REVIEW: The Artist Relieving Herself: Response to Katherine Bauer’s “Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye” at Microscope Gallery

The Artist Relieving Herself: Response to Katherine Bauer’s
“Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye” at Microscope Gallery
written by Conor O’Brien, The Living Gallery

“At the bottom of their hearts, they are quite aware that this is urine.”

“At the bottom of their hearts, they are quite aware that this is urine.” (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

Story of the Eye begins with an awakening. The unnamed narrator of Georges Bataille’s little 1928 novel confides in the first line that he grew up “alone” and that he was “frightened of anything sexual.” [1] He soon meets a girl named Simone, whose sexual proclivities are described in this way: “She so bluntly craved any upheaval that the faintest call from the senses gave her a look directly suggestive of all things linked to sexuality, such as blood, suffocation, sudden terror, crime; things indefinitely destroying human bliss and honesty.” [2] It would be a mistake to think that the narrator’s fear of sex is opposed to Simone’s desire for upheaval; the fear is the whole point. The narrator does not awaken out of the fear associated with sex; his awakening is a coming to consciousness of this fear, and constant desire to meet it. Fear is at the heart of upheaval, is what distinguishes it. Fear is the sense used to identify the point where upheaval is possible. And fear is felt most keenly at the moment before a coming out of unconsciousness, before fear is brought to an awareness of itself, before the transgression of what Bataille calls the “discontinuous existence,” the realm of that private and sacred individuality and self-compartmentalization we are conditioned to desire; the realm of routine, ritual, and all things safe and solid, which, for Simone, becomes necessary only at the moment it is dissolved and profaned.

Katherine Bauer and associates mid-performance (screenshot from Microscope Gallery’s Vimeo)

Katherine Bauer and associates mid-performance (screenshot from Microscope Gallery’s Vimeo)

Katherine Bauer’s performance at the Microscope Gallery is an interpretation of Bataille’s novel. It is the third in a series of works entitled “Teenage Dream Sequence,” which according to Microscope’s press release explores the “coming of age rites of the American female teenager,” in this case “dirty novels.” For those who discovered it at a young age, reading Bataille’s story becomes a performance of transgression, and the effect mirrors the narrator’s awakening with which the novel begins, the sudden and shocking awareness of the unconscious in the process of submitting to Bataille’s extreme fantasy. Bauer’s piece can be seen as representing the performance of reading Story of the Eye, this act of personal and intimate transgression, the reader’s submission to the author’s work transmuted from private to the public, the inner experience becoming a shared experience between performer and viewer, and an enactment Bataille’s philosophy. Bauer’s work can also be thought of as a translation of the novel (and translation is always necessarily an act of interpretation) using film, photography, performance, and those physical materials important to Bataille’s text: eggs, milk, wine, and even urine. A short video excerpt of the performance can be viewed on the Microscope Gallery’s Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/82072713

Remnants of the performance

Remnants of the performance (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

The objects displayed in the Microscope Gallery are the remnants of Baeur’s performance/“translation”: three large, abstract “Eye-O-Grams” made by applying the aforementioned materials on fiber paper, four excerpts from the novel written on fiber paper from which the performers read (the ink now smeared and the text distorted), film reels of the artist’s eyes which were projected during the performance, a sound recording, and a wine glass filled with a mixture of champagne and the artist’s urine. The latter object is one of the more literal translations of the text, inspired by a segment in which a character named Sir Edmund explains Catholic symbolism: “And as for the wine they put in the chalice, the ecclesiastics say it is the blood of Christ, but they are obviously mistaken. If they really thought it was blood, they would use red wine, but since they employ only white wine, they are showing that at the bottom of their hearts, they are quite aware that it is urine.” [3] Bataille mocks the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but also uses this doctrine to elucidate one of his techniques. The imagery in the Bataille’s work slides between forms: eyes become eggs become breasts become testicles; urine becomes sunlight becomes yolk becomes milk becomes semen becomes tears. The novel dwells in this world of shifting forms, and the elements of the “continuous existence” (which opposes the “discontinuous existence”) revealed by the association and transubstantiation of distinct yet similar forms.

An “Eye-O-Gram”

An “Eye-O-Gram” (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

Bauer’s “Eye-O-Grams” are adaptations of this technique: like Bataille, Bauer forces associations between eggs, milk, wine, and urine within the confined space of the page. The difference is, with Bauer’s work, these objects are translated from the linguistic to the material. A major example of linguistic association in Bataille is his comparison of the French words oeil and oeuf (eye and egg), brought into association with each other because of their similar spelling and sound (it is not coincidental that the objects they refer are also similar in shape and color). The linguistic association (metaphor, pun, etc.) is meant to contain both words equally, without giving either component dominance. With Bauer’s material association, the effect is similar: the substance in the glass is both wine and urine, not one thing or another and not one thing standing in for another thing; the two substances are indistinguishably combined. The result is like the unconscious association surfacing on the level of material reality, transgressing the realm of the psychologically/symbolically resonant to that of the physically blunt: an upheaval akin to Simone’s fantasies.

Four excerpts from the novel read during performance

Four excerpts from the novel read during performance (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

This upheaval, one which renders the symbolic object material, is significant in Bataille’s philosophy as a means for people to tap into the “continuous existence.” The “eye” is the supreme object of Bataille’s philosophy because the eye is a symbol of sight and is the organ associated most directly with illusion, and thus it is also most susceptible to disillusionment. When the eye is removed from its socket, rendered sightless and thus useless as a symbol, the remaining object becomes strange to us, those so accustomed to understanding it through the lense of its symbolic function, ridiculous and egglike in its naked materiality. Such is the reason for the eye/egg metaphor, and the purpose of the novel’s climactic scene wherein Simone removes a priest’s eye and uses it for stimulation.

Film reel projected during performance

Film reel projected during performance (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

Bataille, in his 1943 preface to Story of the Eye, explains the penname under which the novel was originally published: “‘Lord Auch’ refers to the habit of a friend of mine; when vexed, instead of saying ‘aux chiottes!’ [to the shithouse], he would shorten it to ‘aux ch-.’ Lord is English for God: Lord Auch is God relieving himself…Every creature transfigured by such a place: God sinking into it rejuvenates the heavens.” [4] Katherine Bauer enacts this process. It is the process of the symbol profaning itself: a disrobing of all pretense of symbolic self necessary to understanding what Bataille termed the “continuous existence,” the most heightened manifestation of which is death. Bauer’s act of immersing her art and herself in “base” materials has behind it these ideas: the artist relieving herself, self-debasement as self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice as a means to rejuvenation. Bataille was obsessed with the idea of sacrifice, and sex (being linked with death) was for him a form of sacrificial roleplay. Because it requires a relinquishing of self and a submission to foreign fantasies, the act of reading is also related to the sexual/sacrificial ritual. One encounters the novel the same way the narrator encounters Simone, a purely subversive figure who is at once exciting and frightening to him. Bauer performs this “coming age rite,” during which the reading of dirty or subversive novels becomes an act of transgression.

“The faintest call from the senses gave her a look directly suggestive of all things linked to sexuality”

“The faintest call from the senses gave her a look directly suggestive of all things linked to sexuality” (Photo: Conor O’Brien)

[1] Bataille, Georges. Story of the Eye (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1987.) p. 3
[2] Ibid., p. 6
[3] Ibid., p. 76
[4] Ibid., p. 98

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AROUND TOWN: Exhibition at Microscope Gallery, “Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye”

Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye

KATHERINE BAUER

Exhibition Dates: December 15, 2013 through January 5 January 13, 2014 (extended!)
Gallery Hours: Thursday to Monday from 1:00pm to 6:00pm, or by appointment
Gallery Location: Microscope Gallery, 4 Charles Place, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Contact: 347-925-1433 / info@microscopegallery.com

Photos Below:  Courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery © 2013
Text Below: From Microscope Gallery (http://www.microscopegallery.com/?page_id=12312)

Katherine Bauer, "Sizzle", 2013, b/w photographic print on fiber paper, 5 x 5"

Katherine Bauer, “Sizzle”, 2013, b/w photographic print on fiber paper, 5 x 5″

Microscope is pleased to present KATHERINE BAUER, Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye, the third in a series of live film performance events and exhibitions, following the 2010 Black Sabbath Black Mass and this year’s Invocation of Joan of Arc, which took place at Cité Internationale des Arts, in Paris. With Seduction…, the New York-based artist continues her series inspired by coming of age rites of the American female teenager – rock & roll rebellion, teen idolization, “dirty” novels, etc. – addressing that time of transition in an interpretation of Georges Bataille’s 1928 “The Story of the Eye”.

“[Seduction…] is about the seduction of the eye, of seeing and the desires that it creates. Or of not seeing… about what we do not see… what is not there, what is imagined, in the way that [Bataille’s] novel is not about sex but desire and fantasy of discovering unknown secrets of life and death of birth and excess, death and denial.” KB

Seduction… opens with a 16mm film performance event (on 12/15) that doubles as an apparatus for the live production of photograms, which along with the film loops, projectors and ephemera from the event – the only evidence of the event that took place – will be mounted in an exhibition (opening on 12/19). The experiential, mysterious, and uncertain nature of Bauer’s work draws influence from 1960s expanded cinema, the ritualism and black magic of Kenneth Anger, Viennese Actionism, and body art among others. Seduction… may also be seen as a “literal cinema”, or a work in which content is further considered as an exploration of the material and technological nature of celluloid film and its projection.

Katherine Bauer, "Eye-O-Gram #1", 2013, egg, milk, urine, champagne on b/w photosensitive fiber paper, 42 x 100"

Katherine Bauer, “Eye-O-Gram #1″, 2013, egg, milk, urine, champagne on b/w photosensitive fiber paper, 42 x 100”

During the performance, light from 16mm film loops, projecting images of the eyes of the female performers onto their actual eyes, exposes photosensitive paper, positioned as both stage and backdrop, to capture impressions of the bodies and objects in the room. Bataille’s concepts of vision and liquids surface in the performance culminating as an erotic presence, summoned and transferred through milk, urine, and raw egg. Sound is an important and purposeful coalescence of the voices of the performers reading excerpts from Bataille’s “Story…”, analog synth compositions, and the hum of the rotating film strips.

The artworks in Seduction… are conceived not as remnants or residues, but as temporal crystallizations – the filmic surface itself composed of crystals – of the forces at play during the performance. Bauer states, “…the images are not representations, just as the performance is not an adaptation of The Story of the Eye – instead they are presentations, making its content present…”

Katherine Bauer CV

"Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye" - Installation View

“Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye” – Installation View

Katherine Bauer, "Wide Eyes/White Eggs", 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

Katherine Bauer, “Wide Eyes/White Eggs”, 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

KATHERINE BAUER works primarily with 16mm film and its material potential for sculpture, photography and installation. Much of her work involves mythologies, folklores, and narratives. Her work has previously exhibited at Participant Inc., NY; Shoot the Lobster, Dusseldorf, Germany; Place Gallery, Portland, Oregon; and Immanence Gallery, Paris, France among others. Bauer was awarded a 2012-13 Cité Internationale des Arts Paris Residency and was a recipient of a Carla Bruni-Sarkozy Foundation Fellowship (2012-13). Bauer holds a BA in film and electronic arts from Bard College and a MFA from NYU Steinhardt (2013). Bauer was born in Houston, Texas and currently lives and works in New York.

For additional information please contact Microscope Gallery at 347.925.1433 or info@microscopegallery.com

Katherine Bauer, "Wide Eyes/White Eggs", 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

Katherine Bauer, “Wide Eyes/White Eggs”, 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

Still from "Wide Eyes/White Eggs", 2013, b&w hand-processed 16mm film, 6 minutes 49 seconds, sound

Still from “Wide Eyes/White Eggs”, 2013, b&w hand-processed 16mm film, 6 minutes 49 seconds, sound

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REVIEW: BAMcinématek’s Migrating Forms (12/17/13)

BAMcinématek, Migrating Forms, December 17, 2013
written by Kristen Bisson, Social Media Assistant, The Living Gallery

Last Tuesday was the last night of Migrating Forms. Closing off the evening were two films: “Lo que el fuego me trajo” (“What the Fire Brought Me”) by director Adrián Villar Rojas (43 minutes, 2013) and “Sequence 0” by directors João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva (35 minutes, 2013). (For more information on the films themselves, click here.) Tonight, I went with my friend and colleague Brandi Martin.

The first film, “Lo que el fuego me trajo,” is a thing of beauty. The composition is extremely well done; the lighting and the colors are so incredibly vibrant and rich; the sounds were poetic, simple and mesmerizing. The depth of field was shallow. It was slowly paced and meditative. There was very little dialogue, and what little there was couldn’t be heard very clearly at all. In the film, men and women are found to be working extremely hard building and collecting various objects and structures, deep into night and next morning. The film was shot at the Casa de Vidro (1951, Lina Bo Bardi) in Morumbi, São Paulo.

Brandi and I talked a little bit about the themes this film was addressing: modernism and voyeurism. These themes can be found in: the glass house, where everybody can see you and you can see them; the actions the characters went through in their projects; the way it all was filmed in general; the ending, where a character looks you, the audience, directly in the eyes (which is no where else in the film); the credits themselves, which went on for so long that many in the audience could help but laugh, and I don’t think they left anyone out of their list; even the font chosen for the credits, and oh man… that kerning; and then, to top it all off, there was a segment, which felt like forever, where two black circles adjacent to each other would spin at center and leave their mark every few millimeters, so that eventually it became a larger, opaque, black dot. Yep. But seriously, such a great film. Definitely see it if you get the chance!

The description for the second film, “Sequence 0,” is as as follows (pulled from BAMcinématek’s website):

These 14 short films were created by the Portuguese filmmaking duo João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, whose poetic philosophical fiction explore and interpret the uncanny through acts of magnetism, transference, and material transformation.

Some of these shorts were poetic, sentimental, and others were absolutely hilarious. Many, if not all, were done with extreme slow motion, which brought about either a painful how-long-do-we-have-to-sit-through-this kind of experience or a fun and pleasurable experience. These shorts didn’t really have sound, and usually consisted of the overlapping of shots with different opacities. The various films included: a close up shot of someone getting the very top of their head shaved; the same landscape at different times of day so that three suns were overlapping and slowly shifting; three men at a campfire apparently having a hilarious conversation; three egg yolks moving around together, again overlapping; lots of eggs shorts, actually; a couple of emu-bird-things wandering around in front of a painted backdrop, blocking the camera, investigating the backdrop itself, and being funny overall; a number of other shorts; and my favorite short from the series that night was a close of up of the top of a table with an elephant’s trunk trying really what seems like desperately hard to grab a few peanuts.

Overall, I found the films of the night to be interesting, funny, beautiful, and weird. I enjoyed the various films I got to see at Migrating Forms. You can read my two previous reviews on this blog from December 13 and December 15.

Let us know in the comments if you saw anything awesome at BAMcinématek and/or Migrating Forms!