The Centre for Contemporary Art’s screening and discussion of video work by Gordon Matta-Clark was chaired by Briony Fer, beginning with a brief introduction to Matta-Clark’s short life and career, ending with his death in 1978 at the age of just 35. The films shown were made earlier that same decade, including Tree Dance (1971), followed by Clockshower (1973), Splitting (1974), Conical Intersect (1975) and City Slivers (1976). Much of the discussion took place in between the films, focusing on the role of each in thinking through the artist’s larger practice.
Tree Dance features Matta-Clark and others suspended from the bare branches of a huge tree; spaced apart, some remain motionless whilst other figures turn and move around. Bodies are encased in folds of material; others climb or dangle from rope ladders. Splitting followed, showing the artist and one other cutting in half a house scheduled for demolition. The dismantling was interspersed with words on screen – as in silent cinema – giving some textual information about what was happening.
In Conical Intersect we saw the opening up of a building in Paris, beginning from a small hole in the outer wall. Filmed from above and outside the building, semi-curious passers-by were shown both confused and intrigued. The latter two films particularly raise questions regarding the ways internal and external parts of building are usually thought in relation to one another. The sun shining through the split centre of the house in the former and an ever-widening hole in the latter, exposing the building’s make-up; drawing as well on issues of materiality and the entropic. The group considered how the work shown in these films might be a comment on the gentrification as well as the changeability of cityscapes; reusing and re-examining obsolescent spaces at the end of their previous function before their ultimate demise.
Clockshower features Matta-Clark showering and shaving in a raincoat, in a slightly absurdist performance suspended in front of a large clock face. Clockshower, like others screened at the CSCA event, also references silent film. In this case, however, a more comedic physicality is worth noting, particularly in reference to Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (1923) where Lloyd also climbs a clock tower. Yet where an element of vertigo in Lloyd’s film is displaced by the camera’s close-up framing of the figure and clock face. In Matta-Clark’s work the camera pans out underscoring an amount of danger related to the possibility of the artists falling from a significant height.
The last film City Slivers also negotiated city space, involving a tour around New York. Montaging fragments of film, this work brought together the performative aspects of his inquiries with the tactility of his spatial interventions and visual practice – especially cutting. Matta-Clark’s spatial sensitivity and architectural training was also discussed by the group. For instance, the latter’s necessity in cutting into buildings, planning interventions and avoiding load-bearing walls where appropriate. In some respects, the illusion of simplicity in his films belies a complexity and physicality also contained in his multifaceted practice; described beautifully by Pamela Lee, thinking about his process as “…more like the wielding of a surgeon’s knife than the indiscriminate crush of a wrecking ball.”
The films can operate as a varied introduction the artist’s work, or a much under-discussed aspect to those more familiar with it. Both perspectives nevertheless highlight themes that can be inferred from his greater practice – particularly a delicate balance between art and architecture, with Matta-Clark’s creativity inhabiting a space between the two.
Beatrice Fettes Leagas
- Pamela M. Lee, Object to be Destroyed: The work of Gordon-Matta Clark (Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2000).