Sunday, 28 April 2013
Alex Bag - Untitled Fall '95
A performance video on art school, Fall '95 documents the fictionalized life of the New York City art school School of Visual Arts student, played by Bag herself. Taking the form of a video diary, Bag's character addresses the camera directly, expressing her thoughts on life and art, which mature significantly over the course of eight semesters. Interspersed between these entries are clips commenting on a variety of topics including male aggression, mockingly portrayed by toys, and video art from the 1970s.
In Untitled Fall '95, Bag, at the time an art student, "plays" Bag the art student. In a series of deadpan performances, Bag gathers fragments of pop detritus, fashioning a thoroughly mediated document that is at once a celebration and a record of loss. With the narrative inevitability of a TV serial, the eight diaristic segments trace a woman's struggle to make sense of her experience at art school. As each installment marks the start of a new semester, Bag's character addresses the camera with her latest observations and frustrations.
Interspersed between these confessions are eight set-pieces, in which Bag performs scenes from the background noise of her imagination: a pretentious visiting artist, London shop-girls discussing their punk band, a Ronald MacDonald puppet attempting to pick up a Hello Kitty doll, the singer Bjork explaining how television works. These surreal episodes sketch out what Bag sees as the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of contemporary youth culture, and teeter on the divide between parody and complicity.
What emerges is a picture of anxiety, boredom, and ambivalence. As Bag despairs at one point, her culture is being sold back to her. However, popular culture, enmeshed with fashion, music, and the art world, necessarily depends on the machinations of capitalism. How does one mount a successful critique, when irony, satire and subversion have been enshrined by advertising and the popular imagination?
I thought it was pretentious bs. But then again you might like it. who knows. it's probably impossible to find. I only saw it because a professor had a screener copy of it, but really it's not worth the trouble of looking for it... in my opinion.
The work that made Bag’s name was “Fall ’95”, from the same year. The DIY confessional film depicts Bag as an art student recording the growing pains of the art school experience directly into a VHS camera. Interspersed with the student protagonist’s development and thoughts, Bag added small segments like scenes glimpsed from a changing remote control. They ranged from a lo-fi toy soap opera about bunny murder to fake chatline sex ads, to a comedic take on dated video art.
Apart from Bag’s deft performances and transformations, what makes “Fall ’95” so enjoyable to watch is how it highlights the stupidity, hypocrisy and motivations of the art world itself. It’s a vein that has run throughout her practice. Art is a source of humour in “Fancy Pantz” (1997), depicting a terrible art dance troupe, and 2001’s “The Van”. In the latter, three artists (all played by Bag herself) are filmed in the back of a van, talking about their work on the way to an art fair. Each describe their work, all perfect contemporary artwork clichés. The gallerist “Leroy Laloup” is equally as risible, exclaiming, “I’m the best, my gallery is the best and you girls, you’re the best! You’re like the coolest, sexiest, hippest pieces of art known to man.”
But I soon figured out what Art School is all about. Each semester unfolded in accordance with Alex Bag’s monologues. My second year began with excitement that gave way to frustration. I resented the core curriculum classes, which I felt had nothing to do with me, the artist. Eventually I found myself appreciating the inspiration from other disciplines. Anything learned can help create a context in artwork. I could apply almost anything to what I was doing in the studio. Alex Bag’s character had the same feelings. She also shares my feelings for the personal aspect of sharing work; the problem of having to explain your work and then getting grilled by twenty people. Art is personal, and it is hard not to take criticism personally.
There is one line from the video that draws haunting parallels to my own experience: “You know all these boys have been like, welding together these giant creations, and wheeling them into class, and like, no one asks them ‘um, excuse me, how big is your dick?’’’ How bizarre that fifteen years after this video was made, boys are still being praised for the same enormous structures.
Now I just wait for my disdain for my classmates to settle in and for my exasperation with the structured critiques and assignments. I might move to Brooklyn, playing into the role I that I find offensive yet desirable: the Art School Kid.