The exhibition On the Marriage Broker Joke borrows its title from a seminal film by Owen Land from 1977. On the Marriage Broker Joke as cited by Sigmund Freud in Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious or can the Avant-Garde Artist be wholed? is an experimental film where Owen Land ponders on the relationship between a marriage broker and a pander and builds a story on two pandas making a structural film.
Both film and exhibition deal with the desire for a transcendental truth, and more specifically with how several institutions including art itself, are brokering between individual, community and higher truth.
The project embarks on a research of detachment and wit as critical, artistic strategies and deals with (de-)constructuve tendencies in art. It features new and existing works by Robert Beck, Matthew Brannon, Mathew Cerletty, Keren Cytter, Armen Eloyan and two films by Owen Land from 1965 and 1977–79.
Armen Eloyan (1966, Yerevan, Armenia) The work of Armenian painter Armen Eloyan deals with the founding fantasies of mainstream imagination as they are expressed in cartoons and products for the entertainment industry. The benign creatures of animation movies, fairy tales but equally the rock and roll heroes of juke box bars often conceal the brutal and violent substructures of society and the template role models it adheres to. Eloyan’s paintings draw upon the endless and seamless imagination of a fantasy world, yet they are dirty, loud and grotesque in every true sense of the word. In his painted universe Eloyan is able to appropriate the figure of the painter in male chauvinist pig style without fully identifying with all its underlying premises.
Robert Beck (Baltimore, Maryland, 1959) in his sculptural works, drawings and installations investigates the American culture of implicit violence as it is an agent for the distribution of power and authority in male western patriarchal society. Beck’s artistic approach follows the institutional tandem of visualizing and controlling the self and much like psychology his work departs from the study of the traces of events. Society’s predilection for homogeneity is countered by Beck’s search for a subversive, residual self that balances between violent outburst and anodyne peace. More specifically in his drawings Beck appropriates material from assessment tests where individuals and children were asked to make drawings in response to therapeutic questions. Latent fingerprint powder, material used to dust crime scenes in search of finger prints covers these drawings.
The work of Matthew Brannon (St. Maries, Idaho, 1971) is inspired by graphic design and 1950’s advertisement, textually it takes recourse to poetry, noir and pop song lyrics. Brannon’s letterpress and screenprints are a trademark combination of text, graphic ornaments and images that defines typographic space as a space of illusions. Pictorial illusion understood not as the incapacity to represent but a form of embitterment. It is not only an optical space of visual sublimation, but also a mental space of textual and psychological corruption. His prints seem to portray a fractured social and psychological universe that is composed by relations between human beings in small metropolitan musings or conversations about paranoia, careerism, consumption and excess.
Mathew Cerletty (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1980) is one of the most interesting artists working in the field of painting today in the US. His elusive work is gentle and sleek and is carefully grafted on the subversion of clearly defined everyday values and identities through processes of overlapping, mirroring, make-up, cross dressing and the manipulation of signifiers. His work is cool and detached. Cerletty seems to have come to terms with the aesthetically more kind underpinnings of the virulent work of Luc Tuymans and with the fetish of grotesque class-boredom in John Currin. He is able to translate these once marginal and fragmentary attributes into autonomous icons. Finally there is an element of wit and of gentle mockery that is new to today’s painting. Cerletty seems to offer painting a definite escape from its solemn confines in serious content and is able to engage in a playful yet serious negotiation with the icons of our time.
Keren Cytter ’s (Tel Aviv, Israel, 1977) films are narratively explicit and often unfold around fragile, tense relationships between individuals roughly aged between 20 and 35, and around their conflicting aspirations in life. Cytter’s approach to film and its subject matter is inspired by naturalist proximity, leaving no room for grooming of spaces or bodies. The settings of her early films are mostly kitchens, messy bedrooms and one-room apartments. For all these reasons her work is said to be constructed along the lines of ‘kitchen sink realism.’ Her productions engage in a twisted play with the concept of truth and of inside/outside that becomes particularly meaningful when we think of it in relation to her geopolitical background, the Israeli border region. In Atmosphere (2005, 11 min), Julia (the author’s flat mate) is haunted by dreams and memories of a lost friend and a lost lover, made into a sensual, dreamlike story. The characters seem aware of the distorted formalistic qualities of the film, which mirrors Julia’s sweeping emotions. Dream Talk (2005, 11 min) portrays a group of friends who mistake their own desires and fantasies with the ones of characters in a reality TV show. Hostage to a hyper-mediated world, they have no control over the means of their own communication. French Film (2003, 11 min) is an experimental film in French that follows a young composer who leaves Tel Aviv for a better future in Paris. An over-sentimental attitude of longing and sadness and cruel fear of the unknown overshadow his mind, transferring a sense of brutality and absence onto every element of his immediate environment.
Owen Land (also known as George Landow) (New Haven, Massachusets, 1944) is an American filmmaker who produced some of the most thought provoking and influential experimental films of the 1960s and 1970s and remains active in Hollywood where he is currently working on Dialogues, a feature film with over 40 professional actors. Because of a distributional fallacy his work has escaped public exposure for over 3 decades. His work remains largely unknown to younger generations and to the larger public. His films deserve renewed attention since they are crucial in negotiating a new understanding of the historical underpinnings of contemporary art and its conceptualist, structuralist legacy. Land’s film practice is both materialist, self-reflective, narrative and critically eloquent. It represents and analyzes unconscious processes both in the religious, economic, sexual and artistic fields. His work often mimicks and mocks the work of his fellow filmmakers (among them Andy Warhol) and ridicules the solemn approach of theorists and scholars. There are several Duchampian elements at play in Land’s filmic practice. Gender blurring, cross dressing and the use of animal costumes are at the heart of a confusing deconstruction of a unified individual. Product fetishism and a concern with film as an illusory medium are in continuously changing balances. On the Marriage Broker Joke as cited by Sigmund Freud in Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious or can the Avant-Garde Artist be Wholed is a complex experimental 16mm film. Land ponders on the relationship between a marriage broker and a pander and builds a story on two pandas making a structural film. The film features a lengthy analysis of the most important economical processes surrounding us, and compares them to metaphysical and artistic frames of reference. Film in which there appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles etc. is a test strip projection. The original image was used by film labs to test color reproduction. The projection is experienced as a composition of images of the Kodak girl, letters and other elements that are more or less constant. Changes are very subtle and people tend to see the same image. Land confronts us with a double intentional fallacy: do we follow him to regard the Kodak girl portrait as art? Or do we rather consider the scratches and dust on the film strip as art? Or does Land occupy a marriage broker position marrying structural art to classic potraiture and running away with the bride of contemporary art himself.