Queenie (Version 11) (2011 - ongoing)
2-minute extract from a 9-minute video resume.
Queenie is an ongoing, ever-expanding video resume that juxtaposes real-life footage and artificial performance documentation originating 8 years ago and still counting.
In this piece of writing, all Italic Queenie refer to video work 'Queenie' (ongoing, version 11, 9-min duration), in contradiction to me, Queenie, as the maker, the writer and the human being.
If Plato came to me and accused Queenie as "twice removed from the truth" and me as the artist "knowing nothing about Queenie", I would turn my emissary camera to him and reply, "Sir, how wouldn't I be my own #craftsman and my own #imitator? And at the end, have you found #God in heaven?
What is sincerity in art?
After a screening of Queenie to a group of art audience, I was being questioned about my sincerity towards this video work. I must confess that I almost felt being questioned about whether I was sincere to my life.
I felt like I was denounced to the truth of my living.
The intention of making this video work starts with the desire to add a distance to my real life - the "aesthetic distance" in order to formally examine some certain ideas of life and the art world. By adding a quasi-fictional dimension into the reality I created a "para-reality", a nuance compared to what Carrie Lambert-beatty called "para-fiction". I am in dire hope of seeking an alternative dimension to reflect on my self-allegedly collusive relationship with art and the broader world, wishing that dim beam of God may permeate through my drag on the flat screen.
The vignettes are real. The footages were all taken without the foresight to be edited into this video. With the earliest footage originally shot back in 2012, the business-related episodes existed even before the concept of art registered in my mind. I was genuinely living out my multifaceted roles as a gallery assistant, an auction house trainee, an artist-to-be, an interviewed photographer and a business student at different periods of life. In one scene, as an ex-marketer, I was devoted to dancing in front of my salespeople to boost their morale for a higher revenue target in an annual corporate dinner event. In the absolute absence of artistic intention during the initial recording of each footage, I cautiously believe that it would not be wrong to state that all the raw materials of this work are true by nature.
Nevertheless, by picking these different instances in life, contextualising them into one single totalising object, the materials start to negotiate among themselves and a new material relationship emerged. Admittedly, the transformation fed a fictional quality into the work, turning life into art and truth into fiction. Fiction exists in the curating of the presentation, on top of the hyper-realistic fragments of life. I was hoping the work started to become slightly troublesome when these definitions were no longer stable.
There were names in my mind that I referenced to during the making of Queenie: Cindy Sherman, Andrea Fraser and Rachel Maclean. Yet I recognised them in discord. When Sherman dressed up as a delirious housewife, a self- fetishised young lady, or a luscious librarian, the personas existed only in the course of shooting, whose ghosts were subsequently frozen by the glossy Gelatin silver prints. When Fraser made the work "Untitled" and had sex with the collector in 2003, it was a choreographed act. It started with a thought and a concept, and meticulously executed with a contract and a plan. Rachel Maclean performed every role in her fancy animations, but the staginess of her characters was truer than the truth of her conjured worlds.
When the genre of "invisible art" swept the art world in the 70s, there was purportedly a trend of dematerialisation, defined by Lucy Lippard as the "the object becoming wholly obsolete...emphasizing the thinking process almost exclusively". Yves Klein's empty space, Claes Oldenburg's soil (removed) and hole (dug) and Tom Friedman's 1000 hours of staring, however, still retained their materiality technically speaking. Even as thin as one cubic meter of Air has a weight of 1.229kg at sea level. Although diminishing in visibility, they were tangible materials popularised through the wave of Conceptual Art in the 1960s. I would argue that the process of dematerialisation would be more legitimate to exist in the realm of consciousness and subconsciousness falling out of corporeal materiality. A step closer is Yoko Ono's instruction paintings which delineated art in the mind of the viewer.
Yet, Queenie asked if it is possible to achieve an ultimate dissolve of materiality and dismiss the artistic concept thoroughly in the real world? The experiment here is, therefore, to push art completely into life. It is an attempt to forget about art, but also a destined failure as such forgetfulness (amnesia) would ultimately be thrown back into the gaze of the spectators generating critical art discourse. Nonetheless, the ostensible non-being of art may unleash the liberty of new spectacles to scrutinise the frail ecosystem of its very own.
In the video, the images were all me. They were all Queenies, wearing her different facades at various times, sincerely or 'sincerely'. But by editing them, stitching them together, the sense of Queenie started fading away. Now they were not just me, they could be everyone. They are us, brutally and realistically.
Through a deliberate objectification of oneself into the material of "artist", a sacrifice of subjectivity as in the Dionysiac process, it might, in my humble wish, conjure an alternative realm for the Apolline dream, the enlightenment, the redemption to shine through. In 1984, the cyborg prototype, Donna Haraway, declared that the possibility of survival is not because of the innocence, but because of the ability to live on the boundaries. Today Queenie seems to imply to me that the possibility of survival is not because of the discovery of the ultimate truth (which may even be non-exist), but because of the ability to live on the complicity. Here I plead guilty to the "strange schizophrenia" Jacques Rancière criticised.
I am also alert that it might have reached the "pathological effect" that Nietzsche described as "semblance deceiving us as if it were crude reality" because, after the screening, some people responded in reluctance and instead, appealed for alternative approaches to making Queenie more "visually appealing". They need an aesthetic safety net.
Audience reflected that this work was "aggressive, heavy, intense". They said that now they knew Queenie, but not autobiographically. They recognised that identity, feeling familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously. They moved on and expressed their reverberation of the emotion, the discomfort and the insecurity pierced through Queenie. The subject is vulnerable, but it is also an unbearable lightness.
"What should I expect to feel?” an audience turned to me. At first, I had a fleeting thought in mind that perhaps it is exactly this sense of uncertainty, this sense of displacement that we should endure, instead of overcoming, as the complexity of the system would not be possible to unpack within simple dualist thinking. Instead, I confessed to him that I did not have any concrete lesson nor a conscious comment to tell. Having said that, the audience was more than welcome to engage in this discursive meditation which was the very purpose of making this work. Looking back I think I was acting to be an active nihilist.
This is, perhaps, a trivial note to make. I have always been introducing Queenie to the audience prior to the screening as "a funny thing to watch" & "it is hilarious, you will enjoy it" with my signature cynical smile. This might have served as an effective marketing strategy, but I would insist it also as a genuine note from me, the maker as well. However, I never really succeeded in inciting the excitement that I wished to have after every screening. I thought I had wittily manoeuvred the strategy of humour except for the fact that at the end, no one really found Queenie funny. In one particular screening, I even received at least a minute of silence before I myself broke the uncomfortable stillness in the room.
At this point, I think it might be useful to document in words the reactions of some experienced artists towards the film. One removed his glasses once the video was over and silently took a deep breath. One was clearly stirred once recognised the voice of the gallery director in the audio excerpt and vividly reflected on the bigger scenario the film poked into. One responded calmly, but emotionally about the intense familiarity but also the unfamiliarity with Queenie. Now I do recall that one responded with a somewhat dry and wry smile, perhaps on a parallel belief as mine that it is less painful to see the reality as an amusing simulation than an undefeatable destiny.
At this stage of contemporary art, it seems that we have reached a unanimity that all art, including Queenie, is an (art)ificial resurrection in terms of fiction. Nevertheless, such deduction contradicted with my bare unsettling when the question of sincerity was brought up. The problematic sense of collusion stretched out from the screen because, walking down the aesthetic distance, I still felt deeply connected with the subject of the video, the images and the Queenies. A peaceful farewell to my Selbstbewußtsein is half-futile. Inevitably, I could not help diving into the anachronistic contemplation on "sincerity".
It is interesting that the Oxford dictionary defined "sincerity" exactly by its negation, by what is not sincere - "the absence of pretence, deceit or hypocrisy". In such a literal sense, the term seems to bear a certain relationship to truthfulness. When the audience was concerned about the work's sincerity, I was assuming that they were in doubt of whether the work was genuinely meditating on the issues it seemed revealing.
"It is not working".
"What is your relationship to video-making?"
It started to reveal to me that sincerity, or truthfulness, appears to have a tight relationship with the technical execution. The above questions were enquiring about the means to make a work "look" more convincing. Such discussion seems to point to the direction that the editing in the post-production, that artificial process, plays a significant role in conveying the "sincerity". It turns out that the existence of truth is dependent on the level of artificiality. All of the sudden, I could almost hear the mocking laughter of Queenie towards Queenie, the "artist"/"photographer"/"marketer"/"art student" in her unavailing attempt of seeking "true identity" in the intricate networks of the contemporary art world.
After exporting the video, showing it and finishing this piece of writing, I am gradually sinking back into the void. Not only because the work has exhausted my life materials that took substantial time to accumulate, yet I am also dubious about the efficacy of this art, or art in general. The central question is, where is the destination? I am in fear to reduce the piece to the Rancière's "pedagogical model", nor the political strategy suggested by Boris Groys as "to change the world by changing the consciousness of people". Groys, among many, had already dismissed such idea on the grounds of the elliptical language of contemporary art and the ambivalent relationship between reactions towards art and the subsequent behaviours in real life.
When Rancière advocated the "aesthetic distance model of art practice " as in " mobilising and altering dissensus to engender new perspectives, I also suspected if he had concretely reached any actual resolution. In fact, he admitted the inadequacy of his very own critique that "art remains art, there is an incalculable tension between political dissensuality and aesthetic indifference". Even new frameworks of life are provoked as the result of dismantling consensus, whether this can generate concrete action and real impact in the world is still deeply in doubt.
On the other hand, if art ever has a meaning or a purpose, it may risk becoming a mere instrument or tactic. Moreover, even if some of the audience were visibly agitated, how long could the emotion last? Turn off the projector, walk out the room, the world is familiar as ever seem.
As Jean Baudrillard stated, "it is through the death of God that religions emerge", I started to ponder that it is through the death of the meaning of art that art emerges. Art as religion. As long as the Dionysiac mania of art-making continues to thrive within me, even if Appollo refuses to emerge, apart from my rather sceptical attitude to art, the only thing I could do is to remain religious to art and to sustain the ascetic art-making process on an innocent belief that one day, the miracle and the truth may descend and illuminate us. Maybe.
I hereby signed declare that I am sincere in writing this piece on Queenie.