De/testing: The Audition as an Exhibition Format
The talk will be concerned with examples from a body of works that show auditions and casting sessions, comprising a large number of films, supplemented by photographs, theater plays, and installations. This includes Miloš Forman’s Audition (1963), Andy Warhol’s Couch (1964) and Screen Tests (1964–1966), George Kuchar’s I, an Actress (1977), Chantal Akerman’s Les années 80 (1983), Vin Diesel’s Multi-Facial (1994), Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Salaam Cinema (1995), Jõao Onofre’s Casting (2000), Jean-Luc Godard’s Éloge de l’amour (2001), Rashid Masharawi’s Waiting (2002), Omer Fast’s The Casting (2003) and Nostalgia (2009), Stefan Panhan’s Juice & Gin, Merle/Denilo/Isabel (2003), Christoph Schlingensief’s Freakstars 3000 (2003), Irina Botea’s Auditions for a Revolution (2006), Larry Clark’s Impaled (2006), Clemens von Wedemeyer and Maya Schweizer’s Rien du tout (2006), Krassimir Terziev’s Battle of Troy (2005) and Background Action (2007/2008), Gillian Wearing’s Self Made (2010), Ming Wong’s Kontakthope (2010), Christian Jankowski’s This I Played Tomorrow (2003) and Casting Jesus (2011), Marlies Pöschl’s Sternheim (2011), Candice Breitz’s The Woods (The Audition, The Rehearsal, The Interview, 2012), Ryan Trecartin’s Item Falls (2013), Kitty Green’s The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (2014), Clemens von Wedemeyer’s The Cast (2015), Mike Ott and Nathan Silver’s Actor Martinez (2016), and Nicolas Wackerbarth’s Casting (2017).
Drawing on writings by Walter Benjamin (1935/1968) and Giorgio Agamben (1995/2000), the talk seeks to investigate a selection of these works as narratives and performances of exhibition. Following from the idea that, in front of the camera and on the screen, the face becomes a site where something both “reaches the level of exhibition and tries to grasp its own being exposed” (Agamben 1995/2000: 93), the talk will investigate the workings of the individual’s appearance and performance in the larger context of social and political labor. Whereas Agamben terms the face and its exhibition as the “objects of a global civil war” that is waged over “the control of appearance” and fought by the media and advertising industry (ibid.: 94), Benjamin describes them as the “expansion of the field of the testable” in which the film crew and the audience occupy “a place identical with that of the examiner during aptitude tests” (Benjamin 1935/1968: 228, 246). Considering the social and economic dimensions of the individual’s being exposed on screen, the talk will analyze the films in regard to notions of immaterial labor, production value, identity politics, self-management and marketing, the capitalization of performance, and the currency of public attention.
Expanding on the existing research literature in this field (e.g. Roberts 2007; Diederichsen 2008; Didi-Huberman 2009; Holert 2009; Jamrozik 2013; Connolly 2014; Hill 2014; Leung 2014; Buchmann/Eikels 2015), the talk proposes a reconsideration of contemporary artists’ cinema under the terms of its exhibition value raised by aesthetic production and performative labor. It draws its main inspiration from the philosophical investigation into the registers of testability that Avital Ronell undertakes in her book The Test Drive (2004). Although this investigation traces the forces at work in scientific inquiry, its crucial finding of a cultural shift towards testing can be transferred to the domain of film production. In this light, it will be possible to reconsider the fate of experimental cinema and its displacement along the lines that have shaped the history of testing in the fields of both scientific and artistic research. While experimentation involves practices that do not rely on a set of given rules but instead may be described as a deferred search for the rules that determine its own course (e.g. Lyotard 1978/1986; Didi-Huberman 2012; Engell 2012; Rheinberger 2001; Rheinberger 2012; Mersch 2015), testing as it is understood here covers a wide range of practices, including those that are highly susceptible to failure, tentativeness, and disutility, and others that are embedded in the institutionalized knowledge of rules and their standard utilization in the service of epistemological benefit. Where this benefit is subjected to the conditions of the market, testing as an aesthetic practice is always already entangled within an economy of selection, evaluation, optimization, and progress. In regard to film, this particular notion of testing opens up a new perspective on the history of experimental film practice, revising the common understanding of its operation outside commercial economy. In this light, casting scenes provide an appropriate framework for a negotiation of the different registers of testing that inform film practice in the intricate contexts of the cinema, television, and the museum. Rather than following the established line of argument that leads from the identification of casting as a “primal scene of cinema” (Ruhm 2016: 230) to its reenactment in the exhibition spaces of the museum and the gallery, the talk proposes thinking of casting as primarily a genuine exhibition format. In correspondence with the many talent shows that have dominated recent television programs on a global scale (e.g. Pörksen/Krischke, eds. 2012; Redden 2016; Mayer 2017), the films that make up the material basis of the study occupy what might be called the expanded field of exhibition (e.g. Bennett 1988; Hantelmann 2011) and described as a new global trading system of the “format age” (Chalaby 2016).