Christian Tomaszewski – Hunting for Pheasants
“The problem is not that of a presence of bodies, but that of a belief which is capable of restoring the world and the body to us on the basis of what signifies their absence. The camera must invent the movements or positions which correspond the genesis of bodies.” Gilles Deleuze, The Time-Image
That was the missing piece. The missing person. The metallic scent of blood. The still warm weight of bone, and muscle, and sinew.
In his new exhibition “Hunting for Pheasants,” Christian Tomaszewski presents 40 unique posters commemorating victims of assassination as well as a single-channel video of appropriated video footage. It is telling that this project originated with an idea to create movie posters for films that don’t exist. What is the difference between a film that doesn’t exist and one that does? After completing a few, he realized that the effect was decidedly too decorative, too decent, too seemly.
The body moves. Time is both what allows that movement and makes it invisible. It is memory that precipitates, that gives the illusion of time stopped, chopped into discrete bits: dates, places, proper names. The subjects Tomaszewski has chosen are not ordinary people, however. Not the quotidian victims of a car-crash or a gangland murder. Each was a celebrity in his time. But, time moves, too. And time has a way of turning even the famous into just one more bird in the bush, until someone or something flushes it out into the open again.
Tomaszewski frames these assassinations in terms of film—there are references to Natural Born Killers, Wild at Heart and James Bond. These are combined with other textual and visual elements that mimic the non-linear suturing and cutting activity of memory. In painstakingly making each poster by hand, Tomaszewski suggests that even though “all realities are virtual,” for us, as for those in the posters, reality remains a singularity like a bullet in the brain.
The first thing we notice are the stripes of colored light that fall on the floor from cellophane on the windows. These virtual stripes are mirrored in the striped paint on the walls, thus initiating thus first in a series of dialectics, a wave/particle duality, a veering between that which moves and changes through time and that which solidly remains. Whether we read these stripes abstractly or suggestive of something concrete: a newspaper layout, a strip of film, or the colored bars that once denoted the end of the broadcast day on T.V, they function as a mechanism of interruption, an artificial boundary between stories.
We enter the exhibition through a maze of white painted stainless steel railings, reminiscent, of many things, without being representative: airline security lines, the labyrinths in Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad. Whatever. Memory pops like the flash bulbs of paparazzi. An excess of images. They come. They go. That is the point. The movement of bodies in space reduces memory to the lived present. Whatever else the maze invokes, every viewer will experience it as an obstacle to his bodily movement through space. We are brought back into lived time, as unique bodies in space and time in distinct contrast to all those nearly anonymous ghosts, actors in a film called history.
Viewers with close proximity to an assassination in time or space will likely experience a particular poster personally: not as any body, rather as one body. Not only will it be associated with a momentous historical moment, it will be associated with a precise bodily moment. (Any American of a certain generation can tell you precisely what banal activity they were performing when JFK got shot.)
Contrast this with the experience of someone removed in time and space. Such is the experience of many viewers and the portrayal of dozens of victims only reinforces this. No longer does the act consist of the destruction of a single unique human body. Rather, it is experienced as an abstraction that can only be read through Tomaszewski’s framing. If any of the historical significance remains it is because of some lingering aura of celebrity (that strange state of false intimacy with someone who doesn’t exist.)
“Everything thus happens for us as though we reflected back to surfaces, the light which emanates from them, the light, which, had it passed unopposed would never have been revealed. The images which surround us will appear to turn toward our body side, emphasized by the light upon it which interests our body.” Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory
The elegiac quality of the exhibition comes from being surrounded by the dead in their faded celebrity. It is elicited by the recognition that although time appeared to stop with the blast of a shotgun, it did not. The world went on. The world will go on. It was naïve to think that it would not. Naïve, but, understandable.
Understandable because we are on the brink of a future in which the virtual and the real will no longer be distinguishable, nor will it matter which is the original and which the image. The difference between a film-history-memory that doesn’t exist and one that does is the difference between art and life. In a disembodied world, that is no difference at all.
Illya Szilak, 2008