Brody Condon's "Without Sun" at Machine Project

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Image: Brody Condon, Without Sun, 2008 (Still)

Artist Brody Condon will be exhibiting and presenting a performance of his recent work Without Sun (2008) on July 18, 2009 at Machine Project in Los Angeles. Without Sun (2008) is 15-minute single channel videotape comprised of a series of performances found on the Internet. The tape displays several young people on psychedelic drugs, recounting and documenting, to the best of their ability, their experience for the camera.

The title, Without Sun is inspired by Chris Marker’s classic experimental documentary, Sans Soleil (1983), a film which examines the fallibility of human memory. For Condon, Marker’s piece invokes questions of “faulty and mediated” memory, as well as the theme of travel as a “travelogue [and] destabilization.” From here, Condon explains, the “relevance to kids taking inner journeys and recording themselves then posting the vid[eo] online to preserve the moment seemed clear.”

A transcript of Without Sun can be found on Condon’s website. It reads like a list of utterances without meaning. For instance, phrases such as, “it’s trying to spiral me all in it with it man. Oh. Uh uh. Ahhhh. What the fuck?” Or, “But there is something. Weird. This is weird. You can’t even begin. Everything feels nuts. Like touching stuff….” In another sequence, a young boy in his room explains to the camera, “I don’t even. I’m not controlling my hands. (laugh) this is going to be the best video ever I can already tell. Because. I mean. Ayyy. I forgot there was even …” The incomprehensibility of the phrases are just what you might expect from someone on such a psychedelic journey.

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Image: Brody Condon, Without Sun, 2008 (Still)

However, reading them as a transcription shifts the focus--when one reads one expects trajectory, movement, and meaning to develop, but here the images and text become separate--“making the ideas…float,” Condon says, “to the surface.” As in Sans Soleil, the disjuncture between image and sound, memory and present tense, prevails. This layering transforms the found material into a poignant social commentary. One performer keeps repetitively brushing imaginary things off his arms while he tells his camera, this will “be the best video ever.” Others shriek and laugh hysterically, fall off chairs while sitting still, can’t seem to get off the floor, roll on the ground, express difficultly putting words together, and switch from hysterical laughter to tears at the drop of a dime. The absurdity of reading the transcribed phrases and watching a visual documentation of an internal experience is funny, but it is also horrific and alienating--in effect, without sun.

The performers may have intended to record transparent documents of their experience, but the segments end up looking more like surveillance footage, captured as if through the eyes of scientists observing “subjects” in a sanitarium. Yet unlike an asylum, many of these experimenters have chosen to record and then exhibit themselves. Strangely, and Condon’s assemblage captures this, these choices have also allowed something else to emerge in between the visual archive and the inaccessible inner experience: like Marker’s video, a test strip that preserves a clear picture of a clouded past; a light image of a darkened situation.

Without Sun screens at Machine Project on July 18th, 2009 8pm - 10pm. The performance at Machine Project will feature a live recreation of the tape, using one actor and a dancer. Video screening starts at 8pm, performances are from 8:15-8:30, 9:00-9:15, and 9:45-10:00.