I was once a Video Artist. Since that time I’ve moved on to being a filmmaker (briefly), scholar, and a teacher of the media. Over the past 6 or so years, I’ve returned to my first love which is comic art and cartooning (or visual essays to be more specific). But looking back over the video work that most closely reflects my vision for what video on tape could be (versus what digital video presents to an artist), I’ve realized that my works from the video days actually were comics or cartoons. My aesthetic was drawn heavily from Trash Cinema and the avant-garde, but equally from underground comics and the comic strips of my younger days. That might explain the chilly reception that some of my work received from art world cliques. But I also met plenty of people in the art world who were very smart and still maintained a sense of humor and the absurd. Two crucial aspects of what makes comics and graphic novels so powerful as art forms.
I’m working on a project that I’m calling the Green Valise after Marcel Duchamp’s suitcase of his artworks which he stole out of France in advance of moving to New York. His suitcase contained miniature versions of his works to date so that there would be a record of what he had accomplished. I’m recreating my video and film works as graphic artworks that draw upon the visual conventions of cartoons to restore some of my own body of work that has been destroyed by poor storage in rainy climates and through the every present work of beetles and decay. More on that after I work through the Major Arcana project that is featured elsewhere on this website.
Krakow John: Doctor Faustus (1986)
A retelling of the Faust myth using the ventriloquist dummy head that I used in my 6th grade talent show as the main character and the prophet of destruction and creation. I was reading a lot about postwar avant-garde cinema and I was particularly influenced by Susan Sontag’s essay about Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s formal concerns in his film Hitler: A Film from Germany. In those pre-internet days I didn’t actually have access to the film, but Sontag’s evocative descriptions and critical comments on the film were extremely generative for my work at the time.
I reconceptualized the Faust myth as a tragedy about domestic violence and the objectification of women in the media. The tragic story of Dorothy Stratton, the one time Playboy bunny, was seared into my consciousness and inflected my own recall of the traumas of my mother at the hands of my father. So, an Oedipal story as well.
Julien Offray de La Mettrie’s Man a Machine (1989)
This video project inaugurated my interest in what makes us human and how the body operates in relation to something that we like to call the soul or the self (or other related terms). I’ve been interested in this constellation of ideas – the body, machines, computational consciousness – since the late 1980s and this interest continues in the academic and scholarly work that I’ve accomplished thus far. In particular my work on virtual humans and simulations in relation to pedagogy and communication. But here is where this train of thought started.
Man a Machine is an intellectual spoof on fantastic tales of adventure and intrigue as often found in science fiction and boy’s adventure stories, but drawn from writings on mummies, robots, Tourette’s syndrome, Anti-Oedipus by Deleuze and Guattari, exercise instruction manuals, cognitive science, Harvey’s discovery of the circulatory system, and a bunch of other stuff. It expects a lot from the viewer, most likely too much. I’ll revise the text when I rework it as a cartoon show book for everyone, young and old.
American Feel (1991)
As I watch this video again after many years, I see my despair and alienation as being very prescient in regards to our current social, cultural, and political moment. It’s basically about eccentricity and how those who don’t fit attempt to find a place to fit into our collective consensual world. It seems likely that there is even less room now for eccentricity and divergent personalities than there were in 1990. I concluded this tape with the rather depressing conclusion that the only powerful action that was left to resist the dominant ideology was a form of hooliganism. I think that is still right as social media seems to suggest in all of its myriad anti-democratic forms that resistance is futile, so extremism is the only cogent response – yell or smash or disrupt. I don’t agree with that at all.