On my first weekend in Chicago, I took a bus to a train to a bus down to Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. I made the trek for a symposium on the films of Marcel Broodthaers, but also to see "The Seductiveness of the Interval" at the Renaissance Society and to delve into the bowels of the Seminary Bookstore. The "Seductiveness of the Interval" is a series of low, small, interconnected rooms with different types of seating: from the seats on a bus, to the wooden seats in a school auditorium. The chairs all face a screen on which is projected a video. The exhibition includes work by three artists: Stefan Constantinescu, Andrea Faciu and Ciprian Muresan. While their strategy for inserting videos inside an installation in a very minimalistic way seems important in advancing the dialogue about medium-specificity v. installation art, I did not find the videos compelling enough to want to sit through, perhaps because I had been blown away by Broodthaers' films. The most interesting piece in the show was the garden on the roof of the structure, which you reached only after climbing steep steps that raised you up above the gallery lighting. Although reminiscent of Francis Alys' lofted space in 2008, what I like about seeing shows at the Renaissance Society is that the work always gets you experience the space in a new way.
It is hard for me, just days later, to gauge the impact of seeing so many of Broodthaers' films together, a rare occurrence. While I like Broodthaers' work, I primarily went to the conference to hear Benjamin Buchloh and Bruce Jenkins speak about his work. I was therefore unprepared to be totally charmed by Broodthaers' films. I had no idea how funny they were. Broodthaers, I learned, was influenced by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, borrowing strategies from silent film to poke fun at the bourgeoisie, as well as himself. I must admit that most of my knowledge of Broodthaers' work comes from Krauss' book, "A Voyage on the North Sea" and my research into Tacita Dean's work (see my post on the The Artist's Studio at the MCA). While I can't rehearse Buchloh's lecture here, in his talk he re-examined the connection between Broodthaers' work and Benjamin, by linking Broodthaers' more closely to Guy Debord, and describes his films as a critique of "The Spectacle". With films like Le Bataille de Waterloo (1975) this connection seemed quite clear to me, less so with his earlier works like La Pipe Satire (1970). While I know this is quite a leap, after spending time last week researching the Yes Men for another article, I couldn't help but think they share the same dead pan humor directed, perhaps, at the similar targets. Broodthaers' films also reminded me of early works by Frances Alys such as Paradox of Praxis, where Alys pushes a melting block of ice through the streets of Mexico City. In this work, like Broodthaers' film, Eau de Cologne in which he sits on a folding chair in front of a cathedral holding a potted plant as it blows wildly in the wind, there is a mixture of the poetic and the absurd, as each artist incorporates their own bodies into a kind of physical comedy.
Broodthaers reading the newspaper through glasses dipped in whipped cream in Berlin oder ein Traum mit Sahne (1970).
And lastly, the amazing book I found in the catacombs of the Seminary Book Co-op, a history of Objectivity by Lorraine Daston and Peter Gallison published by Zone Books.