Pas­sion must be tamed like a wild beast

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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

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