VOX — Centre de l’image contemporaine

Steven Reinke, _My rectum is not a Grave_ _(To a Film Industry in Crisis)_, still image, 2007\. Courtesy of the artist.

Steve Reinke
My rectum is not a Grave (To a Film Industry in Crisis)

2007.01.20 - 03.03

Sad Disco Master: Reinke Talks with Mike Hoolboom

From 1990-1997 you worked on The Hundred Videos, a lo-fi epic that calmed your superego interdiction to « complete one hundred videos before the year 2000 and my 36th birthday. These will constitute my work as a young artist. » […]

I finished The Hundred Videos in 1996—I’d been working on them since 1990, and had originally thought it would take me until 2000 to finish them. Ten a year for ten years and then I’d have a body of work as a young artist and be ready to move on to more mature work. In a way, the series was about moving on, not getting stuck on a single idea, allowing for a proliferation of things: images, proposals, desires without getting bogged down (or tied up) with a single project. I wanted to be fast and cheap and follow whatever caught my attention. As an artist I’ve always proceeded by telling myself two lies: one is that the images already exist independently of my authorship (I’ll say more about that later) and the other is that I’ll make something really good in the future and the work I’m doing presently—whatever it might be—is like a dry run, or preparation for the real work, which is endlessly postponed. The Hundred Videos was great for me in this respect: a series of short works which present themselves as sketches, proposals or little wishes.


Everybody Loves Nothing (Empathic Exercises) continues your recycling of pictures, familiar from The Hundred Videos, but now drawing from the Prelinger Archives. Mostly you’ve run tv moments (Oprah Winfrey) or moments from widely available docs (Lonely Boy), why this search through musty archives?

I’m more of a browser than a researcher. In terms of any particular discipline I am a dilettante rather than an expert. I have some research skills, and have been employed occasionally as a researcher, but generally prefer a less structured relationship with the archive. The trouble with archives is that they are well-organized and strive for comprehensiveness: you will find whatever it is you are looking for. That’s okay if you know what you’re looking for, but I’m more interested in finding things I had no idea I was looking for (a category which includes things I had no idea existed as well as things I was not consciously thinking of). Never let a librarian or archivist know you’re just browsing—that is not what they are there for. One must always enter with an appropriate set of concerns and browse on the sly. […]

Sad Disco Fantasia begins with the death of your mother, like the famous novel of Camus which begins: « Mother died today. » But unlike this affectless cri de couer of existentialism, your work features animal musings, brightly relooped pop music from the seventies and drenching animations, haunted always by death. Is Charlie Brown correct when he says, « Good grief. » Is this another of the oxymorons the work explores?

Yes, I believe in the death drive, and will say no more on the subject. (Except that we’re all going to die. And not everyone loves us.)

In several of your works you announce that you are leaving, dying, or at least stopping production. This is it, you declare, and Final Thoughts shares these sentiments. Is it only possible to make these pictures when the end is near?

Well, the end is always near. The end is near and whatever we might make or do is shoddy and small and inadequate, though not necessarily worthless or irrelevant. So one keeps on working, especially as there seems nothing more pressing. So another project, grand and self-aggrandizing: Final Thoughts. Final Thoughts is a life-project: I will keep working on it until I die. It will not be complete until the moment of my death. It is an on-going collection of digital modules: image, text, sound that can be output in the form of video. Videos will be made from the modules of the Final Thoughts archive. The first of these is Anthology of American Folk Song. […]

Final Thoughts doesn’t refer only to death, but to the end or limit of things in general. […]

The beginning of Ask the Insects offers a title warning viewers about the tricks of light to come, the illusions cast in the theatrical space. It reads: « Friends, avoid the darkened chamber where your light is being pinched. » Could you talk about the origin of that text, and why it is followed by the album cover for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon?

The quote is from Goethe. […] In the video, the quote seems to be speaking about the condition of being a spectator in a movie theatre. Still, the two light-pinching apparatuses—prism and cinema—don’t seem so different. At any rate, it is always wise to begin with a warning, if only for issues of liability. The video is the first work that I’ve thought of as, if not actually being animation, then being about animation, in particular the relation between the animated/digital image and its possible referents in the immanent world.

The quote refers to a prism and a darkened chamber. The music during the segment is from the album. The title of the album refers to a place of darkness (if not a chamber) and the cover of the album depicts light being pinched through a prism. So when the image resolves into the highly recognizable album cover (for though all the visual material in the section is derived from the cover, it is not recognizable as such until the end) it refers to two separate things: where the music is coming from and what the quote is referring to. […] As with many things in my recent work, it is merely a group of associations. It is not a set of linear connections that form an argument or narrative. […]

In the second episode of Ask the Insects, your voice over states, « The reader has proved inadequate: simple-minded, easily distracted, and mean and petty. » From the death of the author you move to an inadequate reader, implying of course, that the readers of this movie will be inadequate. Do you feel that the work you have made up until now has prepared viewers for what’s to come, raising the skills of viewership so that you can make increasingly difficult or complex work? […]

Yes, I still think the idea of an oeuvre is important. Even if the author is dead, other concepts have taken its place, like the signature effect, or a contract between the text and its implied reader/s. Individual works within an oeuvre teach us how to read other works. If we only had one Emily Dickinson poem, it would mean nothing. The poetry of Emily Dickinson only makes sense as part of a larger body of work. Genre can do this as well, of course, but one always wants to exceed genre.

And why not insult the audience? I had already warned them, after all. It is more than their light being pinched.

I hope I’m getting better at whatever I’m doing, but I hope this doesn’t necessarily mean becoming more and more complex […] The other route, the poet’s route, is, rather than increasing complexity, increasing simplicity and succinctness, stripping down to the essentials. The two paths are not incommensurable: individual components are often getting simpler and simpler, while the way they function in relation to the others in increasingly complex. […]

The complete version of the text is available in the book by Steve Reinke, Everybody Loves Nothing: Video 1996-2004, 2004 as well as on his website: www.myrectumisnotagrave.com

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