Now as a Bird (2013)

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Now as a Bird, Now as a Worm, Now as a Plant is a 120 page catalogue for a show at Hallwalls Gallery in Buffalo, NY by Dani Leventhal, Mike Hoolboom, Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. It was edited by Mike and designed by the fabulous Kilby Smith-McGregor. Writers from across North America weigh in on Dani’s diary musings, Mike’s found footage portraits and  Emily/Cooper’s restaged moral tales.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
Synchronize Your Senses by Michael Sicinski

Artist statement
The Multitude of Visible Things: The Videos of Dani Leventhal by Chris Stults
3 days, 1399 words, this fall by Deirdre Logue
Muscle Memory by Erik Martinson
Dani Leventhal & the Question of Why One Should Care by Emily Vey Duke
Tin Pressed script

Why do I make films?
Message To Michael: Musings on Public Lighting by Jason McBride
Flintmaker by Mike Cartmell
Public Lighting interview by Catherine Zelinsky
Glass script

Emily and Cooper
Pain shall be no more
Here is Everything by Amy Fung
Into the Archive by Ramona Heinlein
19 Questions: “I Don’t Know How Anyone Does it Alone” by Sky Goodden
Here is Everything script


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Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
In my country there is a special place reserved for the young artist. When I look into their poreless faces it makes me want to start over again, or at least to extend every measure of kindness that was forbidden to my generation. If only we could start over again. This is the secret hope carried by every new face, little wonder we love the young. And on the other side there is another fuzzy spot for the ancients and elders, the survivors of the art world. For them we have created special spotlights and museum opportunities and gala events because they are old enough at last to have the right clothes, to enthrall us with the old questions and the old answers. They provide the thrill of reliability.

But what is unknown in my country is the mystery of what to do with those of us who are in the middle. No, we are not young any longer, but we are not old enough to take a final limelit bow. It’s obvious we are taking up space that belongs to the young and fresh faced, and yet we can’t quite give in to the immense task proposed by French writer Marguerite Duras. When asked why she continued to write, she said that she lacked the strength to do nothing. We are also lacking in the strength department, we can’t pack up our cameras and content ourselves with a look back at our fabled beginnings. We might have even learned a thing or two, perhaps our work is growing in depth and sophistication, at least in part because we are able to apply ourselves to new digital yields without a lot of the attention-mongering rewards that can lay strange and uneasy pressures on the place of inspiration. If only we didn’t long for the strange and uneasy pressures! We want to be trampled underfoot by attention seeking fandoms, we would like our eardrums to burst from clamours of attention. But we have chosen the wrong field (or has it chosen us?). Out of laziness, or misguided intentions, we have become video artists, where our greatest triumphs remain a minor note. And while the shadow life of our work offers us an incomparable freedom, how many of us are suffering from the Truffaut quip that everyone remakes their first movie again and again? How did the Foreigner mega-hit go again? Feels like the first time.

John Massier, the visual arts chief at the Hallwalls Gallery in Buffalo, invited Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby for a show in his handsome premises, and they were asked to bring some of their art gang along. Following the unwritten but actually rather strict art commandment, they chose only good friends. This is who counts in my art world, whether I am the most important blue chip art dealer in the world outbidding my country club frenemies at Sotheby’s, or converting my living room into a weekend gallery. I’m only here for my friends. Which for Emily and Cooper meant: Dani Leventhal and me. We would both get to hang out in their post-Syracuse, hand-made house in the countryside.

Emily called and spoke to me in the double voice she uses when she’s channeling Cooper. We’d like to invite you here for a residency. We’ll eat good food and make work and have fun, she assured me. Like all good friends she was speaking in code. What she was telling me was that the war between us had ended as suddenly and mysteriously as it began. She wouldn’t eat a thing, but we would eat until we were bursting, in order to stuff our guilty appetites down a little further. Fun meant that no one would hang themselves while in each other’s company, though we were all slipping quickly into a moment of last calls.

I was still, endlessly, working on the movie which we had begun together, that they had blazed out in a four day and night spree of singsongs and animated asides and animal-loving story tellings. It was so raw and polished and perfect that I wondered how another movie could ever be made. It wasn’t until that moment that their method became clear to me, and this was a blind spot that we had carried between us for more than a year already. It can be so difficult to explain one’s method to someone else, and how could it be possible to work together without at least that common ground? We never managed as it turned out. Dani, on the other hand, had created a thunderous opening movie while mentoring with video dad Steve Reinke. But incredibly, instead of lapsing into a post-art school haze of druggy procrastinations, she was steadily outputting raw, camera-ready diary emissions. They were usually filled with high-wire cross-cutting feats that left me breathless, but this time she arrived with a recording from a single badass encounter. My first impression was so filled with wanting some older version of Dani that I felt slighted. I hoped that she would produce the familiar Dani flavor, the reliable Dani brand that was always filled with startling crosscutting urgencies. I had the viewer contract in my hand and held it in front of my face the first couple of times I watched her new movie, which meant that I couldn’t see a frame. But as I learned to let go of the old promises, I could see that what she had made was more necessary and urgent than ever before. She had somehow managed to refine her appetite for raw encounters, and bring it all back fresh and whole from a single evening, instead of having to relate it to a web of decisive moments.

In the fall of 2012 a show was mounted in Hallwalls called Hopelessly Middle Aged. It opened on September 7 and closed on November 2. I never went. Emily and Cooper charmed everyone in sight, and a few who weren’t. Dani came later and lit up a screenful of her pictures. Watching one of her movies is like getting worked over by a heavyweight that has been forcefed espressos all morning. Emily and Cooper produced an intelligent sweetness out of the darkest places a couple can inhabit. I offered some public lighting. That was the time. And this is the record of that time.