I had the opportunity to attend Bruce McClure‘s audio-video performance twice: the first time, in Rome in 2006 at Dissonanze (where I was involved as a curator) and the second time this year at Sonic Acts in Amsterdam (where Digicult introduced Otolab’s live “Circo Ipnotico”).
Although he put on two very different live performances, in both cases the feeling was the same: the work of the New York artist is maybe a little to cultivated and refined to be appreciated by the audience of a festival which is often made up of yokels, as well as too excessively experimental and naïf to be suitable for a gallery or for the rooms of a museum. In short, an hybrid, which is what usually fascinates me
On the other hand, his film performances, or sections of expanded cinema, based on the phenomenon of optical synthesis of sound, have been screened within festivals of electronic art, festivals of experimental cinema, but also in art galleries or real cinema halls. Moreover, it seems that his dream is to be included in the permanent collection at Whitney Museum (in which some of his more important colleagues, such as Sandra Gibson and Luis Recorder, are present), even if his autartic and almost anarchic nature always made his life difficult when he entered into relations with the world of art and galleries. How can I say they are wrong?
Bruce McClure‘s background as an architect is, in my opinion, a very important element to understand his work and the nature of his performance. Fascinated by phenomena of alternation between darkness and light, which can emphasise the performative environment and can also involve and cloud the audience, McClure is an obsessive live performer, who is constantly working on the mechanics of his modified projectors, real tools almost made alive by the touch of his hands. And the almost sculptural nature of his audiovisual composition, the physical relation with the object/tool, with the film, the mannerism he has in handling the metal discs, the ink pigments, sound pedals and different objects, the materiality of a sound that is often powerful and obsessive, don’t resemble as much the fruit of a film maker, or of a photographer, or of a video-artist, as they resemble the artworks in movement of sculptors such as Bruce Nauman or Paul Sharrits.
I’ve been a bit longwinded because I think that the work of Bruce McClure is absolutely unique in the international panorama of audiovisual art, even if it is sometimes difficult to digest (his live performances has the little defect of being a little too long, at least for the frantic environment of festivals). Other starting points for further remarks come from the interview that Bertram Niessen held with Bruce .
Bertram Niessen: When did you start doing live performances?
Bruce McClure: The first house I remember was in the suburbs of Washington DC . It had a basement that was very cool and dark and I would entertain friends there by flipping the light switch on and off. Moving rapidly from light to dark made night pictures appear inside our eyes. I was told that this was bad for the light bulb and that I shouldn’t do but the temptation was strong and the chemical surges were difficult to forget.
Bertram Niessen: Your background is quite unusual and diverse. Could you tell us something about your previous works?
Bruce McClure: When I graduated from architectural school I moved to New York . Still looking for fun I would undertake projects outside my vocational duties as a draftsman. Early in the 1990’s I decided to draw a line 40,075 kilometers long. This line would equal the diameter of the earth at the equator. Naturally, it would have to be composed of segments and I used a metronome as a way of timing my work and keeping track of the distance I covered. So many strokes, from the top to the bottom of a page at a certain beat, andante for example, and I could calculate the distance I covered in a day. The metronome and its tic-tic swing of the weighted pendulum was a good companion. I particularly appreciated the gradated wand and how by sliding the weight relative to the fulcrum you could change the tempo of its motion.
Around that time I was at a party watching the influence of a strobe light on the blades of a fan. I began to work with fans and strobes and patterned cardboard discs 40 cm . in diameter that I could spin at high speeds. In the flash of the strobe varied from 50 to 30,000 per minute and I could make drawings in time by simply changing the relative speed of the light with respect to the moving disc.
The stacks of paper, 47 x 62 centimeters , coved with pencil lines seemed like an indulgence especially in a city where friendly space is hard to find. Bars and dance parties became my places to work instead of the living room floor and I found myself rediscovering new territory, performative in nature, where time was the axis of rotation and gallery space seemed irrelevant.
Bertram Niessen: And when did you start relating your artworks to the world of experimental cinema?
Bruce McClure: Notwithstanding this enlightenment, my ambition urged me to move my precinematic diversions into the movie house. I sought a sober audience seated comfortably and the notion that perhaps what I was doing with the spinning discs could be considered “experimental.” Anthology Film Archives was a place with theatres and had a reputation for testing the boundaries of cinema. Performing there with my intervalled light seemed perfectly appropriate, however when the lights came up I was told that my stroboscopic discs were not cinema and belonged in galleries. After that I decided to broaden my circumstances by making a commitment to the 16 millimeter movie projector as an additional time instrument capable of conditioning space. I was ready to spring with the projector in hand over the floodlights of vaudeville and into the arc of the audience. This would not be an experiment, nothing would be regarded as an anomaly or errant data and any discoveries that can be made are in propria persona .
Bertram Niessen: How do you develop the relation between audio and video?
Bruce McClure: One of the beauties of the projectors I use is that they have optical sound. With this system one form of energy can be converted into another. A waveform pictured as a changing ratio of light to dark on the film surface is converted by a light beam and cathode into electrical output amplified and made audible by loudspeakers. The projector has an integrated anatomy of giving designed to satisfy both the eyes and the ears and leaves little waste. Film in my performances serves the picture lamp and the sound lamp signals to be pushed and pulled by the projectionist. The camera meanwhile has been omitted as needfully deficient, greedy for silver and untidy, leaving behind tons of artifacts that demand to be curated and archived. Preconceived by cinematic constructs the silent nativity scene for performative light and sound is a convention that disappears in the darkness and is lost in the haze of shuttered lamplight.
What I do is to try to sound out through the darkness enjoying every minute of it before someone else turns on the lights.