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Michael Morris: It’s Just Meant To Be

July 9, 2012

Originally published in Art This Week, February 2012 by Eli Walker

Eli Walker: I’m Eli Walker and today I’m with Michael Morris discussing his show It’s Just Meant To Be at Oliver Francis Gallery.

So Michael, I know that we are both recent transplants to this city, that we both grew up in Dallas, we both moved away and now find ourselves coming back. I’m hoping maybe you can give a little of what your experience has been since coming back.

Michael Morris: It’s been very interesting. I went to Chicago in 2006 and came back after grad school around May of 2010. I really, really enjoyed being in Chicago for a number of reasons: the freeness and openness of alternative spaces, the do-it-yourself kind of approach, the lack of inhibition in starting a critical dialogue around a space or a novel way of curating… And I was hoping to find that in Dallas. And as we’ve discussed before, there’s really no reason that it shouldn’t happen here.

EW: Well, I think this space (Oliver Francis) is a testament to that.

MM: Yeah, Kevin (Jacobs) has already started thinking in a very similar way. He’s thinking about different approaches to curation and he’s said that he really wants this space to set an example to others and hopes that it will reproduce more like it in the community.

EW: I know that Kevin will give the artist a key to the gallery and lets them do whatever they want…

*Morris pulls out his key chain with the key attached.

EW: (Laughs) there’s this hot-pink key, that’s great.

MM: (Laughs) Yeah it says “princess” and there’s encrusted rhinestones on it.

EW: That’s really funny, the coveted Oliver Francis key.

MM: Yeah, so I think that his strategy for curating the space is just to keep it open to the artist.

EW: And there’s not like a third-party involved in that. Like here where you have the film looping through eye-hooks on the wall (Wheel and Axel Machine) there’s not a sense that a gallerist would put this show together. But that it remains an experimental space.

MM: I really wanted the technology at the forefront so that’s where some of the looping situations happen; I really wanted to have the analog technology work in ways they aren’t meant to. So there’s an act of repurposing technology, whereas DVD and some of these videos are made to loop. That’s not something the creators of tape players or the reel-to-reel projectors were thinking about.

EW: Well, I don’t know, couldn’t they though? Because in the movie (Confessors) you have your grandfather that’s experimenting with film. And especially in that one piece that uses this inherited camera (A More Perfect Eye). Not only do you have this physical appartus you’ve inherited but the urge to work within this medium has been inherited.

Also in the film you see shots of other people standing around the JFK memorial who are all amateur filmmakers kind of in the same way Zapruter was. Today there are even more people out there with their iPhones and other devices so there’s this proliferation of using the film mediums of the time. Like the way you have A More Perfect Eye set up where someone can walk up to the eyepiece and put themselves in the space of someone from that era using that device. Now of days we don’t record near our face but with our arm outstretched.

MM: Yeah, I guess that it’s an extension of the eye in that case. Whether it is an extension away from the body or that it is extended by time when it’s affixed to film or video. And A More Perfect Eye in particular refers to Dziga Vertov and what he calls a “kino-eye” or the ways in which it is an extension and an improvement- I sort of take issue on anything mechanical being an improvement over anything organic- but it does something different than what our eye does and he talks about trying to liberate the eye from just that kind of vision.

But to get back to the idea of ‘repurposing’ is to think about the inherent qualities of the medium outside of maybe how it was meant to be reproduced. And all of that is working towards local history by linking the 8mm format to what I automatically associate to the Zapruter film. That moment was such a large moment in our collective history. Especially as Dallas natives, I guess there is an accrual of those associations that find their way in to the pieces.

EW: And within Confessors there seems to be these three specific tangents that are weaving themselves together with Jack Ruby and Candy Bar, Zapruter and your Grandfather, your Grandfather and Candy Bar… there’s no source of origin for these stories, it’s more about a fascination with film. It keeps coming back to that. I keep thinking of how these are inherited traits. I mean: this is a very Dallas-centric show.

MM: Absolutely. That may stem from coming back. Because I think when you leave a place you start to rediscover your identity and go back to things that are familiar. So certainly, being a Texan in the Mid-West starts to make you go back and think about what makes you different as a Texan.

EW: In that interest, recently you and I were looking at the sky here and realizing how much we missed it. Then we were kind of bemoaning that the sublime doesn’t quite fit in to art like it used to. It seems that a lot of videography and photography are only used for the purpose of documentation.

You have that, but also on top of it is a genuine moment that your grandfather talks about where he had to film his wife because he found her beautiful. And there is a very sincere echo in all of the work that feels like it’s reaching for the sublime. As well as your representation of Candy Bar by way of a poem that she wrote (A Gentle Mind Confused) and you have your grandfather read it… You’re a very sensitive guy.

MM: (Laughs)

EW: I think that’s one of the Texan aspects; it’s very romantic.

MM: Yeah, wow, that’s a bunch of tricky things to address. But they are all very important.

EW: Maybe the thing about taking antiques and repurposing them instead of throwing them away. These machines have character. There’s a type of nostalgia in that.

MM: Yeah, I can’t really accept being a cynic. There’s a type of irony and cynicism that I’m skeptical of. It feels that it’s the part of cynicism that has to give in to maybe capitalism and the technological determinism that goes with it. Maybe that strays far from the sublime- but I’m going to try to bring it back.

Like with (It’s Just Meant To Be), though it may be biting and cynical in terms of the content of the text, it’s also very angry at the kind of technological determinism that says an old medium that has been replaced serves no purpose anymore and ought to die. So it’s a skepticism of the old being replaced by the new.

EW: That comes across very well in the beginning of Confessors where that jackhammer is cutting away at the pillar of the old Reunion Arena. All you need is a fundamental knowledge of architectural structure to know that that is a lode-bearing column and there’s this guy just hammering away at it. The arena collapses and you hear people saying things like “that wasn’t supposed to happen.” Watching that fills me with anxiety because the collapse is so sudden and all it takes is a preliminary view to notice that taking a jackhammer to that pillar is… well, a bad idea.

To me it was a commentary of the type of rashness Dallas has when it comes to development.

MM: Well, I don’t know if it wasn’t meant to fall like that, it certainly felt like it wasn’t. But that was another part of me re-familiarizing myself to Dallas. It feels like a place without history. It feels like a place that has a prejudice against its own structures. Maybe it wants to forget its own history somehow, and maybe the Kennedy assassination is part of that.

That’s a similar tendency that I’m recognizing in technology, structures and the approach to peoples’ bodies. I feel that progression should be a hybrid process, not a process that replaces things; it’s not that linear.

EW: That brings me to For Adam and Allie (wedding gift) where you have a poem running through an image of the sky and I see that it was a wedding gift for your friends. There’s a great gesture of kindness in you to recognize the married couple. How do you think that fits in with the rest of the show?

MM: I suppose my thinking was that it would resonate with the types of relationships that are proposed in Confessors. Trying to focus on the experience that a couple has together. And it’s the only video in the show that is solely digital and it uses a kind of digital degradation of the image by removing bits of code.

If there is anything about digital technology that I’m interested in is how it has a short shelf-life compared to even 8mm film. It has an inevitable decay at a much higher speed than film…

EW: (Laughs) I don’t know what that says about it being a wedding gift anymore.

MM: Yeah, but I guess it certainly is about the ephemeral-ness of a couple’s experience together.

EW: It’s very real. It’s a real part of life and relationships. Like how your grandfather has a very frank way of describing your grandmother and that it is uncomfortable. But I didn’t think that, I felt that he really loves his wife and finds her beautiful. Is it that they are elderly that makes it less conventional?

MM: Maybe that’s more it. And maybe it is just strange because I’m very partial to my mother’s reaction as well and her having to acknowledge that elderly people still have sexuality.

EW: There is a generation of Texas parents, or maybe all parents, that I think are coming to terms with how conventional they are considering that they are a part of a very massive baby-boomer generation.

But on the topic of convention, I can’t let you go without talking about the Cyanotype prints (Blue Movie). They’re very elegant images- framed, but they still refer to different approaches of displaying film.

MM: I guess that going through the process of weighing the film and making the exposure was primarily a conceptual move. But I wanted to allow them to be beautiful as well. And then I tried to repeat the same process in the movie that is Blue Film. The cyanotype is a very old process, one of the oldest photographic processes that’s iron-based rather than silver-based. There’s also the less sophisticated pun on “Blue Movie” that is referring to slang for a porno.

And I was thinking about miscommunication somehow, that someday even if the film survives there may not be any devices to read it anymore because it’s read by light passing through it. So this way you can still see part of what it is by its exposure. It’s analogous in the way that light is still passing through the film but it’s not necessarily communicating in the way that it is supposed to.

EW: That’s what I’ve always respected about photographers and artists that work with film is when they know how to keep the integrity of the inherent properties of the medium. Film’s primary purpose isn’t documentation but is used to exhibit the qualities of light.

MM: Yeah, that’s one of the fun things about it. There’s a psychological relationship to documentation that is supposed to be the lot of photography, photo-chemical or even digital-based processes. There’s an idea that the image can somehow represent something in a truer way than other means. And that’s a psychological projection people have of photography, and I guess there is a way to extend that in to something that really doesn’t represent the film. The image is destroyed, but the film still has a relationship to documentation as something that occurred in time and space.

EW: It’s very well done. So, there is a follow up performance?

MM: Yeah, it’s this Saturday. There is a four-projector performance for my part and then a live percussion performance that Andrew Blanton will be doing. So, to the degree that this exhibit (It’s Just Meant To Be) is a very quiet and contemplative type of show, the one on Saturday is going to be very loud and assaulting. It’ll be fun.



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