By Robin Vanbesien
A well-known chance poem by Tristan Tzara was made from words chopped from a newspaper text and placed in a hat. At the end of a list of instructions, proposing that different people draw out words to make their own poems there is an arresting detail. Tzara predicts that ‘The poem will be like you / And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.’
After watching some of the films of Michel Auder at Etablissement d’en face projects, a friend told me: “Ok, now I’m slightly melancholic. While I watch these films, I tell myself: that’s it, that’s life.” I agreed. Apparently there is something in Auder’s films that does this. His films seem to touch upon our paranoia of life. Paradoxically, paranoia is a shock of recognition that never ends.
In 1970 Michel Auder moved to New York. He bought a Sony Portapak video camera and started making movies. He hasn’t stopped since. Auder’s work is as much in the act of shooting and the compilation of footage as it is in the review of the material, the collection of themes and the final production. “My films are like cut-up writing, like Burroughs’s experiments with text montage. This is a very particular poetics of associating images by using text, or in my case [visual footage], as a material to be recombined beyond the meaning they were initially invested with.”
A film of Auder is above all a culture of visual footage. There are always more images, sequences and cuts than the viewer can grasp or contextualize. The plotline of this material culture is in itself just too exhaustive. It hypothesizes the viewer’s lack. Look at any film of Auder intensely enough and you will see it opens up into a terrain of particles each containing its own void.
Then again, we can only think about voids because we understand them in terms of concrete spatial experience. For instance, at a certain moment George Brecht explained why he added spectral colors to the place where the chair supposedly ends and the world around it (in this case the floor) begins. These unobtrusive spectra were representatives of all light, the light that permits ocular perceptions in the first place, and they were there to soften the hard and fast finitude that we habitually attribute to objects.
In his diary-like films Auder continually tests the image of his own reality – his own life. Auder introduces The Feature (2008, 180’) – an autobiographical and confessional account of his life and career – by claiming that his work can be cut, censored and edited in countless ways. Based on the footage, he could be portrayed as “a total asshole, a monster or a great poet.” Assuring the viewer (and possibly also himself) that The Feature is not a true account, it definitely is an exercise in pushing his own past to the limit. Finally, in his effort to compile a diary with the camera, with all of its delays, Auder demonstrates how memory is not just a recorded archive, but rather a mode of representation shaping the present. Therefore Auder’s tests are more than just narcissistic trips: “It’s not just about me, because I don’t really think I am that interesting.”
The accumulation of recorded life in Auder’s films is also evidence of our mortality. In 1983 David Byrne sings in This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody): ‘I love the passing of time / Never for money / Always for love.’ Perhaps love is the only one thing that keeps us from remaining scattered in all possible times. If the power of Auder’s work as an artist pivots on time and patience, it is also found in the deep impact it makes with its extreme intimacy and the complex gesture of Auder fully exposing his life, a practice that only gains in significance as the years go on.
In Plato’s Symposium, after the long discussion on love, everybody falls asleep in the end, drunk and exhausted. Only Socrates who probably drank the most, takes a bath and then spends the day as he always does. In order to teach his beloved Agathon, Socrates needs to be ready and present as a body and a voice.
Just as is the case in the Socratic dialogues – where ideas and speech are paraphrased in their free and creative development – Auder uses his archive-memory to comment on the availability of the space between truth and fiction. It is a meditation on the very necessity of fictionalizing life processes – of praising folly, fun, and masquerade – in order to grasp what the stakes in life really are.
Auder’s films prevent us from returning to daily life as though it were untouched by fiction. In his films we find a body and a voice that not only radiate the glamour of the uneventful (or, in other words, the experimental fantasticality of the mundane), we also find a ‘player’ who continually exhausts our paranoia of life.