Harmony Korine, Trash Humpers, 2009, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 78 minutes.
After runs at the Toronto International, New York, and SXSW film festivals, Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers opens in New York on May 7 at Cinema Village and at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles on May 14. Korine directed, wrote, and also stars in the film.
THERE ARE THESE REALLY LARGE TRASH CANS in the alleyway behind my house and they have lights shining on them, like they’re in a play or something. While walking my dog, I would often stare at them and they started to take on a human form, a kind of human identity. They looked like they’d been kicked around, shoved, or punched in the gut, like in a war scene. Some of them had ivy growing around them, strangling them.
I grew up in Nashville, and I remember a group of elderly peeping toms who lived down the street in what I assumed was a makeshift nursing home. These guys only listened to Herman’s Hermits. They wore white nursing shoes and black turtlenecks. Late at night, I would look out my window and catch them staring into my neighbor’s bedroom. I couldn’t tell what they were doing but I knew it wasn’t good. I think because the alleyway where I live now is very close to the one where I grew up, I imagined there was a connection between the beat-up trash bins and the peeping toms, as if the old guys had somehow lived forever.
There were also these ladies living in the basement of the nursing home who would throw mattresses and other trash into the alley. I remember finding discarded videocassettes under their window. They had taped an entire year’s worth of CNN and also every single episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It had to have some significance to them. I’m not sure why they only wore nursing shoes or what any of it meant, but it was the type of thing that had a big impact on me as a kid. The shoes in the film are very close to the shoes in my memory.
When I was making the movie, I didn’t think much about the viewer. Honestly, I don’t really know who this film would appeal to. I didn’t want it to be a film in the traditional sense but more like an artifact or documentation. It was this idea that maybe there were no mistakes; that it was a found object––the kind of thing you could imagine finding in an attic somewhere, in a ditch drenched in blood, or floating down the river in a plastic bag.
To start, I would dress up my assistants in crude masks that made them resemble burn victims. We would go out late at night and I would take photos of them. I would make them fornicate with trash and generally vandalize the neighborhood. I would only bring the worst cameras, and use the worst developing processes, the absolute worst technology. I was excited by all of that (and still am). I got these photos developed and there was something compelling and creepy about them. That’s when I started thinking, “Maybe this could be a movie.” I didn’t want the look of the characters to be grounded in anything too realistic, so I decided they should look like old people but move like young people. There’s something horrifying about old people who move really well.
Trash Humpers is somewhat like a science fiction movie. These people turn vandalism into an art form. They turn horror into something transcendent. It’s admirable in a way. They see beauty in destruction. They seek what others don’t. They’re like shape-shifters. While you’re sleeping, they’re up, living under bridges and overpasses and behind abandoned strip malls. Murder is part of their vocabulary, how they express themselves. It’s a primal thing for them, a performance, a transfer of energy that is at the core of the film. These are the characters. This is the energy that lurks in the darkness. This is what’s below the surface. It’s something deeper. It’s been here a long time.
The Academy Award–winning director Gus Van Sant is well known for his unparalleled vision in cinema, and for his original screenplays. An accomplished artist as well, he is debuting two bodies of photographic work in Oregon this month. “Cut-ups” opens at PDX Contemporary Art, Portland, on May 5, and “One Step Big Shot: Portraits by Andy Warhol and Gus Van Sant” will be on view at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, from May 16 to September 5.
THE FIRST TIME I USED A POLAROID CAMERA was during the making of Mala Noche (1985). When I bought the camera, I was very excited, although I didn’t have a particular purpose for it. At the time, I was just starting out, so things were slow. I remember that I felt like I had spent a lot of money on a device I didn’t need. But as time went by, it became very useful. I was attracted by the large negative that I could get from using 665 film. The photographs at PDX are created from Polaroid 665 negatives. Eventually, the camera became a tool for making a record during casting, but I also had the negatives to work with.
These works are produced on a computer, but I sort of wish they were cut up from prints. When I tried to do that, it was a little strange, not so organic––and not even “organic-looking.” I liked the digital cut more than the physical cut, so I went with that instead. In the end, these are all digital prints, and many originate from black-and-white Polaroid negatives that were shot during the 1990s––casting reference pictures for the films that I was making at the time.
I see the subjects in these works as new beings created from elements of others, like in William S. Burroughs’s concept of the cut-up where something new is made from cutting words together. There’s an oddness to the expressions of the subjects, which I always thought was because of the size of the camera I was holding; it was pretty big and old.
The works look Cubist because they show separate angles of the human form, fused together. They might be called erotic, but that isn’t something that I can pinpoint easily, because the images are perhaps appealing to some and not to others. Shirtless boys are easy to eroticize, and in my films I have had a number of them. They are usually shirtless because it is a little harder to have them more unclothed.
Warhol surely took more pictures than I ever have, because he was so into documenting everything. But he also used the camera as a shield, and that happened a lot when I was using it with the casting subjects, meeting them for the first time. When the conversation lagged I would grab the camera and take a picture, which would give me an opportunity to get people out of their chairs and out the door. It was a way of saying good-bye to the actors I met.
For her exhibition at FDC Satellite in Brussels, Lisa Tan is presenting Les Samouraïs, a new work based on Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic 1967 film. Exploring themes of isolation, history, relationships, and the everyday, all central to the artist’s previous work, the show is open through May 15 and coincides with Art Brussels, which runs April 23–26.
I WAS ATTRACTED to the restrained qualities of Melville’s Le Samouraï: The color palette is really narrow and nearly monochromatic and there’s hardly any dialogue. He was very resistant to making his films in color, but by 1967 black-and-white was not marketable. You can tell Melville really hated the transition to color. Even the small bird, the pet of the protagonist, was chosen for its drabness. It’s a gray-brown female bullfinch; the males have pink-orange feathers.
I learned that the bird died in a fire that burned down Melville’s studio when he was almost finished shooting Le Samouraï. It’s a minor thing, but the thought stayed with me as I began to research the fire with the help of a young woman who lived in the Thirteenth, where the studio was located in Paris.
In our correspondence, I learned that this person had moved from the States to France to be with her lover. At the time, she was spending her days alone waiting for him to return from work each day––which reminded me of the bird in Melville’s film. In return for taking photographs of different sites in Paris, I mailed her items she requested. For taking pictures of where Studios Jenner once stood, I sent her a couple jars of peanut butter; for pictures of Marché aux Oiseaux, the bird and flower market that has taken place every Sunday for the past two hundred years near Notre Dame, she asked for Neutrogena face wash and Lipton French onion soup. We became pen pals over the next year and are still good friends.
I was thinking about this project as a memorial for the bird—this insignificant creature—and I was also interested in a theme of bonding, foreshadowed by death. So after a while I thought, why not just add another bird? Melville’s Samouraï is built around ideas of solitude, isolation, and detachment, so it’s a very simple gesture to foil the film. By adding a bird, it not only alters the film but also modifies an occurrence in history, albeit fictitiously. It’s messing with the master’s work and is a bit mischievous in that way.
The installation of the show turned out black and white, which I like. Also, the gallery is the size of a bedroom, so it mimics the intimacy of the film. The room has two windows, which are very similar to those in the opening scene of the assassin’s apartment. The armature that the video is projected upon comprises standard light stands that reference Melville’s studio and also keep the proportions of the bird’s cage. There is a photograph of the front and back pages of Le Monde from the day the studio burned down. These are hung on either side of the space, which might imply the pages in between.
I grappled with the story of my relationship with the young woman for a long time and decided not to include it in the final work. I reconciled the fact that as a story it’s nice for me, but it probably doesn’t have any interest for a wider public. Many of my works have this element: a narrative that speaks to some lived resonance in my life, but I need to edit the work so that it transcends my own experience. I consider it a process of distillation. To some degree, I tend toward a spare visual presentation and create a veneer in the finished work to mediate the overly sentimental content. The hope is that this creates more entry points for the viewer.
Left: Cover of How to Become an Extreme Action Hero (2010). Right: Elizabeth Streb, Performance of Catapult, 2009.
Elizabeth Streb is a choreographer, MacArthur Fellow, and founder of the STREB Extreme Action Company as well as the STREB Lab for Action Mechanics in Brooklyn. Her new book, STREB: How to Become an Extreme Action Hero, is available April 16 from The Feminist Press.
AT THE HEART OF THIS BOOK are questions about time, space, bodies, and motion. When I first walked into dance studios in my late teens, I felt more or less like an idiot savant. I wasn’t a trained dancer and I wondered why they had adopted all these ballet practices. The moves were so wedded to music that the whole liturgy of their actions seemed tainted by that. So I started out very simply: I wanted to know why dancers and choreographers camouflage gravity, why they only use one base of support––the bottoms of their feet––and why they are spatially limited to the horizontal plane.
I’m still inspired by works that happened at Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. Those artists excised the definition of movement from the classical ballet style. It’s like John Cage’s 4'33". So I added spectacle to their deconstructions, and I reconstructed these ideas of a task-based approach into what I see as a syntax or grammar that ends up existing on the extreme end of what I call action phenomenon, where virtuosity reads as spectacle.
People believe that circuses are denigrated forms of the formal presentation of movement. I totally disagree with that. I think that is a class bias. I’m speaking about the circus, not Cirque du Soleil. The real grubby, sawdust, smelly-animal circus is the only show I saw growing up so I have tremendous regard for that. But I noticed classism and thought it was troubling. A lot of my anthropological examination of action in the world comes from labor and comes from accidents––the idea of doing something rough to your body or allowing something rough to happen to your body.
I feel like I am more influenced by performance art and visual art than I am by choreographers—except for maybe Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, as their formal rigor truly produced very arcane forms of action. If I were to think deep thoughts through movement, they would be my models, but in terms of the rest of the ideas of movement, I go to performance artists like Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramović. All of their works are about duration: This piece will be this long; this walk will be this long. In terms of physical rigor, I don’t think anyone worked more strenuously or with more physicality than they did (and are). This prescription of conditions is very important to me at this point. I have to create a rhythm of action that has the same power as iambic pentameter. I am trying to figure out what the correlative of that is in action. But I also try to remain ignorant of what could happen so that I can pay close enough attention to what actually happens once those things are in place.
Faye Driscoll, There is so much mad in me, 2010. Performance view, Dance Theater Workshop, New York, March 31, 2010. Pictured: (in air) Michael Helland, Jesse Zaritt, Tony Orrico; (on ground) Jacob Slominski, Nikki Zialcita, Lindsay Clark, Adaku Utah. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu.
In 2008 the choreographer Faye Driscoll’s 837 Venice Boulevard was hailed as one of the top five dances of the year by the New York Times, and in 2009, her video Loneliness was featured in “Younger than Jesus,” the first edition of the New Museum triennial. Her latest dance piece, There is so much mad in me, has its world premiere through April 3 at Dance Theater Workshop in New York.
THERE IS SO MUCH MAD IN ME grew out of a commission last summer for American Dance Festival at Duke University. My starting point was the idea of ecstatic physical states, which then led me to consider extreme states of consciousness. What happens to human beings when they are in extreme suffering or extreme bliss?
I had nine people to work with at the festival, so I began to think not just on the individual level but also in the context of a group or a mob. I researched images from the past fifty years at the university’s library. I brought images of ecstatic states into rehearsals and we began to make tableaus from them, but that got boring pretty quickly. We began to animate the images, and it became for me an examination of the processes of viewing: It wasn’t about interiority, but about what it means to view. I considered what it means to live in a time when we are constantly able to see one another. What makes a particular image salient? How do these technologies of viewing become modes of entertainment? I had this large, interesting international cast that also contributed to the process. It was very different, because my last piece, 837 Venice Boulevard, was so personal. Venice was a direct emotional narrative about my childhood, and I had a craving to look outward rather than inward.
To limit the research, I began to look at images from places that the cast members were actually from. I then made a list of particular kinds of ritual events—funerals, weddings, torture, etc.—and I just followed a trail. There’s that iconic image by Nick Ut, for instance, of the Vietnamese woman, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, who was just hit with napalm. I saw this video of her from decades later. She had become a Christian and forgiven the man who had apparently organized the bomb strike. These extreme states just begin to bleed and morph into one another. Given the availability of images, just when you think you are in one state you are suddenly in another.
Sometimes the choreography is literal and sometimes it’s abstract. People get sexual. People get drunk or violent. The “literalness” is an interesting problem, because it is also performance. How real are we? How authentic can we be? I play a lot with things that are chaotic which then fall into order; even things that are really messy are rigorously choreographed. It didn’t work to leave sections of the dance unchoreographed, because the initial rawness of an improvisation wouldn’t translate the second time. We had to shape it. In Venice there’s a solo by the dancer Nikki Zialcita (who is also in the current piece) where she is kind of morphing identity. I wanted to do that solo on a macro level. There is a similar sense of rhythmic shift inside There is so much mad in me.
The text was partially developed through improvisation with performers, and partially sourced from videos and YouTube. There is one morphing talk-show section that we developed directly from clips of Tyra Banks and Jerry Springer. We spent a week doing exact characters from those shows; it was a way to examine the exploitation and strange healing that takes place there.
The last conversation in the piece involves a couple having a fight. We developed the language for it from an improvisation in which I asked the performers to write down what they are most scared of as well as what they hate. We then recited the lines to one another as though it were a conversation between a couple: Like, “I hate that you are going to abandon me.” Or, “I hate that you are going to come into my window at night and hold me at gunpoint.”
The body is a dangerous thing. It is impermanent and exciting and vulnerable. I love that—the liveness of it. I love pushing the limits of our physicality, seeing what happens to other human beings when they watch other bodies going though that. It’s very powerful. I don’t know why, but a lot of dance tries to escape the idea of the body. A lot of dance becomes asexual and . . . I guess about some idea of transcendence.