Tag Archives: video art

Robert Morris lecture at Whitechapel Gallery

Morris gave a lecture entitled [something like]

Notes From a Chomskian Couch – The Imperialist Unconscious

(on 19 Nov 2003)


Morris spoke on contemporary "image making". Specifically, his point was about how (what he calls) the "mega image" ( or "megig") is complicit with the American project of cultural imperialism. According to Morris, this was the case with large abstract painting through the 60s, and in earthworks, and through to large "multi-screen-video-installations" (or "muscrvit") today.


Very few (famous) artists escaped Morris' web of "the imperialist unconscious" he slammed the big video men – Bill Viola, Doug Aitken, etc, the big painting men – Pollock, Barnett Newman, etc. His exceptions included Jasper Johns – he maintained that Johns always maintained a resistance to American imperialism, (and what's more, Johns' paintings were small) – and Ad Rheinhardt also, who, apparently, "was at every peace rally, every anti Vietnam march". (How does going to marches change the nature of his work though, I wondered, since it still looks like monochrome painting?)


Morris presented the text of his lecture in the form of a psychoanalytic encounter between himself (the patient) and Naum Chomsky (the analyst). "Chomsky's" role, however seemed rather minor, and his comments and interjections were only punctuations within Morris’ tirade. They helped, certainly, with maintaining the attention span of the audience, since otherwise the talk may have seemed somewhat monotonous.


[By the way, Morris’ said that his performance pieces from the 1960s were originally conceived as “dances”, in a La Mont Young vein – where the ordinary movements and actions of everyday life might be regarded with the same level of interest as “expressive” movements usually associated with the work of trained dancers. This is the context of his piece  "21.3", where he lip-synchs a lecture by Erwin Panofsky called "Studies in Iconology"…apparently, all the minor movements (a cough, a sip of water, shuffling papers) were "choreographed" in advance, and noted on the "performance script". I felt that the Whitechapel presentation of "21.3" was a bit unconvincing in its realisation, as a video recreated by somebody else (an actor re-enacted "21.3" for video in the early 1990s). I wonder why he did that, rather than videotaping himself doing it.]


At the end of the lecture, Morris stated that he would take 10 questions. He then proceeded to re-enact a performance by John Cage from the late 1940s or early 1950s (?) – at the end of a lecture on chance, Cage took questions from the audience, answering them with pre-scripted texts pulled at random from a hat. In Morris’ case, the audience played along marvellously, their questions moving quickly from the serious ("you mentioned you were going to present some exceptions to the project of imperialist unconscious as embodied by image-art, but I must have missed it, can you tell us what those examples might be?") to the absurd ("what will you have for breakfast tomorrow?", "did anyone ever tell you you look like Sigmund freud?", "how many questions are left?")

This humourous end to an otherwise pessimistic lecture lent a certain lightness, (what relief!) since, within the lecture itself, Morris had not left much room for examples of artwork that could escape the net of the "imperial unconscious" (or "impunc").