Passion must be tamed like a wild beast
Edited by Piero Golia
Chris Kraus’s feature film, a little-seen mini-masterpiece, suggests that passion is not all: it allows us to sway between the extremes but is only one aspect of life Edited by Piero Golia Passion and eros are often described as having the capacity to take us to the other side, making us dream and elevating us to a super-terrestrial dimension. They are said to enslave us because mind and body lose control. Passion is fairly essential in art but what would happen to an artist prey to delirium and unable to think?
I believe the concept that passion, desire and eros are disturbing belongs to the squalid beggars of philosophy and thought. I do not believe an artist can be slave to such thoughts. An artist, a good artist, tries to think and reflect. What remains of our work through time is an eternal and, one hopes, monumental imprint. You cannot leave imprints without reflecting on what you wish to do. The myth of the artist’s work being based on divine and romantic inspiration make no sense. Passion is certainly a part of artistic motivation but it must be tamed like a wild beast to our service.
Chris Kraus’s film-work springs to mind. Today, Chris is primarily known as a writer, novelist and art critic. She is highly influential on the American scene, such that the commercial colossus Amazon has created a new TV series directly inspired by her most famous book, I Love Dick, dating from 1997. It is a love story involving her, her husband, the legendary French theorist and philosopher Sylvère Lotringer, and the mysterious Professor Dick.
Chris started her career as a filmmaker in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in a New York that was still authentic, wild and anarchic. Her only feature film, of 1995, is called Gravity and Grace. It was never properly distributed — remaining a mini-masterpiece that very few have had the good fortune to see — because they were unable at the time to negotiate an agreement on the rights of part of the soundtrack music. Now that the doors of TV have opened for Chris, we hope to see a new chapter for Gravity and Grace.
What is sweeter than constantly levitating between life’s gravity and grace? Nothing perhaps and starting
from the title of the film I see the thrust of what I like. Passion is not everything, simply allowing us to swing between the extremes but it is only one aspect of life. Unfortunate are those prey to it and arrivederci to their dreams of glory.
In the film, Gravity and Grace are two young girls who live in New Zealand and become prostitutes for fun — light-heartedly, lazily and with no great conviction.
They are infatuated with a guru who believes in the imminent arrival of aliens. Gravity is slightly more sceptical and detaches herself from the group, moving to New York to pursue what is, perhaps, her vocation: sculpture. There too, however, the reality is harsh and nothing really significant happens. When the closing credits appear against the backdrop of New York’s skyscrapers, I am mesmerised by the fact that nothing happened in the film.
There is no trace of sensuality. The scenes that touch on the carnal body were filmed with the intention of showing an underlying boredom and dissatisfaction. All the desire is expressed via the characters’ mental approach, so fluently and clearly do they use the spoken language to express their philosophy. Precisely because articulated, these desires, these aspirations, relegate their primary satisfaction to the background. Satisfaction is not essential; what is essential is an ability to identify the impetus, share it and explain it.
Those who succeed are masters of their own path. The film’s characters express themselves eloquently, speaking with the tone of those who appear to be on the edge of an apocalyptic catastrophe, as if those words were the last ones ever spoken. Chris Kraus is a passionate woman but her strength lies elsewhere. Her magic stems from the fact that she is able to describe her desire. She speaks of burning with passion but, once it is acknowledged, she is no longer its slave.
“Feelings are Shit” even appears in big letters on the screen, a legendary slogan. We are not animals and we must not lose ourselves.
These pages: Chris Kraus, stills from Gravity and Grace, 1995, 16mm film transferred to video, 1 hour 29 min. Courtesy of the artist and Château Shatto, Los Angeles