More Than A Feeling: An Interview with James Richards

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Filmmaker Hito Steyerl has described the aesthetically-coded power dynamics at play between the "poor" and the "rich" image that infiltrate all aspects of contemporary video production. Beyond the dialecticism of her argument, which encourages deeper engagement with "degraded" pictures and a sort of abstract suffering through circulation (at least in terms of pixels), there remains a wide spectrum of mediocre to fair digital images for artists and filmmakers to deal with, and a host of issues concerning the resolution of visual matter, both new and appropriated. Just as collage and photomontage were once essential techniques for tinkering Dadaists, today the manipulation of picture quality has become a distinct strategy. I spoke to Berlin-based artist James Richards (UK) about his particular practice of presenting still and moving images of all registers in the space of the gallery exhibition, and the point at which an image breaks down into a feeling.

KR: In 2012 you programmed a screening for the Serpentine Gallery Memory Marathon. Surface Tension had some incredible films in it, including Paul Wong's Bruise (1976), which records the skin-level effects, in real-time, of transferring 60 units of blood between friends. That program really seemed to develop a metaphor between skin and screen—a form of intimacy that visually explodes the technological concept of a "touch screen"—something that I think also comes through in the composition of your own work, including Rosebud (2013), which premiered at Artists Space in New York in January.

 

Stills from Kenneth Fletcher/Paul Wong, 60 Unit; Bruise (1976, Digitally Re-Mastered 2008). 5.25 min., stereo, colour, English, single-channel.

JR: The censored images in Rosebud were shot in a library in Tokyo. I came across them by accident while researching there in the spring of 2012. The books—monographs on Mapplethorpe, Tillmans, Man Ray—were being imported into Japan from Europe when they were stopped by customs officials. Local law in Japan forbids a library from having books with any images that might induce arousal in a viewer, so after negotiations with the director, it was agreed that customs workers would go through the shipment and sandpaper away the genitals from any contested images. As you say, the video somehow is focused on the violence of the action of sandpapering—the point where glossy black printer ink gives way to the scuffed and bruised paper stock underneath. There's something intense but also futile in these marks. The video is a study of rubbing against and along different surfaces: the meniscus of water over the print, the elderflower rubbed along a boy's body.

James Richards, Rosebud, 2013. HD Video, 12 minutes 57 seconds. Courtesy the artist; Cabinet, London; and Rodeo, Istanbul. installation view, "Frozen Lakes," Artists Space, New York.

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Rhizome Editor-at-Large Picks Top 10 for 2011

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Looking back at and consolidating the year in exhibitions is one of the more challenging tasks an art writer faces. Tracking trips to shows throughout the year, and more importantly, the evolution of your feelings about them, is a daunting, sometimes insurmountable task. While in Europe this spring and summer, I was lucky enough to view some of the exhibitions I found more momentous and personally resonant. Starting in Italy with the 54th Venice Biennale, I traveled up to Switzerland through Geneva and Basel, heading next to the UK and landing finally in Berlin. The list below reflects both personal favorites and those that I felt to be important in the confluence of art and technology.  

Josephine Pryde, “Embryos and Estate Agents: L’Arte de Vivre” at Chisenhale, London

British artist Josephine Pryde bears the unique ability to successfully navigate both photography and sculpture, two mediums which seem almost diametrically opposed. Up until this year I’d only been familiar with Pryde’s sculptures of half-finished baskets precariously suspended by butcher hooks, shown at Galerie Neu in Berlin last year; as well as her strange, oversized macro photographs of fabric, featured at Reena Spaulings in 2009. For her presentation at Chisenhale, “Embryos and Estate Agents: L’Arte de Vivre,” Pryde presented two sets of photographs. The first takes medical images of fetuses, superimposing them in Photoshop against barren desert landscapes; the second stages stock photography-style portraits of young, alternative-looking women contemplating whether or not they’re pregnant. Beyond Pryde’s fascinating material practice is her confrontation of oft-taboo, extremely personal, female-specific issues generally elided in contemporary art discourse. 

Cory Arcangel at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York  / Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

Arcangel Fever spread around early spring 2011 as his Whitney retrospective drew near, the artist being asked by a vertiginous number of New York media outlets to grace them with pre-opening press. The show sparked some lukewarm reviews

 

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