Thursday, November 20, 2014

Haiku Review: Buy Into Me

Haiku Review:  Buy Into Me
by Mark Foran
The Cube, Dublin
30 October 2014

Haiku review by Fujimoto Ryouji

Ramshackle constructs.
Layers of perception laid
bare. Photo copy.

Pinochet Porn – The Dictator and the Maid

Pinochet Porn – The Dictator and the Maid 
Works by Ellen Cantor, curated by Dallas Seitz and The Black Mariah.
The Black Mariah, Cork
6 October – 7 December 2014

Review by Darren Caffrey

The Dictator and The Maid by American video artist Ellen Cantor was made as part of her magnum opus entitled Pinochet Porn. Cantor describes the work: “Pinochet Porn, a feature length soap opera on super 8! A story of five children growing up during the Pinochet regime into adulthood.” 


In 2013 she died, at which point her work had been shown in New York's PS1, London's Serpentine, Vienna's Kunsthalle, and Edinburgh's International Film Festival. The work showing upstairs in Cork's Triskel Arts Centre is a 21 minute scene taken from Cantor's full-length film. Presenting simply the activity of two characters in a New York apartment, it contains no obvious dialogue and much strong sexual content from the beginning.

Sex is of course a classification and an act. The act is straight forward, requiring only joy to gain effective proficiency. Its purpose is life, in the moment and in the future of man. As a means of definition, tells us that sex is also “the sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, or the phenomena or behaviour dependent on these differences.” Naturally, this determination of sex is just a guide. Acceptance for various frills of the sexual experience shift with time. This is as true for the act as it is the classification.

For his part, the man named Pinochet ruled the people of Chile for seventeen years. Following which, he stood as Commander in Chief of the Chilean army for a further eight. During his spell in charge he favoured the economic theories of a deregulated free market. This super-capitalist set up was aided not only by U.S. educated economists, financiers, etc... but also by force, leading to countless kidnappings, killings and property seizures. Salvador Allende, the man whom Pinochet replaced in 1973 had by that time shown inclinations toward a clear socialist agenda. U.S. president Nixon and a number of the United States' wealthiest private investors set up an exchange program for select young Chileans to learn and take home the theories espousing the virtues of a free market economy. Back in Chile, these individuals were placed in positions of power, carrying out the will of specifically capitalist programs of reform whilst operating under the protection of Pinochet's brutal regime.

This man's indelible mark has been taken as the inspiration for Pinochet Porn. In particular, his myth has been reproduced as a full length narrative. It takes a liberal approach to the man's true life, choosing instead to portray his effect through the life of his daughters and their various husbands. These characters all appear to reflect the sorts of myths which endure within western culture: the older man, the refined artist, the hard worker, the wasted talent, and the lesbian. Everything from patriarchy to the doomed dreamer to the psychoanalytic trend of archetypes which illustrate a demographic to, of course, the institution of marriage itself and the emancipation of woman, all are lampooned in a story about love. By enmeshing such a figure in the myths of western culture, the politics are consistently light while the drama is always full on.

At times when art strays into the realm of prurience, it becomes difficult. This section of the video by Ellen Cantor, showing her to fellate a man whom she has dressed up to resemble the general frame and virtue of a dictator, might just be that sort of work. Like all exchanges of value, respect for the possession is made explicit at the outset. In this instance, it takes the form of a tender caress. Titled The Dictator and The Maid, we are led to assume that the female role, played by a fifty-something Cantor, is one of submission.

One thing which can be said about this 21 minute scene produced in the artist's own home, which cannot be said about all video art or screen representations of sex, such as television or internet pornography, is that the viewer observes from the point of view of the 'victim' and the perpetrator, both responsible and helpless. In the truest sense, you watch to see what happens. 

Of course what happens is exactly what you think would happen. The interaction between these two characters is one of obvious submission. This is brought to light by what we perceive of dominance. Yet as the male stands over Cantor's tousled bottle-blonde hair which twists beneath him, static appears to cling these chemically bleached strands to the trousered legs of her 'oppressor', as though the composition of the space between the two is itself a living thing, subject to interference and perhaps even containing the properties of self determined outcomes. For a moment, their intimacy permits an exchange which occupies itself with only base materiality, such as the interactions of natural fibres and metals, in the peroxide and the wool fabric. As the video continues to reveal the depth of their exchange, their faces in turn reveal true feelings of anguish and delight.

This scene as a whole provides a parody to a political fantasy of the West. In it, the woman delights in male power. She gives in to what she wants. The male represents a commonality of authority – smooth shaven, well turned out and ever vulnerable to his own wants. It is this vulnerability which produces his orderly conduct. It is this vulnerable state which marks the sensuality of each touch. To break the thing possessed is to undermine its value outright. When such force as an authority is only able to establish the limits of order in the face of human want, the force becomes a negotiation between the object of control and those subject to its force. Throughout the video, the threat of violence is limited to a knowledge held by the viewer. This knowledge is a construct of societal norms and expectancy. It is supposed that the female must engage or risk the threat of upsetting the social order, and in particular his role as an authoritative figure. This is precisely as Cantor herself would have it.

By the time that the female figure is bent over onto her stomach, it makes perfect sense that she would tease the feathers of her fluffy duster over the surface of this very personal and indeed domestic setting. On screen, she suffers the joy of loss, leaving societal function and determinate roles to appear only as jokes amidst the savagery of being taken. More than her dignity, she performs at the knees of her oppressor with consummate simplicity. In a word she is playful. The man's role once performed comes to be defined as an erection. His own will in relation to this mastering of sexual energy and potency is itself the thing which breaks him. In the climactic phase of this work, beyond the reverie of feather dusters and chocolate covered spatulas, it is the man who appears most obviously as the tool of the whole performance. As such, the camera begins to focus more intently on the male's face, providing us finally with a sort of closure. In the closing of his eyes we see his loss to be so much more, and rather than titillation the experience is that of execution. With this, the performance and the scene are complete.

When the video ends and the rousing musical composition which has been following and pushing the narrative throughout finally does cut off, we are left with a projection screen hanging from a cross beam which casts its shadows in the dimly lit space of The Black Mariah. On the other side of this screen is the only other work in the exhibit. It reads 'CHAOS – PANIC – AND – DISORDER – MY WORK – HERE IS DONE'. 


In 2010 a Kickstarter project ( was set up to have the full-length film processed for wider public viewing. A darkly coloured print with a hollow skull set by a flesh-pink type: this picture is a flat-out statement about the fear of loss at all. A gift to each sponsor who donated two thousand dollars to the cause, this signed lithograph/collage provides a token reference to artistic process. In the darkened space of the gallery it is next to invisible, but when it is found it is instantly familiar, as though it came out of an old notebook you thought you had lost. Borrowing from comic book style lettering, the various characters dance within the frame and in the way that a child pokes things, it is pernicious.

What really stands out though is The Dictator and The Maid. The reason it does so may require a resetting of social relations in respect to sexual exchange, such that when we see the body, we see the sex also. But in light of much live performance art, or again the expanse of a seemingly more permissive society, the question of roles and how best to perform them enquires that art is concerned with more than just showing the body's physicality, male or female. Likewise, the social premise that sex is underlying our understanding of one another as individuals need be redressed with some angle offered which suggests at least that sex is still open to interpretation. The role of 'man' and 'woman' must contain such openness or it becomes the property of the ruling classes.

The Kickstarter account, which was set up by the artist herself, closed three months later having exceeded the goal. The full feature-length film, shot on grainy Super 8, is not shown here however. Instead, screened in Cork at the same time each day, this single scene feature is but a taster. It contains full frontal nudity, and yet its action is that of digging into the psychology of sex and the abuse of its power over those it captivates. Horrific stories abound about the man Pinochet and the regime he led alongside the shadowy influence of various foreign interests. But it is the effect on those who lived within this sort of repressed but politically incoherent society which makes the stories so real.

As far as the art is concerned, this work reads as it plays. In one scene, we are able to witness the demise of a dictator and the rise of a feminism which demands more than cock and balls, but crucially, these things also. Consistent with any communion of man, the action between the two characters on screen remains connected throughout and the opportunity to laugh is welcome and purely human.

Numerous faces from the art world do make an appearance in the full length film. British conceptual artist Cerith Wyn Evans plays 'Oshu the sex guru' while New York's gallerist-to-watch, Lia Gangitano, plays both Pinochet's twin daughters, and Jay Kinney of Anarchy Comics is responsible for the film’s art direction. Given the manner through which cultural capital exchanges hands and gains focus, it is surely fair to say that this will not be the only chance to see Ellen Cantor's Pinochet Porn, in part or in full, but perhaps it will be your first, in which case you will most likely remember only the feelings and a few scant details.

Darren Caffrey is supported by an Artlinks Bursary.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A narrative response to Mark Swords

­If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change

A painting by Mark Swords

Exhibited in the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery's Building Sights 
4 – 27 November 2010

A fictional, critical response by Susan Edwards

Every day Richard got up at 7am to make himself ready for work. For convenience sake he wore dark navy trousers, black shoes, black socks and a pale blue shirt. He had three pairs of trousers, 5 pale blue shirts, and 5 pairs of black socks which meant that for convenience sake he only needed to do his laundry once a week. It did make weekend dressing a bit more complicated and confusing as he had to figure out a weekend arrangement of clothes, but after fussing with this issue for a month when he was 21 years of age, he had happily worked out a system of blue jeans and flannel shirts in the winter and cotton t-shirts in the summer. Richard worked as an actuarial technician with a life insurance company. He loved his job. He predicted life expectancies, birth and death rates, health probabilities and columns of numbers gave him an enormous sense of reliability and calmness. Richard loved his job. After college he found a house 1.5 miles from the insurance company, some days when the weather was fine, he could walk to work. He liked doing that as it allowed him to get to work, save money and exercise all with one activity which was very efficient. His parents had died 3 years ago which left him and his older brother Joe as the only remaining family. Joe had a wife and small son. He worked as an airline pilot and traveled all over the world. Richard figured Joe never walked to work.

Every day, Richard would dress, make his lunch for work, walk or drive to the insurance company which took exactly 7 minutes if he drove and there was no traffic in his way. It would take him 23 minutes if he walked. He passed the local park, a supermarket that only sold food and a lovely church on his way to work. On the days Richard walked, he sometimes would stop at the church when he returned home, to go inside and sit in the cool dark space. The stained glass windows fascinated him. They reminded him of puzzles with all their tiny colours of glass, stuck side by side. The stained glass made small planes of colour and those made bigger planes of colour and then the entire window was divided into spaces and squares. It looked very complicated, but in fact was very simple as they were only blocks of colour. They reminded Richard of the lines of numbers he worked on all day. Looking at the stained glass windows inside the church gave Richard a very calm feeling.

On the weekends, some things changed. He did not go to work and he did not pack his lunch. He did things on the weekend to make his week run more smoothly and remain the same. He washed his laundry and shopped for his food. He would clean his car and fill it with petrol. He would open all his mail that he had collected during the week and sort and attend to it.

He did not have a girlfriend and did not think about a girlfriend because he was not really lonely. His brother would invite him for dinner at the holidays. He enjoyed his brother’s house. It was noisy and smelled like cooking all the time, but he knew it made his brother happy so that made him happy too. His nephew Adam was 4 and liked to play trucks. Sometimes Richard would sit down on the kitchen floor with Adam and make truck sounds or engine noises and play with Adam.

Richard was happy, he loved his job, he loved his family, he liked his house and he loved how each week was like the week before. At night he was tired and would fall asleep and in the morning he woke up feeling happy for a new day that was starting.

It was on a Thursday afternoon that Richard got a phone call. It lasted twelve minutes and changed his life forever.

For Richard, life had been humming along with the incredible contentment of sameness. Some would think it was his time to have things change. That he was now deserving of his share of struggles and upheaval, but that might not exactly be true. Richard was kind, he helped others if they needed it, went about his day fulfilling his obligations, he paid his bills on time, never cheated and had no reason to lie to anyone for anything. Certainly karma was not waving him down to give him his fair share.

Richard hung up the phone and sat at his desk. The person on the other end of the line had informed him that his brother Joe and his wife had died from injuries in a car accident less then 2 hours ago. Richard needed to identify the bodies. He had also been made legal guardian of Adam as he was the only living relative left as Joe’s wife had been an only child. As he sat, he wondered if he should stay the remaining few hours left at work. He thought perhaps he should start by telling his boss he was going to need some time off work. Richard was truly saddened by the news. He did find it amazing though that his brother and sister in law had beat the statistical odds in dying far earlier in life then actuarial charts predict.

Every day Richard looked at numbers and statistics to determine the odds of how things would stay the same given the probability of disasters happening in a person’s lifetime. He did not have any deep spiritual concepts that he used in his life for guidance and comfort, but he did have a vague idea that life presented enormous possibilities for chaos. If life were to have an image he thought it would best look like the stained glass windows he liked at the church. If one stood very close to the windows, all the colours and forms looked like a jumbled up, tangled mess of nothing, but standing back it took on a recognized shape and the mix of colours and forms fell into place like a well formed puzzle. The trick Richard mused was picking up the right shape to fit into the correct space and if that didn’t fit, then to pick up other pieces until one piece did fit.

Life was filled with ordinary moments of ordinary people. When a person yearned for dreams, wishes and goals, then those ordinary moments appeared to be extraordinary, but Richard knew they were not. Richard knew that probability showed most things stayed the same, small amounts of things would change and if people wanted things to stay much the same then sometimes they had to change to keep things the same, but it was all an ordinary phenomena and nothing of any extraordinance was occurring.

In a few months time Richard returned to walking to work and on rainy days he would drive. Now he had Adam with him. The nursery school that Adam went to was 2.2 miles from where Richard worked and when they would walk home Adam liked going into the church with Richard and looking at all the statues and stained glass windows. For convenience sake, Adam had 4 pairs of jeans, 5 cotton t shirts, 7 pairs of white socks and a pair of tennis shoes. This made it more convenient to do laundry as Richard only had to do two loads once a week. He packed two lunches instead of one.

On weekends, Adam would help Richard wash the car, do the grocery shopping and sometimes they would go to movies if something funny was playing. At the nursery school where Adam attended, Richard had met a young woman named Charlotte. She liked Adam and Richard had discovered she liked him as well. Sometimes they would all go have ice cream together or she would invite them to her house for dinner at holidays. Adam would bring his trucks and toys and while she cooked he would play on the kitchen floor and Richard would play too, making truck noises and engine sounds.

Adam was sad when he thought of his mother and father being gone, but he loved the house where he now lived. He loved Richard and he loved the hours he spent at the nursery school. He loved the way Charlotte smelled so nice and how she smiled. At night he was tired and would fall asleep and in the morning he woke up feeling happy for a new day that was starting.

Image courtesy Kevin Kavanagh Gallery.