Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama – 比Hussein Clarks和039的情节剧政治

Feature - 20 Apr 2018

Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama

The artist queers the canonical histories of art and theatre, pointing to how things might actively and fantastically engage in being otherwise

By Martin Hargreaves

‘Sirk has said: you can’t make films about things, you can only make films with things, with people, with light, with flowers, with mirrors, with blood, in fact with all the fantastic things which make life worth living.’1

Writing, in a 1975 issue of the New Left Review, about Douglas Sirk’s ‘women’s films’ of the 1950s, Rainer Werner Fassbinder stresses the political dimension of these melodramas. The west German director seems to be enjoying a deliberate anachronism: refusing to conform to the stereotype of the radical filmmaker calling for the destruction of spectacle, he instead proclaims the beauty of golden-era Hollywood. While we might see this as camp homage – along the lines of Jack Smith’s love of Maria Montez or Kenneth Anger’s fetishization of the fascist all-American boy – it is also part of Fassbinder’s attempt, across his writings and through his own filmic references to sirk, to propose a queer historiography. Fassbinder was intent upon denaturalizing how desire flows within the frame, delighting in how the scenery flirts with us as much as the protagonists. As Laura Mulvey – also drawn to look to Sirk for a consideration of female spectatorship – would attest in 1977, the overt staginess of melodrama can harbour the potential for a different kind of gendered performance: one that draws attention to multiple exchanges of desiring gazes.2

These threads of citations and references, and how they weave their way through visual culture and subcultural practices, could be said to be major preoccupations of Than Hussein Clark. In writing about him, I find myself needing to follow lines backwards and aside, to understand the complex skeins he picks up in order to connect genealogies of theatricality and desire. Like Sirk, Clark repeatedly asks the viewer to pay attention to the arrangement of fantastic things and how they produce effects. And, like Fassbinder, replete with references and re-articulations, he sets out to disturb the sedimentation of canonical histories of art and theatre.


Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama - 比Hussein Clarks和039的情节剧政治

Than Hussein Clark, Love at the Frankfurt Autoshow, 2017, video still. Courtesy: VI, VII, Oslo

Fassbinder had a cameo in Clark’s most recent exhibition at Gak Bremen, albeit lurking somewhat in the chiaroscuro of references. An overpainted poster for Fassbinder’s film Veronika Voss (1982) was displayed as part of a screen and there was also an allusion to a costume worn by Margit Carstensen, an actress who frequently appears in Fassbinder’s later works. Titled ‘The Director’s Theatre Writer’s Theatre’, the show – comprising an installation, text and play – explored the form of Regietheater (director’s theatre) prevalent in Bremen in the 1960s and ’70s, where Kurt Hübner, then artistic director of the Bremen Theatre, promoted the experimental re-interpretation of texts. Fassbinder himself was invited to present there in the 1970s; it was here that he met Carstensen and she joined the company of actors who regularly performed in his work.

In Clark’s revisiting of this style of theatre, there are perceptible echoes of Fassbinder’s use of melodrama to focus on the struggles of women and gay men within dominant, straight cultural norms. Clark himself trained as an actor, but chiefly within the Anglo-American tradition, where the playwright is the revered authorial voice and the director’s role is to embody, rather than challenge, how the script is received. In ‘The Director’s Theatre Writer’s Theatre’, the tension between these schools of direction and how they invite the audience to view differently the voices within the text was not resolved but allowed to play out. Clark frequently occupies the positions of both director and writer, and his theatricality results from the incongruities and gaps in these roles, rather than an overlaying or consolidation of authorship.

At Gak, the various components of the exhibition were rearranged daily across a scenography of three zones suggesting a backstage, stage and entrance lobby. associations between objects had the transience of a play, where props assume temporary functions and meanings – much as an actor ‘puts on’ a character – and can then be repurposed to other ends. In the performance Three Types of Wind in Trieste (2018), presented at Schwankhalle Bremen, the characters also moved the set around, echoing the dramaturgical rearrangements of Regietheater, so that the props became objects – or, rather, objects citing props citing objects, hovering between a thing and a representation of a thing. As in many of his other exhibitions and performances, Clark suggests that what these objects do to and with each other is more important than what they are in themselves.


Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama - 比Hussein Clarks和039的情节剧政治

Than Hussein Clark, ‘Jean Désert’, 2017, installation view at Frieze London. Courtesy: VI, VII, Oslo

This relationship between acting with and acting upon can be observed in Clark’s first feature-length film, Love at the Frankfurt Autoshow (2017), produced for the exhibition ‘recognition (Love at the Frankfurt Autoshow)’ at VI, VII in Oslo. It stars a character who could have stepped out of a 1950s melodrama, played by Laura Schuller, one of the key performers in the company Clark has assembled around him (another echo of Regietheater). Dressed in a white silk headscarf, faux fur and sunglasses, she goes by the name of Miss Flux and repeatedly states: ‘I don’t like staying in one place too long’ – a claim that could be made by all of Clark’s transient works. The other characters, including one played by Clark himself, wear colour-blocked costumes and inhabit a claustrophobic set of stage flats and transparent tables and doors. We never step into realism, but hover on the borders of hysteria, and lines are often obscured by exaggerated speech impediments. Contrived poses are held and the camera frequently pans across the furniture or the walls to keep our attention on the heightened artifice of the performers’ delivery. The titular autoshow is happening offscreen; Clark’s focus is, instead, on the machinations of relationships and the economic exchange of desire, here staged through the slippery ambivalence and duplicity of self-conscious theatricality and high camp.

For Clark, theatre – and, by extension, film – is not a mirror of life but a privileged space in which artifice can skew our belief in the consensus that produces everyday reality. In a conversation I had with the artist recently, he told me that one of his main references in terms of the politics of theatre is Jean Genet. In his plays and novels, Genet exalts the pure love only accessible through deceit; roses blossom in shit and Genet loves the stink of both. For Jean-Paul sartre, Genet’s play The Maids (1947), in depicting the allure of the sham, reveals something fundamental about our subjectivity: ‘Appearance, which is constantly on the point of passing itself off as reality, must constantly reveal its profound unreality. Everything must be so false that it sets our teeth on edge.’3 A similar delight in the unnerving and the unreal is behind Clark’s attention to the performativity of people and things. By looking closely at the scenery that surrounds us, we might get a glimpse of the roles we are called to play.


Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama - 比Hussein Clarks和039的情节剧政治

Than Hussein Clark, La Voixe Humaine (Stage Door Exit), 2017, pastel on vellum, 155 x 82 x 5 cm. Courtesy: the artist and VI, VII , Oslo

Another Jean, this time an imaginary one, was conjured in Clark’s booth for VI, VII at Frieze London last year. In the early 1920s, the Irish furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray opened a boutique in Paris named Jean Désert: a form of butch drag that combined a male forename with Gray’s love of the desert. Clark, in turn, took this name for his booth, creating a fitting room for gowns that alluded to the complex gender performances Gray enacted as she moved within the male-dominated design world and the lesbian subcultures of Paris. There were also references to the kind of interdisciplinarity redolent of Jean Cocteau’s queer coteries in interwar Paris. In Clark’s re-imagining of haute couture, you could book an appointment to buy a gown and have a fitting directed by the artist. These took place on a stage, partially visible to visitors through windows in the booth’s walls. Nodding towards the performance that putting on a dress entails, as well as the labour that underpins it, Clark’s fitting room focused on the histories of design and mediations of taste, offering a queer counternarrative to idealized femininity. 

Clark’s use of theatricality always turns on this preparation for playing the role: the costumes, the scripts, the choreography and the backdrops that enable the passing off of appearance as reality. He also points to the pleasures of following the quotation marks around a character, tracing the conventions of a style, hearing the echoes of other voices in a speech. Susan Sontag proposed that camp ‘is the love of the exaggerated, the “off”, of things-being-what-they-are-not’.4 Clark’s camp aesthetic draws attention to how things (including actors) might actively and fantastically engage in being otherwise, and might always be open for re-organization. This entails a practice of constantly rethinking the pleasures and complex histories of queer artistic production. If we shift the scenery, we might play out the scene differently; we should never want to stay in one place too long.

1 Rrainer Werner Fassbinder, ‘Six Films by Douglas Sirk’, New Left Review, I/91, May–June 1975, pp. 88–96
2 Laura Mulvey, ‘Notes on Sirk and Melodrama’, Movie, 25, Winter 1977–78, pp. 53–56
3 Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr, WH Allen & Co, London, 1963, p. 154
4 Susan Sontag, ‘Notes on Camp’, The Partisan Review,  Fall 1964, p. 518

Than Hussein Clark is an artist, designer, performer, director and writer based in London, UK, and Hamburg, Germany. He is a founding member of Villa Design Group and sits on the editorial board of Montez Press. Recent exhibitions and performance projects include: ‘The Director’s Theatre Writer’s Theatre’, GAK Bremen, Germany (2017–18); ‘Recognition (Love at the Frankfurt Autoshow)’, VI, VII, Oslo, Norway (2017); and ‘Yes, Yes, all the News That’s Fit to Print’, Art Basel Parcours, Switzerland (2017). Forthcoming exhibitions include a group show at  CAC Passerelle, Brest, France.

This article appears in the print edition of frieze May 2018 issue 195, with the title The Play's the Thing.

Main image: Than Hussein Clark, Three Types of Wind in Trieste, 2018, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and VI, VII , Oslo

Martin Hargreaves

Martin Hargreaves is a dramaturg, writer and performer based in London, UK. His research interests are the recent history of contemporary dance, queer disappointment and camp misunderstandings. He is currently performing as part of ‘Joan Jonas’ at Tate Modern,  London, which runs until 5 August. 

Than Hussein Clark

Issue 195

First published in Issue 195

May 2018

特征- 20 APR 2018比侯赛因Calks&Su. 039;情节剧的政治,艺术家奇怪的艺术和戏剧的典范历史,指出事情如何可能积极和梦幻地参与否则马丁。哈格里夫斯的SRRK说过:“你不能制作关于电影的电影,你只能拍电影,有人,有光,有花,有镜子,有血,事实上是所有让生活值得生活的奇妙事物。”在1975期的新文章中写道。左派评论,关于20世纪50年代道格拉斯·塞克的“女性电影”,莱纳·维尔纳·法斯宾德强调了这些情节剧的政治层面。西德导演似乎正享受着一种蓄意的时代错误:拒绝遵从激进电影导演的刻板印象,呼吁破坏电影,而他却宣称黄金时期的好莱坞是美丽的。虽然我们可以把这看作是营地敬意——沿着杰克·史密斯对玛丽亚·蒙特兹的爱,或者Kenneth Anger对法西斯全美男孩的崇拜——这也是Fassbinder的尝试的一部分,在他的著作中,通过他自己的电影参考SRRK,提出了一个奇怪的H。伊斯兰教。Fassbinder意图改变欲望在框架内流动的方式,愉悦于风景如何与主角调情。正如劳拉·穆尔维所说的,在Sirk看来,要考虑女性的“旁观者”——1977将证明,情节剧的明显停滞可能隐藏着另一种性别表现的潜力:一种将注意力吸引到渴望看到的多重交流中。2引用和引用的EADS,以及他们如何通过视觉文化和亚文化实践编织的方式,可以说是Hussein Clark的主要关注点。在写关于他的文章时,我发现自己需要循序渐进地跟上线条,去理解他挑选的复杂的斜线,以便连接戏剧和欲望的谱系。像Sirk一样,克拉克一再要求观众注意奇幻事物的安排以及它们如何产生效果。而且,像Fassbinder一样,他充满了引用和重述,他开始扰乱艺术和戏剧的典范历史的沉淀。Webx屏幕-肖特201-03-14-AT-111.JPG Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama - 比Hussein Clarks和039的情节剧政治比侯赛因克拉克,爱在法兰克福AutoSoW,2017,视频仍然。礼貌:VI,VII,奥斯陆FasBand有一个CAMEO在克拉克最近的展览在GAK不来梅,虽然潜伏有点在参考文献的明暗对照。Fassbinder电影《Veronika Voss》(1982)的一个过彩海报被显示为屏幕的一部分,同时还提到了Margit Carstensen的服装,这是一个经常出现在Fassbinder后期作品中的女演员。名为“导演的戏剧作家戏剧”的展览,包括一个装置、文本和戏剧,探索了20世纪60年代和70年代在不来梅盛行的地方剧院(导演剧院)的形式,当时不来梅剧院艺术总监库尔特H·BNER促进了E。文本的再阐释。20世纪70年代,Fassbinder亲自应邀出席了会议,在这里他见到了卡斯滕森,并加入了经常在他的作品中演出的演员公司。在克拉克对这一戏剧风格的重新审视中,Fassbinder对情节剧的使用有着明显的回响,集中在女性和男同性恋者在显性的、直接的文化规范中的斗争中。克拉克本人是一名演员,但主要是在英美传统中,剧作家是受人尊敬的作者的声音,导演的角色是体现,而不是挑战,如何接收剧本。在导演的戏剧作家的戏剧中,这些方向学派之间的紧张关系以及他们如何邀请观众以不同的方式看待文本中的声音并没有被解决,而是被允许播放。克拉克经常占据导演和作家的位置,他的戏剧性是由于这些角色的不一致和差距,而不是作者的叠加或合并。在GAK,展览的各个组成部分每天重新排列在三个区域的透视图中,这意味着后台、舞台和入口大厅。对象之间的关联具有戏剧的短暂性,其中,道具承担暂时的功能和意义——就像演员在角色上所扮演的角色一样,并且可以再被赋予其他目的。在的里雅斯特的三种类型的风中(2018),在SvunkHalle不来梅,人物也移动了周围的集合,回应了戏剧剧院的戏剧性重排,因此道具变成了物体——或者,更确切地说,是指引用道具的物体,悬停在TH之间。ING和一个事物的表示。正如他在其他许多展览和表演中一样,克拉克认为这些物体对彼此的作用比他们自身的东西更重要。WebVivi-Viihan-Housin Kalk and Ervin LoFFuler-AT-FRIZE-Lon OndoxOntoPixon SeBaTiON-Pelion di-Purasoovi-Voi-Vii-Vii-OsLogyIMPG89895-CMYK.JPG Than Hussein Clarks's Politics of Melodrama - 比Hussein Clarks和039的情节剧政治比侯赛因克拉克,'Jeang-De'塞尔特’,2017,安装视图在弗里泽伦敦。礼貌:VI,VII,奥斯陆,表演和表演之间的这种关系可以在克拉克的第一部长篇电影《爱在法兰克福AutoSoWoW(2017)》中被观察到,为在奥斯陆的VI,VII的展览“认识(爱在法兰克福AutoSoW)”而制作的。它的主角是一个可以走出20世纪50年代的情节剧的人物,由Laura Schuller扮演,他是克拉克公司聚集在他身边的关键演员之一(另一个戏剧剧院的回声)。她穿着一条白色的丝绸头巾、人造毛皮和太阳镜,她的名字叫克拉克小姐,她反复提到:“我不喜欢呆在一个地方太久”——这是她所有的短暂作品都可以说的。其他角色,包括克拉克自己扮演的角色,穿着色彩鲜艳的服装,住在一个幽闭恐怖的舞台公寓和透明的桌子和门。我们从未踏入现实主义,而是徘徊在歇斯底里的边缘,线条往往被夸张的言语障碍遮蔽。摆设姿势,相机经常在家具或墙壁上摇曳,以使我们的注意力集中在表演者递送的高度技巧上。名义上的AutoSoW是在屏幕上发生的;克拉克的重点是,在关系的阴谋和欲望的经济交换中,这里是通过狡猾的矛盾和双重的自我意识戏剧和高露营来上演的。对克拉克来说,戏剧——从外延来看,电影不是生活的一面镜子,而是一个特权空间,在这种空间里,诡计会歪曲我们对产生日常现实的共识的信念。在最近的一次与艺术家的谈话中,他告诉我,他在戏剧政治方面的主要参考之一是Jean Genet。在他的戏剧和小说中,吉尼特高举纯粹的爱,只有欺骗才能接近;玫瑰在大便中绽放,吉尼特喜欢两者的臭味。对于Jean Paul sartre来说,吉尼特扮演的女仆(1947)在描绘虚假的诱惑时,揭示了我们的主观性的一些基本事实:“外表总是不断地展现自己作为现实的意义,必须不断揭示其深刻的非现实性。一切都必须是虚假的,它使我们的牙齿在边缘。’3-一个类似的喜悦在令人不安和不真实的背后是克拉克的关注人民和事物的表现。通过仔细观察周围的风景,我们也许可以瞥见我们所扮演的角色。WebVivi-Viihan-Housin Calk AT-VI- VIIIAGIONGRONGION-MAR-BLWOVER 170906-Housin Calk Vi-Vi-041-CMYK.JPG WPAP6023 602IMG比侯赛因克拉克,La Voixe HuMayin(阶段门出口),2017,VelLUM,155×82×5厘米的粉彩。礼貌:艺术家和VI,VII,奥斯陆另一个吉恩,这是一个虚构的,在去年克拉克在弗里泽伦敦的VI,VII的展台中变魔术。在20世纪20年代早期,爱尔兰家具设计师和建筑师Eileen Gray在巴黎开了一家名为Jeang-De塞尔特的精品店:一种将男性的名字和Gray对沙漠的热爱结合起来的布奇拖拉的形式。克拉克继而为他的摊位取了这个名字,创造了一套礼服的试衣室,暗示了她在男性主导的设计世界和巴黎女同性恋亚文化中所做的复杂的性别表演。也有人提到了让·谷克多在战争时期巴黎的古怪组合的跨学科性。在克拉克对高级时装的重新想象中,你可以预约买一件礼服,并有一个由艺术家指导的配件。这些发生在一个舞台上,部分观众通过窗户在展位的墙壁。对穿着礼服的表演点头,以及支撑它的劳动,克拉克的试衣室专注于设计的历史和趣味的调适,提供了一个奇怪的反叙事,以达到理想化的女性气质。克拉克的戏剧性运用总是开启。是准备扮演角色:服装、剧本、编舞和背影,使外貌成为现实。他还指出,遵循一个字符的引号,跟踪一个风格的惯例,听到在讲话中的其他声音的回声的乐趣。苏珊·桑塔格提出“营地”是夸大的爱,是“不存在”的东西,而不是“事物”。4克拉克的营地美学吸引了人们注意事物(包括演员)如何积极地和不可思议地参与其他事物,并且可能总是为重新组织而开放。这就需要不断地重新思考奇怪的艺术公关的乐趣和复杂的历史。


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