2017: Issue 8: Article: Forgiving Night for Day: Jacobus Capone: PICA

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Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night For Day, 2017, Installation view at PICA, detail, 7 Channel synchronized video installation, Site determined dimensions, Courtesy PICA – Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Photo: Jacobus Capone

Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night For Day, 2017, Installation view at PICA, detail, 7 Channel synchronized video installation, Site determined dimensions, Courtesy PICA – Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Photo: Jacobus Capone

///// Something good lunch bar and café sells what I consider my favourite falafel, in their simple yet somehow extremely good souvlaki. I have never worked up the courage to ask them if they make their falafel, or if they buy it in. I like to imagine the family that run the café, who I also think are emigrants from Greece, make their own falafel, and I don’t ask, so that I can continue to believe this.

‘He’s got your autodidactic orator’s way with emotional dramatic pauses that don’t seem affected. Joelle makes another line down the Styrofoam coffee cup with her fingernail and chooses consciously to believe it isn’t affected, the story’s emotional drama.’ (David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest p.710) ////

It is strange to find a Romantic poet in the contemporary age, but this is what Jacobus Capone is, and what he performs – or at least models himself, un-ironically, in this character of ‘Jacobus’ as. His work is characteristically Romantic, mostly due to his interest in Nature, particularly the sublime landscapes of snow and mountain, and including the vast breadth of Australia, as well as his fascination with fundamental familial relationships. If anybody in our city can be said to embody a Romantic idea of the artist perhaps it is, despite his modesty, Capone. Though his recent forays (as in this work) seem to have been into removing himself from the frame of his videos, his legendary status (that even PICA cannot help but draw on – crossing Australia with a suitcase filled with water to transport it from one ocean to another, rowing around an island for a day, etc.) remains tied to his performance basis – and his extreme endurance performances remain his strongest, most poetic works.

Forgiving Night for Day is empty of Capone’s presence, and he has enlisted the help of performers of the traditional Portugese Fado. In this work about time, the only element that seems preserved of Capone’s earlier works is that spirit of endurance and duration. The installation’s videos are all single static shots, no edit, just a fade in and out. In Capone’s earlier works images seemed to serve as a mere document, a testament to an action undertaken. Yet he has not shied away, after Dark Learning, from editing and manipulating his image. Despite this, we the audience are still the witnesses to a performance. The human figure is a remarkable image, one we recognise and emulate constantly on a bodily level; I attempt to pull the same expressions as people in films, and always pull the expressions of people in books. Capone is, like these characters, our imaginary medium. He is a consummate performer, while this work, that features the voices of excellent singers, also features their images – controlled and acted rather than performed. Eventually, through time, they become themselves again, like Warhol’s films, the glamour of the camera, like that of fame, fades after the first few minutes. These beings become once again our medium, or company in the gallery halls.

The point of being witness to a performance is that I read something, perhaps unintended, that is instructive in Capone’s work. His presence, and now the presence of these performers, is to offer us a mirror of a certain sort of engagement. This is an engagement that is antagonistic or at least unsympathetic to the sort of engagement I am performing right now: this mish-mash of words and text, undercutting itself, looking back at itself, at other texts. Capone’s work always seems to be offering us a vision of engagement with the world in a more honest (meaningful) and bodily manner.

//// ‘We are familiar with people who seek out solitude: penitents, failures, saints or prophets. They retreat to deserts […] they wait months, years, for their solitude to be broken by some divine message that they hope then speedily to broadcast among mankind.’ (Patrick Suskind, Perfume, p127)

‘Deserts possess a particular magic, since they have exhausted their own futures, and are thus free of time. Anything erected there, a city, a pyramid, a motel, stands outside time. It’s no coincidence that religious leaders emerge from the desert […] Given that there is no time past and no future, the idea of death […] has a doubly threatening force’ (JG Ballard, The Atrocity exhibition, p138).

‘Hoping still, if from the deserts the prophets come’ (A.D Hope. Australia.) ////

It is not wrong to say that art is like the church of contemporary existence, and Capone is the perfect image for the prophet – returning from the desert with silent wisdom. The fact that our religion is an absurd one, based on the operations of time, and the orbit of the earth, with the mathematical and numerical values of time that Capone works with, is not to the detriment of its spiritual goals. Like Camus, Capone is the poet of a world that continues, despite everything, to turn.

Most of the time, Capone’s work is differentiated from a simple, superficial Romanticism by his extreme physical engagement with landscape. The essential lie of Romanticism (that there is a natural world, and that this is the true world – or at least the world most worthy of our attentions [as opposed to the industrial world and emerging world of commodities that surrounded its foremost artists]) is still there in many of Capone’s work – yet the character of the images he constructs is different. We can imagine Capone in Casper David Freidrich’s paintings, but his feet submerged in the mud and filth of the gothic fields and graveyards, or wandering above a sea of fog, but staying there from sunrise to sunset, the fog dissipating in the warmth of the day. Romaticism, for Capone, seems not to be the sunsets on instagram, but the enacting of what it might be to invest totally as a witness to the earth’s rotation. And here, in forgiving night for day Capone does not shy away from showing the cranes in the sky of Lisbon, while the sentiment of the work, and its form in the Fado, seems extremely nostalgic, perhaps wistful for the romantic landscape. However, while the spectres of god and nature almost inadvertently haunt his works, his performances are often reminiscent of something more Sisyphean and absurdist than Romantic.

//// There is something I recall of watching The Artist is present. One of the most interesting facets of the film was how innapropriate every gesture seemed to be that faced Abromovic’s performance over the table. While the stupidity of everyone else’s actions and reactions are certainly due in some way to Abramovic’s actions, she throws them into sharp relief. It is the thorough intensity and absolute devotion with whish she observes everyone who moves around her that results, in what is otherwise a terrible film, a truly poetic moment: that Abramovic’s performance, in its attempt to transcend the separation of human beings, in some way succeeds. ////

 

This genre of endurance work, with its emphasis on repetition and its absurd implications, yet seems to capitulate into simplistic romanticism from time to time. The absurd has become something of a spiritual quest. It is perhaps the error of Camus and Sartre – to imagine that existentialism was enough to set us (or condemn us to be) free, or that Sisyphus was happy. It retains enough optimism onto which to attach belief, and meaning. The redemption of this work however is that it is romanticism in the minor key. There is a loss in this work, and this element of his works must be read in opposition to the feelings of awe, terror and the dreaded sublime that echo still, and also the more recent acceptance of nothingness and pointlessness as repositories of meaning. The loss that Capone mourns extends outward from loneliness or mere homesickness, into a larger loss: of the self in the systems of the world, and of the romantic dream itself. One cannot help but feel that Capone is mourning the loss of an old Europe, the loss of an older Lisbon. Capone’s attempts to find whatever he is searching for appear to be attempts conducted in the realisation of a world with limited opportunity for meaning, but that is none-the-less undertaken in the present, rather than in a nostalgic image of the past.

This acknowledgement is part of what prevents Capone’s ongoing search from falling into some genre of new sincerity. I would define Capone’s stance as that of the attempted authentic. Though he has taken on the character of a performer, it is not a post-modern shifting of identity Capone seems to seek in taking the name ‘Jacobus’. Through it, instead, he appears to approach a more authentic, and quite different, engagement with the world. In a curious reversal, through his mirrors, Capone sees the truer world. Because of this, he balances on the fine line between true and false prophet.

The seven screens are not rooms of a house, or different spots in the wilderness, they are separated by time as well as space. Here it is hard to believe that it is a changed sun that rises over the city in every screen. Unlike the simultaneity that is the gimmick of many multi-channel projections, the consistent element here is only the constancy of time’s change, not the fact that things happen at the same time. Perhaps it can be better expressed as: the same time happens again, just differently, just as the singers change the lyrics of the poem.

There is an element to this work we come to understand: an ellipsis. In the nature of filmmaking, an ellipsis is the period of time we imagine to have elapsed between one frame and another frame. A character closes a door in one room, and reappears on the other side of the city in one twenty-fourth of a second. Yet Capone gives us the ability to time-travel in space, jumping from between one day and another, or seeing them all stacked up to the roof like leaves in a book. Like a dream or a film, it is an intensification of time, but a rarely seen one: a repetitive simultaneity, where the days fold into one another, where they lie together. The dawn is always breaking. It puts me in mind of something Jeanette Winterson wrote: ‘Our inward lives are governed by something much less regular – an imaginative impulse cutting through the dictates of daily time, and leaving us free to ignore the boundaries of here and now and pass like lightning along the coil of pure time, that is, the circle of the universe and whatever it does or does not contain… there is no reason why we should not step out of one present and into another’. (Jeanette Winterson Sexing the Cherry, p.89-90)

Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night For Day, 2017, Installation view at PICA, detail, 7 Channel synchronized video installation, Site determined dimensions, Courtesy PICA – Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Photo: Jacobus Capone

The seven screens have no visible cuts between them. Like walking through the streets of the city, we can choose which path to take, and which screen to watch. This absence of a cut is also a testament to a duration of time. As they wait, the singers change their stance, blow on their hands, face the opposite direction. They are, when not directly performing, ghostly presences, keeping us company in the early dawn of Lisbon. The screens ascend in space like enormous steps, and hang by thin wires from the roof and walls. Couples with the haunting aufio, it becomes a work that unavoidably seems to invite spiritual comparisons; one visitor commented to me that it reminded them of Hildegard von Bingen’s Feather on the breath of god. Von Bingen herself is another prophet, experiencing visions in her monastic life.

 

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If I can offer some criticism: the city of the work is out of focus – bokeh where its streetlights are. I cannot help but feel that it is a haze that covers what is surely the subject? – Where are Capone’s bare feet, the origin of the song? Where are the cigarette butts of the melancholy gutters of Lisbon? The very bodily origin of the poem seems missing, slipped out of focus.

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Forgiving night for day is an uplifting artwork, though it will always be hidden by the language and form it has taken. It wears its drama and its sentiment on its sleeve, and remains thoroughly dedicated to itself. It is not self-consciously clever or entertaining. It is an unashamedly Romantic poem, overflowing with sop or spirit, I really can’t tell. It has some magical linguistic moments, and reminds me of the strangely attractive yet awkward moments of Arthur Russell’s Another Thought. I have heard criticism of it on the basis of being boring and lacking the poetry it attempts. It is certainly a work that demands your time, and its poetry is both extremely obvious, but also sequestered away in the auditory, and out of sight and not in this language. On top of this, the spiritual content of the work is perhaps even alienating in today’s world. It is, whether or not the spiritual approach is a path we would like to take, quite frankly an honour to be present to see Capone’s work unfold.

written by Graham Mathwin