Towards the end of the second disk of Julian Dashper’s Untitled Interviews 2001-2002, Dashper contemplates the potential for documentation in a digital age. Should he keep all the emails he has exchanged with other artists, curators or institutions—we have the technology so why not? But if you keep everything, it becomes impossible to understand what you thought was important. Do you keep everything or do you edit it?
This is at the end of a pair of videos that total more than 3.5 hours of the artist talking to a camera against a white backdrop—there are no cuts except when one of the four interviews (with Hamish Kilgour, Steffen Boddeker, Wendy Katz and Simone Horrocks) segues into the next, the only notable variation being the changing length of his hair and the quality of the footage, which has him looking quite green through one section. It is like a raw archive of Dashper’s thoughts as he verbally negotiates his way through a series of question, a thought process we see in almost real time, and then repeated in subsequent interviews, when answers, like facial hair, may have changed.
Untitled (Interviews) is Dashper’s longest video work. It was last shown as part of the Gus Fisher Gallery’s survey exhibition, Julian Dashper: Professional Practice (2010), an exhibition that developed from a conversation about Dashper’s last and shortest video work, Untitled (The Last Second of the Venice Biennale) (2007-08). He was not widely known for working with video so I enquired of earlier works, which he promptly catalogued in an emailed list of works that are now mostly available here on CIRCUIT.
The earliest video described by Dashper was untitled (after Yves Klein) (1995), which an accompanying installation photo shows to be a floor-based television monitor displaying a blue screen. It is unclear whether this is the monitor’s own inbuilt blue-screen, or a recording of a blue-screen, but it typifies his exploration of art production, particularly readymades and reproductions—what Dashper might describe as super-realist depictions of abstraction. Whether in an applied fashion or on a more conceptual level, all of Dashper’s work was a commentary on abstraction. Which isn’t to say that all his works are abstract paintings, but through abstraction he sustained a conversation about what it meant to be an artist, and the processes that validate or give agency to an artist, as well as finding ways to manifest his ideas-based practice.
The significance between types of linen canvas, preparations and priming, and the painting white of a white canvas are all distinctions he makes in the extended hour-long monologue of Untitled (this painting) (c.2003), which may be an uncatalogued work or simply an extended artist statement made to camera – this has been exhibited as an audio recording. His ‘performance’ is filmed in front of his green Untitled (O) painting, which he notes is a counterpart to the orange ‘O’ that resides in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He describes how the two paintings were made, noting details like the canvases’ creases and a drip of paint on each that makes them more "real", despite the painting being a recreation of the "O" in the Ilford logo, now reproduced within a video of the painting. His stream-of-consciousness tale of the event-triggered decision-making that led to the paintings’ creation forms a kind of oral biography of the work; what Dashper describes in the video as a download of the painting’s hard drive, relieving him of having to explain the painting again, and becoming a time-based variant or stand-in for both the painting and the artist.
In contemplating the career of an artist, Dashper often made comparisons. Could painters become like rock stars with their names emblazoned across a drumkit’s kickdrum? Could he sit at a desk from 9-5 like an office worker, not as a way to make an artwork but to be an artwork, or least to allow the art-making process to become the artwork? Could he hire somebody else to sit at the desk and make the work for him by allowing it to occupy a period of time?
Temporality and ritual were recurring interests for Dashper, particularly as a means to describe distance, and so using audio and video recording to capture time-based experiences are a natural extension to his oeuvre. This continues from works like Future Call (1994-2005) in which Dashper would phone his exhibition from another, earlier timezone. He has also discussed international travel, an experience that has informed much of his work, as being like time travel – that the passage from one place to another is typically measured in time passed rather than distance covered.(1)
Dashper’s 1998 record, ABSTRACT ABSTRACT captures the opening and closing seven minutes of his exhibition of the same name the previous year at the Honeymoon Suite in Dunedin, recorded via phone from Auckland.(2) He later states that these recorded works are about the passing of time, sometimes documenting that not much happened for a particular period of time on a particular day.(3)
The video of Untitled CV (1999) is another means of marking time, placing the pages of the artist’s CV on the wall to mark out the artist’s career-to-date. This video variant of the work includes an assistant placing the work on the wall as a live event, so it has the process of a work’s production becoming a work, much like Untitled (this painting), which explains its own history and production. The creation of this work is two-fold: there is the hanging on the wall of Untitled (Black C.V.) (1999), which provides the credentials that confirms Dashper’s status as an artist of note; and there is the ongoing creation of the CV through additional exhibitions, expanding with each subsequent process, building the aura through which each of his works gains "value." The CV remains unfixed, updating in a cyclical manner after each subsequent project as a self-perpetuating process, even continuing after the artist’s death.
As soon as the CV is hung in Untitled CV (1999), the video cuts to black. Rather than an opportunity to savour the result, the end point is a brief moment in a longer continuum. The remainder of the two-hour video is black until the last few seconds when an old-style DVD menu appears – this may not be the intended presentation but, without the artist present now, distinguishing duplicates from variants, or blank canvases from finished works is not an easy task, as Marie Shannon has eloquently explained in her poignant essay and video, What I Am Looking At (2011).
Dates, like materials, were temporal readymades for Dashper’s deployment, sometimes aligning fortuitously such as his series of records, Blue Circles #1-#8 (2002), recorded in front of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles: Number 11 (1952) on January 7, exactly two years after he had Karin Straathof make an audio recording in front of Dashper’s Untitled (O) 1990-1992 on the last day of the Thin Ice exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum.(4)
On January 7, 2003 (a year after his Blue Poles recording), while in residency at Artspace, Sydney and during an exhibition of Dashper’s work at the Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery on the outskirts of Sydney, Dashper recorded two hours of the gallery’s security footage and presented it soon after as a video projection work at Artspace, Sydney. He didn’t reposition the Campbelltown cameras to focus on his own works, leaving them to point at walls where works had hung in the exhibition prior to his.(5) As Dashper says in his notes from the residency, nothing much happens in the video until the final minute.(6) It echoes the sentiment of a wedding speech he recalls making, misquoting a New Zealand pop song as saying, “Nothing is going to happen and it is happening right now.”(7)
Also on January 7, 2003, Dashper is emailed a digital photograph taken that day of his orange Untitled (O) painting hanging in the Stedelijk Museum. He uses it to make a two hour DVD that has the image flash on every 15 minutes for just a second.(8) It seems pertinent that Dashper has never personally seen Untitled (O) hanging in the Stedlijk, but has often glimpsed it in other peoples photographs(9), sent by email via phone lines much like his remote appearances in Future Call. He exhibits this new video on a monitor at Artspace along with a double projection of the Campbelltown footage. Later that year he exhibits the orange (O) DVD as a two monitor installation at Michael Lett, the second monitor featuring the image repeating every 15 seconds.
Repeated over time, it also becomes like a view from a security camera, confirming that the work is still there before cycling through the gallery’s other cameras. Each time we see the painting, nothing happens or seems to have happened in the intervening time. It is no longer just a still, just as his works that use sets of 400 unique slide photographs of a painting are no longer a single painting, nor is it a set of reproductions of a painting but a new work comprising 400 variants.
A slide show could be considered as a succession of stills that make up a filmic experience, much like Chris Marker’s La Jetee. This may seem a tenuous way to link Dashper’s moving image practice to his slide paintings, designed to be easily exported abroad in the way much art history has been imported to New Zealand, except that he has demonstrated an interest in the successive frames that make up a film. A better link would be his professed interest in the way expatriate Len Lye had exhibited 35mm film strips on the wall when there weren’t opportunities to project the films.(10) Like the slides, exhibiting the filmstrips presented the vehicle for the art as a means to express its movement, Dashper says, much like being stuck outside a closed Louvre presented him with a vehicle through which to consider the art within.(11) This anticipates his image of the just-closed Venice Biennale as a representation of all that had taken place inside. Not much is happening except defining the space where things have happened.
Much like Dashper’s painted objects and their photographic variants, the video Studio Songs (1998) is one of several outcomes of a performance with Dashper and a group of musicians (two guitarists, a drummer and vocalist) or, to be precise, they are artists that make musical sound, because Daspher prefers to make recordings of artists rather than musicians.(12) The resultant record sleeve tells us the performers are Dashper, Simon Cuming, Clinton Watkins, Justin Roys, and Miranda Harcourt, and that the event was filmed on Mother’s Day, 10 May 1998. There are three hours of footage in total, which spans the creation of ten 7” records – a series of unique variants resulting from the artist’s Auckland ‘studio’ becoming a recording studio.
The performance is informal in its presentation and in the sense that there is little indication of a predetermined form such as a script, storyboard or score beyond the circumstances and arrangements that led to everybody being there on a particular day to fill an alloted amount of tape with sound. This improvised informality recalls the story of Dashper’s first vinyl record made in 1992, recorded with Michael Morley as The Julian Dashper Gate Experience. For Dashper, the production of a musical recording had been a mysterious process, perhaps to be undertaken under special circumstances or auspicious timing, such as a midnight rendezvous at the crossroads – he was surprised to have the process demystified when first invited to make a record with Morley and allowed to do whatever he liked without further arrangements.(13)
It is hard to know whether to include the artist’s YouTube video, Untitled (The Painters Mistake) (2007), in this discussion of his work (or his documentary collaboration, My Space, which was posthumously premiered on YouTube according to his wishes) or if we consider it as documentation of a work’s creation. It’s illustration of process as the result of events in a kind of cause-effect relationship is consistent with other videos.
Untitled (The Last 15 Seconds of the Last Venice Biennale) (2007-08) and Untitled (The Last Second of the Last Venice Biennale) (2007-08) clearly continue this exploration of temporality and art world rituals. Each of these works were produced on DVD as an edition of five, the latter also existing in an audio variant as a 12” clear record, also in an edition of five. The work was first screened at The Film Archive in Auckland on Tuesday 17th February, 2009, in advance of the opening of the subsequent Venice Biennale. It was shown again later that year at Sue Crockford Gallery in an exhibition that closed on Sunday the 22nd November, the last day of that year’s Venice Biennale and barely four months after the artist’s own death.
Given the circumstances, it’s hard not to also see these works as a contemplation of mortality, a subject I never discussed with Dashper, perhaps as an awkward elephant in the room. But we did talk at length about how people tend to focus on openings and beginnings and seldom consider the way things develop and end—the winding down of a cycle that seems to become an embarrassing afterthought as the biennale becomes an increasingly abandoned ghost town, much like an autumnal decline after the acceleration from spring into summer. When we celebrate an end-point, we acknowledge everything that has happened so far.