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The Beauty is Relentless: The Short Movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby
Editor Mike Hoolboom
Designer Alana Wilcox
Published by Pleasure Dome/Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
Distributed by Coach House Press
160 pages, colour, 2012
Buy it here! http://www.chbooks.com/catalogue/beauty-relentless
The short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby have been tearing up the festival/gallery circuit for the past 15 years, copping awards and retrospectives around the world. In this collection of scripts, creative writings and critical missives, their word smart blend of home spun animation, bedroom pop philosophy songs, and glam personas by the galore get the full treatment. Imagine threesomes, daddy’s porn, fame, and the importance of animals served up on a private TV station. It feels like your fave indie band put all their flash tunes into instantly hummable video vignettes.
The book is both literary and scholarly, and features scholarly asides by Electric Animal author Akira Lippit on animals, Czech film scientist Andrea Slovakova, video legends Tom Sherman and Monique Moumblow, music writer Terence Dick, queer avatar Sholem Kristalka and video dad Steve Reinke. Novelists Claudia Dey and Kyo Maclear lend wit and grace. There are also a pair of fully illustrated video scripts, a hilarious tell-all interview with writer pal Sara Hollenberg, a suite of unpublished writings by Duke (including I Hate Orgasms) and a collection of commissioned artist’s pages, all in colour.
“Often working with the disconnects between human and animal — and their urge to reconcile the sterile mechanics of our world versus the intuitive viscerality we keep buried within — their dark sense of humour has yielded a slate of bizarre taxidermies, installations, videos and sculpture, all tinged with a gutsy, mystical longing that’s sweet, sinister, hilarious and disturbing all at once.” Murray Whyte, Toronto Star
“Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby work conceptual magic on everything from low-tech video animation to sculptures of taxidermied animals.” Richard Rhodes, Canadian Art
“Duke & Battersby’s world is deeply informed by the so-called ‘outsider’ gaze. Their works employ a type of educated rawness that celebrates the perverse, and the roughly crafted, but is nevertheless highly articulate and archly considered. They may be witch doctors, but they went to school for years to learn how to shake the bones.” RM Vaughn, National Post
“Each of Duke and Battersby’s works is a compendium of multiple voices. They contain witty, keenly felt songs, simple animations and found-footage vignettes brought to life by the duo’s narrations (in which voices run backwards, are manipulated to emulate children, robots and animals, or just to convey “anonymity,” and are haphazardly accented). Intertitles and aphoristic texts silently drift by, the voice of a higher authority perhaps; the artists pull faces, enact rituals, stage confessions, test limits. This dynamic polyvocality renders each work a series of provisional propositions and hypotheses: bad (and good) ideas for paradise.” Jon Davies, Canadian Art
“Here are two artists who are fearless – relentless in their examination of desire and beauty and pain and trust. Vey Duke and Battersby have a way with making such unwieldy themes not comfortable, but approachable. Their videos sometimes make me wince in their astute unmasking of the constructions of self and of society that we all lean on to get by. There exists a kind of nakedness, a peeling away of propriety, a questioning of behavioral and social systems – and yet I find their work refreshingly playful and deeply generous.” Deborah Stratman, Assistant Professor of Moving Image, School of Art and Design, University of Illinois at Chicago
“Like some demented acid-trip episode of Sesame Street, the cornerstones of their practice all seem to be brought to us by the letter A: abjection, alliteration, animation, animals, acapella, alienation. And yet: just when the wryness and irony conspire to make an impossible-to-swallow Dagwood sandwich, they groovily subvert all cynicism with a note or two of wrenching sweetness.” John Greyson, Associate Professor, Department of Film, Faculty of Fine Arts, York University, Toronto
Table of Contents
11 Foreword by Andrea Cooper and David Liss
15 Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
23 Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Jason McBride
31 White Cat to Duke, Do You Read Me? by Claudia Dey
35 Crazy Pinkie Business by Sholem Kristalka
41 An Uncivilised Love by Kyo Maclear
51 The Song Sung of Emily & Cooper by Terence Dick
53 Important things that we like by Andrea Slovakova
57 People who make rules: Watch Out! by Tom Sherman
61 My Life (with Duke and Battersby) by Steve Reinke
67 Dear Steve by Emily Vey Duke
71 Audiences: an interview by Sara Hollenberg
81 Beauty Plus Pity: an interview by Monique Moumblow
87 Copula by Akira Mizuta Llippit
93 Creative Writings by Emily and Cooper
111 Songs of Praise for the Heart Beyond Cure script
127 Lesser Apes script
154 About the Artists
155 Contributor Bios
Claudia Dey is a novelist, playwright and novelist. She writes the weekly Coupling column for The Globe and Mail. She also wrote The Globe and Mail’s Group Therapy column and Toro magazine’s sex column under the pseudonym, Bebe O’Shea. Her plays have been produced internationally and include Beaver, Trout Stanley and The Gwendolyn Poems, which was nominated for the Governor General’s Award and the Trillium Award. Her debut novel, Stunt, was chosen by The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire as Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. Her non-fiction follow-up, How to Be a Bush Pilot: A Field Guide to Getting Luckier is published by HarperCollins.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is also the Toronto correspondent for and editor of Akimblog at akimbo.ca.
Sarah Hollenberg received a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2000. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Art History at the University of Southern California.
Mike Hoolboom is a Canadian artist working in film and video.
Sholem Krishtalka is an artist and a writer. His writing has appeared in Xtra Magazine, C Magazine, CBC Arts Online, Canadian Art Magazine among others. His artwork has been exhibited in numerous venues around Toronto and the US including Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto and Jack the Pelican Presents in New York City. His work is featured in the premiere issue of Headmaster Magazine (US), and can be seen at www.sholem.ca and sholem.tumblr.com.
Akira Mizuta Lippit teaches film and literature at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) (2005) and Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (2000). His most recent book, Ex-Cinema: From a Theory of Experimental Film and Video, will appear in 2012.
Kyo MacLear was born in London, and grew up in Toronto. She graduated from University of Toronto with an undergraduate degree in Fine Art and Art History and a graduate degree in Visual and Cultural Studies. Her first novel, The Letter Opener (HarperCollins) was awarded the K.M. Hunter Artists Award and nominated for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Evergreen Award. A dual British-Canadian citizen, Kyo is also a visual arts writer and the author of two children’s books: Spork (Kids Can Press, 2010) and Virginia Wolf (Kids Can Press, forthcoming).
Jason McBride is a Toronto-based writer and editor. He’s a regular contributor to Toronto Life, the Globe and Mail, Cinema Scope and The Believer, among other publications.
Monique Moumblow lives and works in Montréal and has been making single channel videos since 1993. She is a co-founder of Sugar Press and writes short fiction, and essays on video art.
Steve Reinke is an artist and writer best known for his videos. His work is screened widely and is in several collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Pompidou (Paris), and the National Gallery (Ottawa). A book of his scripts, Everybody Loves Nothing: Scripts 1997 – 2005 was published by Coach House (Toronto). He has also co-edited several books, including Lux: A Decade of Artists’ Film and Video (with Tom Taylor, 2000), and The Sharpest Point: Animation at the End of Cinema (with Chris Gehman, 2005). He is currently associate professor of Art Theory & Practice at Northwestern University. A book of his prose, The Shimmering Beast, was published in spring 2011.
Tom Sherman. Post-graduate equivalent: A Space, Toronto. B.F.A., Eastern Michigan University. Founding co-editor of Fuse magazine, Toronto, 1980; represented Canada at the Venice Biennale 1980; founding Head of Media Arts section of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ottawa 1983-87; international commissioner for Venice Biennale 1986; appointed director of the School of Art and Design, Syracuse University 1991; co-founded Nerve Theory, an international performance art/recording collaborative 1997; awarded the Bell Canada prize for excellence in video art 2003; awarded Canada’s Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2010.
Andrea Slováková studied Mass Media Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University in Prague, after graduation she received the degree PhDr. She also graduated from Film Studies at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, where she is now as postgraduate student. Currently she is engaged in documentary filmmaking at the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague. Since 2003 she has worked as a programmer/organizer of the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival. She has published articles in different film magazines and cultural journals. She is the editor-in-chief of the annual anthology of texts on documentary film called DO as well as a magazine about documentary film Dok.revue. As an artist, she made the portrait of Czech mathematician Petr Vopenka (2006), a film essay called Clouds (2006) and a film about supervision In sight (2010).
Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
There is a visual shorthand I use for each of my friends to keep their celestial heat from turning me into stir fry. There is one I think of only as “that face,” while another has been reduced to a pair of hands always opening. The caption I run under Emily and Cooper is simple enough; they are the future of the couple. While so many dyads use their togetherness as a fortress against the world, bulwarked behind the tragedies of monogamy, Vey Battersduke seem determined to push against every border and boundary until it gives way under their celebration of curiosity.
And once they have worked themselves outside of the rules, their newly won vantage offers a pretty good place from which to make art, though this is not a word that comes easily to them. Literature remains the hoped for grail, while art is the disappointed bride that they have decided to embrace. The truth is, they have little patience for most of what passes for video art these days, or any other day, and as a result their post-human offerings are tuned up with a rare and exacting invocation of standards. Imagine an indie pop producer demanding all-night studio sessions for her young charges, take after take, until the new tunes lift at every corner.
In an art moment frozen in thrall to the sway of conceptualisms, their work is narrative, hummable, humanoid, and invites identification. Hand-drawn cartoons let animal familiars talk to us about children and God and daddy’s porn. Stripped down bedroom pop and home video makeovers jostle with time-lapse compressions unafraid to be beautiful. They don’t proceed with a plan or program; instead, they throw themselves out the windows of their own needs and despairs and wonders, opening their four-armed embrace to homeless island dwellers and feral cats and art mavens. From these close encounters they have created a rare video voice: at once smart and accessible, beautiful and word-wise.
Instead of falling completely in love with Emily, and of course with Cooper—the two are inseparable, in nearly every sense that matters—we began to correspond, to fill up long text fields with characters, most of them unrecognizable as ourselves—and that brought more relief than perhaps it should have. Our notings run well past a hundred pages, and one day it will be the best thing I’ve ever been part of, in the art-world, meta-lingo sense of things, that is. One afternoon she wrote:
“I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Mequitta about the accusation (much flung at me as a younger person) that one is ‘just doing it for attention.’ IT usually being trying to kill one’s self, or cutting, or posting the pages of one’s diary around town. Nobody, for instance, said that Flaubert was just trying to write great novels for attention, or that Jesus was just being the Messiah for attention. Nobody even says (or not much) that Bob Dylan was just writing those folk songs for attention. People did, however, say that Carolee Schneeman was getting naked and rolling around in sausage for attention. People said that Vito Acconci was just making The Red Tapes for attention (specifically Rosalind Krauss said it).”
Two years ago, in a fit of masochism and hope, I proposed to Emily and Cooper that we make a movie together. If we were still without a general public’s attention, then perhaps we could grant this gift to one another. They said sure and I proceeded to blitz the two of them (can a chest hold two hearts?) with one idea after another—uncanny songs, genius quotes, found-footage irresistibles. When is too much too little? They were interested in bonobos, as it turned out, a matriarchal society of nearly vegetarian peacenik apes who have sex often and in every possible combination. We staggered through a year and a half of foreign language mistranslations and pyramid studies before divvying up the pile and heading our separate ways. I worked relentlessly and managed to uncover only new beginnings, while they continued to live every weekend as if it was the last one on the planet and then screamed out a movie with a Sobey deadline pressing on their chests that will be watched for years to come. “So this is what it was like to live in 2010,” some stranger will mutter, wondering that movies could ever have been made, never mind attended, that were flat, and lacking any sense of touch, taste, or smell. Yes, this is what it was like. Welcome to the future of the couple.
April 28, 2011 To the Canada Arts Council Jury,
I am writing in strong support of the book project Mike Hoolboom is editing on the extraordinary work of video artists Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. Some thoughts on why this will be a book which the Arts Council should support.
I can think of no other contemporary writer within the arena of experimental film who has done more to vivify the available dialogue than Mike Hoolboom. Time and time again, when I am searching for critical texts on groundbreaking film and videomakers working at the margins, it is Hoolboom who has been there first, carefully viewing, contextualizing, thoughtfully interviewing and basically just providing a sorely needed verbal trace of artists who choose to work in ephemeral / temporal mediums. What I especially respect is his dedication to artists who are intellectually rigorous in their own variously idiosyncratic, transgressive, untidy, doubtful, passionate, unapologetic ways. In his humanist, political manner, Hoolboom has been amassing through his writing and filmmaking output, a corpus of evidence to a thinking, entropic, empathic universe. A universe which might easily go uncommented upon, and one which we’d all be poorer without.
Then add to Hoolboom’s craft the astonishing creative work of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. Here are two artists who are fearless – relentless in their examination of desire and beauty and pain and trust. Vey Duke and Battersby have a way with making such unwieldy themes not comfortable, but approachable. Their videos sometimes make me wince in their astute unmasking of the constructions of self and of society that we all lean on to get by. There exists a kind of nakedness, a peeling away of propriety, a questioning of behavioral and social systems – and yet I find their work refreshingly playful and deeply generous.
Language itself, the act of writing, and translation in the expanded sense of the term are central to Vey Duke and Battersby’s oeuvre, which is what makes the idea of a book project so apropos. If I had to boil the themes of their uniquely collaborative, distinctly feminist practice down… I end up thinking about survival and radicalism. To me this is a cinema of hope.
I hope the Arts Council will help in supporting this text as it is one that I, my colleagues, my students and my fellow artists would be grateful to read and share.
Respectfully, Deborah Stratman