on the Invisible:
Caspar Strackes Doppel
inside my house I dont see it. Like my body, the way my cells repair
and replace. Its happening all the time so I never give it a thought.
My favourite falafel place, the vegetable shop and cheese store have all
vanished. Though its true, for instance, that many
ago I had to be trained to use an object as simple as the toilet, now
I use it every day without ever seeing it. Once I can grant objects a
name, I no longer have to experience them. This gives me more pleasure
than it should. What I think of as novelty or invention consists exactly
in this act of naming. Table, window, grief, love.
I live in an invisible city.
In my city, there are places for eating and places for looking: the cinema,
the museum and art gallery. I schedule my looking, I set aside the hours
in my daytimer, like everyone else. Inside the gallery, looking is always
looking again, this time through an artists eyes.
I leave my looking
to experts (the army of news gathering professionals, the bevy of artists
fine tuning attentions). Artists make the familiar strange and the strange
familiar, reminding me that this double vision is also work. The eye sweats,
reddens and closes with fatigue. I am only interested in their highlight reels
however. I skim the milk of their insights, and forget all about it, and move
Caspar Stracke presents pictures of buildings that are visible only to those
who dont see them every day. At first they dont seem like that
at all, these monuments, they appear like the supermodels of buildings (Look
at me! At me!) but thats only because Ive never seen them before.
Naming is the best way to leave memory behind, and after that, pictures. I
am grateful for these pictures, knowing they will help me in the task set
for me as a citizen, to forget as much as possible. I constantly seek out
new movies and friends so that I can sharpen my practice. Of course, nearly
everything around me is busy with the work of erasing (what is velocity, or
the time machines of the home computer and automobile, but conveyances of
forgetting?) but there are infinite kinds of forgetting, some offering very
special pleasures. Because Caspar is a friend, he knows better than most what
experiences will give me the most delight in forgetting them. I treasure his
pictures, I relish them, though in six months, if you should ask, I would
claim perfect innocence of their existence, and Id be telling the truth.
Marriages have built on fainter exchanges.
The images are an evidence of recent globe-spanning ventures. Somehow, he
manages to arrive before leaving. But wait. Every building is doubled and
copies: is this the international style? The Peters dome also appears
in the Ivory Coast, the Washington Mall Dome rises again in the millionaire
manse of Li Qinfu in Ping Hu. The Parthenon reappears in Nashville. Three
case studies, like the three dots that make up an ellipsis
And so on.
Etcetera. They are particular examples, sure, but also evidence of a trend,
or at least, a tendency. They are presented on either side of the image, the
shared architectures joined together to provide a smooth backdrop for their
inhabitants. The artist, the professional looker, has made one world out of
two. What I am witness to is a visual Esperanto (once named Desperanto), a
postmodern Babel where the fraternity of human kind (erased like a face
drawn in the sand) may find common frames to grow old in. Does this
double vision relieve differences or accentuate them?
I am reminded of aerial reconnaissance photographs taken during the Second
World War by Allied bombers. Month after month they would be gathered, the
same missions flown in order to expose the same pictures, which were laid
one on top of another at intelligence headquarters. All the common points
of these maps would blend and become invisible, but any new structures were
immediately apparent. These differences could be analyzed, interpreted, and
then the important decision could be made: destroy it or not? Though Allied
Forces proved themselves eminently capable of protracted and criminal bombing
campaigns in Germany and Japan, strategic interests required the foreplay
Find the difference in these pictures. In North America, post-war newspapers
carried split-screen pictures of domestic scenes with subtle changes in one
image (the handle of a drawer missing, an empty glass) which required identification.
The schooling of difference, the look as target practice. The caption beneath
the second picture: what has changed?
In Strackes images I am presented with only one side of the story, each
building has been cleaved in half and knit together with its dreamed double,
its twin which stands in a setting entirely distinct from its original. Ping
Hu is not Washington, D.C., though southern Washington, with its epidemics
of teen pregnancies and crack, gutted educational system and systemic poverty
is far from the cameras which train global eyes towards the symbols of state
on the other side of the river. Even Washington is not like Washington.
has made a cut, years of training develops his instrument which extracts some
moment of the world (a note, a collection of words) in order to rearrange
and represent. My eye is drawn to this cleavage, the way the two domes knit
together, and the more seamlessly the artist does it, the more his own gesture
is emphasized until it too becomes invisible. My eye runs over the cut and
then it forgets, moving onto the foreground, where residents (the cast) and
casual passersby loom in the shadows, frozen in a moment of impossible distance
from the circle of their own lives, and that other life, which calls them
from across the divide, the unseen world which they might sense only as a
nagging duty. What did I have to do again? This moment is one that will almost
certainly be unremembered, especially for those tourists gathered to make
pictures as evidence of their travel (they were never there, theres
nothing to remember).
Two sides to every story and two architectures. But when I look to find any
of the cast doubled I see only a singularity of forgetting. They appear so
different, the cyclers of Ping Hu, the strollers and reverents of St. Petersburg.
They are part of the cut, but because they live on either side of it, tragically
incapable of removing themselves from the picture (like me, like all of us)
they are condemned to the company of their own thoughts.
(the digital groin, the primal scene, no longer forbidden but necessary and
compulsive) remaps the world according to the cut. The distance between one
thought and another, your blog and mine, is rendered as quickly as a tape
of the fingers. Oh, there you are! I lose my body and memory (what if computers
smelled?) but not my cut. Its the way I have of saying hello. The greeting
I have left. It used to belong to him, to the artist, but he shares his yields,
and now its mine. Its the way we have to talk to one another.
Foreign architectures say hello through their familiar appearance. Its
a beginning, and sometimes beginnings are enough.
In an earlier work Stracke also takes aim at architecture.
No Damage (13 minutes 2002) reconvenes New York City as a picture playground
strained through the digital poetry of his laptop. Dense montage bursts from
an array of movie spectaculars, educational adventures and tourist flicks,
show a manufactured city which rises (in hope and aspiration) and falls (back
to the drawing board). Partial dissolves, audio glitches, picture bumps, scratches
and mismatched colour schemes underscore a new ideal of beauty. In this glitch
city, hard-boiled noir detectives become gay cruisers looking for anonymous
pleasures in the mens room. Women are figured as modern dance accompaniment
to immigrant labor, or the haunting, cosmopolitan Busby Berkeley face which
laconically smokes while turning into a city. (My city, my mother, the place
I came from. They will bury me there.)
closing moments of No Damage, New York is ripped apart, torched and flooded
(once again the rise and fall). The distance afforded by the world as picture
(Praise be to Allah) can tear holes in these landmarks in the months following
9-11. (No, not the overthrow of the Chilean government by CIA-sponsored
fascists, the other 9-11, broadcast live). Caspar, how could you? Caspar,
how could they? The city grown too familiar to me as an image, is also familiar
to others, whose lives are similarly reflected in the twin towers, but in
ways I could never imagine. The terrorism of these pictures. The return of
the look, the empire struck back, the digital consensus brought home.
No Damage and Doppel have this in common: the background is foreground,
the setting is the subject. The artist pulls focus in order to reveal
the environment as a product of will and imagination. Of power. One building
is already two, my neighborhood already doubled and shunted across the
globe. It is no accident, perhaps, that these doubled architectures should
occur to a New Yorker. They martial a grieving momentum from the catastrophe
of the twin towers, those capital monuments which rose in answer to one
another, call and response, office space and residence, but also irresistible
image, subject to terrorist attack twice in the course of a decade.
Two towers, two planes.
Strackes twinned architectures are not a lament for the manifest destiny
of empire brought low, but a demonstration of how invisible power (whiteness,
for example) is reproduced and returns in order to make the original visible
again. I remember the girl in Vera Cruz who marveled at the miracle of my
white skin. Not Orientalism but Occidentalism. The bodies leaping from the
collapsing towers were pictures forbidden by the networks. No, this is too
much to bear. Innocent bodies (Arent they? They didnt put a gun
to anyones head did they?) falling to death in panic and fear (it could
have been me), the clash of civilizations. There is warfare in the global
village: cries to prayer and airplanes lifting off. Only this time it was
not our pilots (God speed), armed with liberation theology and Agent Orange,
entrusted with the secret bombing of Cambodia, or the invasions of Haiti,
Grenada, the Philippines
(and so on)
Television has thrived on images of imperial ventures, but it was rare (unpatriotic)
to share airtime with the North Vietnamese (an apartheid of representation:
no Cubans or Columbians or). Ask Michael Moore a question about Iraq and hell
show you a heartbreaker from Flint. Globalization has often meant Americanization,
not have versus have-not nations, but the poor subsidizing
the rich. Strackes double-vision (double bind?) reminds us that globabilization
cuts both ways, that there are twin towers or at least twinned monuments spread
across the globe.
On the other side of the familiar, the invisible, the street I walk across
every day, is another street, which appears exactly the same. I am headed
there now, so that I can see for the first time what I see every day. Forgive
me for hoping that there is not another one in search, equally curious, equally
indifferent, approaching from the other side. Wearing my face. How would I
Hoolboom, Toronto, April 2004