In the May edition of DOUBLE FEATURE, the artist James Richards, who has been nominated for the Turner Prize 2014, is presenting his film "untitled (cinema programme)". It will be followed by works from Chris Burden and Steve Reinke.
According to the press release for Speculations on Anonymous Materials, the much-discussed exhibition curated by Susanne Pfeffer on display at the Fridericianum in Kassel until early this year and celebrated as the end of the postmodern era, “The order of the day is to understand the world from the vantage point of abstraction and not to abstract from the world.” The meaning of this statement can be deciphered in the context of James Richards’ films, which are edited together out of digital material from the Internet and old VHS cassettes, and which develop a decidedly poetic, emotional, and “very physical” visual language in the way in which the artist combines them.
The fragments of the underground material in "untitled (cinema programme)" (2006) illustrate the human body; its circulatory system; its vulnerability in scenes of violence, threat, and emotional collapse; its heaviness as a corpse; as well as its isolation in the form of a youth singing the song "I Can’t Live (If Living Is Without You)"; or its getting lost in the crowd at a huge event: a doll is held up to the camera, like a hostage, a weapon held to its temple; a man lying on the ground is kicked by those standing around him; a child’s body is pulled out of the water; a master of ceremonies falls onto the stage, his face contorted with pain and his mouth open. The only thing that allows language-related access to the strung together, recurring, extremely heterogeneous, and eventful found footage is a list.
Inquiring into the original author of the fragments not only leads nowhere, it is completely uninteresting. The title of the exhibition makes reference to the anonymity of the material, and the point anyway is to take hold of the world from the vantage point of abstraction/speculation and not to explain it out of the world. The connections between the individual images are bound to pure visuality and rearrangement independent of the real context of their origin, and they could apply to the visual contents as well as their form: the recurring bodies, moved and maltreated, or the green cast over the scenes, which is due to shooting at night with a residual light amplifier.
Besides dealing with visual material, sound also plays a role in Richards’ works. There is no direct analogy between those we see and those we hear speaking. Yet there is an analogy between the treatment of the visual material and the sound and the recorded music, which is also strung together, combined, doubled, and repeated. The dead boy in "untitled (cinema programme)" is pulled out of the pool while Sylvester’s party song "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" is being played, and the camper that has veered out of the lane tips over while different versions of the phrase “You keeping me from what I want to be doing” are repeated. One constantly asks oneself who and where “I” and “you” are, whom one does not find in the images but who are extremely present in their vagueness in Richards’ world of images and sound.
The context of the heterogeneous visual material can also be much more abstract, such as in "Rosebud" from 2013. The source material for this work are illustrated volumes of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, and Wolfgang Tillmans that Richards found in a library in Tokyo, which censored what it declared to be offensive material and had the genitals scratched out of the pictures. In Richards’ film, the violation of the photographs’ surfaces is presented in analogy to the vibrating surfaces of water, which in turn emphasize a physicality: in this case, that of a rough and choppy surface.
Within the scope of DOUBLE FEATURE, after screening his own film James Richards presents Chris Burden’s "Documentation of Selected Works" (1971–74) and Steve Reinke’s "J.-P. (Remix of “Tuesday and I” by Jean Paul Kelly)" (2001). James Richards on his selection: “The films I have selected for ‘Double Feature’ all revolve around the question of what it means to record and document something with the camera. In Burden’s film, the artist assembles fragments from his own practice. It becomes an affectionate, almost dream-like meditation on his own oeuvre, on what remains from a ephemeral work, and on the distortion that takes place when one recalls and retells something.” The work by Steve Reinke confronts the viewer with a monologue that consists of fears and neuroses. Individual statements made by the speaker shown in close-up are repeated by means of permanently rewinding the tape. The associated speech structure and the distorted voice are the result of the film and not the narrative act. The recording and the body of the speaker also become blurred visually; when his face is distorted through the rewinding, his movements seem uncanny and “digitally dictated.”