Analysis of the Red Tapes … Research Paper
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The early and mid-to-late seventies in the United States can best be described as a before and after of a succession of shocks. From the shooting that occurred during the anti-Vietnam War protests when Nixon invaded Cambodia; to the removal of American currency from the gold-standard in the early 1970's to help pay for growing war debts. Things happened that made the American people feel uneasy and untrusting of the world and of the government. As time passed and Watergate happened and the withdrawal from Vietnam, artists decided to express this uneasiness and frustration through various mediums. Vito Acconci directed The Red Tapes, a film, to showing through the usage of multiple approaches how to convey the notion of "Americanism," by tackling psychological and cultural personal space.
Some critics of the two hundred and twenty-minute epic film may say The Red Tapes is a hubristic tape, feeling infinite due to a lack of conventional character or plot. However, this perceived hubris is extremely self-conscious and impossible to thematically contain. With such expansiveness, the film escapes notions of self-encapsulation or narcissism that were prevalent of video art in the mid-1970's with Acconci's earlier work highly reflective of these assumptions. No, The Red Tapes differ from it all and chains a number of vignettes together, mixing in disparate references to the constitution of a nation or a community. It almost feels like a scattered jigsaw puzzle that both the audience and Acconci desperately try to solve.
How Acconci began to develop such a film comes from his "10 Point Plan for Video" where the director formulated the idea, not of an intermediate, rather of a spatial border. "3. Video monitor as one point in a face-to-face relationship: on-screen, I face the viewer, off-screen. (since the image is poorly defined, we're forced to depend on sound more than sight: 'intimate distance'." (Acconci) He wanted to specify projection versus monitor display, profoundly shifting the viewing space. Producing The Red Tapes Acconci follows an allowance within the "10 Point Plan" that most of his work is shown in galleries and museums and therefore was created within this in mind. So he redefined the exhibition space instead of abandoning it.
Acconci then tries to redefine space and showcase the pieces of America from a perspective that creates both intrigue and abandon, continually distracting viewers from interpretive acts. According to those that have studied the film, people like Fredric Jameson, Jameson remarks that a "resistance to theorization" is what is at the core of the video. Jameson makes a claim that the point of the video is that is cannot be analyzed. Devoting an entire chapter in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism to video and total flow, Jameson poses the idea that The Red Tapes escapes analysis.
For it seems plausible that in a situation of total flow, the contents of the screen streaming before us all day long without interruption, what used to be called 'critical distance' seems to have become obsolete. Turning the television set off has little in common either with the intermission of a play or an opera with the grand finale of a feature film. (Jameson 70)
However, the reality is, such a work can be analyzed because it is an expression of someone's thought processes and therefore ideas, feelings, and rationalities can be excised from the film, especially as it relates to Americanism and the notion of "Americanism." "
The Red Tapes is in of itself, a product of an impasse. This impasse is a point where one questions aesthetic objectives and how it intersects with an ever-increasing crisis of American identity. The work was explicitly produced and commissioned with the anniversary of the American Revolution in mind. Finished in 1976, The Red Tapes may be interpreted as a sign of postmodern consciousness due to the introduction of a fragmented sense of history opposing the teleology related to national narratives and the universal abstract time typically seen in modern art. Thus it escapes being culturally and historically suggestive, but offers a more complex notion of extraction and interception than any other of Acconci's works produced until that time.
Acconci put a proverbial 'red tape' into what was video as a practice of the time much like Americans tried to put red tape to society by protesting and fighting off the urge to give up and save face from the inevitable feelings of inadequacy, fear, and defeat. The Red Tapes serves as an act of defiance for what should be perceived as an expression of capitalism and instead is an expression of fragmentation. Throughout The Red Tapes, Acconci attempts to explore the subtle variations on the locus of the country similarly to how Odenbach did with his nation of Germany, by furiously spitting information from every angle. Spewing literature, mythologies, great figures, geography, history, all to show America becoming a cultural parade in a series of seven acts. The tape serving as a disintegrated, erratic, existential version of something akin to Mobile by Michael Butor.
What may be also part of Americana and the image of the American is the ego, searching for itself, a need for recognition, disappearing into a mass of interconnected loci, points of dispersion endlessly composing and recomposing an imaginary mass of a split identity, a tortured body. The sequence particularizing a quantity of these lesser objects demonstrates the linking taking place as well as what it triggers. "Each set is affect by the test of one or more letters, and the camera's movement from one series to another plays out an essential, imaginary alphabet in which Acconci's voice proposes the statement: 'Pull myself together'." (Asselin, Lamoureux and Ross 24)
American identity is so often fragmented, especially in the 1970's and the advent of the Vietnam War. President Nixon handled the war terribly and was an ineffective president. The American people including Acconci felt like they needed to find themselves within the world of lies and impossibilities. These feelings, directly admitted to by Acconci in The Red Tapes, shows the vulnerability and desire to expose such vulnerability in America. There was almost an attempt throughout the video to escape something by going 'full steam ahead', but each time it was met with again, an impasse.
If one were to explore the history of America, one comes across the complicated relationship America and Americans had with Britain. With Americans fighting a war to break free from British rule to American daughters marrying into British royalty, Americans seem to have a "love-hate" relationship with the country that has established its primary identity. That is shown in The Red Tapes. There is a love and hate energy throughout with a dispersal of erratic thoughts and verses and images of things lost and gained.
America gained its independence from Britain, but lost its identity, then gained it back and then lost it through the Vietnam War. Who were Americans at that time? Acconci invites exploration of the American image and the American identity. The red tape then taking a different meaning and providing a warning that what truth is desired may not be what is needed. Instead it is visual captivation and materialism that Americans obsess over. The need to watch and be watched, to mean and to have meaning. "Please be careful not to confuse the letter 'T' with the numerical 'one', or the letter 'O' with the numerical 'zero' when dialing. That was a note to the photograph of a hand holding the receiver of a telephone." (Acconci and Dworkin 385)
Acconci shows himself blindfolded, not truly facing the camera in The Red Tapes. Is that to show the uncertainty of the American identity or the turbulence of American history? "The body is made conspicuous: a body in pieces, fragmented and yet one, a body perceived and rendered as a place of desire, displacement, and fluctuation, a body the performance conceives of as repressed and tries to free- even at the cost of greater violence." (Auslander 208) Americans during the protest, wished to break free, even at the cost of greater violence, case in point the shootings. This happened several times before, especially a decade before in the Civil Rights Movement. Is this Acconci's way of addressing this?
By blindfolding himself and not addressing the audience directly, is he trying to show American's desire for expression through a lens of repression? So many things happened in just a few decades within America. The 1950's brought stability and prosperity. The 1960's brought invincibility and 'free love'. The 1970's brought repression and violence. Acconci addresses this all in his video through bizarre and seemingly disconnected thoughts.
Almost like a web of funneling waves, Acconci tries to represent an image through fragments. These fragments unrelated, yet related, provide context into the thoughts and happenings of Acconci and his view of the United States and its people. The lack of color also represents repression and in a long history of repression through religion and silence, Acconci defies such… [END OF PREVIEW]
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