The Popular and the Conceptual

Refusing the reconciliation between Theodor Adorno’s avant-garde and Bertolt Brecht’s mass culture, “The Popular and the Conceptual” positions Andrea Geyer’s “Reference Over Time” and Mathias Poledna’s “Version” as like-minded deconstructive models of contemporary film installation.

Originally published in A Book about Collecting and Exhibiting Conceptual Art after Conceptual Art, eds. Sabine Folie and Georgia Holz, (Vienna: Generali Foundation, 2013).
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Bertolt Brecht testifying before HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee), October 30,1947

By Juli Carson

Sirens of the marketplace

[Popular music] inhabits the pockets of silence that develop between people molded by anxiety, work, and undemanding docility. Everywhere it takes over, unnoticed, the deadly sad role that fell to it in the time and the specific situation of the silent films. It is perceived purely as background. If nobody can any longer speak, then certainly nobody can any longer listen.

Theodor Adorno, “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening,” 1938

The word popularity…need[s] a thorough clean-­‐up before being thrown into sentences.… Our conception of “popular” refers to the people who are not only fully involved in the process of development but are actually taking it over, forcing it, deciding it. We have in mind a people that is making history and altering the world and itself.

Bertolt Brecht, “The Popular and the Realistic,” 1938

The popular, in aesthetics and politics, is problematic. A case in point is Pablo Larraín’s 2012 film No. Named after the “No” campaign against General Augusto Pinochet’s continued dictatorship during the 1988 Chilean plebiscite, the film focuses exclusively on the campaign’s advertising component, specifically the production of a fifteen-­‐minute commercial in which regime change was “branded” through a modified Coca-­‐Cola jingle and a rainbow logo. The decision to shoot No on an obsolete ¾ inch U-­‐matic video camera—the ubiquitous format used by industrial news videographers in the 1980s—allowed Larraín to move seamlessly between appropriated historical footage, of the commercial in particular, and its contemporary re-­‐creation. Larraín’s focus on the campaign’s advertising tactic egregiously overlooked the opposition’s massive voter registry, which was necessary for the regime change that followed. However, even more troublesome is the ideological message No constructed: that avant-­‐garde models, within either the aesthetic or the political fields, are irrelevant, even counterproductive, when it comes to toppling totalitarian regimes. It’s best to leave change to the advertising firms. Members of the popular press praised No precisely in these terms. Writing for Variety, Leslie Felperin gushed, “[W]ith the right kind of marketing, ‘No’ has the potential to break out of the usual ghettos that keep Latin American cinema walled off from non-­‐Hispanic territories. The political backdrop has immediate relevance for any nation that is facing or has recently faced a potential regime change.” Moreover, she continued, “with the international success of Mad Men, marketing campaigners should think about capitalizing on viewers’ fascination everywhere with portraits of the advertising industry itself.”[1]

The notion that the film industry could spearhead a marketing campaign for global regime change—a uniquely American phantasm—beckons Adorno and Brecht’s original debate about popularity and social transformation. For the essence of their dialog continues to beat at the heart of a group of international post-­‐conceptual artists, working in film and video, who are thinking about the dialectical relationship between neo-­‐avant-­‐garde aesthetics and critical consciousness from the liminal space of popular culture. Many of them—Dorit Margreiter (Zentrum, 2006), Mathias Poledna (Version, 2004) Florian Pumhösl (Programm, 2006), Andrea Geyer (Reference over Time, 2004), Kerry Tribe (Here & Elsewhere, 2004) and Sharon Hayes (After Before, 2005)—have been collected and shown by the Generali Foundation and are invaluable contributors to this model of contemporary critical aesthetics. Through varying political, aesthetic, and theoretical tactics, these artists deconstructively resist the undertow of advertising and consumer culture, with the assumption that the spectator’s individual aesthetic experience of an artwork could simultaneously be bound up with his or her political, historical consciousness. For the record, I too am committed to this approach, informed as it is by the polemical theorists who so forcefully discoursed on the subject of art in the prewar period, particularly those associated with the Frankfurt School, as well as those post-­‐structuralist artists and theorists who psychoanalytically returned to this discourse in the post-­‐war period.

Which brings us first to Theodor W. Adorno. Writing in 1938, Adorno’s problem with “light” music“the street ballad, the catchy tune and all the swarming forms of the banal,” including official ‘classical’ musicwas its connection to a branch of culture inextricably bound up with advertising and monopoly capitalism. As forms of hit songs became increasingly standardized “down to the number of beats and exact duration,” listening devolved into a regressive activity to the point of complete passivity. In regressive listening advertising therefore took on “a compulsory character,” leading to a state of complete deconcentration, which prepared “the way for forgetting and sudden recognition of mass culture.”[2] In the end, this pseudo-­‐individualization of standardized jingles and tunes produced a false consciousness of an individual’s free choice within a free market, a condition analogous to the commodity fetishism that attended mass-­‐produced products. In this context, Adorno argued that popular music, like the everyday commodity, was hopelessly and completely drained of its use value, aesthetic or otherwise.

Bertold Brecht, also writing in 1938, set out to redefine the word “popular.”[3] From his perspective, “popularity” would not denote a people passively determined by the stultifying effect of the capitalist marketplace but a people active in making history and hence the reality. Naturally, the means of representing reality would change as reality itself changed, such that when new problems arose in the world, the artist would demand new techniques to represent it. On this point, Brecht was just as committed to the tactics of the avant-­‐garde as Adorno in holding out against the kind of universal, naturalist realism Georg Lukács[4] courted. Brecht, however, was committed to representing this popular reality contingently—by any means necessary—maintaining that a shifting array of avant-­‐garde tactics, put toward popular ends, would make people more attuned to the contradictions of the world rather than regressively deconcentrated. Evoking a Heideggerian notion of the popular as an elusive contingency, Brecht thus concluded: “Besides being popular there is such a thing as becoming popular.”[5]

Hence the debate between Adorno and Brecht in 1938. And yet, with the benefit of hindsight, today we see that each position was centered on a singular blind spot, one being the inverse of the other. On the one hand, Adorno’s definition of “popular culture” overdetermined—in a way anticipating a similar critique of spectacle culture by Guy Debord—the homogenizing effect of consumerist society on all art production and reception. On the other hand, Brecht’s reconfigured definition of the word “popular” overdetermined the avant-­‐garde’s ability to literally re-­‐make the world with and for the working class. Without negating or reconciling these positions, what remains of this debate? Can strategies of the avant-­‐garde be held in one hand and popular culture in the other without producing a critically naïve film such as No, a production that is at once too utopian and too cynical?

A psychoanalytic detour

Enter the 1970s. When the editors of the British film magazine Screen rediscovered Brecht’s critique of realism and popularity, they read it through the lens of Jacques Lacan’s writings on the Imaginary—a move that occurred in the twilight of American and European Conceptualism. In advance of her breakthrough work Post-­ Partum Document (1973–78), Mary Kelly’s collaboration on the film The Nightcleaners (1970–75) was a product of this epistemic shift.[6] The film, produced by a collective of the same name, made conscious recourse to Brecht’s principle of “distanciation”—working against the spectator’s identification impulse—in an effort to place the spectator in a position of critical reflection vis-­‐à-­‐vis the populist documentary format. Claire Johnston, a member of the collective, wrote about the film in Lacanian-­‐Brechtian terms, influenced by Colin MacCabe’s writings also published in Screen.[7] According to MacCabe and Johnston, a critical film or art practice should address the repressed contradictions that underscore conventional realism, a repression that establishes the myth of a homogeneous world. In The Nightcleaners, a documentary film about unionizing women office cleaners, ideological contradictions were located in the conflicting space of discourse: that of the actual night cleaners, women’s liberation, the filmmakers, the employer, the workers’ spokeswoman, and the unionists.[8] All were put into conflict so that the contradictions central to the night cleaners’ existence, denied by the traditional format of cinema vérité, would surface. In his essay “Realism and the Cinema,” MacCabe describes such opportune moments as that point at which elements escape “the control of the dominant discourse in the same way that a neurotic symptom or verbal slip attest to the lack of control of the conscious subject.”[9]

These contradictions that define the subject actually constitute our reality, but in so doing, this reality is one that can’t be represented by what we usually think of as realist representation. Writing in exile, Brecht had performatively developed this principle in his Messingkauf Dialogues, a four-­‐sided conversation among an actor, an actress, a dramaturg, and a Brechtian philosopher. Consider a key passage from that dialogue:

THE PHILOSOPHER: You can’t give a realistic picture of the character you are putting forward for identification (the hero) without making it impossible for the audience to identify with him. A realistic picture would mean that he had to change with events, which would make him unreliable for such empathy. […]

THE DRAMATURG: In other words, realism in the theatre is quite impossible.

THE PHILOSOPHER: I’m not saying that. The crux of the matter is that true realism has to do more than just making reality recognizable in the theatre. One has to be able to see through it too. You ought to be able to see the laws that decide how the processes of life develop. These laws can’t be spotted by the camera. Nor can they be spotted if the audience only borrows its heart from one of the characters involved.[10]

This is why Lacan’s notion of the Imaginarybased on his Mirror Stage theory—was such a good fit for the editors of Screen who were seeking to refashion a Brechtian perspective for film. Lacan’s observation that a subject’s constituted reality is always already located in a constituent or fictional direction vis-­‐à-­‐vis one’s imago is analogous to the audience’s misrecognition of theatrical reality described by Brecht in The Messingkauf Dialogues. And just as the Brechtian actor was tasked with visualizing this passive misrecognition of reality on behalf of the viewer, the Lacanian filmmaker set out to reveal how our subjectivities are constituted in film as they are in life. For both Brecht and Lacan, then, reality is not simply the background to the subject’s representation. Rather, reality and representation are structured much like a Möbius strip: together they form a surface with one continuous side.

A thing is a hole in a thing it is not

Is the one anterior to discontinuity? I do not think so. […] The one that is introduced by the experience of the unconscious is the one of the split, the stroke, of rupture… [But] where is the background? Is it absent? No. Rupture, split, the stroke of the opening makes absence emerge—just as the cry does not stand out against a background of silence, but on the contrary makes the silence emerge as silence.

Jacques Lacan[11]

Returning to Adorno, the origins of regressive listening resided in the specific situation of silent films, wherein the popular song—the jingle—served as the background for the moving image, a situation that induced deconcentrated, regressive listening. The “background,” in this situation, produced a false totality for the viewing and listening subject—a single standardized imago—that Adorno sought to rupture. It is here that Adorno and Lacan converge. For the one to which Lacan referred, in relation to Freud’s notion of the unconscious, is the subject who is continually defined by parapraxes—those errors in conscious speech or memory due to unconscious conflicts with conventional thought or behavior—that makes the subject fundamentally split off from the totality of his/her self-­‐image. Between the subject in the world and his/her gestalt imago (first encountered in the primordial moment of the Mirror Stage and continued through adult symbolic identification within culture) there is an absolute, inaugural discontinuity that characterizes the subject. Accordingly, this discontinuity must not be placed against the background of a standard cultural totality because, in reality, this split or lack in the subject is a foundation thing. Even though this thing, called the subject, is really a hole in a thing it is not.[12]

How might this subject be pictured in post-­‐conceptual terms? As a means of addressing this, I offer the following case study. Concentrating on what is relegated to the background of popular culture, two of Mathias Poledna’s 16 mm films—Actualité (2001) and Version (2004)—set out to rupture the way we passively look at the world as a totality. In so doing, each film begins with something familiar that draws us in, just to the edge of suture, which is to say, to the limit of our imaginary identification with the popular totality of the world, only to reroute us to a larger consideration of history, memory, and subjectivity as fractured and contradictory.

Take Actualité, in which a new wave band attempts to lay down a riff, that standardized tune that gets stuck in your head. Presenting everything in the space separating the band from its goal—the writing of a pop song— Actualité evokes a perpetual state of between-­ness, beginning with the new wave genre itself, which, in musicological terms, constitutes a no-­‐man’s-­‐land between 1970s punk and 1990s grunge. The material base for this ambiguous space is Poledna’s deft camerawork, which alternates between a looping, close-­‐up pan over the individual band members and a complete blackout with voice-­‐over. In lieu of a narrative, we’re given a scaffolding of signifiers, a series of 1980s fragments—the stuttering riff, the mullet haircuts, the Members Only jacket, the black thin tie, the bare shoulder with revealed bra-strap—details that simultaneously draw us in (because we recognize them) and leave us out (because they go nowhere). Critics other than me have relied on Adorno when noting how Actualité’s refusal to complete the riff redoubles the film’s refusal to embrace popular music’s “fetish character.”[13] However, from a Lacanian perspective, we should further note that among these fragmented bodies and sounds a discontinuous subject emerges, one paradoxically held together by the rupture, by the stroke of the opening that makes absence emerge. Simply, the subject-­‐as-­‐parapraxis is the continuum of extraneous details—both visual and audio—that is tactically denied any narrative coherence in Actualité. In this way, the interruption—the hole in the narrative that’s usually relegated to the background of Hollywood films— is the one or the whole of the film.

In Version, we again encounter this discontinuous subject, although now the operation is reversed. Instead of the musical riff, silence interrupts Version’s visual field. Incidentally, my explication of Version will address the film’s un-looped format, which includes a SMPTE[14] time code leader, the motion picture industry’s standard device developed in the 1960s to synchronize separately recorded film and audio tracks. Placed at the head of release prints, SMPTE leaders are now a recognizable outmoded readymade. Composed of black numbers on a medium density background, a sweep hand counts down from 8 to 2 at twenty-­‐four-­‐frame intervals ending at the first frame of the “2” followed by forty-­‐seven frames of black. Ordinarily at the “2” a beep would be heard to signal the point of synchronization of the visual and audio tracks. In Version, however, the familiar hand sweep has no beep sound at “2” because the film itself is silent. Why the inclusion of this SMPTE leader for a film without an audio track to synch? Was it an icon providing the affect of the 1960s for a grainy black-­‐and-­‐white film shot in 16mm? No. I believe this reading is referentially too expedient. Rather, the inclusion an SMPTE leader initiates another inversion of background and foreground that we saw in Actualité, though here it provides, in Lacanian terms, the metaphoric cry that makes the film’s silence emerge as silence. The nonsensical inclusion of the leader thus brings the sound of silence to the foreground behind which a group of bodies sway in and out of the frame, ostensibly dancing to a song we cannot hear. Without the SMPTE leader, Version would simply be a silent film. With the leader’s inclusion, however, the silence that follows the muted beep at “2” is paradoxically reconceived as the film’s soundtrack, much the way the opening and closing of a piano lid in John Cage’s 4’33” frames four minutes and thirty-­‐three seconds of silence as sound by negation.

But there is more. In Version we observe a new historicist impulse related to memory, which again springs from the SMPTE device. Adopted as motion picture industry’s standard frame numbering system, SMPTE leaders assigned a specific number to each frame of recorded film or video. This facilitated a given film’s accuracy and repeatability because each and every frame had a unique identification number. Metaphorically, the SMPTE leader was a type of ontological device, through which a film became a self-­‐contained whole—a perfectly ticking thing-­in-­itself. For once the film was recorded and synchronized, the time code and frame would be consistent every time the film was played. This is precisely the opposite way our memory works, which is defined by the reliable slippage between conscious and unconscious registers, as Freud’s explication of parapraxis demonstrated. Simply, there is no “SMPTE device” that locks in the events of our life to our memory that retrieves them. Instead, we consistently remember things out of synch with how they really occurred, and, as such, each time we recall something it is actually a reconstructed memory inasmuch as it is a repeated one.[15] A second paradoxical of the SMPTE leader thus surfaces in Version: historical slippage. Which is to say, while synchronized film leaders were functionally designed as a universal standard to avoid slippage, their cultural life span transgressed sequential epochs and disparate regions. In various forms and industries, these leaders were used from the 1950s to the 1970s, a temporal span that contiguously defined the worst of the cold-­‐war period. Fittingly, in Version these decades are simultaneously signified by the varying dress of the dancers as well as their moves—one decade and one culture slipping in and out of another—as bodies seamlessly slip in and out of Poledna’s camera frame.

The ethos of Version’s historical slippage couldn’t be farther from the No model, with which this essay began. So a pivotal clarification remains to be made. At times Poledna has exhibited Version with an aesthetic supplement: Untitled (2004), an artwork consisting of six album sleeves from Folkway Recordings and Service Corporation that are displayed in a vitrine. But as Jacques Derrida would say, this supplement isn’t so supplemental. For it provides a final forensic detail or clue.

Founded in 1948, Moses Asch’s Folkway Records (it was acquired by the Smithsonian in 1987) specialized in documenting folk, world, and children’s music. But they also recorded spoken-­‐word albums, one of which was Bertolt Brecht before the Committee on Un-­American Activities (An Historic Encounter: Presented by Eric Bentley). Poledna’s Untitled presents this album sleeve “in situ” among others, providing a cultural landscape for Brecht’s testimony: Music of Southeast Asia and Anthology of Central and South American Indian Music but also The Tuneful Twenties and Voices of the Satellites! Released in 1963, the Brecht recording documented his testimony given on October 30, 1947, one of nine days that HUAC (House Un-­‐American Activities Committee) conducted hearings into alleged Communist influence in the Hollywood motion-­‐picture industry. It has been noted, by Brecht’s colleagues and family alike, that his testimony was a form of epic theatre, whereby Brecht feigned to know much less English than he really did.[16] Quibbling over translations that provoked endless contradictions, it was, in fact, a form of legal, compliant resistance to the U.S. Congress’s repressive state apparatus that dominated American life in the cold-­‐war era. A key passage from HUAC’s own transcription of Brecht’s testimony, included in Folkway’s insert, anticipates Samuel Beckett’s absurdist Waiting for Godot (1953).

Mr. Stripling. Mr. Brecht, since you have been in the United States, have you attended any Communist Party meetings?

Mr. Brecht. No; I don’t think so. Mr. Stripling. You don’t think so? Mr. Brecht. No.

The Chairman. Well, aren’t you certain? Mr. Brecht. No—I am certain; yes.

The Chairman. You are certain you have never been to Communist Party meetings?

Mr. Brecht. Yes; I think so. I am here 6 years—I am here those—I do not think so. I do not think that I attended political meetings.

The Chairman. No; never mind the political meetings, but have you attended any Communist meeting in the United States?

Mr. Brecht. I do not think so; no. The Chairman. You are certain?

Mr. Brecht. I think I am certain.[17]

Brecht’s testimony to HUAC—at once a factual event and theatrical performance—continues to do its work when Poledna detourns the album sleeve in this way, placing it next to ethnographic records that, by definition, are founded on tendentious, noncontradictory truth claims on the subject of self and other. Situated in a single vitrine along with the other album covers, the Brecht sleeve might be soundless, but it is not silent. Its inclusion constitutes a deliberate gesture, a critical, poetic act pointing to the role that various culture industries play in conditioning historical consciousness—then and now—based on the repression of how slippery memory really is: that it can’t help but be as factual as it is ideologically contrived. As tactical mnemonic devices, Poledna’s films (and installations) critically index this historical slippage within popular culture. In so doing, they return from the repressed what problematically remains unconscious in many people who passively embrace ubiquitous filmic models such as No, a model that manipulates historical slippage so that we mythologically don’t perceive it. Poledna’s work is but one case study of an alternate post-­‐conceptual, critical aesthetics holding out against this model. However, in HUAC parlance he has some “fellow travelers” in this journey against the ontological, repressive impulse of popular cultural memory. Fortunately, over the past twenty-­‐five years, the Generali Foundation has tenaciously been committed to supporting them.

Coda: Reference over Time

The best school of dialectics is emigration. The most acute dialecticians are refugees. They are refugees as a result of changes, and they study nothing but changes. Out of the tiniest signs they conclude the greatest events.

Bertolt Brecht, Refugee Conversations, quoted in Andrea Geyer’s Reference Over Time, 2004.

I speak now to my fellow travelers in the art world, ones committed to representing the geopolitical field against the commercial approach dominating the art fairs, from the 2012 Berlin Biennale to Documenta 13.[18] Who might the holdouts be for an abstracted approach to the world’s events? Andrea Geyer’s allegorical, conceptual video installation, Reference over Time, is a case in point.

First, a recursive event. In 2003, a document drafted by the U.S. Justice Department was leaked to the media, the subject of which has resurfaced in a second leaked document from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. he content of the first leak was the Domestic Security Enhancement Act (dubbed Patriot Act 2), which gives the state the right—without due process—to revoke citizenship, extradite Americans, and deport lawful immigrants. It also allowed the government to obtain credit and library records without a warrant and to conduct wiretaps without a court order up to fifteen days after a terrorist attack. Dead-­‐on-­‐arrival after the leak and subsequent controversy, the legislation never made it to Congress. However, one month later, the U.S. did preemptively invade Iraq, under the false premise that President Saddam Hussein harbored “weapons of mass destruction.” In December 2011, under the Obama administration, the last brigades of U.S. troops finally left Iraq. However, two years later another document was leaked disclosing that the NSA had secretly been collecting information on foreigners overseas—e-­‐mail, chat services, videos, photos, stored data, file transfers, video conferencing and log-­‐ins—from Internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. This second leak sparked contentious debate within the American popular press, with progressive organizations like Netroots Nation claiming that the NSA’s procedures invoked the ethos of Patriot Act 2 all over again.[19]

Enter Reference over Time, an artwork made in 2004 in direct response to Patriot Act 2. At the time, Geyer was interested in restaging key sections of Brecht’s journals, written while he was in exile fleeing the Nazis first across Europe and later America. Reference over Time specifically focuses on an unpublished script Brecht wrote in 1940, “Refugee Conversations,” in which two men—Ziffel and Kalle—stripped of their passports, sit in a rail station café philosophically debating the geopolitical paradoxes of war. But Geyer refrains from restaging this mise-­‐en-­‐scène literally. Rather, her video begins with a contemporary woman entering a room and sitting at a table, upon which lies a script. She takes the papers in her hands and stares directly into the camera. But before she proceeds to speak—alternately reading the roles of both refugees—a text moves across the screen over her face:

Brecht left Germany in February 1933, one day after the Reichstag had burned down, an event that would be used as the justification to arrest hundreds of opponents of the NS regime. Hindenburg had legalized these arrests by signing an emergency legislation that took away most of the civil rights granted by the Weimar Constitution. In May of the same year Brecht’s books were among those burned. In 1935 the NS regime revoked Brecht’s German citizenship.

From the video’s start, a connection is thus made between the U.S. in 2004 (the context of the work’s making) and Germany in 1933 (the historical reference). And yet, this is not to forge an equivalency. As Geyer herself notes, “historical moments never exactly repeat, yet do and should resonate for us continuously.”[20]

Bruce Fink, a Lacanian theorist, adeptly explicates this notion of a “repetition” that fails to repeat. Citing Heraclitus, who claimed “you can’t step in the same river twice,” Fink points out that in our lives repetition is really a misnomer “consisting in the return, not of the same, but of the different.[…] For no two ‘things’ are ever identical or exactly the same.”[21] As in a parallax, a recurring event appears to differ when it is subjectively viewed from different moments, but simultaneously, in some way, it is always the same. The recurring event with which Brecht and Geyer are specifically concerned is the exilic scenario, that moment when a subject’s identity paradoxically falls out of the symbolic, a scenario that returns across historical moments and regions again and again, albeit always in different forms. If one were to trace this kind of event—a recurring return of the different—its trajectory through time would need to be synchronized. This accounts for Geyer’s archaeological approach. Excavating Brecht’s script, she detourns the salient passages to be spoken by a single actress, thus synchronizing these historical references with current events, as they return over time.

Take, for example, the chiastic relation that exists between human beings and their passport. From “Refugee Conversations,” Geyer extracts the following lines for her actress to read:

The passport is the most noble part of a human being. It is also not made as simply as a human being. A human being can happen anywhere in the silliest way and without good reason. But a passport never. That’s why it is acknowledged if it’s a good one, whereas a human being can be as good as it gets and nevertheless not be recognized that way. […] But still one could say that the human being is necessary for the passport. The passport is the main thing: respect. But without the human being that belongs to it, it would be impossible or at least not complete.

Synchronization. Brecht wrote the “Refugee Conversations,” having been stripped of his own passport and German citizenship in 1935. Geyer staged Reference over Time as an immigrant in the U.S. when it was momentarily conceivable that the U.S. could revoke citizenship, extradite Americans, and deport lawful immigrants. And at the time of this writing, Edward Snowden, the thirty-­‐year-­‐old hacker who leaked NSA’s data-­‐mining tactics, is wandering from Hong Kong to Russia, with a revoked passport, in search of a country without extradition reciprocity.[22] These individual events pertaining to wartime passports—from the sublime to the absurd—are not homogenized. Rather, they are synchronized to make us think. What is a state, totalitarian or democratic? Could a perpetual state of statelessness constitute another kind of statehood in and of itself? If so, what are the ethical implications for a state’s people when a citizen’s displacement comes to be a concrete place within a shifting geopolitical landscape? This conceptual paradox—the stateless state—bears out in the video’s closing lines regarding something that is missing from its place:

Where nothing can be found in its right place, there is disorderliness. Where, in the right place, one can find nothing, there is order.… Today order is mainly where there is nothing. It is a deficiency.[23]

Indeed, as Brecht noted, the most acute dialecticians are refugees, poetically concluding the greatest events out of the tiniest signs. This adroit power of observation also defines Andrea Geyer’s aesthetics of repetition.

  1. Leslie Felperin, “Review: ‘No,’ ” in Variety (May 18, 2012), on­‐ 1117947569/, last accessed July 2013.

  2. Adorno, “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening” [1938] in The Culture Industry, ed. J.M. Bernstein (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 34–35, 48–49.

  3. In “The Popular and the Realistic,”[1938], in Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. John Willett (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992), Brecht distrusts the German word for “popular,” volkstümlich, for its “ceremonious, sacramental and dubious ring,” pp. 107–106.

  4. In his essay “Realism in the Balance,” Lukács argued that “…modernist theories of popular art, strongly influenced by avant-garde ideas” had “pushed the sturdy realism of folk art very much into the background.” Ultimately, Lukács desired a space of artistic production that was completely separated from modernist theories, as a means of returning to a pure precapitalist moment. See George Lukács, “Realism in the Blanace,” in Aesthetics and Politics, (New York: Verso, 1977), p. 55.

  5. Brecht, “The Popular and the Realistic,” p. 112.

  6. For a longer explication of Mary Kelly’s Post-­Partum Document in the context of The Nightcleaners, see Juli Carson, “Post-­‐Partum Document: An Introdution,” in Mary Kelly: Projects, 1973–2010 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011), pp. 74-­‐78.

  7. Claire Johnston, “Brecht in Britain: The Independent Political Film (on The Nightcleaners),” in Screen 16:4 (Winter 1975–76).

  8. For instance, some of the night cleaners, in their attempt to unionize, challenged the conventions of the workspace, but at the same time, they maintained the patriarchal standard in regard to organizing their domestic life. A male union organizer held the same contradictory position in regard to challenging the mores of labor but not of gender.

  9. Colin MacCabe, “Realism and the Cinema: Notes on Some Brechtian Theses,” in Screen 15:2 (Summer 1974), p. 19.

  10. Bertolt Brecht, The Messingkauf Dialogues, trans. John Willett, (London: Methuen Drama, 1988), p. 18.

  11. Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stageas formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience,” in Ecrits, idem, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1977), pp. 2-3.

  12. Jacques Lacan, “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis,” trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1981), p. 26. Carl Andre’s famous declaration “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not” denotes his reformulation of sculpture not as cuts into materials but as cuts into space formed by materials. This formal inversion of sculpture’s background (space) and foreground (materials) conceptually resonates with Lacan’s inverse notion of the subject. See: “Towards the Development of an Air Terminal Site” (1967), in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 56.

  13. For a lucid explication in these terms, see Pamela L. Lee, “History Channel: The Films of Mathias Poledna,” in

    Artforum XLIV, No. 3 (November 2005), pp. 230–235.

  14. SMPTE is the abbreviation for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, who defined the set of cooperating standards for the video/film time code discussed here. My reasoning for addressing the film’s un- looped format is twofold. First, it provides a “reveal” of something buried within the installation that nonetheless operates in an abstract or unconscious way for the viewer encountering Version in a gallery setting. Secondly, Version, like most art films, can be “previewed” in DVD format in lecture settings, archives etc. As such, the version of the film (double entendre intended) that I will address here does in fact exist upon request for artists, scholars, critics and archivists.

  15. See Sigmund Freud, “Screen Memories,” in Standard Edition, Volume 3 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1899), pp. 303–322.

  16. Historical film footage of Brecht’s HUAC testimony, with interviews by friends and family, are depicted in John

    W. Walter’s documentary Theatre of War, 2008.

  17. Bertolt Becht before The Committee on Un-­American Activities: An Historical Encounter, Presented by Eric Bentley, accompanying booklet (New York: Folkway Records, 1963), p. 7.

  18. For a critique of Documenta 13, on precisely these terms, see Juli Carson, “Watercolor in the Brain: On dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel,” in Texte zur Kunst, issue no. 87 (September 2012), pp. 212–215.

  19. Netroots Nation, founded in 2006, is a convention held for American progressive political activists, originally organized by the readers and writers of the progressive political blog Daily Kos. From Netroots’ website: “As a term, Netroots (Internet + grassroots) refers to populist campaigns and movements sparked, promoted and conducted over the Internet.” Although the organization is grassroots, it’s a political force to be reckoned with, their speaker list having included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.; last accessed June 2013.

  20. Andrea Geyer, artist’s statement:; last accessed June 2013.

  21. Bruce Fink, “The Real Cause of Repetition,” in Reading Seminar XI, ed. Richard Feldstein et al. (New York: SUNY Press, 1995), p. 223.

  22. On August 1, 2013, Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year. As of 2012 he still resides there.

  23. Bertolt Brecht, Refugee Conversations, as cited in Andrea Geyer’s Reference over Time, 2004.