Issue 18 : Spring 2010






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Old & in the Way


19 Feb 2010

I don't know what the 1st film bk was that I read but it was probably Parker Tyler's "Underground Film - A Critical History" wch I know I read in March, 1976. I was 22. Hence began the process, known to so many of us, of reading about works that seemed pretty interesting but that I might never get a chance to ever witness.

Luckily, for seeing some such films, this frustration didn't last very long b/c the Baltimore Museum of Art presented "The American Independent Film Series" in 16 parts from October 7, 1976 thru 'til June 4, 1977. I was thrilled & probably attended 6 of the 7 screenings in the series that presented "A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema" as curated by John G. Hanhardt. There was even a substantial catalog of the same name wch I bought a copy of & wch I'm sure I read assiduously as soon as I got it - sometime during the series. I even reattended much of the same series when it was re-presented at Baltimore's School 33 art space between October & December, 1987.


These screenings gave me my 1st opportunity to witness work by people who were thinking along the same lines that I was - people who were making non-narrative experimental movies. I found it all very, very interesting but I remember being particularly struck by Stan Brakhage's 1958, 40:00, "Anticipation of the Night" from Program II (of the American Avant-Garde subseries); George Landow's 1965-66, 4:00, "Film in which There Appear Sprocket Holes, Edge Lettering, Dirt Particles, etc." & Michael Snow's 1966-67, 45:00, "Wavelength" from Program V; Robert Nelson's 1970, 33:00, "Bleu Shut" from Program VI; & Hollis Frampton's 1971, 36:00, "(nostalgia)" from Program VII. It was these latter 4 that made me identify so strongly w/ what I came to know as "structuralism".

My 1st 16mm film, & still one of my favorites, "Subtitles (16mm version)" (1980-82, 11:54), was even purchased (in an early unfinished silent print) by Helen Cyr, the head of the Film & Video Dept of the Enoch Pratt Free Library's central branch - partially b/c a former student of Hollis Frampton's declared it something like "the best post-structuralist film" she'd seen. Helen was a champion of experimental film & video & built up quite a great collection for the library. This collection has long since been endangered by the more 'pragmatic' Lowest Common Denominator leanings of later administrators. Helen's husband was Gordon Cyr, a composer who, I believe, may've made some electronic music.

In mid-1977 I made my 1st video as part of a project by then-UMBC-student Steve Estes: By the fall of 1978 I'd made my next 2 super-8 films: "Mike Film" & "Ghost, A Projectionist's Nightmare": I'd also acquired the New York Filmmakers' catalog & the Janus catalog - 2 very valuable resources. The 1st screening I organized was at a downtown Baltimore college that a friend was a student at, again in the fall of '78. I remember presenting some Robert Nelson films & others of interest to me from the Coop catalog. Additionally, I screened my own "Ghost" & handed out pads & invisible ink pens (of a particular type that had an accompanying pen to make the invisible ink visible). Even the notes & scribbles taken by the (v)audience were to be 'ghosts'! "Ghost" was intended to be damaged during projection. This is just one of many examples of how EXPANDED my cinema praxis was at the time.

What I was underaware of then, despite my fairly advanced anarchist analysis of class biases in society, was just how locked into place everything was in the experimental film world already - locked into place by class, education, location, & fear of actual revolution. Much of what I was able to witness of the films that interested me was highly determined by just how 'safe' it was for the cowardly & often lazy academics & curators to support. Even if I was highly aware of these critical problems, I still loved the films & was glad to have access to them. NOW, over 30 yrs later, as I look back over these movies again & again, & compare them critically to my own moviemaking output, it's hard to ignore just how shallow many of these "treasures" are.

To digress in my chronology for awhile here I present the following for consideration: In the 2 DVD set "Treasures IV American Avant Garde Film 1947-1986" published by the National Film Preservation Foundation in 2009, 27 filmmakers have work presented. Many of these makers are the same ones whose work I 1st witnessed in the series at the BMoA in 1976-1977.

Of these 27, 12 had some substantial connection to California, either thru being a student there, having it as a home base, or teaching there: Bruce Baillie (SF; univ.), Wallace Berman (LA), Stan Brakhage (SF, NYC, LA, CO; univ.; faculty), Lawrence Jordan (SF; univ.; faculty), George Kuchar (NYC, SF; faculty), Christopher Maclaine (SF; univ.), Robert Nelson & William T. Wiley (SF; both faculty), Pat O'Neill (LA; univ.; faculty), Jane Conger Belson Shimane (SF; univ.), Harry Smith (SF & NYC), & Chick Strand (SF; univ.; faculty).

18 had some connection to New York State or the adjacent state Connecticut (considered by some to be a sort of suburb of New York City) Stan Brakhage (SF, NYC, LA, CO; univ.; faculty), Robert Breer (NYC; faculty), Shirley Clarke (NYC), Joseph Cornell (NYC), Storm De Hirsch (NYC), Hollis Frampton (NYC, DC; univ.), Larry Gottheim (CT; univ.; faculty SUNY-Binghamton), Ken Jacobs (NYC; studied film & painting), George Kuchar (NYC, SF; faculty), Owen Land (George Landow) (CT; univ.), Standish Lawder (CT; univ.; faculty), Saul Levine (CT, MA, Chicago; univ.; faculty), Jonas Mekas (NYC), Marie Menken (NYC; Art Students League), Ron Rice (NYC, Mexico), Paul Sharits (univ.; faculty SUNY-Buffalo), Harry Smith (SF & NYC), & Andy Warhol (NYC; univ.).

Brakhage, Kuchar, & Harry Smith have had substantial connections to both places. The obvious point is that while many of these people originated in places other than New York or California, they all had to pass through NY or CA in order to be noticed & recognized by critics. Again, of the 27, at least 17 attended some sort of university & at least 13 ended up as university faculty. Of course, attendance at universities is meant to provide connections as part of its service. That's understandable. But since attendance at universities often requires money, it means that the people w/ the money are more likely to have these connections. Additionally, it means that a whole class of pseudo-scholars are created who only value makers who meet the irrelevant criteria of having attended certain universities & lived in certain cities - often expensive ones like NYC & SF.

Here's an example: In the fall of 1991, I organized one of the earliest of the PXL-2000 festivals - a 3 day series of screenings in Baltimore presenting only work shot using the Fisher-Price "Pixelvision" video camera. The local daily newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, w/ their characteristic absolute lack of vision, refused to cover the event b/c the camera was a toy. The work originated from Nashville, TN; Baltimore, MD; Venice, CA; Tampa, FL; Atlanta, GA; Cleveland, OH; Lowell, MA; NYC, NY; Chicago, IL; Montréal, Québec / Mexico; Abbeville, LA; New Orleans, LA; Savannah, GA; Albuquerque, NM; & Dundee, Scotland / London, England. I published a catalog & a 2 hr VHS compilation video from the event.

Then, perhaps in 1993, MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) student Martha Colburn was attending a video class where PXL works were to be discussed. I had previously exposed Martha to the PXL-2000 & given her the catalog & compilation. Martha asked her professor, a woman, if she was aware that one of the 1st PXL festivals had happened in Baltimore (where MICA's located) & if she'd be interested in seeing the catalog & the compilation. Colburn was coldly informed that the teacher was not interested in the PXL work of anyone other than Sadie Benning & that was that!

Why? Well, I'm sure it didn't hurt that Benning's father is the well-connected academic filmmaker James Benning. I'm sure that it also didn't hurt her having exhibits at museums & getting a truly incredible amt of major grants. Given that Benning is a lesbian, programmers managed to kill 2 birds w/ one stone: psuedo-'queer correctness' combined w/ the ONE person representing all PXL makers. Great, right? Capture the attn of the teen market, the lesbian market, & the PXL market all in one fell swoop! No matter that the earliest PXL work in Benning's Wikipedia bio is from 1989 & that others, such as myself, had already made many PXL works since early 1988 or even earlier. Benning became the canonized PXL maker. Such incredibly lazy reductionism serves the purpose of people like the moronic MICA teacher all too well. Added to that might've been the incredible fear & loathing that such MICA people had of the notoriously dangerous & impoverished anarchist crazy: myself.

Benning is quoted regarding receiving the PXL camcorder as a present from her dad on Wikipedia as follows: "I thought, 'This is a piece of shit. It's black-and-white. It's for kids. He'd told me I was getting this surprise. I was expecting a camcorder." Funny, isn't it? I'd been making videos for 11 yrs before I got the PXL & IT WAS THE 1ST CAMCORDER I EVER HAD. Before then I'd always had to borrow equipment. For me, the PXL was great: it was cheap, I cd afford it!

Making matters even worse is that when MoMA's "Big as Life" exhibit of small-gauge filmmaking was curated almost everyone who was invited worked in either 8mm or super-8mm film. Benning was the only one invited b/c she worked w/ PXL. It seemed obvious to me that the curators had to bend the entrance criteria to fit her token presence in. The only other exception that I can think of was George Kuchar who had an 8mm video piece screened. I don't begrudge the Kuchar - after all the Kuchar brothers did make 8mm films & I consider George Kuchar to be one of the greatest filmmakers; but if Benning was to be included b/c of her use of the PXL it seems obvious that many, many other people shd've also been included - such as Gerry Fialka, a PXL maker & the curator of the longest running PXL festival: PXL This.

Furthermore, to show how such idiocy is perpetuated, consider the following: I was in Kuala Lumpur in 2000 to participate in a symposium on experimental film & video making at the National Art Gallery of Malaysia. My participation in this was somewhat of a fluke. My host explained to me that until about 5 yrs before, Malaysia had been very cut off from the rest of the world & that Malaysia had been an extremely oppressive country. He sd that it had been possible in Malaysia to be talking w/ someone on the streets about not liking the president & to then be whisked away by secret police to spend the next 2 yrs in prison for such an offense. Again according to my host, all that changed when international reporters & the internet put the government under greater scrutiny.

SO, there I was in Malaysia where a panel of people trying to be 'experts' on an international phenomena under highly isolated nationalist conditions explained to the audience that Leni Riefenstahl was, I kid you not, a "cinema verité" maker, eg. I don't tell this story to make fun of the person who sd this, just to set the stage for what's to follow. Another speaker showed excerpts from the work of TWO people to represent the avant garde: Jonas Mekas & Sadie Benning. What's wrong w/ this picture?! People like Sadie Benning are artificially catapulted to mass media super-stardom b/c they meet the market needs. This is often the problem w/ canonization in general.

Back to the American Avant-Garde: One of my pet peeves in evaluating such work is whether or not they made their own soundtrack &, if not, what does the soundtrack consist of? I remember seeing a nicely optically printed film by a UMBC professor that was ok in & of itself but that became ?spectacular" b/c she used Luciano Berio's fantastic "Sinfonia", in excerpt, for the sound. I suspect that most of her audience wdn't have the slightest idea who Berio is so his music just becomes a part of her movie - enhancing it enormously w/o his having any idea that he's been used in this way.

When the Alloy Orchestra takes a great film like Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" & adds their soundtrack to it do they then call it Alloy Orchestra's "Man with a Movie Camera" w/ Vertov's importance being secondary?! Or give it a different title?! Of course not!

Kenneth Anger's been widely praised for repurposing pop songs in "Scorpio Rising" - giving them a new subtext in the context of his occult gay S&M milieu. I think that's incredibly stupid. Anger just did what any idiot student filmmaker wd do who was too lazy or untalented to think of their own sound. The problem here is that most filmmakers come from art backgrounds & think of film as a primarily visual medium. As such, the soundtracks are often borrowed or interchangeable - not b/c of a modular structure but b/c 'any old thing will do'.

Take, eg, the afore-mentioned "Treasures IV": Harry Smith just used whatever records appealed to him at the time when he screened his films - this comp follows this practice by using found sound - w/ an alternate soundtrack composed after Smith's death; Mekas added found music from Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band to his 1966 "Notes on the Circus"; Baillie uses an original soundtrack; Strand uses an original soundtrack; Jane Conger Belson Shimane uses an original soundtrack; Breer's is silent; De Hirsch's may be found; O'Neill's is original; Berman's was originally projected either silent or to favorite records; Levine's is silent; Cornell's is silent; Brakhage's is silent; Maclaine's has original sound; Clarke's has original sound; Menken's silent; Jacobs' original; Rice's original; Warhol's silent; Kuchar's original; Nelson & Wiley's original; Land's original; Jordan's possibly found (in looking it up in the online Canyon Cinema catalog I find no mention or credit for the sound at all); Lawder's uses Sibelius; Gottheim's silent; Frampton's original; Sharits' silent.

SO, 26 movies, at least 10 of wch are originally silent. Now, I, of all people, understand that making sound prints can be prohibitively expensive. But is that the case here? Brakhage chose for his films to be silent, so did Warhol (in this case), Sharits certainly had the money to pay for sound prints. Harry Smith had access to sound recording far before most people did but never made his own soundtracks. I can't usually afford sound prints so my sound is on non-film media: cassette tape, CD, VHS...

I think MOST of the soundtracks in the above films are pretty shoddy - they're given 2nd-class afterthought status OR, as in my previous example of the use of Berio, the chosen sound is very important to propelling the visuals but the filmmaker wd've never been capable of creating it. Take "Chumlum"'s cimbalom soundtrack as played by Angus MacLise: this is crap musicianship from a young guy who ain't no gypsy musician, that's fer sure! People like this become revered in retrospect b/c of their historical position not b/c of any significant skill. Some of the soundtracks (Jordan's "Hamfat Asar", eg) strike me as just monotonous beat &/or hippie noodlings - the kind of thing stoned people produce in their uncritical egomania. I've got news fer ya people! Movies are a medium that uses SOUND & IMAGES. Deal w/ it.

Don't misunderstand me: I LOVE many of these films still! & I actually recommend "Treasures IV" to people not familiar w/ the material. I'm using it as an example now b/c of its relationship to the 1st avant-garde films I got to witness & b/c I've just gone thru these DVDs in the last few days. I liked Bruce Baillie's "Here I Am" (1962), wch I may not've previously seen. I liked Shirley Clarke's "Bridges-Go-Round" (1958) more than ever, wch I had seen, & was happy to be reminded that both Louis & Bebe Barron had done a soundtrack for it as well as Teo Macero - always an interesting man. I liked Marie Menken's "Go! Go! Go!" (1962-64) more than anything I've seen by her yet. I still absolutely love Frampton's "(nostalgia)" (1971), Harry Smith's "Film No. 3: Interwoven" (1947-49). Pat O'Neill's "7362" (1967) was great. I still liked Land's "New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops". & Jane Belson's "Odds & Ends" (1959) & Chick Strand's "Fake Fruit Factory" (1986) were pleasant surprises.

On the other hand, Andy Warhol's "Mario Banana (No. 1)" (1964) just seems like a cheap attempt to jump on the costume orgies bandwagon already started by Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs, & Ron Rice. It's a total bore. Joseph Cornell's "By Night with Torch and Spear" may have some value as an early found footage film but it leaves me completely cold. Larry Gottheim's "Fog Line" (1970) doesn't have enuf of an idea to justify it. Christopher Maclaine's "The End" (1953) is pretty shallow & pretentious in contrast to Philip K. Dick's short stories of the time along the same lines of "we're all gonna die!" (such as the 1953 "Second Variety" wch Christian Duguay directed a 1996 movie of called "Screamers"). Paul Sharits' "Bad Burns" is just a rerun.

So what do I mean by my deliberately provocatively trite title: "Old & in the Way"? There's probably somebody who thinks that describes me. What I mean is that certain filmmakers are so canonized that it's like nothing has come after them. In fact, alot has come after them & it upped the ante (or, as I like to write: the "anti-") quite a bit. & this is where "fear of actual revolution" (as I wrote much earlier) comes in.

Much of the "avant-garde" that's been canonized was made in studios via what're ultimately rather traditional & safe artistic practices. As much as I like Larry Jordan's animations sometimes, they're basically just imitations of Max Ernst (by obvious open admission) & Ernst's work was considerably more revolutionary in its day but still just art. The truly revolutionary work of the last 50 or so yrs has taken the risk of being out & about in the world at large & not produced entirely as studio objects to be admired by art enthusiasts.

& who are these people that've "upped the anti-"? I'm sure there're quite a few I don't know about & quite a few I do know about that I won't be referencing here. Some of the names that occur to me now are: Werner Herzog, Genesis P. Orridge, myself, etta cetera, VALIE EXPORT, Monty Cantsin/Istvan Kantor, & Tehching Tsieh. These are all people who combine intense relations w/ the outside world w/ a formal cleverness - a sortof proactive experimental cinema verité. A cinema verité of how the world deals w/ subjects they dare to face & dare to interpenetrate w/ in a creative way. & these people are almost entirely absent from most histories of the "avant-garde" - even if they are known elsewhere.

Now 3 of these aren't primarily from the US. As such, how can I criticize histories of the "American Avant-Garde" for excluding them? Well, if we're to ignore that they've all worked in the US for the moment, what I'm criticizing is not their specific exclusion but the exclusion of the tendency that they represent - in favor of the more academic &/or formalist trends represented by "structuralism", single-frame diary films, direct-on-film films & the like. The afore-mentioned "costume orgies" & some of the films of Warhol & Anger fit in there & they do get attn but they're not quite what I mean.

Take Anger's "Fireworks", eg: it's certainly a pioneering work of 'Queer-in-yr-Face' & I like it for that but, again, it's essentially a studio film. To me, TOPY's & Psychic TV's & P.Orridge's work borrows alotof inspiration from Anger & from the 'costume orgies' so these definitely deserve some credit - but it's not the staged drag queen type material that fits my criteria here. Warhol's "Lonesome Cowboys" might come closest given that he shot it in an environment in wch gay culture was hardly to be openly embraced & this daring on his part resulted in FBI surveillance (see Margia Kramer's Andy Warhol et al. The FBI File on Andy Warhol possibly published by Kramer herself in 1988 under the name of "UnSub Press".).


Still, the thread that I'm ultimately addressing here is more linked to Viennese Aktionism. According to Wikipedia (), "Its main participants were Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. As "actionists", they were active between 1960 and 1971." Furthermore, "Documentation of the work of these four artists suggests that there was no consciously developed sense of a movement or any cultivation of membership status in a "actionist" group. Rather, this name was one applied to various collaborative configurations among these four artists. Malcolm Green has quoted Hermann Nitsch's comment, "Vienna Actionism never was a group. A number of artists reacted to particular situations that they all encountered, within a particular time period, and with similar means and results."

Under the heading "Art and the Politics of Transgression" the article continues w/: "The work of the Viennese Actionists is probably best remembered for the wilful transgressiveness of its naked bodies, destructiveness and violence. Often, brief jail terms were served by participants for violations of decency laws, and their works were targets of moral outrage. In June 1968 Günter Brus began serving a six-month prison sentence for the crime of "degrading symbols of the state", and later fled Austria to avoid a second arrest. Otto Mühl served a one month prison term after his participation in a public event, "Art and Revolution" in 1968. After his "Piss Action" before a Munich audience, Mühl became a fugitive from the West German police. Hermann Nitsch served a two week prison term in 1965 after his participation with Rudolph Schwarzkogler in the Festival of Psycho-Physical Naturalism."

Finally, the connection to experimental film: "The Austrian filmmaker Kurt Kren participated in the documentation of Actions as early as 1964, producing a body of Actionist related works that stand as historic avant-garde films in their own right for their use of rapid editing. As well, Otto Muehl produced a significant body of Actionist related film work that has been celebrated in Amos Vogel's Film as a Subversive Art."

But it's not the men associated w/ such actions in Vienna that I'm so much interested in as it is one woman: VALIE EXPORT. Despite her having been born in 1940, despite her having been supposedly the 3rd highest state funded filmmaker in Austria at some point, despite her May, 1987 presentations in Baltimore having been supported by the Austrian Embassy, despite her having made at least 3 amazing feature films, the info I find about her on the internet is even more sparse than my own. Here's an excerpt from her Wikipedia bio:

"EXPORT's early guerilla performances have attained an iconic status in feminist art history. Tapp- und Tast-Kino ("Tap and Touch Cinema") was performed in ten European cities in 1968-1971. In this avowedly revolutionary work, EXPORT wore a tiny "movie theater" around her naked upper body, so that her body could not be seen but could be touched by anyone reaching through the curtained front of the "theater." She then went into the street and invited men, women, and children to come and touch her.

"In her 1969 performance Aktionshose:Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic), EXPORT entered a porn cinema in Munich with her hair in disarray, wearing crotchless pants, and carrying a machine gun. Striding up and down the rows of theatregoers, she brandished the weapon and challenged the male audience to engage with a "real woman" instead of with an images on a screen. Through these acts of artistic daring, EXPORT challenged the objectification of the female form by confronting voyeurs with a body that returned the gaze.

"The contrast with what is usually called "cinema" is obvious, and is crucial to the message. In EXPORT's performance, the female body is not packaged and sold by male directors and producers, but is controlled and offered freely by the woman herself, in defiance of social rules and state precepts. Also, the ordinary state-approved cinema is an essentially voyeuristic experience, whereas in EXPORT's performance, the "audience" not only has a very direct, tactile contact with another person, but does so in the full view of EXPORT and bystanders."

Now her Wikipedia bio is certainly more substantial than my own (since mine was removed altogether & the entries I tried to make to it were immediately Wiki-gardenered out) but it's very limited to her early work. There's not even a filmography. EXPORT exemplifies the avant-garde that's somewhat excluded from the more canonized formalist version.

Take, eg, her first 16mm feature "Unsichtbare Gegner" (1976) (in collaboration w/ Peter Weibel) referred to in English as "Invisible Adversaries".

In Rita Rodentia's 1999 "VALIE EXPORT" RATicle in the (limited edition of 300) periodical "Street Rat" No 2 she writes [slightly corrected here]:

"Valie does a lot of performances where she pushes her body to the limit. Ouch. They leave me with a strange feeling in my gut...the same feeling I get when someone describes a play by play of their latest surgery. One of the most disturbing KORPERAKTIONENs (body action), I witnessed, involved hot wax and a live bird. (1973-74) Valie is on a table naked. She opens a box with a bird in it and ties it to the table. She pours hot wax over the shrieking, fluttering bird until it stops moving. Hot wax is then poured unflinchingly over each foot, her hand and (with aid of her mouth) the remaining hand. Valie and the dead bird are stuck to the table. She then cuts her way out with a knife and peels the wax off herself. This video disturbed me so much I sought translation of the german that was written in chalk on the floor. "ASEMIE- DIE UNFAHIGKEIT SICH DURCH MEINSPIEL AUSDRUCKEN ZU KONNEN" This translates into "The inability to express oneself through a game" Ha! Valie has fooled me! i just read in the ANGRY WOMEN interview that Valie used trick photography to make it appear as if the bird were alive but it was actually already dead. WOW, it looked so real and i have been pondering it for over a YEAR! "This was an example of the fact that photography can be a lie; that representation can be a fake." Because of this action, Valie was labeled an animal killer, a witch, and a feminist! She received death threats and hate mail. In the film Invisible Adversaries, an image shows someone reading a tabloid that has a picture of what looks like the dead waxed bird from the Asemie.. KORPORAKTIONEN. (I could be mistaken but it looks like the dead bird) The subtitle reads, "If you are creative in Vienna the police suspect you."

It's exactly this sort of inability of many people to get past one's fear & horror in order to understand what's actually happening that's often connected to the banishing of some people's work to a lunatic fringe - again, in favor of less chain-pulling formal work. Wd EXPORT ever be mentioned in the same breath as, say, the considerably less emotionally confrontational work of, say, Michael Snow? And, yet, they're both extremely formally clever. How else wd EXPORT have contrived the live bird illusion in "Asemie - die Unfähigkeit, sich durch Mienenspiel ausdrücken zu können"?

Here's where the point of this article starts to get tricky: I've been leading up to establishing that much of how the 'avant-garde' has been historicized, esp in the US, has gotten so star-struck around purely formal issues that work that's formal as well as socio-politically challenging in a direct action, non-studio, way or just less formal & more socio-political is ignored or shuffled off into oblivion. & I do think this point is highly valid & pertinent. BUT, at the same time, there's the question of: IS THE CONTEXT OF THE AVANT-GARDE EVEN WORTH BEING HISTORICIZED IN? In other words, who cares? Maybe it's far more important to be historicized as part of a lunatic fringe than it is to be a part of the avant-garde context given that this context has probably outlived its usefulness, etc, etc...

&, yes, I think it IS more important for the work that I'm promoting here to be historicized in different terms. The usual question, though, is what terms? & are those terms the creator's own or ones imposed by critics of dubious sensitivity to the work? My main reason for bringing up the "avant-garde" at all is to call into question what it supposedly represents & what its actual limits are.

As I originally understood "avant-garde", it's a term borrowed from military strategy that when applied to culture meant an aggressive pushing of cultural limits. &, for me, the work I'm pushing here pushes cultural limits far more than the more strictly formalist work most often publicized as "avant-garde". But, HEY!, I, personally long since rejected my being associated w/ the "avant-garde" precisely b/c, way back in the 1970s, I already recognized that the notion of the "avant-garde" was experiencing a hardening of the arteries, that it had come to mean a narrower & narrower period rather than a tendency or a tendency w/ irrelevant restrictions.

SO, forget the "avant-garde" - borrowing from military lingo is dubious in the 1st place. The problem here is just how a term can be used to exclude as much or more than it includes & how this exclusion, thru canonization, ultimately results in work being overlooked or deliberately marginalized. What's essentially happened is that work that cd've possibly been included under the rubric of "avant-garde" has become contextualized, if at all, under transgressive. A sortof non-identical twin mitosis has occurred & the avant-garde has split into the safe formalist avant-garde & the dangerous socio-political. &, undoubtedly, even the transgressive will become overly defined & limited to the exclusion of people who cd've been appreciated under its heading but who're too outré or just plain uncategorizable to be accepted by its canonization process.

One of the reasons why I listed where the work came from that I presented in my PXL Fest was to show that it didn't just come from NYC & environs & from SF & that it didn't just come from academic environs either. I am trying to point out the usual, what shd be obvious, class bias in histories. Why do we mainly get Sadie Benning over & over again & not all those other folks? Is it really b/c her work's so special? Of course not! She's where she is b/c of the privilege bestowed on her by her father's class position. PERIOD.

Look at my own work:

1978, age 25: I make 13 rolls of super-8 film quasi-documenting art works of mine that I intend to give away to mark my transition from artist to mad scientist. My purpose is to emphasize actions & objects that go forth into the world in a much more proactive way than thru just sitting on display in galleries. The films are cut into approximately 46,800 single frames wch are then distributed internationally for the purpose of having them put creatively into any environment rather than just conventionally exhibited. This is an example of expanded cinema par excellence & was such an extreme act that it's been ignored & rejected by film historians for the last 32 yrs! Mention of it was even rejected from an issue of the otherwise excellent Cinematograph magazine. I'm happy to say that it did finally find printed inclusion (along w/ taped-in frames) in my very small edition 2004 bk, Not Necessarily NOT Very Important, published by the San Francisco Cinematheque.

1983: I perform my "Poop & Pee Dog Copyright Violation Ceremony" in a train tunnel in BalTimOre as part of the 3rd convention of the Church of the SubGenius, wch I coorganize w/ Sam Fitzsimmons. In this action I dance nude w/ the bodies of 2 dead dogs in a train tunnel. Linda Burnham, the editor of "High Performance" magazine is there as are 2 reporters from 2 different newspapers from 2 states. I'm arrested & it becomes national news that I'm a 'cult leader'. However, the reporters who were there weren't allowed by their papers to publicly proclaim their presence - it was too embarrassing! To again quote EXPORT, "If you are creative in Vienna the police suspect you." Ditto for BalTimOre. Burnham gives a talk to the Board of Directors of Maryland Art Place shortly thereafter. She mentions my action as representing the future of performance (or some such). After she leaves, the board emphatically decides that she's never to be asked back again b/c of this. (Fortunately unsuccessful) attempts are made to put me in jail & I hear of people threatening to kill me b/c they think I've killed the dogs. I didn't kill the dogs, trains apparently had. Why didn't these same people threaten to blow up trains? This, in a neighborhood where people blinded street people w/ bleach for fun.

1985: My friend "Dick Hertz" gets a job as a "peep show mechanic" editing peep show movies for 2 places in BalTimOre's "Block" porn district. He brings me into the job & we scheme together to do something to take advantage of the environment. For 6 wks we work, unbeknownst to the management, on our own super-8 movie called "Balling Tim Ore is Best". This edits together our footage w/ the pre-fab footage that we usually edited for the peeps. Our movie deliberately subverts the building to a climax structure that peep show movies usually have. After all, most of these movies are designed to assist guys (or pervert & exploit their need) in jerking off. We snuck the film into a peep show & showed it for 2 wks before swiping it back. Our movie leads them on & then detumesces & diverts their expectations. B/c of this, & other projects of mine, I'm branded a "pornographer" & at least one person tries to prevent a screening of my work by trashing some of it. This by a supposed feminist. &, yet, to me, this film was made in much the same spirit as EXPORT's incredibly brave "Aktionshose:Genitalpanik". My purpose, at least, was to fuck w/ the way capitalism diverts & profits off of even the most basic drives. This work, much to the credit of curators Jytte Jensen & Steve Anker, eventually exhibits as part of the "Big As Life" series at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC on February 15, 2001.

Now, is "Balling Tim Ore is Best" an avant-garde work? Yes, if one considers how expanded cinema it is to make something site-specific like this & to put unusual content in a very rigorously content-restrictive environment. &, yet, will you ever witness it in a collection of "American Avant Garde Film 1947-1986"?! Highly fucking unlikely! SO, will it eventually be historicized under "transgressive"? That's also unlikely I think! More likely, Dick & I will be written off as a coupla weirdo pervert creeps - despite Dick's being what's becoming more & more coopted by academia: a trannie.

1991: I organize the PXL fest. Newspapers won't cover it b/c the PXL's a toy. I can't get a grant to publish the compilation, wch I then publish myself. I can only deduce, perhaps incorrectly, that the comp is rejected for funding b/c of the 'toy' angle or maybe b/c a vagina is prominently featured (although I don't recall if the grant-givers knew that). In the meantime, Sadie Benning is touted as the art world's latest great discovery for.. using a PXL & addressing vaginal politics.

I cd go on & on (& have already!) but I want to mention some more work by other people:

For one year between April 11, 1980 through April 11, 1981, Hsieh punched a time clock every hour on the hour for one year. Each time he punched the clock, he took a single picture of himself, which together yield a 6 minute movie. He shaved his head before the piece, so his growing hair reflects the passage of time. Documentation of this piece was exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2009, using film, punch cards and photographs." - Wikipedia

Isn't the resultant movie from this as worthy of inclusion, if not mores so, as an important "American Avant Garde Film 1947-1986" than something like Gottheim's "Fog Line"?! A reader might complain that Hsieh's totally accepted now - for fuck's sake he had a Guggenheim show! &, yet, Tehching's being exhibited at the Guggenheim is a relatively recent phenomenon. He wd've been 58 when this acceptance came. & regarding the Guggenheim: never forget Hans Haacke's exclusion from there for putting together a show that detailed some Guggenheim-related financial dealings that the Guggenheim preferred to have remain undisclosed.

How does the art world even deal w/ someone like Hsieh? When he did his "Cage Piece" from 1978-79 & lived in a cell of his own construction for an entire yr w/o talking to anyone or reading or listening to the radio, etc, he was still an illegal immigrant. When he lived outside for a yr he was arrested & fought to avoid being put inside. Fortunately for him, an art lawyer got him out. But, then, he did his 1985-1986 piece where he "not do ART, not talk ART, not see ART, not read ART, not go to ART gallery and ART museum for one year. I just go in life." as his announcement statement read. & then that was followed by his:

Hsieh challenges a basic of the art world that's so basic that it usually goes unchallenged: Is art even worth making? &, if so, does it have to be exhibited publicly?! I declared myself a "mad scientist" & rejected art way back in 1978. As such, I'm not very likely to be included in a collection of "American Avant Garde Film 1947-1986" even though film, per se, is not necessarily art!! Such an assertion on my part or Tsieh's, though, challenges a truly taboo sacred cash cow.

& how does Genesis P. Orridge fit in here? Well, if I understand the story correctly, P. Orridge had to flee Great Britain b/c of fear of prosecution b/c of a video he published being accused of containing incriminating evidence. Viz: "Temple ov Psychic Youth - Psychic TV Psychlopaedia - Volume # Two - "Ritual Cuttings of the Psychic Youth"". Again, as I understand the story, a woman appeared on a British TV talk show & claimed that this video shows her 'underaged' daughter getting an illegal abortion by someone affiliated w/ TOPY. Now I have this movie & I watched it again after a British friend sent me a newsclipping about this story - to see if I cd see an abortion. I certainly hadn't noticed it the 1st time around. On this 2nd viewing I thought I cd imagine one part of this being such a thing but I wasn't sure. As far as I'm concerned, the abortion document may well be there but the possible prosecution for this abortion revolves more around the sensationalist mass media's exploitation of it for ratings than it does around the actual crime. Part of what's being prosecuted here is the philosophical decision on TOPY's part to enable an abortion w/o parental permission - wch I assume wd've been denied here. My take on it is: the girl wanted an abortion & this was the way she cd get it & it was none of her parents' business as far as she was concerned. After all, it wasn't her parents who'd fucked the father!

Then there's etta cetera. Her puppet troop, "Indicator Species", made a performance called "The Hardest Question Ever" wch is about the question of what to do about murderers? This, from an anarchist perspective. I made a documentary of this (2005-06). Not only is the piece based on data directly obtained by personal experience & by prison activism, but, to make it even better, the formal presentation involves such sophisticated & imaginative elements as shadow puppetry & opaque projector projections onto a screen made from actual letters from prisoners. Some of the sound is of a recording of a convicted murderer's phone call discussing his crime. This was, beyond doubt, one of the greatest & most powerful performances I've ever seen. &, yet, their performance was rejected by an anarchist theater festival in Canada - their decision apparently having been based on my documentary. Who was accepted? The Living Theater! Canonization even in the anarchist community! What little work I've seen by the Living Theater in movie form, "Paradise Now" & "Signals Through the Flames", doesn't hold a candle to "The Hardest Question Ever".

The point is that when the people publishing the DVDs & writing the bks come to the possibility of inclusion for people like myself or EXPORT of Hsieh or P.Orridge or cetera, etc, they're going to be much more likely to pick people whose 'criminal' nature won't endanger their own safe bourgeois position - & that usually means academics & formalists. So the next time you check out a compilation of "Avant-Garde" movies keep in mind that what's excluded may very well be done by poor non-academics in cities other than NYC & SF who might just be taking both the formal & the socio-political risks that the work of Hollis Frampton never comes close to. & that doesn't make "(nostalgia)" not a great movie, it just makes it only the side of the story that certain publishers & academics are willing to help historicize.