Ian White: Here is Information. Mobilise.

Hardcover, published by LUX, 2016

The title of Ian White’s posthumous collection of writing brings to mind the comments and instructions posted on social media since the American election last November, accompanied by lists and databases detailing which civil rights organisations to support and which politicians to hassle. The ‘information’ in this book, edited by Mike Sperlinger, White’s former colleague at LUX, isn’t so directly practical as the directive to ‘mobilise’ might suggest, but it does detail its author’s working and thinking methods, with texts on video, film and moving image that are concise, sometimes sharp, politically minded and always self-conscious.

The collection begins with texts from the early 2000s – writings for publications such as Afterall and Untitled, as well as ArtReview (which published many of his pieces between 2002 and 2008). These are typically breathless descriptions, often springing from personal reflections, replete with long lists of adjectives. The book closes by reproducing the blog posts, poignant but often darkly hilarious, that White posted in the final years of his life, while he was receiving treatment for cancer. In between is a decade’s worth of essays for artists, ruminations on film programmes he’d curated and texts for performances White developed in collaboration with artists such as Jimmy Robert and Martin Gustavsson. While, broadly, White writes about moving image, the underlying subject of the texts collected here seems to be the attempt to define the nascent medium of ‘artists’ film’ at the turn of the twenty-first century; to wrest it away from 1970s visions of ‘experimental’ and ‘expanded cinema’; and to locate it more accurately as an ambiguous, public meeting-point of cinema, the theatre and the gallery.

White’s best insights often sneak in quietly, punctuating longer descriptions of works. Within a list of possible themes being addressed in the work of Markus Schinwald, he drops in ‘the camera’s ability to turn an object into its opposite’, as if it’s a casual fact. But that seemingly simple observation contains a lot of White’s concern with the materiality of film and video, which included everything from what format it was on, distribution, viewing spaces and the audience themselves. In the text describing his 2007 ‘Kinomuseum’, a project focused on the relationship between cinema and the museum, he describes it as ‘equally about finding limits, the inadequacies of industrial cinema in a cultural field, and the radical proposal that a differentiated cinema replaces both this and the museum’. The line also sums up many of his overarching preoccupations.

Yvonne Rainer is a sort of patron saint of the book, hovering over many of the ideas of performance, politics and film as tools for subjectively exploring context. If there is one criticism of this book, it is that the preoccupation with this earlier avant-garde seems to weight it more towards looking back, with texts on Rainer, Jack Smith and Peter Gidal; and while there are essays on the work of Sharon Lockhart, Oliver Husain and Ruth Buchanan, the collection does not reflect a great deal on the younger generation of artists that White championed or the vitality of the moving-image scene that he helped create over the past 15 years. But of course any selection can only be incomplete (perhaps in the way White describes his own work at one point in the book: a ‘selection… an occupation, which is multiple, not an inscription, which is singular’.)

Though much of the tone is broadly curatorial – in an explanatory mode and sometimes quite formal – it’s what White was actively seeking that gives the book its energy. In the text on Husain’s work, it’s as if he’s found it: ‘a semi-porous membrane in/through the mind and a physical reorganisation of space and bodies has occurred, an endless series of exits that are entrances. Cinema, actually, remodelled, almost without us noticing, into a model for a new society. Nice.’ White’s method – his ‘information’ with which to ‘mobilise’ – was to be constantly present, aware and questioning of what structures we participate in, to take part while also locating new models: an approach that is both useful and imminently necessary.

 

Originally published in ArtReview, Vol. 69, no. 1, January – February 2017

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