09. August 2015

In the August edition of the DOUBLE FEATURE Riley Harmon will present the film “A Method for Blue Logic”. After a discussion with the artist, we will be screening his favorite movie, “The Itch Scratch Itch Cycle” by Manuel De Landa.

By Daniel Urban

In 2012, US artist Riley Harmon (born 1987) received an e-mail from a conspiracy theorist he had never heard of. The latter mistook Harmon for an actress of the same name who worked as a puppet of the typical protagonists of modern paranoids, such as the US administration or the imaginary all-powerful large Jewish families.

The e-mail lodged in Harmon's mind and eventually prompted him to make "A Method for Blue Logic" (2014), which can be read as his response to the news: We find ourselves on a film set, a young blonde woman steps before the camera. A voice off-screen introduces the setting, explains the image and yet also describes a completely different situation: A blonde woman in a YouTube video sings a cover version of the that old Jazz chestnut "Georgia on my mind". The image is faked on the film set -- the blonde woman moves her lips to the original recording from YouTube, artificial studio light, and then the voice reads off-screen from, or so it would seem, user commentaries on the original video. The camera continues to pan, into another room, where a man lies on a couch with headphones, there are several people on the edge of the room, somehow reminiscent of a film crew, staring captivated at the man. Here, again, the voice is to be heard off-screen, almost as if it were reading out the instructions in the script, focusing the viewer's attention on seemingly incidental items and lending the scene a new level of meaning. The camera does not rest, leaves the building, moves to another set at the pool outside the house, and catches two actors caught up in a mysterious dialog. Then the artist himself goes before the camera, made up to be the blonde, female Riley Harmon and addresses the unknown sender of the 2012 e-mail.

The theme would seem to be the filmic or at least video-tech focus on conspiracy theories, because as a rule a world is created before the camera lens that is subject to the producer's utter control. Because like a producer a paranoid who seeks explanations for a reality he cannot quite penetrate by relying on conspiracy theories, creates and produces a consistent world in which everything is thought through and conceptualized down to the smallest detail. In this regard, a film set can be compared with a completely controlled world such as the paranoid imagines, one in which it is not chaos and tyranny that rule, but rather a few powerful people behind the scenes.

In their book the "Dialectic of Enlightenment", philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer described paranoia as the "shadow of knowledge" and therefore as a "symptom of the semi-educated person", as the paranoid tries to grasp the world as a whole and in part does so with great acumen, only to get lost in the forever identical judgment that a conspiracy holds sway.

With "A Method for Blue Logic", Harmon creates something that could be read as a continuation of the conspiracy, by responding to it with an equally hermetically composed work of his own, thus blurring the lines dividing fiction and reality, focusing in the process on the artificial and the completely composed. In his "Passengers" piece, to which he has constantly added episodes since 2010, Harmon adopts a similar method: He injects himself into existing film sequences from major Hollywood productions, seems to interact directly with the film-star greats, and thus gives the whole thing a new level of meaning. We can interpret his fascination with the conspiracy theorist's e-mail in this context, through which without any act on his own part he gets inserted into a new context of meaning.

We have specially imported the film can with Harmon's favorite movie, "The Itch Scratch Itch Cycle" from New York -- it was made by Mexican artist, writer and philosopher Manuel De Landa. A Professor of Contemporary Philosophy and Science, he teaches at the Swiss European Graduate School, and in the 1970s and 1980s, after studying art, produced countless Indie movies that center strongly on analytical film theories. The eight-minute "The Itch Scratch Itch Cycle" (1977) focuses on the classic shot/counter-shot editing technique, used to this day in dialog sequences, alternating between the two partners in line with the axis of the dialog. He plays through the possibilities with a scene of an argument between a man and a woman, shown in five different versions from different film perspectives and using different camera techniques.

Our angle on reality informs our entire relationship to the world per se. Like almost no other medium, film in this way enables us to almost completely experience someone else's reality, we completely adopt their visual perspective, and their perception. The theoretical and practical consequences of this form the very heart of the works of Riley Harmon and Manuel De Landa in "The Itch Scratch Itch Cycle".