Out of Time: Matt Wolf’s Smalltown Boys

April 12, 2013 · Print This Article

It’s April, and if you’re like me, you’ve probably been busy tying up overdue assignments and following instructions on how to properly label your JPEGS for this or that residency or fellowship application. As such, what follows is an excerpt from a much larger essay and curatorial endeavor I’m working on that considers alternative methods for the establishment of intergenerational connectedness – particularly for activist communities. Enjoy!

Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Still, 2003

Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Still, 2003

In 2003, artist and filmmaker Matt Wolf made a short-film called Smalltown Boys that features a fictional narrative about a young girl named Sarah Rosenberg who begins a letter-writing campaign to save the television show My So-Called Life from cancellation with a cohort of other fans organizing themselves online.  Rosenberg, in Wolf’s film, is the biological daughter of HIV/AIDS activist and artist David Wojnarowicz, conceived through artificial insemination.  Rosenberg grows up to be a young, disenfranchised lesbian that feels no connection to the kind of direct street-level activism for which Wojnarowicz is remembered.  Interspersed throughout Wolf’s telling of Rosenberg’s trials to save her beloved television program is archival footage of ACT-UP demonstations and home-video footage of Wojnarowicz on a road-trip with friends, swimming in a pond, and pontificating on the life of a small bug crawling upon his finger.

Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Excerpt

Additionally, Wolf interrupts the flow of his film with self-shot footage of his disembodied arm spray-paint tagging contemporary subway advertisements for MTV sponsored HIV/AIDS benefit concerts with Wojnarowicz’s signature burning-house tag. These moments are coupled with other scenes of Wolf wearing a black-and-white Arthur Rimbaud mask while silently riding the train or attempting to hail a cab (as seen above). Rimbaud was Wojnarowicz’s favorite poet, and the images Wolf produces quote the look of Wojnarowicz’s own collection of Rimbaud mask-wearing self-portraits, entitled Arthur Rimbaud in New York (1978-79).

David Wojnarowicz, From the Series: Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978-79

David Wojnarowicz, From the Series: Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978-79

Wolf (and, indeed, Wojnarowicz before him) can be described as re-performing what theorist Elizabeth Freeman has termed ‘temporal drag’ in his wearing of the Rimbaud mask Wojnarowicz wore.  It is an act staged for the camera on the actual city streets and subways of Manhattan that represent a moment, to borrow another term (this time from Lucas Hildebrand), of ‘retro-activism.’  Wolf’s act represents the theoretical proposition that affective messages from the past can pierce through chronological or normative time into the present, producing profound historical linkages that are, indeed, felt.  Sensual, affective connection with preceding generations becomes not only an archival project, but becomes an embodied activist project.

Matt Wolf, Smalltown Boys, Excerpt

Films and actions like Wolf’s, or the well known out-of-time activist actions of Sharon Hayes, lead me to wonder how re-performance might participate in renewing activist outrage around issues – like HIV/AIDS – too easily and erroneously thought of as being in the past. At play, when actions are performed, just may be the sensual apprehension of our own situated-ness within historical pursuits of justice that stretch, or drag, into the present day.

Tuesday’s Video Pick | Sharon Hayes

January 26, 2010 · Print This Article

This week’s pick is not for everyone. Clocking in at about 20 minutes we bring you Sharon Hayes’ keynote address for the Creative Time Summit: Revolutions in Public Practice.

via Creative Time

“Sharon Hayes discusses how moving to New York City in the early 1990s and witnessing the AIDS crises and artistic community has forever affected both her life and artistic practice during her keynote address at the 2009 Creative Time.”

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Our Literal Speed at Gallery 400

May 27, 2009 · Print This Article

Sometimes I think that art writers, before launching into a review of this or that exhibition, should overshare in the manner that’s fashionable today and note the mood they were in whilst viewing the show in question. Such status updates would function as a form of disclaimer by revealing the external (or are they internal?) factors that may insidiously affect the reviewer’s state of mind. Today, mine would have been:

plagued by a gnawing hunger
really need to pee (unsmiley face)

Who can say how this physical discomfort may have affected my take on Gallery 400’s “Our Literal Speed: events in the vicinity of art and history” exhibition, but I’ll tell ya, I thought the show was a hoot. Just to clarify, I’m talking about the exhibition that’s up through July 4th, not the conference events that already took place over the April 30th weekend, which I couldn’t attend. The exhibition is not a documentation of those weekend events but is pretty much a discrete thing-in-itself, although its conceptual links to the conference are obvious. Both exhibition and conference bill themselves as

“a kind of ‘media pop opera’ or ‘administrative gesamtkunstwerk‘ that includes fluid and/or jagged transitions among scholarly presentations, panel discussions, artist’s talks, performances, and an art exhibition within an academic conference….The project offers a temporary laboratory in which a concerned public can investigate non-formulaic, experientially vibrant and theoretically precise responses to the modes of distribution, consumption, and circulation that drive contemporary art.”

It seems fairly clear that everyone involved was in it for the laughs (such as they are), while at the same time being perfectly serious. One of the exhibition’s central visual conceits is that of the performance and the stage, with academicians and other arts professionals as the role-playing performers. But what we see in the gallery are empty and disembodied stages, while audiences (when shown) appear bored or distracted as they observe something that’s been obscured from our own view. The audience in Sharon Hayes’ single channel video “10 Minutes of Collective Activity,” for example, fidget and yawn as they listen to an archival audiotape of Connecticut senator Abraham Ribicoff’s controversial 1968 speech to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, in which Ribicoff nominated George McGovern for President while violent street protests erupted outside.


Even the people who are onstage appear alienated from the proceedings. Jackson Pollock Bar’s “Picasso/Braque 1989,” (2009), which is described as an “installed theory installation,” reenacts a panel discussion with the art historians Edward Fry, Yves Alain Bois, Rosalind Kraus and Leo Steinberg that took place twenty years ago during the ‘Picasso and Braque’ exhibition at MoMA. The video and (barely audible) audio tracks are out of sync, because the voice track–based on an edited transcript of the original 1989 discussion–was recorded by one group of people and then acted out by a different group who essentially lipsynced the recorded discussion, giving voice and gesture to the text in puppet-like fashion. (The woman who performs Rosalind Krauss as a snippy, hair-flipping drama queen is hilarious, stealing the show when she apes lines like, “Your interpretation is wrong!” and “I find this repellent!” Ah, theory humor. You gotta love it.)


Critic Jan Verwoert (who’s a dead-ringer for a certain parodic ex-SNL character) checks his cell phone while presiding over the mock-trial in Hila Peleg’s 100 minute dvd, “A Crime Against Art,” 2007 (click on the link for a brief clip). Peleg’s film is based on a staged trial at an art fair in Madrid, which was itself fashioned after Andre Breton’s mock trials of the 1920’s and 30’s. The idea is that an art crime has been committed, and there are “experts” and “witnesses” who take the stand to testify, but no one can get at exactly what the crime is, or who’s responsible.

A stream of familiar buzzwords flow from the mouths of these critics and curators-cum-performers, like old friends from high school who you once thought were cool, but seem sort of sad and adrift now, twenty years later: words like ‘agency,’ ‘strategical’ (yep), ‘opacity,’ ‘reification,’ ‘criticality.’ My head was starting to ache from it all, but then again it could have been the hunger. I took off the headphones before Verwoert rendered a decision of guilt or innocence, but not before taking note of Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies director Maria Lind’s bright red fingernail polish. Did she get them done just for the trial, I wondered, or do they always look that nice?

A sense of the gamely absurd, of Beckettian tragicomedy, hangs over Our Literal Speed. I had initially thought it might not be worth it to see the show if all “the good stuff”– i.e. the live events–had already happened, but I now think I saw this exhibition under exactly the right conditions: several weeks after all the talks, events, and parties were over, in a gallery that was empty of live bodies (save for my own and those of a few staff members). My pounding headache and desperate need for food and coffee finally drove me from the gallery, but poor Rosalind, Jan and Maria were forced to remain there, their discursive performances replayed over and over in an endless loop, like Beckett’s pantsless Estragon and his pal Vladimir, still out there somewhere waiting for Godot.

Estragon: I can’t go on like this.
Vladimir: That’s what you think.

Through July 4th, 2009 at Gallery 400.


Random News

November 7, 2008 · Print This Article


Creative Time’s DRINK THE NEW WINE:Exquisite Dialogul

I haven’t checked out Creative Time’s website in a very long time. Since my last visit they have posted a series of interviews with a bunch of artists. The interviews feature: Malcolm McLaren, David Byrne, Matthew Buckingham, Sharon Hayes, Mark Tribe, Mike Rottenberg, Malclm McLaren, Genesis P-Orridge, Mika Rottenberg,Mark Tribe,and Susanne Oberbeck.

via creative time
“Here’s how it worked: the artists engaged in a volley of two to three e-mail correspondences with each of two other artists we matched them with. Each artist instigated one conversation and was on the receiving end for the other. They were each provided with brief information on their partners’ recent work and upcoming projects with Creative Time, but were encouraged to talk about anything of interest-related or unrelated to their projects, and from the politically important to the scandalous. As you’ll soon read, they all took this to heart, and the conversations touch on the ideas that inspired their work, politics, sex, music, and even the sausages in Basel. ”

Check them out here

Performa’s Metal Ball

Last year while I was doing a residency program in New York I was able to check out a few performances from Performa 07. Performa is a non-profit organization that is “committed to the research, development, and presentation of performance by visual artists from around the world.” Proceeds from the ball will go towards Performa 09

“The Metal Ball is inspired by the Bauhaus’ Metallic Festival, when the famous school was decorated entirely in metallic colors and substances and guests reveled in an exuberant festival of music, light and action. Following the enormous success of Performa’s 2006 White on White Party, The Metal Ball will once again feature an exciting line-up of art and musical performances presented on multiple stages throughout the evening. ” For more info pleas visit Performa’s site.

Have a good weekend everyone.