Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Eshuneutics and film: perversion.

The Attendant: Isaac Julien. (2) *

What was in Julien’s mind at the time of filming The Attendant? Well, I would suggest three things need to be considered.

1) Julien knew his Mapplethorpe. He was well aware of Mapplethorpe’s favourite in-joke: cultural doubleness. At one point, Mapplethorpe had two art shows at the same time, one male nude exhibition in a famous high art gallery and a sadomasochistic one in an infamous low gallery. It was a huge joke— to be able to live in two worlds at once. This fact touched on another implicit joke in much of Mapplethorpe’s photography. By placing photographs of Black men in galleries, Mapplethorpe elevated the low to high. His classical photographs of Thomas (a porn star) were a consummate double-take. By placing sadomasochism in an art gallery—and an art gallery devoted to anti-slavery (in Hull)—Julien reverses the Mapplethorpe joke. He gives the sadomasochistic imagery a new context, an antidote to the poison. It is an extension of his concern in Langston where a White figure longingly figures photographs from the Black Book as the poetry of Essex Hemphill undercuts the figure’s covetous, inter-racial desire.

2) Julien wrote a number of highly perceptive essays with Kobena Mercer. (much of which was placed visually into Looking for Langston) In 1993, when The Attendant was being formulated, Mercer was in the process of changing his mind about Mapplethorpe. He was shifting from an anti-stance to more of curious arm on the hip way of thinking. Mercer was opening up a grey area of crossings and cross-overs (much as James Small has done in studying the Harlem Renaissance). The White market, for Mercer, provided a space for Black vision. It was something more complex than a trade off. (Doy would say an act of consumerism). Julien, quite probably, was aware of this cultural shift in thought and the re-orientating of Mapplethorpe and this suited a personal preoccupation.

3) Julien is a Black man attracted to White men.. Or to put the personal in a cultural framework, as Julien does in “Confessions of a Snow Queen” (1993), a lot of important art was emerging from inter-racial partnerships.This was true of Isaac Julien and Mark Nash; Rotimi Fani-Kayode and Alex Hirst; Lyle Harris, Asotto Saint, Marlon Riggs. For Julien, the Black-Black relationship and the essentialist paradigm in Looking for Langston had become more complex. Looking for Langston consciously stayed away from Van Vechten’s white-made Harlem, except in a negative way to illustrate how white patronage placed the “negro in vogue” until a point where this became unfashionable.

So, what does a viewing of The Attendant suggest? It suggests a more complex and intense look at the history of spectating.


Christopher Hennessy said...

Thanks for the recent comment, by the way. I love having a blogger friend on the other side of the pond to give me context!! You're blogging up a storm these days. Looking forward to browsing more of your entries when I get a chance! By the way, you can always contact me at Chennessy @ hotmail dot com

eshuneutics said...

Good to hear from you. Coincidence. I was reading your blog as this message arrived.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

You have no idea how many overlapping thought are going through my mind after reading this, especially #3.