– Autumn/Winter 2005

T.J. Wilcox: From Dusk till Dawn

Bettina Funcke

The world must be made romantic. Then once more we shall discover its original meaning. To make something romantic is nothing else but a qualitative potentialisation. In such an operation, the lower self becomes identified with the higher self. We ourselves are this series of qualitative potentials... Insofar as I render a higher meaning to what is ordinary, a mysterious appearance to what is customary, an infinite look to the finite, I am romanticising.
- Novalis 1

The birth of film in the late 19th century happens to have occurred at the same time as a moment of literary and artistic decadence. The moment is summed up in 'The Setting of the Romantic Sun', a poem by Charles Baudelaire from the 1868 edition of his collection The Flowers of Evil. The poem reflects on a 'dying god' and the swimming 'odours of the tomb' that appear during the 'remorseless night [that] establishes her reign'. The poem strives to capture the atmosphere of a certain light growing dim, a slow transition from warmth to coldness, an ideal swallowed up in base matter. With the setting of the Romantic sun, the precious light that allowed one to differentiate, the hope for a harmonious synthesis of opposites, was replaced by the twilit, grey-on-grey of a decadent age, in a fluid transition from good to evil, necessity to luxury, origin to artifice, life to death. Baudelaire's attempt 'to trap one ray, at least one fading thing', serves as a useful image for understanding T.J. Wilcox's film and video works.2 One might say they take place at another moment of loss and passage, in

  1. Novalis, Fragments (1798), in Howard E. Hugo (ed.), The Portable Romantic Reader, New York: Viking Press, 1957, p.51

  2. Charles Baudelaire, 'The Setting of the Romantic Sun', The Flowers of Evil, James McGowan (trans.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, p.297

  3. See Friedrich Kittler, 'Memories Are Made for You', in Rebecca Comay (ed.), Lost in the Archives, Toronto: Alphabet City, 2002, p.406

  4. Johanna Burton, 'T.J. Wilcox', Artforum, April 2005, p.188

  5. Jacques Rancière, 'Godard, Hitchcock, and the Cinematographic Image', in Michael Temple, James S. Williams and Michael Witt (eds.), Forever Godard, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004, p.226

  6. T.J. Wilcox, quoted in Reena Jana, 'The Recovery of Memory', tema celeste, no.105

  7. T.J. Wilcox, quoted in Lawrence A. Rickels, 'The Loss Generation', Art/Text, no.64, 1999

  8. J. Rancière, op. cit., p.225

  9. Ibid., p.231

  10. Jacques Derrida, 'Spectographies', in R. Comay (ed.), op. cit., , p.421

  11. Robert Smithson, 'A Cinematic Atopia', Artforum, September 1971, p.53.

  12. Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson in conversation with the artist, 18 March 2002, in T.J. Wilcox: Smorgasbord, (exhibition brochure), Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, 2002