– Spring 2015

James Richards: Things Together and Apart

Anders Kreuger

James Richards, Rosebud, 2013, digital video, black and white, sound, 13min. Installation view, ‘Frozen Lakes’, Artists Space, New York, 2013. All images courtesy the artist; Cabinet, London; and Rodeo, London and Istanbul

Art would like to realise, with human means, the speech of the non-human.

— Theodor W. Adorno1

That is one way of rendering Adorno’s notoriously convoluted and ambiguous German. The posthumously published Aesthetic Theory (1970) is full of such phrases, perched just between insight and jargon, ready to veer into either direction. The best of them possess a self-evidence and a presence on the densely printed page that make me think of sculpture rather than philosophy.

James Richards is known as a young artist, a queer artist, a successful artist, an artist-as-curator and, perhaps above all, a video artist. He finds and makes and brings together electronic images that move. And we mustn’t forget sound; sound is often his starting point. When he shows other people’s work it becomes part of his own, but the term ‘appropriation’ doesn’t quite capture how and why that happens. His own work has what might be called a sculptural quality, an expertly mediated immediacy (something Adorno might have liked) that makes it convincingly self-evident in its presence but not predictable in its content or style of address. His films, compilations and installations are not tentative, not about research or reference, although they do allow him to spend many hours in film

  1. ‘Kunst möchte mit menschlichen Mitteln das Sprechen des nicht Menschlichen realisieren.’ Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970, p.121. Translation the author’s.

  2. The chocolate appears in Disambiguation (2009), Richards’s collaboration with Canadian artist Steve Reinke. Screensaver is the third and last part of Richards’s The Misty Suite (2009).

  3. T.W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, op. cit., p.69.

  4. The schoolbook example of parataxis in language is the famous sentence attributed to Julius Caesar: ‘Veni, vidi, vici.’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’) The poem by Judy Grahn that Richards uses is also a good example of parataxis, for example the lines: ‘speaking, speaking / am I not elder / berry / brandy’. J. Grahn, ‘Slowly: a plainsong from an older woman to a younger woman’ (1971), love belongs to those who do the feeling: New & Selected Poems (1966—2006), Pasadena, CA: Red Hen Press, 2008. Also available on the Poetry Foundation’s website, at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237426 (last accessed on 7 November 2014).

  5. This is the last track on You’re the Guy I Want to Share My Money With (1981), a three-person spoken-word double album featuring Giorno (a poet and performance artist perhaps best known for being the protagonist of Andy Warhol’s 1963 film Sleep), Laurie Anderson and William S. Burroughs.

  6. T.W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, op. cit., p.85.

  7. John Updike, ‘Perfection Wasted’, in The Collected Poems of John Updike, 1953—1993, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, p.231.

  8. Email from the artist, 13 October 2014.

  9. Sergei Eisenstein, ‘Montage 1937’, Towards a Theory of Montage (ed. Richard Taylor and Michael Glenny, trans. M. Glenny), London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2010, pp.11—58.

  10. Jean-Pierre Oudart, ‘Cinema and Suture’ (1969, trans. Kari Hanet), Screen, vol.18, issue 4, Winter 1977, pp.35—47.

  11. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image (1985, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta), London: The Athlone Press, 1989, p.256.

  12. Under the heading ‘Best of 2011: The Artists’ Artists’, in Artforum International (December 2011, p.97), Emily Wardill wrote: ‘I was touched by James Richards’s installation at the Chisenhale Gallery. It felt like communication.’

  13. T.W. Adorno, Ästhetische Theorie, op. cit., p.108.

  14. Email from the artist, 28 October 2014.

  15. ‘Raking light is the process used in painting restoration where a bright light is shone on the sides of paintings to highlight the texture and volume of brushstrokes.’ Email from the artist, 6 October 2014.

  16. This is one of the components of Disambiguation, about which Steve Reinke has written: ‘Why is it I like clips of slim hairy dudes jerking off into their mouths? Because I am human, a human being.’ S. Reinke, ‘James Richards’, in Matt Keegan, == (artist’s book), Paris: MFC-Michèle Didier, 2012.