review: Untitled (Just Kidding), Jesse Malmed at ATA

To translate the visual, coding it (back?) into language, into appropriate symbols, symbologies, typographies, topographies, and tying it to contextual quotations and corollary concepts, is a puzzle I profoundly enjoy and one of the only things I can say that I do well without hesitation. Jesse Malmed’s recent screening/performance at Artist’s Television Access on August 13th, 2013, beginning at 8:13:13pm, titled Untitled (Just Kidding), is rooted so deeply in linguistic interfacing with visual artistry that it is nearly impossible to find the correct language in which to code it, recode it and decode it; it is already perfectly codified. It needs no cipher.

The program consisted of five films and several performances. The films were particularly adept at stitching the selvages of visual art imagery and text/linguistic artistry. Screened that night were Malmed’s films, Thimberlig, Flick/e/r Film, Goth Movie (chemirocha), Supernym and Wreading. Some tread lightly upon the wave of Sea-punk Net 1.0 aesthetics, all blend beautiful linguistic experimentation with images that simultaneously evoke the complete and totalized alter-reality of Internet culture with the partiality of language; a suggestion of metonymy wherein the partiality created by naming becomes substitute for the whole of an idea.

Because of this, the sections which seem most available for discussion or decoding, are the spaces between, the set-up and breakdown, the participatory and the performative. These quick interstices between video spaces charged an expectant audience in the small space of ATA’s screening room.


Conversational Karaoke, a participatory game of associative poetry, recruits two audience members to a stage set-up with two microphones. Video plays on a monitor, where bright text announces the title “Conversational Karaoke!”, bouncing across the screen. The two participants, distinguished by magenta and green font colors, then alternate reading bits of language from the monitor. The room is dark, and the audience is unable to see the faces of the participants having the crafted conversation, giving the experience the odd effect of floating… of the associative free-thought that occurs in the brain, usually narrated by your own voice, but once removed as in the voice of a conscience. As the text rolls across the screen, highlighted, as in conventional Karaoke, to suggest pace, the readers slowly ignite linear linguistic fuses, which detonate payoffs in the form of punch lines. The readers, instinctively, arc the tone of their voice, with a high, inquisitive inflection as the lines trail off the screen and fade into the next. Creative wordplay such as the line,

“Do people like lunch poems? Lets do something more brunchy. Lets do Seinfeld meets Garfield, lets do Garfeld, Seinfield, but less urban”

becomes entirely more hilarious given the speaker’s confusion as to where the line will end. I am reminded of Richard Serra’s video Boomerang wherein Nancy Holt wears headphones which repeat her own voice back to her in echo. The sound is disorienting and causes her to speak deliberately, as she describes her own reaction to the constructed situation. The disoriented and delayed feedback between conversationalists and their speech is, as Richard Serra describes, “being formed and revealed as they are organized”1 in real time.

Continuing with the style of psuedo-extemporaneity, Malmed’s performance of Duration consists of the artist giving a speech on durational performance by spelling out each word in the speech. (i-m-a-g-i-n-e r-e-a-d-i-n-g t-h-i-s p-a-r-a-g-r-a-p-h a-l-o-u-d l-e-t-t-e-r b-y l-e-t-t-e-r) As soon as the brain is able to catch up and reconnects a word from the chain of letters, the next word has already begun and ended like rapid fire, and the audience is left puzzling and piecing together fragments of speech, wherein we can fill in the blanks if possible, but mostly are left guessing and feeling incapacitated (although I am sure M-a-r-i-n-a A-b-r-a-m-o-v-i-c was definitely spelled out.) Most disorienting was the lack of space between each word; leaving strings of speech unwoven, drifting fibers not yet plaited on a linguistic loom.

Paul Sharits, film strip from T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1969)
Flick/e/r Film was presented as part of a series called Mic Check. This minute long experiment drifts into discourse with structuralist film veins pioneered by Paul Sharits. Sharits’ structuralist films, known as flicker films, also had strong ties to linguistic play, semiotics and the deconstruction of language. Sharits produced films with titles like N:O:T:H:I:N:G (suggesting a relationship between each letter) and T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (suggesting separation between letters in this haptic word.) The quick separation in the titles is similar to Sharits’ filmmaking style, wherein rapid sequences link together distinct colorscapes and anarchic imagery. The rapid sequencing of bright color contrasts in flicker films were linked to epilepsy, and the endurance of the audience watching the long duration of blasting bright colors become a necessary completion to structuralist works like Sharits’ and Michael Snow. Malmed’s Flick/e/r Film sets in rapid sequence an image of the homepage for photo sharing site Flickr.com and a sub-site from hi-beam.net, a film and video artist collection also entitled Flicker and featuring a google search box directly beneath the craft-like design of the title (link: hi-beam.net/cgi-bin/flicker.pl) Riffing on the word “flicker” as it denotes both a style of filmmaking and an inherent quality of film and photography, Malmed updates the form to include specifically computer-based moving image making technique. Flick/e/r Film consists of pasted together screenshots which begin with Apple’s application choice, and then sifts between the two websites in rapidity. A perfectly tailored pun, which is endlessly referential, Flick/e/r Film takes on semiotics and film history as rapidly as it switches between images.

The screening ended with Wreading, a film which flips through images of clouds culled from Getty Images, Cory Arcangel’s 8-bit Clouds from 2002, posed questions in Jeopardy! form, and an extended text which invites the viewer to read and question the nature of their reading. In the end, we had been questioning our ability to read the entire time; to code, to decode, to deconstruct, to construct language, to attach language to visual and to distinguish between authored languages and our own interpretations.

A bio for Jesse Malmed and a sample of his works can be seen here: http://www.jessemalmed.net/
For more information on Artist’s Television Access, check out their website here: http://atasite.org

1.Richard Serra, in response to his film Boomerang; available here: http://www.ubu.com/film/serra_boomerang.html

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