Sintaxe da Ilusão (port)
For over thirty
years, Lundberg has integrated the formalist qualities of painting,
performance art, and film to speak to the human condition.
is a deliberate de-prioritization of language: for
Lundberg, the real narrative is contained within the image.
others, Lundberg responded to the new expansionism within contemporary
art practice, where painters were moving toward film, sculptors
were moving toward painting, and static disciplines were merging
into the kinetic realm.
upon the theory of the "imagination," Lundbergs
actors would lead audience members into the realm of possibility
without superimposing a completed narrative.
Syntax of Illusion
does one position the work of Bill Lundberg? A pioneer in the
filed of contemporary film and video installation, Lundberg has
engaged in aesthetic investigations that predate and presage those
of his more notable contemporaries including Gary Hill, Bill Viola,
and Tony Oursler. For over thirty years, Lundberg has integrated
the formalist qualities of painting, performance art, and film
to speak to the human condition. To understand the invaluable
contributions of this pioneer, to position his work within the
spectrum of contemporary art practice, viewers must first experience
his illusory presence. Lundberg is a magician of the human heart.
In walking through this exhibition, a small labyrinth of Lundbergs
career, one is immediately seduces by the artists creation
and his ability to draw the viewer into the looking glass of life.
The film and video
installations by Lundberg beckon their viewers. Emerging out of
the darkness, their beams of light draw us onto a magical stage,
into an illusory sphere where apparitions become actors whose
carefully scripted narratives serve to render the human condition
transparent. The apparitions that appear on Lundbergs illusory
stage are like their viewersmen, women, and childrenbut
they are trapped inside a shaken "snow globe". By peering
into their carefully constructed worlds, we come to understand
them as the dramatis personae behind a proverbial message in a
bottle. Their existence evokes a heightened sense of awareness,
making us, as viewers, self-conscious and aware of our own fragility.
Yet it is only through Lundbergs eyes and perspective that
we are privileged to enter into this new consciousness.(1)
Suspended in spacea swimmer floating in a rectangular
pool or miniaturized people gesturing in a glass of drinking waterthe
characters living within the video frame are incapable of seeing
what we see: the consciousness behind the gesture, the emotion
beneath the action, a soul in the throes of catharsis.
With his emphasis
on the image as an emotive conveyor of language and behavior,
Lundberg connects viewers to his illusory world through a fragmented
moment in time. The nonlinear narratives, either verbalized or
gestured, become a bridge to the outer world, a seminal device
that aids us in grasping our own humanness. It is the viewers
individual and collective understanding of each characters
language that enables Lundberg to skillfully mediate our perception
of the work as psychosocial.(2) What we as viewers can imagine
can fill in between the gaps in Lundbergs scripted
scenesawakens our own histories and experiences. The resonance
between his images and our own realities thus provides Lundberg
with the power, as an artist, to strip away the superficial and
present us with the core of our being.
of Illusion" pays homage to Lundbergs magic. He manipulates
the slippages of aural and visual perception so viewers can construct
their own narratives and arrive at their own necessary catharsis.
This work is closely aligned to the structuralism that arose in
Europe in the 1960s.(3) But Lundbergs deliberate use of
fragmented moments and dialogue spoken in the void speaks more
to his desire to privilege the image by isolating it within the
realm of the viewers experience.(4) There is a deliberate
de-prioritization of language: for Lundberg, the real
narrative is contained within the image. Even as Lundbergs
inversion of the tradition that privileges language within the
hierarchy of communication presents new ideal for the dual relationship
of language and image, it also sets into motion a new consciousness,
one that empowers the viewers imagination and perceptions
over Lundbergs own authorship.
aesthetic directives over his thirty-year career are firmly rooted
in two elements: the counter-culture of the 1960s and the movement
away from painting, first to performance art and then to film
and video installation.
his graduate studies in painting in the late 1960s at the University
of California at Berkeley. During that decade, antiwar protests
of the United States involvement in Vietnam and other challenges
to the prevailing cultural conventions would give way to radically
challenging theories and philosophies emerging within academic
institutions.(5) These theories and philosophies spurred the development
of a creative extremism in art, including a free exploration of
art disciplines and a deliberate attempt to collapse the domain,
or hierarchy, of art making. Like others, Lundberg responded to
the new expansionism within contemporary art practice, where painters
were moving toward film, sculptors were moving toward painting,
and static disciplines were merging into the kinetic realm. In
addition to attending lectures by Anna Freud, Lundberg frequented
Canyon Cinema, discovering the experimental works of Michael Snow
and other filmmakers, experiences that had a profound effect upon
Lundbergs approach to art making. However, rather than move
into filmmaking itself, Lundberg turned to performance, developing
work for small ensembles that explored the human psyche.
Like many young
painters in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lundberg began to
work the properties of painting into a more kinetic and expansive
mode of art presentation. His subsequent performance art, however,
did not seek to pay homage to the formalism of painting, but instead
mined the slippages between actual and perceived visual narrative.
Lundbergs investigations of performance emerged from a desire
to replace the act of speaking with the mute image. Inherent in
this effort was Lundbergs wish to privilege the image, to
allow the image dominant in painting to encompass both intent
and narrative in performance. It was this emphasis on the illusionary
image, one that could parallel the viewers own realities,
that eventually enabled Lundberg to reconstruct the human context
as primary and thus to generate a greater sense of connection
with his audiences.
interest in the human context as being key to the structure of
narrative later led him to incorporate a structuralist element
in his work. By allowing viewers to activate their own imagination,
the image gave them ownership of the narrative, as opposed to
relying on Lundberg as sole author. (6) For the traditional duality
of author and image to expand to include the viewer as author,
the image had to be primarydevoid of any barriers that might
forestall the viewers insertion as the author of his or
her own narrative.
In the early 1970s,
Lundberg moved to London to continue his explorations into structuralism
and performance. These explorations culminated in a three-actor
performance work entitled Him. The work, Beckettian
in its employment of nonlinear and fragmented narrative, played
upon the audiences experiences and perceptions to complete
the story, which had as many outcomes as viewers in attendance.
Building upon the theory of the "imagination," Lundbergs
actors would lead audience members into the realm of possibility
without superimposing a completed narrative. Audiences were allowed
to engage in the creative process, to pen the conclusion of Lundbergs
script through their own constructions of its alluded characters.
In truth, the character as scripted could exist in the viewers
mind as a completed person only as each actor discussed him or
her, based on different people they knew. This activation of the
imagination was, in Lundbergs mind, the strongest aspect
of the performance work, a successful element that he wanted to
translate into a more intimate, yet still populist mediumone
essentially designed to play upon the viewers presuppositions.
framework for Him generated a new syntax for constructing
narrative. Through this interactive mechanism, Lundberg continued
to explore fictional content in an "imaginary" way.(7)
He would later incorporate this new syntax into his first film
installation work, Swimmer (1975). Eager to move
back into a visual practice with the more formalized technique
learned from his performance work, Lundberg extended his aesthetic
of "new consciousness" to film. Swimmer is a
seminal work for Lundberg, who used film to diminish the narrow
divide between illusion and reality even further. Presenting a
parallel reality to its viewers, Swimmer is empowered by
slippages within the viewers emotional perception.
8 Devoid of spoken language, thus embodying Lundbergs
ideal of narrative encompassed by image, Swimmer includes a scripted
series of gestures with which the actor in Lundbergs installation
conveys a range of emotions. Viewers interpret these gestures
based upon their own social understanding. Lundberg went on to
incorporate the presentation of the work as an essential element:
to underscore the psychological state of vulnerability, Lundberg
placed the image of the installation on the floor. The intent
was to show the actor as trapped within a dimension that offers
no escape. Although the actor attempts to connect with his viewers,
he only floats to the borders of his confinement, looking outward.
The world of the swimmer is one of alienation, although the expanse
of water comprising his world implies that he is not totally helpless.
He has to come to reconcile his apparent helplessness with his
ability to actually emerge from his situation. When the actor
does leave his rectangular prison (not shown in this exhibition
print), he walks into the eternal light of nothingness.(9)
After the exhibition
of Swimmer at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA)
in London, Lundberg moved back to the United States and settled
in New York. He began exhibiting with Gibson Gallery in SoHo,
again presenting Swimmer and a new work entitled Silent
Dinner (1975-76). At that time Gibson Gallery supported
a number of young edgy film and video installation artists, including
Vito Acconci, Dennis Oppenheim, Leandro Katz, and others. In the
mid 1970s, installation work in video and film was still considered
a marginalized exploration in contemporary art practice. It would
not be until the early 1980s that the practice of film and video
installation became legitimized by art museums. During this period,
Lundberg also created the work Charades (1977).
Similar to Swimmer,
Charades deals with Lundbergs notion of language
as subservient to the image, as well as with the psychological
construction of containment. In the work, five actors communicate
through a game of charades, which limits expression to silent
gestures. In Lundbergs rendition, the actors play the game
within a hermetically sealed world (inaccessible to viewer participation).
Lundberg has also changed the rules. Instead of using ordinary
words or phrases, he has chosen quotes, penned by well-known and
lesser-known artists, that query the illusory quality of art and
visual language. A total of eight quotes includes:
Art is the definition
of art (Sol LeWitt).
Art is the lie
that reveals the truth (Pablo Picasso).
Art is like a watch
that goes fast sometimes (Franz Kafka).
Art is long and
time is fleeting (anonymous actor featured in Charades).
The projected image
of these quotes emphasizes the allusive and ethereal nature of
art and the chasm that lies between art and the reality in which
it exists. The work is contemplative, rendering the discussion
of these ideals as an intimate exploration. The mechanics of the
workfilmed actors projected onto a plastic sheet submerged
in a glass of water serve to magnify the invisible aspects
of the art-making process and reveal the hidden human context
(in this instance, the practice and intent of the artist) along
with a new consciousness of the artists vulnerability. The
smallness of the projected image evokes for Lundberg the powerlessness
that artists feel in their attempts to assert themselves within
the larger social landscape.
the 1980s the edginess of film and video installation work had
been overshadowed by a new movement in painting. Spearheaded by
a group of young painters including Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel
Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Sharf, the movement drew upon
the shifting subculture of New York, capturing the attention of
the art world and subsequently its market. With less emphasis
placed upon video and film installation work, opportunities for
exhibiting Lundbergs work became less frequent.
In 1983 Lundbergs
installation Corner was featured in that years
Biennial of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Corner
is Lundbergs personal response to the sudden change in the
aesthetic and cultural climate of New York. Initially rendered
as a drawing (also included in this exhibition), Corner
came to the attention of the Whitney curator John Hanhardt, who
encouraged Lundberg to develop it as an installation work.(10)
The installation portrays a five-year-old boy playing solitaire.
There is an air of pessimism as the boy attempts to control a
game for which there is no control. The viewer is made to feel
the childs frustration as he attempts to make sense of something
beyond easy understanding or prediction. The alienated withdrawal
evident in the work mirrors Lundbergs own emotional state
during that time, when he lacked the means to deal with the rapid
shifts that were wrenching New Yorks art and housing markets.
By 1985 Lundberg had left New York.
He was offered
a visiting artist position at The University of Texas in Austin
and was later hired to develop its Transmedia Department. Over
the next twenty-five years, Lundberg continued to develop ideas
for his films and video installation work, exhibiting sporadically
throughout the country and Brazil. His ongoing collaboration with
his wife, Brazilian filmmaker and conceptual artist Regina Vater,
provided an expanding vocabulary for his work. In 1999 Lundberg
was selected as an artist-in-residence at San Antonios Pace
Art Foundation for Contemporary Art. The ArtPace residency would
prove an essential turning point in the artists career,
providing much need resources of time and financial support with
which to create a new series of work. During his residency, Lundberg
created Opening, then rediscovered and digitally
recreated the film Madeline (both 1999), the latter
of which is presented in this exhibition.
a fragmented visual narrative of a presumed opening reception
for an art event, was shot on 16mm film using mirrors and a scripted
choreography for its actors. It led Lundberg to reinvestigate
a more intimate portrait of life in the work Madeline,
which began as a Super-8 film in 1977, but was shelved by Lundberg
as an incomplete idea. However, during his ArtPace residency,
Lundberg rediscovered the film and recorded it using digital video
(his first work in the new medium). In the twenty-two years taken
to complete the work, Lundberg had gone full circle in his artistic
explorations of engaging the formalism of painting and performance.
In Madeline, the
mining of interpersonal relationships through a nonlinear, largely
spoken narrative forms the nexus between Lundbergs initial
love of painting and his interest in performance art: the work
reposition the nude in art historical terms (we see only Madelines
feet in a shower), while it verbally probes the complex psychology
of everyday life. The initial dialogue for the work was much longer,
but Lundberg shortened the narrative to create an abstracted and
ambiguous fiction depicting the relationship between two people.
The integration of spoken dialogue and scripted gesture shows
Lundbergs use of cinema to not only parallel ordinary reality
but also reveal the dynamics of human interaction. While the work
suggests a particular fiction, its strength lies in its ability
to serve as the viewers own meditation upon private relationships.
several couples and singles for the work, later choosing to record
the script using two actors who were neither married to each other
nor acquainted. Lundberg did, however, manage to capture the intimacy
of a coupes exchange. This intimacy is further magnified
by Lundbergs condensation of the image: the fragment of
a larger architectural frame supposes not only a history behind
the relationship, but also fictional space a bathroom, a
bedroom, a house. While the title of the work implies that it
is named for its female actor, Lundberg employs the name as an
illusion to assure the viewers that the film is an authentic portrait
of a real woman who is both engaged and alienated in her own relationship.
(2001), premiering in this exhibition as a work-in-progress, expands
upon Lundbergs investigations of the intimate portrait.
Created almost thirty years after Swimmer, Wash
demonstrates Lundbergs keen sense of how psychological profiles
are conveyed through gestured language. Created as a personal
exploration of mortality, the work includes twelve images (six
are featured in this exhibition) of men between the ages of eighty
and ninety caught in the act of washing their hands. Inspired
by the death of his father and his own awareness of aging, Lundberg
began contemplating the elements of end-of-life reflection, asking
what one sees in the history of ones life and how lives
are reflected, literally and metaphorically. The washing of ones
hands is a symbolic act of expiation, even more so in Lundbergs
investigation where twelve installations of men washing their
hands suggest the justice meted out by twelve jurors. But this
is justice residing in the minds of individuals who judge themselves
and their own actions at the close of their lives. The individuality
is evident in the varying modes of washing hands, an act so ingrained
as to make transparent each complex state of being.
choice of men in their eighties or older speaks to his larger
concern for the injustices enacted over the past century and what
it has wrought in the present. Men of that generation were constrained
by the prevailing obligation to serve and uphold. In part a tribute
to the artists father, a naval captain and war veteran,
Wash perhaps best represents Lundbergs gift of transparency,
creating an outlet for viewers to see their own vulnerability
as both author and subject. Finally, the magician reveals himself
through his own illusion.
craft is further revealed through a series of drawings and sketches.
The drawings included in this exhibition have never before been
exhibited. They exist as both studies for Lundbergs film
and video installations as well as products of a formal painter.
The twelve drawings featured in this exhibition are only a fraction
of the work that Lundberg has maintained over the course of his
career. They convey the inner workings of Lundbergs mind,
the visible traces of a magicians craft. In these drawings
Lundberg offers viewers the blueprints of his illusory worlds,
here devoid of the slippage of a filmic medium and scripted narrative.
It is a generous act on behalf of the artist, whose work over
thirty years has laid the foundation of a movement in film and
video installation. The honesty of this artists work is
profound, and his efforts have brought us through the labyrinth
to a greater understanding of ourselves.
(1) Robert Morgan,
ed. Art and Performance: Gary Hill (Baltimore and London: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 6. Many artistic correlations
exist between the work of Lundberg and certain of his contemporaries
including Gary Hill and Bill Viola. Morgans description
of Hills work is quite relevant to Lundberg.
(3) Arthur Marwick,
The Sixties: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and
the United Sttes, c.1958-1974 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998), pp. 289-358.
(4) Bill Lundberg,
interview with the author, September 22, 2001.
(5) Marvick, pp.
(6) Jacques Derrida,
Of Grammatology, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, trans. (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), pp. 6-26.
(7) Bill Lundberg,
interview with the author, September 22, 2001. Lundberg views
his own use of language as submissive to the image as well as
to the conceptual framework of the viewer as author.
(8) Bill Lundberg,
interview with the author, September 22, 2001.
(9) Bill Lundberg,
interview with the author, September 22, 2001.The artist discusses
the impact of the work Swimmer on his later practice.
(10) Bill Lundberg,
interview with the author, September 22, 2001.
thanks artist Bill Lundberg for his permission to display parts
of his video works online, the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston,
Texas and Valerie Cassel, author of the text, for their authorization
to present it in its original English version and its Portuguese
publication has been prepared in conjunction with Bill Lundberg:
Syntax of Illusion, the 131th exhibition in the Perspectives series,
organized by Valerie Cassel, Associate Curator, for the Contemporary
Arts Museum, December 14, 2001 March 3, 2002.