a speech by Mark Gisbourne
I was thinking this morning as I was drafting my comments for this even- ing of Slavoj Zizek, that there are a whole series of thoughts he presented in his essay called “The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway,” thoughts which seem particularly apposite. Why is it that emotions and affects in the modern world seem at times ridiculous, and that in the social and political sphere ‘rhetorical sentimentalism’ seems to be the order of the day. Is it that sublimity itself (formerly the awe affected sense of life) has become driven by clichés, or, that in the post- psychoanalytic world,we no longer believe in true affects as having a viable and real content, that meaningful feelings have become decom- posed, that trust is so diminished that human relations are no longer sustainable, that transgression has become stereotyped, and that the only safe conditions of a relationship are those of an uncertain ambi- valence. I say this because the photographs of Stefanie Schneider might seem to contest these things on the one hand and reinforce them on the other. Her photo-novels, or, if you prefer photo-narratives, reveal many of these ambiguous aspects exposing the contentious nature of what it is ‘to feel’ in our troubled world.They are multi-layered with the iconographic references that seem to span the last half century, a world driven from the existential, perhaps, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, through the bleached and bland simulacra of Pop Art, onto the surreal (sometimes Gothic surreal world), presented to us by David Lynch’s films in his decentred and decomposed narratives. And, I mean a usage of the word ‘decom-posed’ in its doubled sense, the decaying of emotional certainties, alongside the decomposing aspects of telling a story in the world of today. I want to quote Zizek, not least because Stefanie Schneider uses her life-narrative to create her works, and that this life-narrative is affected by the circumstances of chance, unpredictable events, and uncertain out- comes. Zizek was speaking of the femme fatale, and by this he does not mean the cliché of the traditional Hollywood dream factory of narrative construction (the Dietrich, Harlow, Monroe et al), though one might argue that Monroe as victim offers the mitigating point of the femme fatales transitional identity, hence her pivotal position in post-war popular culture.
“Would it not be possible to interpret the unique figure of the femme fatale in the new noir of the 90s along these lines, as exemplified in Linda Fiorentino in Dahl’s ‘The Last Seduction’ in contrast to the classic noir femme fatale on the 40s…….One can of course argue that this new femme fatale is no less hallucinatory, that her direct approach to a man is no less the realization of a (masochist) male fantasy; however, one should not forget that this new femme fatale subverts the male fantasy precisely by way of directly and brutally realizing it, acting it out in ‘real life.’ It is thus not only that she realizes the male hallucination - she is fully aware that men hallucinate about such a direct approach - and that directly giving them what they hallucinate about is what is the most effective way to undermine their domination. In other words, what we have in the above-described scene from The Last Seduction (to be contrasted to the noir femme fatale of the 40s), is the exact feminine counterpoint to the scene from David Lynch’s Wild at Heart in which Willem Defoe verbally abuses Laura Dern, forcing her to utter the words “Fuck me!”. And, when she finally does it (i.e., when her fantasy is aroused), he treats this offer of hers as an authentic free offer and politely rejects it (“No thanks, I’ve got to go, but maybe some other time….”). In both scenes the subjects are humiliated when their fantasies are brutally externalized and thrown back at them.
In short Linda Fiorentino (in The Last Seduction) acts here as a true sadist, not only on account of her reduction of her partner to the bearer of partial objects which provide pleasure (thereby depriving the sexual act of its “human and emotional warmth,” and transforming it into a cold physio- logical exercise), but also because of the cruel manipulation of the other’s (male) fantasy which is directly acted out and thus thwarted in its efficiency as the support of desire.”
Now why have I digressed to speak of this new femme fatale? Ideas con- cerning female induced seduction….. I think it is because the work of Stefanie Schneider is bound and shaped by the tensions of her emotional life, be they directly libidinal, or the sequential unfolding of the day-to-day, this is her life story. Indeed, in the press release for this exhibition, they are described as “emotional hieroglyphs in search of syntax.” They are directional but the final outcome of that direction remains undefined, and it is this inability in the modern world to sustain ‘concrete meanings,’ and to replace it with the ‘instancy of dreams and their denial’ which is the vital currency of her work. It seems to me that her work is not about the tech- nical aspects of images and their realization, but about the dematerial- ization of images contents and the emotional flux that ensues from them. This is now the state of emotional anemia in which we now find ourselves. She lives in the world (our current world) where the boundary of ‘the real’ (in the Lacanian sense) and reality has been obfuscated. It is a journey without beginning or end, save that which encompasses all our lives.The bleached out-of-focus contents is thus a mirror of our current living condition, the Dionysian side where the state of irrational uncertainty is the only certainty we have. There is no longer in our lives a fixed sense of fiction and fact, an end and a beginning. To tell a story as a narrative today is to say that there are no longer conditions whereby we might have a beginning, middle, and an end. Save for human biology the diachronic has been displaced by the synchronic. And this is probably the reason why most of the formulaic fodder presented to us by Hollywood is no more than Sentimentality (a feeling that is preformulated and disposable like a Christmas card), the product of clichéd constructions driven by account- ants and their bookkeeping. It is quite clear that Schneider knows this intimately, and is able to use many of these tropes in a selfreflexive manner. If her work is ironic about the subject of the so-called ‘American Dream,’ and irony is intended here in the strictly Socratean sense of its origins, that which says the opposite of what is exposed and expressed, it does so only in the sense that human emotions, feelings, and action have become increasingly opaque. As a result their transmission takes on the status of the ambiguous, something which leads ultimately to the ambi- valent and unsustainable condition of human relations as they are frequently experienced today. Maybe we should think of it therefore, appropriating the title (at least), of Calderon della Barca’s “Life’s a Dream.” Or, dream turned nightmare just as much as nightmare is turned to dream. And, this is why I want to return to the notion of passage and journeying that seems to underpin so much of her art. Indeed, the same thematic that spans the last fifty years from Kerouac to Lynch, Dahl and many other contemporary filmmakers. But it is no longer a ‘rite of passage’ in an anthropological sense, and in which so final an outcome is achieved. It is no longer a good old-fashioned ‘Lust for Life’ an experience as end in itself, since both ‘lust’ and ‘life’ have become somehow dis- aggregated.And, I know that to say such a thing seems overtly pessi-mistic. But, that is just it, for we live increasingly with a pessimistic propensity.And, in this world of post-narratology, that is to say a world where the preordained structure of storytelling has become displaced or simply formalized, or commodified as in soap opera; for it is no longer possible to speak of a world where happiness and sadness have com- mensurate relations, or where drama (be it comedy or tragedy) remain in some point of fixed relations. Hence in a certain sense life has become both sublime and ridiculous, or if you like a world where as Zizek puts it fantasy has become decomposed, or is decomposing as in the images of Stefanie Schneider, where the ‘inherent transgression’ is now the norm, where the sublime projection carries within it the worm of its own re- jection, where hope is hypocritical (or at the very least rhetorical) and the outcome is purely random.Thus to have entered here onto a description of contents of Schneider’s work is to impose on you a particular reading, namely my reading, when what I want to expose or point to is a state of consciousness. Perhaps, more than that, a state of ongoing cons- ciousness…....A world that here brings into relations most often photo graphy and film, the static image and the moving image.We have lived now in this decomposed experience since the 60s, perhaps, best under- stood by reference to Harald Szeemann’s famous exhibition ‘When Attitude Becomes Form,’ and which a curator friend of mine proposes to reconstitute in the near future, and reinterpret in the light of the last forty years, calling it not surprisingly ‘When Attitude Became Form.’
In this laudatio I have also, deliberately, perhaps, obfuscated matters insomuch as the term means “in praise of,” usually an honorary accla- mation of a thing aimed for and that has been achieved…… But to have done that here this evening would have been to tell the lie of the very thing that the work of Schneider exposes, because as she has said “everything that happened in my life happened by accident and most of the time it was good. I allow chance to play a role in my life and this dic- tates what happens in my photography.” Tonight you are part of that chance, for though this exhibition takes place at a point fixed in time this does not negate the fact that through its contents your experience can transcend it. If you are troubled or disturbed by this, then all I can say is (perhaps, with my own feeling for humorous irony) welcome you to the world of today. It seems the world of human emotions and relations are more porous than they have ever been, and the work Schneider nego- tiates the horizon of an endless uncertainty.
Until he met her, his destiny was his own.
Petty and inconsequential but still his own.
He was cocksure and free, young and unaccountable,
with dark hair and aquiline features.
His expression was always pensive, a little troubled, but not of a maniacal sort.
He was more bored than anything else. With a heart capable of violence.
Until she met him, she was pretty but unappreciated.
Her soul had registered no seismic activity.
Dust bowl weary, she’d yet to see better days.
A languorous body, a sweet face with eyes that could be kind if so inclined.
Until she met him, she had not been inclined.
Reality with the Tequila:
Stefanie Schneider’s Fertile Wasteland
by James Scarborough
“How much more than enough
for you for I for both of us darling?”
(E. E. Cummings)
Until she met him, she had not been inclined.
It began when he met her. She was struck in an instant by his ennui. The sum of their meeting was greater than the imbroglios and chicaneries of their respective existences. He was struck by the blank slate look in her eyes. They walked, detached and focused on the immediate, obscenely unaware of pending change across a terrain of mountainous desert, their eyes downcast and world-weary, unable to account for the buoyant feeling in her heart. His hard-guy shtick went from potentiality to ruse. The gun was not a weapon but a prop, a way to pass time. Neither saw the dark clouds massing on the horizon.
They found themselves alone in the expanses of time, unaware of the calamity that percolated even as they posed like school kids for the pic- tures. Happiness brimmed in that wild terrain. Maybe things were begin- ning to look up.
That’s when the shooting started…
Stefanie Schneider assumes that our experience of lived reality (buying groceries, having a relationship with someone, driving a car) does not correspond to the actual nature of lived reality itself, that what we think of as reality is more like a margarita without the tequila.
Stefanie Schneider’s reality is reality with the tequila. She does not abol- ish concepts that orient us, cause and effect, time, plot, and story line, she just plays with them. She invites us to play with them, too. She offers us a hybrid reality, more amorphous than that with a conventional subject, verb, and predicate. Open-ended, this hybrid reality does not resolve itself. It frustrates anyone with pedestrian expectations but once we inebriate those expectations away, her work exhilarates us and even the hangover is good. An exploration of how she undermines our expectation of what we assume to be our lived reality, the reasons why she under- mines our expectations, and the end-result, as posited in this book, will show how she bursts open our apparatus of perception and acknowl- edges life’s fluidity, its density, its complexity. Its beauty.
She undermines expectations of our experience of reality with odd, other- worldly images and with startling and unexpected compressions and expansions of time and narrative sequence. The landscape seems familiar enough, scenes from the Old West: broad panoramic vistas with rolling hills dotted with trees and chaparral, dusty prairies with trees and shrubs and craggy rocks, close-up shots of trees. But they’re not familiar. These mis-en-scenes radiate an unsettling Picasso Blue Period glow or the intense celestial blue of the cafe skies that Van Gogh painted in the south of France. Yellow starbursts punctuate images as if seen through the viewfinder of a flying saucer. At the same time, objects appear both vintage and futuristic, the landscape of a post-apocalyptic world.
Landscapes change seemingly at random as do the seasons. Stefanie Schneider offers no indication of how time flows here, except that it con- ceivably turns in on itself and then goes its merry way. Time is a river whose source is a deep murky spring which blusters about with an occasional swirling eddy.
That Stefanie Schneider thwarts an easy reading is obvious but why does she do this? Since she will not countenance anything linear, logical, or sequential, and because she does not relish anything concrete and specific, she has to roil things up a bit. Nor does she seem comfortable with a book of images that is settled, discrete, and accountable. Instead she wants to create a panoply of anxious moments that refuse to settle down into any predetermined reading. She seeks to assemble the ele- ments, establish a provisional cosmology and then let each of us bring our own life experiences to bear on the enterprise. She unravels the paucity of a universe compromised by a matrix of either/or and replaces it with a kaleidoscopic neither/both cornucopia.
No fan of Descartes, she does not adhere to anything predicated on cogito ergo sum. No, the chance to present a universe of limitless iterations and utterances, open-ended, casualty-thwarting, intrigues her. She broaches a Heraclitan world: she shows that attempts to master, manage, and hoard time prove to be as elusive as a blind man trying to grab a salmon barehanded from a cold mountain stream. Even within the clear cut parameters of the Old West universe onto which she gloms, she shows that time is a bandit, that it is a mirage, that it is as unpredictable as it is indefinable and infinite. She coaxes us, scene by scene a slow- motion, out-ofsequence film clip, to agree with her that a running moat of lived reality easily overwhelms a castle of rationality.
Stefanie Schneider does not mount a demolition effort much less a de- construction one. Rather, she dismantles our expectations and sets about rebuilding not things but their connections anew. She is the mistress of the synapses. Indeed all these annoying ambiguities and irritating am- biances set the stage for a very particular certainty, one kernel of truth amidst these skewed and open-ended fields of inquiry. What connects all these images, in whatever order they might be presented1, is what I call an Augenblick, the mental distance between each page in whose ex- panse occurs the processing of shards of lived experience between these blinks of an eye that comprise the pages of Wastelands. During these innumerous Augenblicke, we take whatever shifts and turns that Stefanie Schneider throws at us, recalibrate our bearings, and then move on, at least until the next inevitable obstruction.
Irritating (and enlightening) as these shots may be, they’re nothing new. Rilke writes that, instead of trying to understand the quiddities of things, we should just be joyous at their mystery, just assume that they’re written in a lovely script that neither you nor anyone else can ever understand. Keats writes about being “awake forever in a sweet unrest,” although he’s talking about love. Stefanie Schneider makes us work for this idea of an Augenblick, but the result is worth it. The scenes and their sequencing dazzle us in a Borgesian Hall of Mirrors. Stefanie Schneider shows us that reality is anything but linear and user-friendly, but once one becomes accustomed to her enhanced dimension of space and time, we see the world in all its multifarious beauty and rapture. For that reason, Stefanie Schneider’s Augenblicke show us that reality may be a wasteland but it is as fertile as fertile can be.
1 I refer to Julio Cortazar’s novel, Hopscotch, in which he presents his story in a linear
way, with consecutive chapters that follow a particular coherence. In a note at the be-
ginning of the novel, he suggests an alternative reading via a new sequence of chapters.
So instead of reading chapter 1 first, chapter 2 second, you read, say chapter 57 first,
chapter 32 second, chapter 1 third and so on to form a new story. Similarly, Stefanie
Schneider’s Wastelands offers a multitude of coherences.
Stars Dot the Sky
by Renée Chabria
When he left the small mining town in northern Colorado, he vowed to himself that he would never love again. Nadine was the only one who would know the secrets of his heart and any other woman who tried to love him would pay the price of the anguish he felt after loosing her. There was just no way around it - she was too god dam good to die but she did, one December night as they were returning home from a Christmas party. The road was slick and a semi truck tried to overtake a slow moving trailer - hit them head on. Simple - he made it out and she didn’t. It should have been him. He played the scene over and over in his head for months and could not understand why it had gone the way that it did. God always takes the good ones away.
After a year of wandering through a series of uneventful days that faded into lonely and desolate nights, he slowly awoke from his sleep. He looked around at the town that he grew up in and nothing looked the same. He felt an alarming detachment. He wanted to scream but nothing would come out. Instead he screamed inside and it echoed or days, swirling around in the vast emptiness inside. Then he did the only thing he could think of which was grab some clothes, a fifth of whisky and his pistol. He gassed up his car and headed south for days... mountains giving way to valleys and finally exhausting themselves into the endless sea of the desert.
For the first time since the accident, he finally felt some peace. He camped and hunted and regained some sense of the Randy that he once knew. It was a good thing too because any further toward the brink of darkness not whole. that was pulling him under and he might never have made it back...at least
One morning he decided to wander into the valley that was a couple of towns over. It was cool there, he imagined...and green, a nice change from the heat and sand. He loaded up his gear and started to drive...and when he reached the valley he was surprised. He never imagined that there could be so much color and life only a few miles away. He started to walk, unaware of himself. Unaware of time...just walking.
Underneath a big pine, he stopped to take a drink. As he lowered the bottle, he thought he saw the diaphanous shape of a girl disappear into the trees in front of him. He squinted and looked hard. Nothing. He decided that he’d been alone too long and was starting to see things. Then he saw her again. She cautiously stepped out of the woods and stood there, alongside a big oak - thin as a rail and hair all tangled and wild, wearing the slightest slip of a dress. He stood to get a better look and in response to his movement, she looked as though she might bolt. Instead, she stood her ground and seemed to gather her resolve looking him straight in the eye. It was more than he could understand. He had no recollection of how he ended up standing in front of her. He picked her up in his arms and carried her over to his car. He looked in her eyes for a moment and then made love to her in both violent and tender gestures and with an intensity that he did not recognize in himself.
When it was over, she merely curled up in his arms and they stared at the stars as they began to dot the sky, never saying a word.
That was how they became lovers, sharing something that words never needed to justify.
THIS USED TO BE MY VALLEY
song written, composed and sung by Zoë Bicât
© Zoë Bicât 2005