Moshe Ladanga

Of Schisms and Skirmishes

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The seemingly incorrigible combination; Peter Campus, one of the the pioneers of video art, and Douglas Gordon, a leading practitioner of the moving image, had a talk in the Tate Modern a week ago.

The talk was mediated by David A. Ross, the curator of the Whitney Museum in New York. It was a tension-filled event, with the auditorium crawling with gallery types, a smattering of artists and art students. The reason for the tension I think is due to several factors; one being the very rare public appearances of Gordon, who hasn’t given interviews in the last five years or so. Also, which I think is the pivotal reason, is the frankness and sincerity of Peter Campus.

It was quite fun actually; Douglas Gordon is such a personality, relentless in his jokes and jabs at all the edified talk about art. Peter Campus however, was easygoing and friendly, and I liken him to a grand old guru, still passionate about art, but more at peace with himself, clearly happy with what he does. But it was Mr. Ross’s questions that ticked off the tension in the auditorium. It was so banal and art-speaky that the two artists looked at each other and raised their eyebrows. Here’s the link (they got it in MP3!):

There were several issues raised, one being the difference between the generation of artists who grew up in New York among the heady milieu of the 60’s and the postmodern YBA’s here in the UK. Douglas Gordon dissented when Campus talked about art’s ability to help people transcend the glaze of modern life- Gordon said that art cannot be made to elevate something, but rather art should break with tradition and transform itself into something else. But then Gordon talked about his experience at the Slade, in which he lost the pleasure of watching films because he studied it constantly. He talked about the postmodernist phenomenon, in which he felt surrounded by it, and that was the language that he learned, the art-making practice that he had to work with.

I was thinking about this a lot and looking at Gordon’s work, it explains the vicarious nature of his image-making- I liken it to a fetishism of the moving image, in which the pleasure we derive from cinema is subverted into Gordon’s vision, which I think is a personal one. There is a distinct language he uses, and especially evident with the self-portraits he has done with the blown-up polaroids (image above). There is a frankness and immediacy that I find moving and even heartfelt.

In contrast, Peter Campus’s approach is more calm and (in my opinion), confident. In the short film he did with the pieces of glass (can’t find a jpeg of it, sorry), the mood is also frank, even cold, but in the way he directed the actor and the placement of the camera he manages to eliminate “the frame” (the 4th wall in cinema-speak) and simply reveal the image, his message.

The difference is that Gordon’s work still aims to put the moving image into a pedestal (quite ironically), and Campus’ work subdues the art “frame” with the clarity and subtlety of a master.

On a ‘sociological’ note, it was fun to see and observe how the art world is; there was this curator who had the temerity to ask Gordon if he was being hypocritical by selling his work in galleries but at the same time proclaim he cannot stand it- she even called him “bourgeois” (cue hushed tones and turning heads!). Gordon retorted, saying that he treats his career as a job, as a way to earn money, and that he has a function as an artist. Then he ends it with a jab (cue slight smattering of nervous laughter and sharp intakes of breath…) by telling her that he’ll sell her something cheap. My, my, this was juicy stuff-haha!

But the great thing was that it was clear that both artists are passionate about what they do. Campus kept trying to invite Gordon to teach in the States, and Gordon invited Campus for a series of dinners to continue their talk. Oh, and that was one important point that Campus made: what was lacking today’s very competitive art world was dialogue. He said as artists we should engage in it with fellow artists, away from all the art-speak, all the theory, and foster a camaraderie. He sees it as an antidote to the problem we have today, perhaps not only in the art-world, but to the larger sphere of society as well. Wow (for the lack of a better word), what a great man. A Kurosawa in my book:)


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