Isabelle Dinoire (continued)

Dear all,

This week I was traveling and didn't get to follow-up on some of the
points that I raised and that others raised. I'll admit that I also lost
some energy to do so when those 'conversations' became wrapped in what
Michael aptly called ad feminem attacks. I generally choose not to indulge
ridiculous and baseless criticism (i.e. calling me–a person born & raised
outside of the US–responsible for US imperialism).

The kind of criticism in which I *am* interested is media criticism and I
think that some very interesting points have been raised in this thread.
Now that it's been processed/threaded, I'd like to pull from bits of it
and interject some of my own 'lazy,spoiled,ignorant' criticism into it…
I've inserted a "–>" before each paragraph in which I've written.

+Michael Szpakowski <[email protected]> replied:+

Hi Marisa
Whoa! :)
I did try to phrase my rather uncertain response to the piece in as
temperate a way as possible precisely in order to avoid a polarised yes it
is no it isn't kind of thing.

–> Yeah, sorry. I just got fired up about the fun conversation and wanted
to play 20 questions. Didn't mean to polarize, either…

Some responses:
<*Why is it ethically important to tell the truth in a work of art?>
I'm in favour of truth telling in general - of striving to understand how
& why things work the way they do & then (in life , politics &c) stating
this as clearly & straightforwardly as possible & (in art) creating work
which *somehow* (begs a lot of questions I know!) bears witness to or
least does not oversimplify tendentiously, or glibly, or cheaply,
what is going on.

–> This is where our expectations of art might diverge. While I am a big
fan of work that references 'what is going on,' I don't expect all art to
do so, all the time. In fact, I think there can be great symbolic &
political value in referencing what is *not* going on. In Freud's
_Interpretation of Dreams_, he writes a lot about 'considerations of
representability,' and the way in which things much be metaphorized/
metonymized in order to break free from the censored pool of the
unconscious and into the dream-weaving domain of the preconscious. In his
position, dreams are stabs at wish fulfillment, but sometimes we give
ourselves nightmares–or the opposite of our wishes–just to allow those
wishes to be traced. Sometimes this is the best way to speak them. Now
this point obviously moves beyond Abe's video, but I guess what I'm saying
is that I personally don't think that all art, or all good art, or all
ethical art has to be straightforward. In fact, art can step in where the
straight & narrow has failed us.

<*How does this piece fail to tell the truth, in your opinion? & *[How]
does it lie?>
Well I *worry* that it doesn't tell the truth -I *worry* that it ( & I'll
put it more brutally than Annie) feels like a cheap shot -*but* I'm not
sure..I'm genuinely interested & open to discussion on it..

–> I guess the question, here, is what is the truth to be told, that
Abe's piece may/may not be telling? That Isabelle Dinoire is someone known
to us primarily as a media spectacle? That she had a face transplant? That
she's come under the knife (of the surgeon, of the editor)? As most of us
in this thread have admitted, this is all we know about her. I think Abe's
videos upholds & reinforces these truths.

[….] I have a similar problem with this rather nicely made miniature
that I do with 'Birth of a Nation' or 'Triumph of The Will' -the *craply
made* problem pieces are not in the long run problem pieces… [….] (& I
don't reject *anything* in principle in art as far a content or technique
goes, *how* it's deployed is the interesting question & this comes back to
me to what I would call artistic 'truth')

–> Hmmmm… Now this gets very interesting… Are we talking about
realism? Photo-realism? Is this video more offensive because of its
exploitation and/or resemblence of realism? This reminds me of Robert
Flaherty's famous assertion that you sometimes have to lie to tell the
truth. He said this in response to criticism over his 1922 'documentary,'
_Nanook of the North_, in which it was revealed that he used 'real'
eskimos in 'unreal' situations to tell a 'real' story about eskimo life.
In one of my favorite essays on that film ('Taxidermy and Romantic
Ethnography'), Fatimah Tobing Rony talks about the 'taxonomy' performed by
the documentary. She says that in order to preserve the subject of the
film, it comes to be 'killed' via its being taken out of circulation and
frozen in celluloid. I wouldn't disagree with a statement that Abe
taxonomized Isabelle Dinoire, and I'd even be into pushing a discussion of
how that form of taxonomy might jive with the indexical, archival sense in
which we in computer culture use the term today. But I must say that I
find it unfair for any of us to expect a more photo-realistic (or even a
more narrative-realistic) text to somehow have higher fidelity to 'the
truth.' Admittedly, this probably has something to do with the fact that
I've been brainwashed into being cynical about the existence of (and/or
our perceptive capacity to recognize) truth and of and medium's ability to
'capture' it.


+Pall Thayer <[email protected]> replied:+

I would just like to jump in here and say that, although I'm not going to
say that art has to tell the truth in any way shape or form, I believe an
element of truth adds validity to the conceptual side of work. [….]

–> I think in works like Acconci's Seedbed (which you mentioned), the
viewer makes a pact with the artist. It's what Philippe Lejeune called
'The Autobiographical Pact.' The reader assumes that the author is telling
the truth, because the work is presented within a genre (ie autobio or
realist film/video) that is partly defined by its purportment to tell the
truth. This pact is informed by the reader's assessment of the author's
character. Abe Linkoln is a *character,* and one who's expressed devotion
to the legacy of the cyberpunk. Only a -punk would give the limited, short
responses he has about this piece. This is not a diss; this is to say that
the work, the discussion, and the [punk] persona are all part & parcel of
each other. We can't forget this.

[….] theater is an art of lies and fakery whereas (I think) conceptually
grounded visual arts are an art of truth. [….]

–> I humbly disagree. In the early years, filmmakers weren't even sure if
all they were doing was re-presenting theatre. I don't see such a
distinction, and I do see Abe's output as performative. The phrase
'conceptually grounded visual arts' is a highly-coded one, but I would
personally say not that they are 'an art of truth,' but that they are
realist arts. The distinction is *huge.*

+Ryan Griffis <[email protected]> replied:+

[….] Going back a bit historically for this discussion, Alan Sekula's
critique of documentary and photography are interesting to consider. This
statement is particularly relevant here: "What I am arguing is that we
understand the extent to which art redeems a repressive social order by
offering a wholly imaginary transcendence, a false harmony, to docile and
isolated spectators." (from "Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing
Documentary" 1976/8) Sekula goes on however to argue that a new kind of
documentary is needed, from his very Marxist position, that is critical of
the "objectivity of the camera" while recreating a kind of socialist
realism. [….]

–> Yes!! Absolutely, all of the above. Can't Abe's unreal video go a long
way into shocking us into an awareness of our unreality? (Though I still
have to say I don't find the video all that shocking–with, perhaps, the
exception of the moment when the video speeds up, after the slow press
conference, as my body & nerves had been massaged into a certain sensory
mode of experiencing/watching, and this quick change was a surprise that
served to remind me of my relationship to the spectacle.) In an off-list
conversation that Abe & I recently had about the manic criticism [sic] on
this thread and about Paul Virilio's tendency to speak in soundbytes, he
sent me this Guy Debord quote: 'art need no longer be an account of past
sensations. it can become the direct organization of more highly evolved
sensations. it is a question of producing ourselves, not things that
enslave us.' I think it's an excellent coda to his video & to Ryan's/
Sekula's observations.

+Jim Andrews <[email protected]> replied:+

I haven't seen the original footage it was taken from. I suspect that must
have been painful to view.

–> Why is it painful? Do you (and by 'you' I guess I mean spectators in
general–as I see that some others had a different response to this video
than did I, and I want to sort out why) identify with Isabelle, on a
corporeal level? And is the pain stimulated by the thought of the loss of
the face, by the thought of the emotional pain/trauma of the surgery &
resulting media frenzy, or something else? What is the artist's
responsibility for that pain? I don't see much, unless you are saying that
the artist is responsible for exploiting her vulnerable on-stage (ie press
conference) position–a position in which she put herself. So many of the
people on this thread indicated some sort of emotional attachment to
Isabelle, so those people might find me harsh for saying she put herself
there, but I still find it true…

Certainly viewing Abe's piece produced painful little shivers. Not solely
at what the surgeons had done but what the video editing had done. A face
transplant and then a video transplant of that.

–> Still not sure what the editing did that was so painful, but I find
this an incredibly intriguing point, so I'd love to hear more.

The video reminded me of something Salman Rushdie once said (and I
undoubtedly recollect it improperly), to the effect that we sometimes
become grotesques (but freer) in our nonetheless real and valuable
attempts to heal ourselves in a world that is often grotesquely
indifferent to pain and suffering.

–> I love this and think it totally jives with my reading (see Freud
nightmare/opposites ref, above) and with what Ryan said about Sekula.

But, Abe, I don't think you can hide behind statements like "this video is
about the truth of nerve endings and microphones". That may or may not be
what you thought it was about. It is definitely about this particular
woman's pain, isn't it, whatever else it is about such as media blah blah.
However you cut it. However you cut it, you cut her.

–> See, this is where I get lost. Let's reflect for a moment on the
vocabulary of photographic media (including film & video). Things are
'shot, 'cut, 'spliced,' 'ripped,' 'burned,' 'blocked,' 'thrown,' etc…
Even our eyes, as much as the apparatus of the camera & its accoutrements,
are involved in processes of inverting, flipping, distorting, and skewing
the images we apprehend (apprehend! imprison?!), so I don't think it's
fair to say that Abe 'cut' Isabelle Dinoire unless you are willing to say
that all photographic media 'cuts' all of its subjects. The fact that she
had recently gone under the surgical knife doesn't (IMHO!) make Abe's
montage cutting any more or less 'violent.' Presumably, every person who
shot & edited a news piece on her 'cut' her. The fact that Abe's
sequencing or editing made things less 'accurate,' to me, does not make
them physically or conceptually brutal.

+Dirk Vekemans <[email protected]> replied:+

[….] You're taking the metaphor where it doesn't go, it's mistaking what
we put into it for what gets out, including its unwonted side effects.
Cartoons and cartoonists don't kill people, mediatised avalanches of
hatred and frustration do.

–> Amen, Dirk.

+Eric Dymond <[email protected]> replied:+

I think the piece has much in common with a Francis Bacon Portrait.
I'm not going to get heavily involved, but I don't see why this either
truthful, untruthful, moral or immoral. It seems to use digital media to
push and pull reality without losing the essence of the source, as a
Bacon painting pushes and pulls the appearance of his subject. This is
interesting in that it's time based( now I'm thinking of the Nurse from
The Battleship Potemkin by Eisenstien). You should know there is a good
deal of distance between the actual subjects life and the imagination
contained in the work, which makes it successful for me.

–> I'm inclined to agree. And Potemkin is a *great* example. Remember, if
you will, the moment when the sailor breaks the plate with the government
logo on it. It's a moment of rebellion, of breaking & breaking down.
Instead of being shot in one smooth motion, it's actually a compilation of
many short, repeated, overlapping shots. It's a motion study we call
analytical editing. It's an unreal portrayal of a real action, in order
use a realist medium in making a statement about a particular reality.
Bracketing the fact that Isabelle Dinoire's story is not one of state
oppression (as far as i know), the two sequences (Eisenstein's &
Linkoln's) are very similar in form & affect, to me.

+Myron Turner <[email protected]> replied:+

–> I just want to repeat Myron's point, as it's part of what I mean when
I say that she put herself there:

Well, I don't really think I'm such a bad guy. But, I found her intention
to continue smoking to be ridiculous, ethically ridiculous. Not that she
doesn't have the right to destroy herslf. But here is a person who has
focused on her case the attention of the world's medical community, who
has put the state to great expense in order to undertake the procedure and
who has moreover, willingly or not, participated in bringing the attention
of the world to her plight and has implictly if not in fact explicity, in
the interview, asked for our sympathy and good wishes. So her reckless
disregard struck me as ridiculous, and I'm afraid that that sense of the
ridiculous added to my amusement when I watched the video.

That's my personal response. But it doesn't answer any questions about the
video itself. Is the video in fact a spoof? And if so at what is the humor
directed? Is it simply directed at the genre? Well, it can't be, at least
not for us, since we can't dissociate it from the interview and the
situation. Or is it a serious piece, expressing revulsion. If so, what's
the revulsion directed at? Or is it ambidextrous, expressing both
amusement and revulsion? Someone mentioned that the video is part of the
artist's larger interest in re-mixing. I can see that, but I'm not clear
about what the video wants us to understand from that allusion. I guest
what I'm saying is that I don't feel the video supplies us with enough
context to make these judgments and that we are left to supply the
contexts ourselves. It's hard for me to believe, for instance, that
there's not an element of pardoy in the piece. But to be honest, I'm not
sure. And if there is parody, I'm not sure what the parody means.
So,finally, I'm left on my own.

–> Yes, my spidey senses tell me that this aloneness triggers a sort of
horror vacui into which many of us want to inscribe our own fears,
presentiments, etc…

+Nad <[email protected]> replied:+

[….] What is so special about Dinoires case? Its not the remixing of
tissue itself. It is the fact that the tissue comes from another persons
face. a dead person. another living.

and that fact is the scary and facinating part of it - not the way she
looks like now or the tissue mixing. a face is also an interface. it is
the bridge from the outside to the inside. if you meet someone you try to
"read in his/her face". so what tells us her face now?

–> Nice points!

[….] Moreover I didnt see Isabelle Dinoire speaking, I saw only Abes
video and the first thought i had was: you can always find someone make
an odd face at a moment and then sample it into a horror face. My computer
is quite slow and so even Marisas beautiful face (in your joint blog

–> Pause: bwahahaha… thanks!

stopped sometimes in some awkward positions, which made her look "scary"
once in a while :-)…. So why is it so scary to see Isabelle Dinoire in
Abes video?- my guess is that this is only in part due to the fact of her
actual appearance it is mostly due to what we know about her… the fact
of the dual person.

Abes images are truely catching. He did a good job in choosing them.

they are really sticky.
however i cant help it, they remind me of some school yard situation:
there was a girl who was heavily limping due to a polio. she also had to
wear some device. there was a group of boys watching her and then some of
the boys started to mimic her by limping around. the boys were scared,
they were feeling uneasy and invoking the disrespectful reaction was
somehow helping them. a strange mechanism, but one can observe it quite

i do not want to draw any parallels to your work Abe I have no idea what
your intentions were…this is just what i got in my head when i saw your

–> I think this is something like what I have in my head, too, which is
partly what I said about using the technique of remix to make sense of
things in a media saturated culture. When I look at this video, I can't
help but think of this one, also by Abe:
…in which he remixed a video of me singing & lip-synching Salt-n-Pepa's
'Push It.' Many of the editing techniques are the same, though they may
read differently. Is it fair to say that Abe cut my throat, or my voice,
as some have said of his treatment of Isabelle Dinoire? I personally don't
think so. Also, by the same logic, would you have to say that he cut
Salt-n-Pepa? Is cutting/remixing the voice different than doing the same
to the image? I would say no, though people seem to hold images more

Thanks to everyone for the smart, interesting, lively discussion!