Thursday, September 16, 2010

In the footsteps of Scott Hocking

Get In My Car & Drive: Nowhere in Detroit (Episode 1) from Kristen Gallerneaux on Vimeo.

In response to my most recent post, which included a link to the video about Detroit released last week by Palladium Boots, I received a message from Kristen Gallerneaux, a folklorist/artist currently living in Oregon. She included a link to a video she shot last spring titled Get in My Car and Drive: Nowhere in Detroit (Episode 1) embedded above, featuring artist Scott Hocking. The 15-minute video opens with a brief segment of drive-by cityscape and then cuts to Hocking in his studio talking about the influences on his work. But most of the piece consists of following Hocking into and around the Packard Motor Car Plant to see his monumental installation, Garden of the Gods, 2009-10.

According to her email, Gallerneaux's procedure was to allow the artist to take her on a "field trip" to a significant place that informs the work. She isn't so much trying to convey a particular point of view about her subject as to simply track him and thereby understand something about him. This process and the effect of it in the video reminded me of French anthropologist Bruno Latour's actor network theory, a research technique that seeks to map out relations that are both material and semiotic, that is, bound up at once in things as well as concepts. One of Latour's more controversial claims is the agency (the term social scientists use for the capacity to act) he gives to nonhumans, including inanimate objects. The word Latour has coined for this is "actant," the node in any network of relations that exerts force on another part of the mesh. Thus a ringing cellphone is as much an actant in my network of communications as my desire to place a call to my mother.

In this sense, Hocking is an actant in Gallerneaux's ethnographic network in the same way that the Packard ruin is an actant in Hocking's aesthetic one. There's more to it, of course. One needs to factor in the various apparatuses of technology, from the car and the road, and all of their accompanying networks, that took Gallerneaux and Hocking to the site, to the digital camera and its networks of production and distribution that enabled the scenes to be recorded, to the networks of communications and their various actants that enabled me to post and comment on the resulting digital file and for you to view it. There are also the social networks within which the material actants circulate and upon which they exert their own force.

When I mentioned this to Gallerneaux in an email, she responded that in fact at the time she began filming Hocking she had just finished reading Latour's essay, "On Technical Mediation," which was her introduction to the author's work. So Latour and Hocking are both actants in the network connecting Gallerneux and me. Their status in this relationship is both material and semiotic, in the case of Latour through written words and the ideas they convey and in the case of Hocking through his physical person as well the art he makes and responses they provoke.

While actor network theory (typically abbreviated ANT) is relatively new, the idea behind it isn't. In his Aesthetic Theory, Theodor W. Adorno writes about the dual nature of artworks, that they are combinations of physical matter and animate spirit, material things that embody expressive concepts. The two aspects are dialectically connected as ANT recognizes is similarly true in the larger horizon of our experience.

Gallerneaux, who received an MFA from Wayne State before moving to Oregon to study folklore a couple of years back, also has footage of Stephen Schudlich and Alana Bartol she's currently editing. What's more, she is scheduled to shoot Kristin Beaver this spring. Some may remember Gallerneaux's exceptional MFA exhibition at the WSU Community Arts Building Gallery in which she presented a project called "Revenant Archive," an installation using research she conducted on the visual culture of the paranormal and its history. That work has been ongoing and a website is under development to document it. In the meantime, check out Scott Hocking, ANT style.

1 comment:

  1. Haven't had a chance to check out the video yet, but this piece is great, Vince. Always directed newcomers looking to get a sense of the city to Scott - though never took one myself. Sounds like a great project and Latour is quite sharp. Thanks - Nick