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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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How I became an artist

September 1st, 2003

BY CLINTON WILSON

Living in Prague a few years ago having only a rudimentary grasp of the Czech language, I was faced with the constant challenge of finding a film that didn’t require the reading of daunting Czech subtitles. This often left me with the dismal choice of mainstream American films that monopolized the cinemas of Prague. wilson3pee.jpgWhen the blockbuster Titanic opened during an usually severe famine of engaging film, I grudgingly paid to see it, but not before reconsidering and retreating from the box office queue three times. So when a festival of Peter Greenaway opened in the city, I coerced my German boyfriend to see an early work, one of the few films on the program alien to me.

I had become a fervent Peter Greenaway fan upon my initial introduction in college to his commercially successful cult favorite, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. After seeing many of the auteur’s ambitious projects — Prospero’s Books, Zed and Two Naughts, and his numerological masterpiece Drowning By Numbers — I marveled at his power to elevate the bizarre and the grotesque. But these films barely prepared me for his modest 1976 effort, Vertical Features Remake.

VFR falls into the category of parody in the form of mock documentary. The film, a tedious practical joke at the expense of academics involved in esoteric criticism, wryly exposes the poststructualist inclination toward historical revisionism. Lasting a monotonous forty-five minutes, the film presents three similar reconstructions by a disputing lot of academics of an incomplete film by the fictitious filmmaker Tulse Luper (also the titular character of Greenaway’s Cannes contribution this year).

Tulse Luper’s concept is merely a visual presentation of 121 vertical objects that fall within a square-kilometer graph of natural landscape. Each remake is really just an exercise in re-editing as new information is unearthed, purportedly revealing a different mathematical structure that affects the way in which the vertical objects — such static things as trees, fence-posts, etc. — are captured on film. Vertical Features Remake is closely aligned with the faux literary criticism of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire in that it is self-involved in the argument to the exclusion of the audience’s interest in the subject. Like Nabokov, Greenaway delights in this devious game of baffling the audience with a protracted presentation of arcana and irrelevant information.

As I stumbled over a feeble explanation to my bemused boyfriend over post-cinematic drinks, the discussion of Greenaway’s film became a springboard for my defense of an artist’s right to manipulate the audience’s experience of his work by brazenly using the form to undermine their expectations. I had been toying with the exploitative possibilities of expression as practical joke for a while, but I had always seemed to get mired in the issues of merit and quality. My desire to trick my audience for my own amusement was tempered by the ridiculous notion of artistic integrity. But now I had faith in a manipulation that would craftily reference the joke in the form itself. Its integrity is protected through the artist’s free exposure of the exploitation. It’s pulling the wool over their eyes by using the sheep.

Now, a few years later, I’ve distilled these ideas into my own visual artistic movement called Post-painterly Projectivist Primitivism (3Pee for short), in which the only condition is that a piece of art has to be created in forty-five seconds or less. This became a convenient way to create original works of art without having to expend a lot of effort in the process. Easy to assemble, not to mention cost-effective, they are perfect gifts for friends, and every one is a hundred percent art-worthy under the regulations of 3Pee. One could argue that my movement was born of extreme laziness, but I prefer to see its products as beautiful expressions of concentrated, spontaneous moments of inspiration, and I am prepared to offer up an exhausting analytical defense of my work until I bore you into acceptance. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Movie Issue, Wilson | Link to this Entry

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