FIVE YEARS: On the work of David Bowie, Isiah Medina and Masha Tupitsyn
Screenshot from Isiah Medina’s 88:88 (2015 USA)
by Jonty Tiplady
Where does one start with an Isiah Medina film? One starts perhaps with the fact we have only just started to watch them. With the fact that he himself has only just started to make them. Or with the way they name and write and make possible an end that precedes us but which we have only just started to think. Anyone who has begun to watch the twenty five year old’s first extended film—88:88—will have begun to encounter the event of the title. This double mirror infinity sign, upended, on the blink, is a formalisation of the title as event itself. 88:88 is (literally) the whole limited display lit up at once. We might start there, and stay there, with this title, which is not given at the start of the film, opening as it does with a black screen and no credits. We might also end there, which is what this film constantly does, and invites us to do. Is this title even the title of the film?
How does one start to think and watch as one watches an Isiah Medina film? We can refer to past cinema (Gummo, Secret Agent, Detective, The Holy Girl), but we may have to go further. This is cinema under the pressure of being post-cinema, already passed into that, unwilling to concede so much to the past, as beautiful as any of those films, and yet starting again.
To get started, and to continue to, we can also read Medina. As well as his films, which are poems and thought-images and events, there are texts and interview-texts which are also ‘movies’, moving image thoughts and triggers. The interview with Phil Coldiron is exemplary, and matches the film which it thinks and thinks beyond. There is no tired distinction in Medina between ‘theory’ and socialised ‘praxis’, between a ‘politics’ only art can say and a ‘philosophy’ which reduces it. Medina has read and listened more openly than that. He’s more based than that, close to Nas and the void theory of Tzuchien Tho at once.
88:88 is to some extent Parmenidean cinema, or what I would call, simply, Parmenides cinema. It goes back to the pre-Socratic proem of Parmenides and reboots it, retools it, recites it, makes it so. We can say this another way. When Medina dissolves the Parmenides poem of the one into the cinematic text, he does something else. He perhaps uploads Parmenides for the first time, for us, and completes the fragment. The Parmenidean decision—choose Being over extinction, choose what is over what is not as what never was—is reaffirmed as a decision lying low as if in wait for now, the end, the period known as the anthropocene. Parmenides cinema lay low and then moved into action, now. It’s the end and so this had to erupt. The one is now.
McKenzie Wark has already named the need for a cinema not just about the anthropocene but for it. One way of over-formalising Medina’s work is to say that it is that cinema. It is cinema for the FKA-anthropocene. It makes the anthropocene the FKA-anthropocene. By watching it and submitting to its event, this is where we start, and start again, after the end that haunts us.
On the other hand, this is not cinema at the end of cinema. It is rather cinema at the end. What it does at the end of cinema is to forget that technical end and start again, and think the end, the end at cinema. The end itself. Since the end is what is now happening, or has been happening for some time (but this time for real), the event of cinema, at its end, will carry the pressure of all this. One has to start 88:88, to read the title, to know this.
Screenshot from Isiah Medina’s 88:88 (2015 USA)
The end (the word ‘end’ on an electronic display) literally flashes throughout 88:88. This end-display is the event the film names and is. Not ending cinema, then, which has already happened, but closing in and out on the echoes of that end as the end itself. If this is a post-cinematics, and a post-anthropo-cinematics, an FKA-cinema, it is so not because it has no need of the anthropocene and the cinematic, or discards them (how could it?); but because it has taken the time to know what has ended, and so now can be watched as the last most fluorescent return.
(One can add, in passing for now, that Medina’s cinema is hardly a literal Parmenides. The application of the Parmenides proem is in fact highly qualified by filmic script as layering, beautifully so, and seems relayed for example by almost secret spurs from for instance Kieran Daly’s work on pyrrhonism and Tzuchien Tho’s account of Badiou’s rendition of Cantor’s transinfinite into philosophical inscription: the question that opens up, quite simply, and more urgently than ever in the FKA-anthropocene, is the void and what it is and what it is not. 88:88 is in one sense the ticking or zeroed out clock on this question, no money left on the metre, cold, snow, no time for research: hardly part of the philosophical debate at all, riffing on it and turning the points of references into moving screen shots instead, because of local precarity. They are pictured reading, but nobody really reads now. Cinema evaporates the arguments into proofs that are just out of reach of palpable verification. Film, we might say, rules and submerges anthropcene theory as well as void theory. But this opens up a question for aesthetics in this century, maybe the only one, which can be abbreviated: is art only a series of chiasmic defence formations regardless of any of its formal qualities? Mladan Dolar has suggested that ‘philosophy started as an exorcism of the void, and its first move was to expel, drive out and banish the void’. His index for this movement is ‘Parmenides’, and this may be extended speculatively to the whole of contemporary aesthetics. Dolar writes of the element of ‘haste’ in the ‘decision’ to adopt Parmenides’ way which is almost inevitable for art to take place at all, and yet the inference, quite incredibly, is that the void is not to be guarded against, but is itself the product of a mistaken defence-mechanism against the void. The contemporary dialogue of this, the human sketch of it as petro-melancholic psycho-spherical coitus is perhaps True Detective where the void (Rust) is pitched against being (Hart). The final episode is called ‘Form and Void’, but the series perhaps remains only as a series of inversions of that double, as an human aesthetic dual. Logically, nothing else is feasible.)
Medina must have taken the time to read Godard, to see what Godard does on the screen especially with books: books in Godard are made into objects, devoured by the camera, sitting there, unread, thrown across the room, essential. Medina must also have read Parmenides intently, and he must have done so, it seems, with his friends, the friends who occupy 88:88 generously. Not only has someone taken the time, they have taken the time with others, and listened. On film he sounds like a Socratic Based God (if Based God weren’t already so Socratic on English Rain). There is rap music, and rap as part of the fabric of the film. There are questions. There is wisdom. There is moving movie testament and avoidance of what Masha Tupitsyn calls ‘bypass’.
I want to suggest that Medina’s films are close to the films and writings of Masha Tupitsyn, especially perhaps her epic Love Sounds and the texts which accompany it (one of them by Medina himself). Part of Tupitsyn’s concern is with the act of listening, and the time the act or event of listening takes. One of her other interests is ‘pop’, and the shifts from 80s to 90s consciousness. This attention to the past of popular culture may look retro in an age that feeds on super-contemporaneity. But more accurately, what Tupitysn focuses on makes the super-contemporary itself look old. Life is too contemporary now.
Cosmopolis (Cronenberg, 2012 USA) screenshot from Masha Tupitsyn’s Love Dog Tumblr (25 Jan 2016)
Tupitsyn sticks with and listens to a certain trace in popular culture of what Derrida (who she cites next to Ryder and Depp without fear) might have called ahistorical melancholy. Pop still counts for Tupitsyn because what it contains—a material trace of ‘the end’—is more than ever here, and more than ever hard to date. The recent death of David Bowie testified to this. Tupitsyn posted ‘Five Years’ on her Love Dog site, the song I lost my virginity to with a girl in Paris, and highlighted the main phrase, ‘Five Years, that’s all we’ve got’.
Love Sounds is a 24 hour film installation that archives an aural lover’s discourse, kenned from films, ready to be heard now as if this time, heaven knows it’s gotta to be this time. The grace of this FKA-cinematic installation is that it allows the listener, who also watches as they listen, an important labour. Anyone—which is to say everyone—who has loved and lost, or who has had to leave someone behind they cannot leave behind, or who has simply doubted that love ever existed, will recognise this work as a chance not to bypass, not to simply bury, a chance instead to heal by listening in an experience that goes beyond art as such. In this way, Love Sounds is close to the recent work of Sarah Wood on sound and ‘conversion’, on climate change as emotional language change; or to the work of Leo Bersani on neo-sexuality and post-sexuality, on the quietly intense pleasures that occur in Rohmer, for example, the pleasures after mutual damage. The work is also close to the Derrida of Without Alibi, who listened out for something beyond the cruelty-principle, beyond the cruelty of judgment itself which is almost inevitable. The listening work here is to do the least damage possible, as if to heal from art.
Screenshot from the Love Sounds trailer (Vimeo)
With Tupitsyn too one has to start. And one has to be starting again. And one has to be only ever starting. Love Sounds presents a labour: I myself have only just begun it. I have not yet heard it through. But I can say that this film came to me at the same moment I needed to at least see if I could move on from the damage of my eyes, the damage the cinematic image does, the damage done by the language and cinema and internet drive. What love does here is to archive itself as sound. Love sounds, in the transitive. It bears less on the eyes—though there are the important titles, 8 of them, no less—and more on what can be remembered though the ear, what can be recalled beyond any sense of ‘retro’. When something pops in the ear, we hear better. The Afar tribe believe that your eyes see the present but your ears hear the past. In Love Sounds the past of love does make sounds, and might be heard, bearing its own trace to term, a Parmenidean earworm. And yet we also see our ears hearing the present too, seeing it through the past, hearing it through. Love Sounds lays low for the present.
Both Medina and Tupitsyn avoid the bypass that makes the zeitgeist thrill of some contemporary aesthetics so off-beam. They evoke the past and the most ancient (Derrida: Parmenides) to whizz into a present that’s deafening, to see it, to hear it out. That can’t be avoided. This work can’t be avoided, now or ever. In a wonderful interview with C Spencer Yeh, Tupitsyn speaks of what it means to make a ‘durational work’, of ‘work-as-time’, and of ‘time-stretching, time-pressing’. And this, she says, this work of listening, cannot be ‘sped up or bypassed’. The impossibility of bypass, at this time in history, is perhaps more intense than ever. The end faced is more and more end-like. The five years we had is still perhaps the five years we have, and the world is always charged and singed by a sense of ending, and yet something tightens. Five years, that’s all we’ve got. Cixous writes about this same end in Hyperdream, and says that the end we now face ‘is not death’. She is categorical about this. Something has changed. Something is happening to the rate and intensity of everything, and the way our brains hurt a lot, and we have to do the right invisible listening, with the right makers, to know what it is. There are many, fortunately. But there is something in the work of Tupitsyn and Medina in particular that allows us to start this work.
About the Author:
Jonty Tiplady is the author of MS (TITLE, 2015), Zam Bonk Dip (Salt, 2009), and The Blue Guitar (with Sarah Wood, Artwords Press, 2007), as well as more than a dozen other books. Between 2012 and 2015 he created the multi-media project Trillionaires on Tumblr. He is the editor of TITLE, of Confuse Your Hunger, and (with Clare Colebrook) of a forthcoming Open Humanities Press volume called The Semiotics of Isis. Also forthcoming with OHP is a book called 2014 on film, theory and poetry in the anthropocene. ‘Five Years’ is part of a new project called Parmenides Cinema, on void theory, Medina and Tupitsyn, and secret based god music.