Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 7:30pm
Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield's Craig Owens: An Interview

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Craig Owens: An Interview, Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield, video, 1984, 80 mins

“It is precisely at the legislative frontier between what can be represented and what cannot that the postmodernist operation is being staged—not in order to transcend representation, but in order to expose that system of power that authorizes certain representations while blocking, prohibiting or invalidating others.” - Craig Owens, “The Discourse of Others: Feminists and Postmodernism” (1983)

This remarkable if rarely screened conversation with Craig Owens, among the most perspicacious critics and cultural theorists of his day, is one of the many dozens of interviews with artists and writers conducted by Video Data Bank co-founders Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield between 1974 and 1988. Recorded in New York six years prior to his death at 39 from AIDS-related complications, the tape charts Owens’s intellectual trajectory and, by extension, offers a fascinating perspective upon the contentious debates of that moment as well as many lessons for the present.

The staging of this scene is an intimate and visually spartan affair: a fixed camera is trained on its bespectacled, chain-smoking subject, who holds forth for the duration save the occasional question from Blumenthal. He begins by describing, with charm and candor, the preoccupations of his childhood, how the efforts of an elementary school teacher to redirect his energies from doodling dresses to an interest in architecture were thwarted when he designed, in lavish detail, a house for actress Gale Storm and mailed the entertainer his proposal. He quickly proceeds to chronicle his first years in New York in the 1970s, including an enlightening encounter with Yvonne Rainer’s work, his time studying under Rosalind Krauss, and his subsequent involvement with the journal October. Though the magazine proved a formative influence on his early approaches toward art criticism, Owens ultimately found his positions and politics diverging from those of its editors. What he became evermore alert to, and could no longer ignore, were the ideological forces and attendant contradictions at play in the art world, in its markets, its institutions.

Within this context, Owens argues, the critic’s task of self-analysis, of deepening one’s understanding of the role played by the writer in this matrix of aesthetics and power, becomes paramount. “We have to stop. We have to abandon this battle on behalf of art or culture,” he explains, “to begin to investigate the status of art and culture and the political and economic interests it serves.”

Special thanks to Bruce Hainley and Larry Johnson.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.