Live-blogging Pope.L’s lecture at UChicago
I went to see William Pope.L speak at the University of Chicago this afternoon and live-blogged his lecture. Here is the link to the event, in case you’re interested.
Keep reading for my thoughts on the lecture. The earliest entries are at the bottom. Here’s a picture of that video that was looping when we came in (see 3:05 p.m.):
Overall, I have mixed feelings about Pope.L’s “lecture.” The films were certainly interesting. I got more out of the first one than the second. During the Q&A, he talked about his love of early film tropes, the over-the-top, almost athletic nature of the acting, the common themes, narrative devices, etc. He connected that to his use of the closing photograph of a black man in the first film to suggest Robert Smithson’s unknown black father, a connection I appreciated. I also liked the juxtaposition of the visual elements of the first film—the exploding of the blue rock, the metal detector—with the narration, which talked about Smithson’s obsession with the outsides of things that led him to obscure their insides. What does this suggest about race? Is Pope.L’s “exploding” of Smithson’s internal racial identity something he’d like to see more often? That is, is the film a criticism of Smithson for hiding his identity, or is the figure of the exposé itself also being criticized?
In between films, Pope.L spoke in a manner that seemed off-the-cuff, improvised, meaningless, whatever, but it clearly wasn’t. He had things written down on pieces of loose leaf that he would extravagantly discard when he was done with them. A lot of what he said seemed like stream-of-consciousness, arbitrarily moving from one subject to the next with little explanation. And yet, this was all very obviously rehearsed: often, he would say something and an accompanying image would at that very second appear in the PowerPoint. (He wasn’t controlling the PowerPoint and he wasn’t looking at the screen.) He made his speaking seem like a joke, but he took the joke very seriously.
A final point: I was surprised, for some reason, by the clear change in tone between the lecture/”performance” itself and the Q&A. All the stream-of-consciousness, the joking, suddenly ended and he seemed like just another “regular artist.” He even spent a long time talking about the art market, how to market your work, how to succeed, etc. He also made his point about not approving of the model of artist-audience relationship in which the artist simply fills the audience with information (see 3:48 p.m.). Given that claim, how should we view the lecture itself? I don’t know. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
4:25 p.m.: After the Q&A, I asked him if he’d pose for a Photobooth picture with Superman, Eli, and Alison. He said yes. Here it is:
4:10 p.m.: He’s talking about performance, how to articulate something that’s so non-verbal. Apparently, Meryl Streep uses a lot of cooking metaphors.
3:55 p.m.: So the thing about Smithson isn’t true. It’s an “edit.”
3:52 p.m.: Question time. It seems like the performance is over. Now he’s just acting/talking “normally.” Given that, these questions I’ve been told to ask seem somewhat inappropriate. Maybe I’ll ask them anyway.
3:48 p.m.: “There’s a tendency among artists to treat a lecture like a container of water,” i.e., to “fill” the audience. “But to be full means to be stupid, slow, uninteresting.” Pope.L says his work “flows over,” “peters out,” etc. That might explain why so much of what he’s been saying just “seems like” improvised nonsense. (“Seems like,” because I don’t think it actually is.)
3:46 p.m.: I’ve having trouble paying attention. People keep emailing me. I had to look for some pictures of Superman. Etc. The sculpture got destroyed. The sound’s pretty interesting in this film, really loud and abrasive.
3:38 p.m.: Another film, about a project Pope.L apparently did in abandoned building in Lewiston, Maine. There’s no dialogue. It looks like he built a chicken coop with a sculpture of the Capital Building on top, though.
3:30 p.m.: He’s talking about a lot of stuff. I’m going to try to explain it (if I can) at the end. Meanwhile, there’s a PowerPoint playing. Just some pictures of stuff, mostly found objects (newspaper clippings, napkins, etc.) with drawings on them.
3:24 p.m.: The film closes with a still photograph of a black man. Smithson’s father?
3:20 p.m.: Using the “metal detector,” they found a big blue rock. After holding a candle underneath it, it explodes. “Smithson’s obsession with the outsides of things never allowed him to see the insides of things,” Pope.L says (or something like that).
3:19 p.m.: A new person is dressed in all white now, a black woman. She’s using a white metal detector to scan some colorful flowers in a field. (I think I’m just going to have to describe these scenes to you, because my camera makes noise, and I don’t want to disturb everyone…)
3:15 p.m.: Pope.L is narrating, talking about Robert Smithson, the guy who did all that land art. Pope.L says he was a liar, among other things. Smithson apparently had a black father but lied about it.
3:12 p.m.: We’re watching a movie. It begins, “Once there was this white guy.” We see a guy wearing all white driving a Volkswagon.
3:10 p.m.: In sitting near an electric outlet, I’ve positioned myself so that I can’t see him talking… Oh well.
3:05 p.m.: We’re waiting for him to start. There’s a black and white video looping of a man’s mouth with some teeth missing and what sounds like the man laughing and talking being played backwards. Pretty cool.