Steve Reinke

Desparately seeking Steven

Peer - London 2000


In the British Library they have on display the 'Commonplace Book' of John Milton. A Common Place book was the name given to the journals in which people transcribed texts that had caught their attention. This was more than an aide memoir or a form of photocopying, these extracts would be re-organised, changed, commented on, scribbled against. Milton's book, which contains bits of Petrarch, the Bible, and numerous other texts about and of the world around him, which are drawn from a life of looking at books is massively annotated, allowing us, the reader, to track him through his reactions to that which he has read and seen fit to represent: the texts that he has changed, put into new orders, re-narratised. Given that the fact that the scribbles and additions are by John Milton the proselytiser of Puritanism, the voice is somewhat, serious and dour.


In 'The Hundred Videos' The Voice as articulated by Reinke sure isn't puritan, nor is it dour, and it isn't one, it's plural: they are demotic, bright, deadpan and knowing voices, generally falling somewhere between the doctor like drawl of William Burroughs and the left field deadpan of stand-up comedian Steve Martin -('It's a small world....but I wouldn't like to paint it'). The Voice/Voices ponder everything from the world around them ..."It seems to us that ants, like bees, are always working, but if you look closely, you'll find that they take all kinds of breaks"(Ants and Bees) to the conditions of their own production - "I like making documentaries - documentary material is usually more interesting than anything I can imagine, and I don't have to be bothered with all the tiresome specifics of a fictional creation..' ('Excuse of the Real') and 'I am a machine which produces sentences. A fish is a machine that produces other fishes, usually of the same species..' ('In the Realm Of Perpetual Embarrassment'). The shortest tape 'I Have Already Imagined' runs for an economical fifteen seconds, whist the longest, 'Minnesota Inventory' comes in at 10 minutes and 37 seconds. Most of the videos last for about one and a half to two and a half minutes. All in all it adds up to being a program that runs for five hours. Which is a lot of video. We are meant to be of the MTV, remote control, channel surfing generation, bombarded by so many variations of image, TV. and film that we are long on media hipness but short on attention span. However Reinke's deadpan, dark and witty compendium moves us into new uncharted and unexpected territories which demand our attention. On the structure front, it's as if he has invented a new duration - the Epic Short. To watch 'The Hundred Videos' is to become aware that this is not channel flicking, nor is this like a film maker's show reel of discrete pieces, and it's obviously not A Very Long Film in the way that a Tarkovsky movie might be A Very Long Film. What we have is have a work that is made up of narratives which we know have to be linked somehow, because the more we watch it, the more it builds up and adds and 'makes sense' but not in obvious, linear ways. It works as much like music or experimental literature as it does as film. Themes and images appear, disappear and then re-appear, are developed, mutated and messed around with, like riffs in jazz; voices and phrases float past us in an hallucinogenic maelstrom that denies logical comprehension but which insists on our recognising that there is some system, (which we cannot quite put our finger on). As one of the voices says: 'even if you know that your stories are fictional, they can still be remapped.." But we remain fascinatingly hazy as to the cartographic principles. We are just pretty certain that we aren't in Kansas anymore Toto.


The word 'I' appears in 'The Hundred Videos', with an almost demented regularity. In our initial attempt to get our bearings we are tempted to take this at face value, as if we are being made privy to the solipsistic or narcissistic mutterings of the artist: but something like 'Pus Girl" - where the narrator has pus glands rather than sweat glands with the awkward consequences that that implies - soon pulls us up short, and pretty fast we harbour doubts as to the existence of the singular narrative voice. However it still leaves us with the puzzle as to exactly what is the relation between the 'I' who is a founding member of the children's video collective ('Children's Video Collective') the 'I' that wants to suck their own dick (Windy Morning in April 0.48) or who writes fan/love letters to teenage tenpin bowling champions (Corey. 2.51)? The longer we look, the more information we get, and the more shifts are generated. This dither and haze of documentaries, narratives and stories plays complex and quirky games with the ideas of the authoratorial voice, and our expectations of a consistency, both in self and narrative. Instead what is teased out are complexities of the relationship to the 'I' of the narrative (s), to the 'I' of the artist: complexities in which we as viewers/readers are intimately implicated. We become heated in our search to identify the source of these - as a narrator says - 'promiscuous imaginings'. Despite the existence of 'Pus Girl' we have to feel that, no matter how complex, fictive, refracted, they do have an autobiographical charge: that there is a representation of an 'I' lurking in there somewhere, so we set off on a demented charge to try and identify and construct this other 'I'. Much of the tension in the work comes from our attempted identifications and aborted certainties that happen in out attempt to construct a common 'Reinke' to the voices in the tapes. Ok, we know he likes documentary, but would he really want a person at a certain stage of Aids for his documentary so that it would come on in on budget? Come on, this can't be so. Or is it? Does he really want to be a painter? Just when we think that we have him pinned, the beast and frame changes in front of our eyes. We have to feel that our seeking and our uncertainty is analogous to that of the author of the works as he identifies and articulates roots and possibilities of his-self or selves, articulations which have reached such a developed stage that this self - this company of selves - now has its own logo 'Introduction to the Logo'. (And a good joke.)


Rousseau's 'Confessions' written 1764 -70 is perhaps the first 'modern' documentary autobiography. The narrator unravels the development of his thought and his character through the self's relations to the external and internal world. It is curiously and sometimes uncomfortably honest, Rousseau has no interest in presenting himself for our approval, faults and idiocies are laid (almost smugly) bare under his forensic gaze. He talks of his enjoyment of being flagellated; in fact he claims it is the only way that he can know full pleasure having felt his first erection whilst being beaten over his governesses knee. Reinke shows the same disarming candour in his - and/or his characters - musings on sex and love and desire, the fascinations with skin and dermatology, a concomitant hatred of bone. At the same time 'The Hundred Videos' demonstrates how the understandings and constructions of the individual and the self, and of the real, as envisioned and desired by the enlightenment, have now become impossible, naive, in our psychic and societal environments. Reinke's 'I', and his representations of a reality, are composed of the various fractured reflexive selves of contemporary fictions, of Post Freudian analysis, of the gendered and queer gaze, of jouissance, of the lying Pinnochio, of the loss of narrative, of the loss of certainty, of the contemporary day to day; of a world captured on, and generated by, film and video rather than rearticulated and schematised through 'reason', language and the pen.


In 'Visuals Elf' the narrator says 'People ask me, Steve, how do you manage to make so many films? Why are you so prolific? And I say, Oh they are not films but video. It is a simple and effortless process". Although refusing to believe that these protean works are either simple or effortless, video is crucial to their form and operation. It is only with the quick response and relatively low expense of the medium that such a plenitude of expression and representation is possible, that and its ability to draw upon images within the electronic world as well as translating the quotidian world into the electronic world... so we get to see the reworked version of the footage of a limber young Indian boy that so turned on the narrator when he was young as well as being able to investigate the face of the narrator's erotic double. Video allows for promiscuous recyclings as well as imaginations, and makes everything shimmer with a contagious fictionality.


Despite the flickering richness of image in 'The Hundred Videos' we find ourselves denied any security of an iconographic representation: we can hear the 'I' s, but it is far harder to tell when we see them, or rather more germane to us in our search for the author, see Reinke's 'I'. We are never quite confident that we've located him. In 'Why I've decided to become a painter' we are being addressed directly, but it turns out that the paintings are not by Reinke, so are we to believe that it's Reinke that we see? Rather than seeing the author, we construct our author through these narratives apercus and asides, and through what the author has seen, be it old footage, porn movies, cartoons and diagrams: all the component parts of 'The Hundred videos' , an encyclopedic, polymorphic commonplace book of the electronic age.