Lady Lazarus, a film spoken by Sylvia Plath – Sandra Lahire
P.P.O.W and The Estate of David Wojnarowicz disagree with the Smithsonian’s decision to withdraw the artist’s 1987 film piece “A Fire in My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition entitled “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” P.P.O.W has represented Wojnarowicz’s work since 1988 and maintained a close working relationship with the artist until his death in 1992. The gallery now represents his estate.
On behalf of the estate, the gallery would like to offer the artist’s words to illuminate his original intentions. In a 1989 interview Wojnarowicz spoke about the role of animals as symbolic imagery in his work, stating, “Animals allow us to view certain things that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to see in regard to human activity. In the Mexican photographs with the coins and the clock and the gun and the Christ figure and all that, I used the ants as a metaphor for society because the social structure of the ant world is parallel to ours.”
The call for the removal of “A Fire in My Belly” by Catholic League president William Donahue is based on his misinterpretation that this work was “hate speech pure and simple.” This statement insults the legacy of Wojnarowicz, who dedicated his life to activism and the arts community. David Wojnarowicz’s work is collected by international museums including the Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Whitney Museum, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Reina Sofia in Madrid, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, etc. Wojnarowicz is also an established writer; his most well known memoirs are Close to the Knives and Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, which are included on many university syllabi.
In 1990 the artist won a historic Supreme Court case, David Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association. The courts sided with Wojnarowicz after he filed suit against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association, who copied, distorted and disseminated the artist’s images in a pamphlet to speak out against the NEA’s funding of exhibits that included art works of Wojnarowicz and other artists. We are deeply troubled that the remarks, which led to the removal of David’s work from Hide/Seek, so closely resemble those of the past. Wojnarowicz’s fight for freedom of artistic expression, once supported by the highest court, is now challenged again. In his absence, we know that his community, his supporters, and the many who believe in his work will carry his convictions forward.
Working in film until the early 1970s, Peer Bode was first exposed to electronics by his father Harold Bode, a developer of the first modular audio synthesizer. He worked as program coordinator for the Experimental Television Center in Owego, New York, collaborating with resident artist/engineers in constructing prototype imaging tools, thus continuing his commitment to “tool expansion” and “personal studio making.” Recognizing the limits imposed by designers of industrial and consumer technology, Bode sought to externalize the “hidden coding and control structures” of the video signal. His videotapes investigate the semiotics and phenomenology of the medium, specifically through the synthesis of audio and video signals.
Juggling – 1972
Lecture: “I Will (Still) Make Boring Art (Redux)”
In this well-known early tape, Jonas manipulates the grammar of the camera to create the sense of a grossly disturbed physical space. The space functions as a metaphor for the unstable identity of the costumed and masked female figure roaming the screen, negotiating the rolling barrier of the screen’s bottom edge. “[Making] use of a jarring rhythmic technique to develop a sense of fragmentation, Vertical Roll uses a common television set malfunction of the same name to establish a constantly shifting stage for the actions that relate both to the nature of the image and to the artist’s projected psychological state.”
—David Ross, “Joan Jonas’s Videotapes” in Joan Jonas: Scripts and Descriptions, 1968-1982, ed. Douglas Crimp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)
American artist Peter Campus (born in 1937 in New York) is one of the most influential pioneers of video art, along with artists like Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Joan Jonas, Vito Acconci and Bill Viola. The latter helped Campus install his first major exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse (NY) in 1974. Throughout his career, Peter Campus has produced videos, installations, and a large body of photographic work. In his recent video work, he makes use of digital techniques to work on the image, pixel by pixel, rather like a painter. Using an extremely high-definition digital camera, Peter Campus pursues his current work. A large number of his works are featured in some of the world’s greatest contemporary art museums.
The exhibition “video ergo sum”—the artist’s first solo exhibition in France— retraces the artist’s career, starting with the experimental video art from the 1970s to his more recent video production.
Following studies in experimental psychology and film, in 1971 Peter Campus began to create videos and closed-circuit installations. Their conceptual and technical skill, combined with their psychological and cognitive dimension, resulted in a great deal of attention by art critics and specialists. Campus’s works have become an important reference and have been discussed in numerous publications examining the video as an art form.
The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume begins with works taken from this seminal early phase of his career. In the videos and installations produced up until 1977, Campus explores issues of spatial awareness, and our perception of the body in the construction of identity through the use of unusual perspectives and multiple timeframes. Thanks to the live transmission of the electronic image, he embarks the visitor on a strange and unsettling experience: the confrontation with his double, separated from him in time and space, thereby challenging notions of the self.
From one installation to the next, there is a progressive sense of constriction as the visitor’s actions are increasingly confined. He is no longer surprised by images of himself but is instead confronted with an unknown face: an enlarged projected image of a man’s face staring directly at the visitor. The result is a kind of blockage, an impasse of sorts, an exhaustion of possibilities… The spectator is once again relegated to his activity as observer.
The next part of the exhibition explores the artist’s work from the 1980s to the present day, and opens with a series of black and white photographs of faces, followed by an installation of stones projected onto the walls. With photography, the artist may be said to engage more with the outside world, the suburban space and the natural elements that surround him, onto which he projects his emotions and imagination. Campus’s work continues to explore the notion of perception, in all its sensory, cognitive and psychological dimensions, giving way to an intensification of vision (both physical and mental), and emotion.
Video, abandoned for a time in favour of photography, makes its return in the 1990s. However, the body is no longer the primary focus of experimentation. Although the performative dimension initially persists, it gradually gives way to landscapes, particularly the sea, and other objects affected by time and natural phenomena, or the impact of human activity.
The artist’s current video production is presented at the end of the exhibition. These works explore the possibilities of high definition digital video and allow Campus to create a pictorial work that involves another form of perception and spatial memory. A new piece, convergence d’images vers le port, was especially created for this exhibition.