Media creates a spectacle and a dialogue. To compete with other spectacles, art may have to embrace the spectacular. And social practice is a great way to create a dialogue. Art tries to pursue things that are not yet fully understood, often pushing boundaries. It can certainly help to have allure, even if it’s just on the surface.
Spectacle Society, a new Dallas collective organized to present programs of film, video art and performance, will have its inaugural event tonight at the Dallas Contemporary, featuring the experimental short films of Nazli Dinçel. The collective is comprised of Michael Morris, Carolyn Sortor, Danielle Avram, Richard Bailey, Colette Copeland, Peter Bo Rappmund and Shilyh Warren. Most of them are video artists who have curated events, even collaborating with each other in the past. The plan is to have a screening about once a month.
The collective take its name from The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord’s definitive text for the Situationist movement of artists and intellectuals from Europe. To Debord, the spectacle is “a social relationship between people that is mediated by images,” which degrades critical thought.
For comparison, consider life prior to radio. You could be in one place where people had a specific dialect, then travel a few miles and find a community who spoke with very different accents and mannerisms. But once radio stations came along and started filling up homes in many different places with the same content, everyone suddenly seemed to talk the same.
Clever politicians realized they no longer had to visit every single community and interact with people personally to win votes; they could just get on the radio and talk to everyone at once. In some ways, you could use radio as an example of mass media creating a monoculture of minds.
Images are very powerful, but in terms of developing critical thinking skills for life, politics and art, they are a poor substitute for social interaction. One of the ways the Situationists tried to combat this issue was to hijack the spectacle by using spectacular images and language to disrupt the flow. Another was to deliberately construct situations that reawaken a sense of everyday life.
Not every member of this new collective was onboard with launching a “movie theater” in the Dallas Contemporary with a moniker that name-checked this ideology; perhaps this is why they inverted the name of Debord’s book. But this first social practice event will bring people together to create a dialogue and watch a spectacle that will certainly disrupt the flow.
Influenced by Turkish, Swiss and American culture, Nazli Dinçel films are about the abstraction of language. This is experimental film juxtaposing cultures and questioning common ideas about personal experiences. The eight short films for this event are hand-processed frame by frame, with text typed directly onto the film using a typewriter or written by hand. Images function as sounds, texts function as images, and colors are reversed. Some of it resembles animation.
The films are often sexually aggressive, but not necessarily arousing. After years of studying pornography theory, Dinçel has a sophisticated understanding of how pornographic films are framed, often imitating a male gaze. Dinçel is also interested in things that are not themselves. There are landscapes and human bodies shot in ways so similar that the viewers may be unable to tell them apart.
The content involves personal experiences, including immigration, even using her painstaking creative process to create displacement from the themes. Some of the subject matter involves solitary acts, things that people accept about themselves that may not jibe with how they are perceived by others.
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With subject matter often focusing on early childhood recollections, there is also a focus on the imperfections of memory. Viewers may wonder whether or not Dinçel is a reliable narrator or if she is walking a fine line between fact and fiction. After all, Dinçel is experimenting with media intuitively, reconstructing memories with a labor-intensive creative process and a unique visual language.
Dinçel is a perfect fit for a series that aims to create a spectacle and a dialogue. Independent media can be used to raise questions about how society controls narratives through media. But Michael Morris says the collective can see it both ways; spectators are not necessarily passive and can certainly be engaged.
“There are certain film works that just need to be screened,” Morris says, after considering how ideologies may overlap throughout the course of future events. “They are spectacular in nature because they are being presented that way, as opposed to the default way of showing video or film in a museum, which is to have it passively on a loop, where you don’t even really have to watch it.”
Note To Self: Psychosexual Films of Nazli Dinçel screens at 8 p.m. tonight, Friday, February 19, at the Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass St., free and open to the public.