Present Perfect Continuous
“Every time there is a reproduction of something, there is a loss.”
The works of Shahryar Nashat ( born Teheran 1975, based in Berlin) oscillate between humour and metalanguage, materiality and intangibility. They're about our desire for art and its being sacred. Winner of the Lafayette Prize in 2013, the artist presented a solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in 2014. He is currently a guest professor at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design for the academic year 2014-2015. Last year, on the occasion of the 8th Berlin Biennale, artist Shahryar Nashat debuted his frst feature-length flm, Parade, at the Delphi–Filmpalast, a local movie theater. The flm performed as a document of a 2013 ballet of the same title by Berlin-based choreographer Adam Linder, which takes its structure from Jean Cocteau’s original Parade from 1917. Nashat mediatizes Linder’s adaptation, directly addressing the liberties of the camera lens throughout its 40-minute duration. This act brings into question the now familiar, if not expected, media-based documentation of performance, including that of art, dance, music, and athletics. The expectation of media reproduction has become so common and rarely questioned that the “original” (document, form, action) no longer appears to be threatened by the potential of its eternally fuid afterlife. The issue with any transfer of form, however, is the inevitable result of a defciency. In a post-screening discussion of Parade at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, also marking its U.S. premiere, Nashat explains, “every time there is a reproduction of something, there is a loss.” In the case of this reproduction (or that of any reductive transfer of live action) the experience of the ballet has been captured, the feeting movements have been concretized, and any aspirations for authenticity or originality have dissolved into pixels. Enter: Plaque (Slab) (2007). The video opens with an interior shot of an industrial factory where a large concrete slab is slowly rising up from the ground with the assistance of a crane. The scene cuts, replaced by footage of a Glenn Gould television performance from 1964, which Nashat has intermittently sliced, resulting in the jerky, staggered movement of the pianist. The edited fow of content redirects the viewers’ attention to Gould’s set: six towering slabs of concrete fnished in faux-marble. The mammoth stature of the slabs formally anticipates a lack of heightened experience for the audience in the transfer from live performance to televised program; if the virtuosity of Gould’s performance is incompetently translated, his marble sidekicks are prepared to resolve the confusion. And though the slabs are the stagnant objects in this equation, is it possible that they, as forms on a screen, are more responsible for the animation and personifcation of Gould than Gould himself? Inversely, it is curious to consider if (A) the stationary objects within a frame and (B) the movement of a camera are equally infuential to our perception of a videotaped performance. In the video Factor Green (2011), a stagnant object becomes animated. Linder, opening as the protagonist, is seen vigorously slicing open a shipping box in the midst of a Tintoretto installation at the Accademia in Venice. From it emerges a chroma-key green block – a voided space that signifes the potential presence of both nothing and anything. Linder begins to interact with the object, using it as contemplative gallery seating and posing atop it with an unsteady grin. In the latter moment, the block assumes the role of a pedestal and Linder its sculpture. Eventually, the block is released into mid-air where it foats around a bit until fnally nestling underneath the dead body of St Mark depicted in a nearby painting, attempting (now independently) to play plinth to the depthless rendering. By the end of the video, the block takes over as the protagonist as Linder backs out of frame. Yet, the relationship remains clear: it was by the desire of Linder that the block was infused with presence. Desire, for Nashat, is a compulsory variable of art production. We desire for the cultural objects of our past and present to speak to us, to heighten our everyday, to assert our worth as intelligible beings. And to further our perception of these objects, we have come to develop and distribute a host of qualitative signifers, such as plinths, benches, partitions and signage. As in Factor Green, Linder is eager to ascribe such operative roles to his empty object. In a host of works, Nashat strategically recasts these familiar cultural signifers by recontextualizing them into artworks, usurping their previously subservient role. This formal emptying-out is most directly found in Nashat’s sculpture and photography. For Two Thighs Rooted in Marble (2010), its status as sculpture is made possible through its inability to operate as a pedestal. Two brass poles sealed into a solid marble cube await, or perhaps mourn, the sculptural legs that they have been designed to support. Yet, being an insular object in the context of art, the armature has ascended in cultural signifcance. One year later, Two Thighs Rooted in Marble was recontextualized into a C-print titled Photoscaled 3 (Yellow) – a stock image of the work against a primary yellow backdrop. Again, we are presented with a “loss.” The sculpture, though an original unto itself, is not an original unto the photograph; it is merely an imprint beholden to its context. To return to the beginning, the subject of the imprint is central to Nashat’s Parade. There is the obvious imprint of Cocteau’s original onto Linder’s adaptation, but in Nashat’s video the lineage of imprints (from ballet to ballet) is fragmented by the lineage of media, recasting the indexical marks of 1917 into the scrambled pixels of 2014. In the loss of physical presence, Nashat’s camera self-consciously compensates through its ability to enter
the privileged status of the stage. The audience has gained a sort of liberated access; it is alongside the action onstage – zoomed in, backstage with Linder, and at one point looking ofstage towards the traditional location of an audience (but here, the rows of theater seats are empty, signaling that the new audience is in fact viewing the flm) – and able to view the captured material of the camera again, elsewhere, endlessly. However, the chosen method of any presentation, from the installation of a sculpture in a gallery to the portrayal of a performance in a video, is a product of current desire – an assembly of decisions at play with the tipping scale of loss and gain. How have we enacted the articles of our past into the present? As highlighted in the work of Nashat, by studying how the present manages its inescapable imprints of the past, it is possible to identify and ultimately become critical of the cultural desires of our time.