It happened inside a white cube

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UBU web has recently updated its video collection with the work of a Romanian artist. Mircea Cantor is listed here with his project Deeparture (2005), a 16 mm film that confronts a wolf and a deer inside a white cube. The close-ups and cinematic shooting remind me of Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's film Zidane: A portrait of the 21st century, while the subject of direct confrontation between the two rival animals emotionally relates to Joseph Beuys' coyote performance from 1974.


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Questioning the white cube is nevertheless the topic of endless positions taken by art theories, but while discussing the relation between white cubes and their participants, as well as the types of confrontations, distances and neutralities invoked between them, it is easy to identify that a certain tension and a certain role-play are to be assumed in such an equation. If Beuys' action of "liking" America and being liked back was dealing with confronting man and beast through the process of shamanic taming of each other, Cantor's film evokes an allegorical view upon keeping the distance towards the rival. It is the white cube that makes such distances possible, by blocking any natural behavior of experiencing, sensing, dominating or engaging with the other.

What we see in Zidane is the individual confronting his role as a player inside the "green cube" of the football game, playing by this system's rules, making the game through his interactions, as if the field and the supporters would be a gallery's white walls, while the coyote and its tamer are two beings neutralized from any contextualization of the outside world, attempting to survive and establish a common code of act inside the given structure. This is the case for almost every aesthetic experience since the advent of museums and galleries, where the structure, the codes, the players and the games are both autonomous and sterile.


Such sterility and neutrality of the white "clynical" space transposes the perception from real life and real experience to a formal value that is sufficient to its own. To understand things better, here's how Brian O'Doherty defines a white cube:

"A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically, or carpeted so that you pad soundlessly, resting the feet while the eyes have at the wall. The art is free, as the saying used to go, "to take on its own life." The discreet desk may be the only piece of furniture. In this context a standing ashtray becomes almost a sacred object, just as the firehouse in a modern museum looks not like a firehouse but an aesthetic conundrum. Modernism's transposition of perception from life to formal values is complete. This, of course, is one of modernism's fatal diseases."

Why I discussed Mircea Cantor together with Beuys and Gordon and Parreno is that they share a common optic through their video works shown here. Of course, the case for Beuys lies more in the action and its performativity itself, but seeing these three different kinds of actors in their similarly staged scenarios brings me to a question you have surely experienced with the Cube movie from 1997: if human (or animal) behavior is so different in isolation as opposed to real life, when is this behavior autonomous? 

As for a more detailed view on Beuys and his "I like America and America likes me," I recommend you this short documentary produced and directed by Katrien Jacob:



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