of the Youngstown Ohio. Youngstown is comprised of footage from a 1944 propaganda film from the steel mills, and Steel Town features stills from the town 40 years later. The happy and hopeful feel of Youngstown meets its polar opposite in Steel Town, whose images of empty streets and desolate urban landscapes prove that the successes of the postwar boom are long over. The film's end, a still of a bronze statue of a worker next to an enormous piece of furnace salvaged from one of the town's original steel mills, drives this point home.
It was also interesting to view Youngstown / Steel Town in the context of Discrepancies, since these are two films whose images very much carried a narrative. It made me think that despite the efforts of discrepant cinema, which were in reality never actualized by Isou, one always try to make connections, even in the midst of chaos. I translated the French part of the title from the Automatically Illustrated suite to: A throw of the dice will never abolish chance. One will always try to make sense of what is in front of them, to connect it to something they can personally understand.
I do, however, believe in the power that Isou also writes about, to re-manipulate images in order to use them for other than their original (and often commercial) purpose. I previously mentioned the line about cinema already having its masterpieces, but what follows that line is something even better. “The cinema already has its masterpieces. All we can do is chew these masterpieces, digest and vomit them. Vomiting these old masterpieces is the only means to achieve original expression. Spitting out these masterpieces is our only opportunity to create a cinema of our own." Jones, in much of his current and earlier work, achieves just that. From his collage prints to his work with found and manipulated footage, Jones has consistently pushed new context and meaning. As Isou wrote,”The more subject matter is spoiled and perverted, the more beautiful it will be”.
Jaime Schwartz holds an M.A in Contemporary Art Theory and Curatorial Practice from San Francisco State University. Jaime currently resides in Berlin, after many years in San Francisco where she worked for the SFMOMA Artist's Gallery, The Judah L. Magnes Museum and The San Francisco Arts Commission. Most recently, Jaime is the Co- Founder and Director of The Center for Endless Progress, a new gallery and project space in Neukölln. More information can be found at endlessprogress.or