Matthew Lyons, Matthew Lyons: The erotics of the eyelid (2008)

It started by chance in March 2003. Discoteca Flaming Star was performing at Parlour Projects, an independent art space in an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. François Boué was in the audience, and as usual, he had a camera on him. The DFS banners were hung in the kitchen and in the living room. Mahalchick’s anthem Slave was on the set list. “Wanna be your slave. Wanna be your slave.” Stefan Schessl had brought his accordion with him to a residency in New York and so a Piazzolla tune was added. Some of DFS’ “hardcord karaoke” standards such as AACB/BDAC and The Port of Amsterdam were also performed. The Flawless Sabrina, who had been the subject of the 1968 drag documentary The Queen, was a special guest. Struck by the wild combination of factors, Boué began shooting: a few moments of song followed by black space. Then a freeze frame of a small detail – a shoulder, for example. More black space. Boué had been developing this filmic language for many years in his super-8 films. Always editing in camera as he is shooting, he had been focused mainly on short studies of urban space and life. Neither narrative nor documentary, the films are paced with a measured rhythm of image and black space. This careful alternation allows the eyes to rest while also creating anticipation for the next passage of visual information. Dedicated to in-camera editing, Boué has mastered an economical shooting technique as well as an awareness of the sequence and pacing as he is filming. At this particular DFS performance, Boué happened to have only a digital video camera, which added sound as an additional element to consider. His portrait of the performance was decidedly partial, with only a very small amount of actual documentation, yet each moment recorded was delicately afforded a jewel-like presence. After seeing his footage of their performance and becoming more familiar with his own work in general, DFS invited Boué to shoot Super-8 and video as a participant in their live works when possible, and thus began a process of making collaborative film and video works.

Since their early years, Discoteca Flaming Star had challenged themselves to use documentation from their performances as the material for other works of art. Their painted photo-collages used still images of performances and explored fragmentary formal strategies similar to their video works with Boué. But by making the shift to the moving image, the resulting works made in collaboration with Boué still used performance footage but, through Boué’s approach, could go further to create a charged, triangular relationship between the experiences of the performers, the audience, and the film/video camera that separated the source material from its merely documentary capability. The first collaboration took place in Viandar de la Vera in 2004 for the Discoteca Guitarrera Funkstorm piece, and DFS and Boué have gone on to work together at performances at The Kitchen and The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. After these performances, DFS and Boué create a new moving image work combining the silent Super-8 footage, video, and audio. Most recently, at the Ellipses (Electric Birdhouse) performance at the Tate Modern in London, they added a new development in their collaborative process because, rather than filming, Boué was projecting his own film work as part of the event, which was composed of sometimes overlapping intervals of music, film, actions, and readings amidst Rita McBride’s large-scale installation Arena.

This ongoing collaboration with Discoteca Flaming Star has been a continuation of Boué’s existing interest in performance or actions. Since his early work in Super-8 film, Boué has repeatedly focused on performative activities in the city, whether by other artists or by anonymous people he comes across. His films are the record of an observer’s encounter with a being or an event. The brief bursts of image and/or sound are interspersed with sections of blackness which Boué makes by filming into his cupped hand or with the lens cap on. These are deliberate periods of withholding that are part of the larger encounter marked by an exchange of desire, by concentrated looking, and by melancholy. Author and classical scholar Anne Carson has discussed the ancient role of lack in the bittersweet and triangular nature of eros. In analyzing a love poem by Sappho, she writes “For, where eros is lack, its activation calls for three structural components – lover, beloved, and that which comes between them. They are three points of transformation on a circuit of possible relationship, electrified by a desire that they touch not touching. Conjoined they are held apart. The third component plays a paradoxical role for it both connects and separates, marking the two that are not one, irradiating the absence whose presence is demanded by eros.” (1) In the collaborative video works by Discoteca Flaming Star and François Boué, the withholding of the image keeps eros at play. Live art is regularly marked by an exchange of desire between the performers and audience. But the performance can be extended, and that flow of energy need not be shut down once the live work is complete; it can shift to new receivers given the right conditions. By withholding the image, by coming between the document of the performance and the viewer, these video works create distinct, performative experiences that are still involved in the active exchange of desire. They triangulate the desiring machines set up in Discoteca Flaming Star’s live situations and create expanded, satellite performance models which keep desire active in the realm of the moving image.

1) Anne Carson, Eros the bittersweet, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986, p.16.