CATALOGUE THE SERIES
DANA BERMAN DUFF
CATALOGUE (THE SERIES) The Catalogue series is a set of 16mm films and videos that take as their subject a mainstream retail catalogue of knockoff furniture in 13 volumes, one film for each. Each film considers a different aspect of representation, of looking, and of desire. Catalogue (2014, 07:03, b&w, silent, 16mm scanned to digital). The film is a documentary of the filmmaker’s looking at the objects for sale in a mainstream furniture catalogue of designer knock-offs; each cut was determined by the rise and decay of her interest in the objects. https://vimeo.com/85637218 Screenings: Official Selection of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, EXiS Experimental Film Festival (Seoul South Korea), Antimatter Film Festival (Victoria, Canada), Cairo Video Festival, Timishort Festival (Timişoara, Romania), Filmmakers Festival (Milan), AXWFF (New York City), Onion City Experimental Film Festival (Chicago), Northwest Film Forum (Seattle), Experiments in Cinema (Albuquerque), Internationales Frauenfilmfestival Dortmund | Köln, Another Experimental Film Festival by Women (NYC), LaborBerlin microcinema (Berlin), and other screenings. Catalogue Vol.2 (2015, 08:44, B&W, sound, 16mm scanned to digital) takes as its subject the Rugs volume of the commercial catalogue and uses sound to expose, in contrast to the silent images of constructed rooms, the room behind the camera. In addition, the center fold of the catalogue takes on importance. https://vimeo.com/122427457 Screenings: Antimatter [Media Art] (Canada), Transient Visions: Festival of the Moving Image (Johnson City New York), Experiments in Cinema Film Festival (Albuquerque), EXiS Experimental Film Festival (Seoul), Alchemy Film Festival (Scotland), Deluge Contemporary Art (Canada). Catalogue Vol.3 (2016-17, 02:47, color, sound, digital) was made using the Small Spaces catalogue, with an Arne Jacobsen 1955 Series 7 chair as protagonist. This is a computer-generated rendering of the original chair, which was the inspiration for the knock-off version in the catalogue. https://vimeo.com/231324641 Director: Dana Berman Duff; drone cinematography: Jesus Lopez Garosave; digital animation: Samson Day; actor: Sandi Reyes Martinez; music: Barthalomäus Traubeck, Jim Gable. Screenings: Crossroads Film Festival, (San Francisco), Alchemy Film Festival (Scotland). Catalogue Vol. 4 (2016, b&w, 04:30, sound, digital). Catalogue Vol. 4 uses the Lighting catalogue as its subject and uses a pulse of electronic sound and light to represent each fixture, shot in the order that they were found in the original catalogue. The intervals of black were derived by a matter of taste: items that the filmmaker found less appealing were excised from the sequence. https://vimeo.com/148968810 Screenings: Antimatter [Media Art] (Canada), Alchemy Film Festival (Scotland). Catalogue Vol.5 (2017, 01:30, B&W, sound, digital) The fifth in the Catalogue series. This quickly unfolding film treats the Linens volume of the 13-volume catalogue. https://vimeo.com/148976132 Catalogue Vol.6 (2016, 11:30, B&W, sound, 16mm film on digital scan) was shot using the RH “Interiors” catalogue while audio clips from a horror movie that mention the words house or names of rooms, or parts of the house, such as upstairs, played in the studio so that each shot acquired a random soundtrack. The film clips were then organized as a tour through the rooms of a house: foyer, living room, dining room, kitchen, study, bath, ending at the bedroom. https:// vimeo.com/148975763 Screenings: Rencontres Internationales (Paris and Berlin), Experiments in Cinema Film Festival (Albuquerque), Martinique Film Festival, Tabor International Film Festival (Croatia—curated program by Michael Pattison), Antimatter [Media Art] (Canada), Alchemy Film Festival (Scotland). Catalogue Vol.7 (2016, 7 hours 34 minutes, silent, 16mm film scanned to digital) 7-hour film/video installation in flatscreen monitor in a gallery show: the film becomes a picture the length of the gallery day. There are 32 shots; each shot lasts 13.12 minutes, long enough that individual viewers will see only one shot. The entire film exists only in the collective memories of 32 viewers who visit at different times, unknown to each other. Shown: “Concrete-Plastic,” curated by KollActiv at LAM Gallery (Los Angeles). Catalogue Vol.8 (2017, color, sound, digital). Close-ups of the Curiosities volume, in particular looking at the print and the prices as artifacts alongside the objects, which are “exotic” in both age (or imitation of) and geography. Catalogue Vol.9 (2017, loop, color, sound, digital). A double projection installation of the Furniture volume with images on their sides to emulate the layout of the catalogue pages that are side by side. Catalogue Volume 10 (2017, 5:40, color/b&w, sound, 16mm scan to digital/digital). A dystopia of moving text and moving image; Modernist chairs, Georges Perec’s Things: A Novel of the Sixties and underwater photography using 16mm, GoPro, and DSLR. https://vimeo.com/234081611 Catalogue Vol.11 (2017, 06:39, color, sound, digital). On her porch in rural Mexico, a woman peruses the Restoration Hardware catalogue for the first time. Lady: Myrle Horne. https://vimeo.com/235042969/00078059a2 Vimeo password is “Catalogue” for all films online.
SEMIOTICS OF THE LIVING ROOM A CATALOGUE OF DESIRE by S. E.Barnet The eye, at ﬁ rst, would glide over the grey rug of a long corridor, high and narrow. The wall would be cabinets, whose copper ﬁ ttings would gleam. Three engravings … would lead to a leather curtain, hanging from large rings of black-veined wood, that a simple gesture would sufﬁ ce to slide back ... It would be a living room, about twenty-one feet long and nine feet wide. On the left, in a sort of alcove, a large couch of worn black leather would be ﬂ anked by two book cases in pale wild-cherry wood, on which books would be piled helter-skelter. Above the divan a nautical chart would run the whole length of the wall panel. Beyond a little low table, under a silk prayer rug attached to the wall with three copper nails with large heads, and balancing the leather hanging, another divan, perpendicular to the ﬁ rst, upholstered in light brown velvet, would lead to a small piece of furniture on high legs, lacquered in dark red, with three shelves that would hold bric-à-brac; agates and stone eggs, snuffboxes, jade ashtrays … Farther on ... small boxes and records, next to a closed phonograph of which only four machine-turned steel knobs would be visible …1 —The beginning of Georges Perec’s novel “Les Choses” On reading Dana Berman Duff ’s synopsis of her film series Catalogue, I am struck by the overt assertion that the duration of each film clip is based on the “desire of the filmmaker”: her interest in and attention to the represented objects. She writes that these films are “documentaries of her experience of looking”—they catalogue her desire. Thereby, Catalogue, this semiotic gesture through the language of film, is constructed and framed by the artist’s own desire. Included in this complex act of doubling, and sometimes tripling, Duff ’s Catalogue is a visual lexicon based on the 2014 catalogue from Restoration Hardware—since re-named RH in 2016—owner Gary Friedman’s re-invention, a double in its own right.2 The company calls it a “publication,” likening it to a published artwork, or a “source book…offering tours of the brand.”3 It is a multi-volume sumptuous piece of advertising, thick as an old New York City phone book,
weighing in at 17 pounds and with a thickness over 5 inches. It presents a “premium luxury brand…. (of) home design together with lifestyle view.” 4 Of course these (obscure) objects of desire are metonymy, they are “an abstraction or image and not a presentation of any lived possibility.”5 The rugs, linens, chairs, sofas, tableware, and lighting fixtures are photographed within a desaturated palette, depicting subtle tones of beige and pale mint. These reproduced settings portray domestic spaces of luxury, comfort and ease, evoking old film stills. They are presented in such a way to suggest more than just a place to sit comfortably, they aim at access to a life of leisure and security. They signify an historic link to privilege and prestige. This is a desire for, alongside the inaccessibility to, perfection—where objects are replaced by a nostalgic myth of a kind of lifestyle experience.
It makes perfect sense that these rooms describe a fictional luxury, a narrative of affluence and contentment as pictured in films from the past. The abiding style of RH favours the men’s club look of old movies. This is cultural nostalgia propagated by Hollywood—what could be more desirable? However, more than mere leisure class entrée is on offer here. The RH catalogue displays “authentic reproductions” 6—“knock-offs” in Duff ’s terms. In 2014, the sign of class and taste in the US was decidedly mid-century Modernism—and that is what was on offer in the RH catalogue. Objects referencing iconic modernist mementos carried familiarity and the cachet of fine art.7 Duff explores this desire through her own set of reproductions, duplications, and repetitions. Just as RH employs the reproducibility of the modern chair, Duff re-presents their photographic documentation with her film camera. Mechanical reproduction’s forfeiture of aura redeemed by democratic access is interrogated through its own resurrection. “Quotation thereby leads us to a set of terms bound up in this double process of restoration and disillusion: the image, the reflection, and, above all, the repetition.” 8 But these films are no simple exercise in undermining the futility of consumer capitalism through re-signification. There is homage here, there is pleasure. Catalogue’s jouissance lies in its materiality, its illusion, its quotation and its narrativity. Alongside the use of exquisite black-and-white, the scratches, dust marks, flashes of light-leaks, the jittery displacement of the frame as the film strip uneasily advances through mechanical sprockets, Duff avails of the oversized grain of 16mm film. Even as her static camera resists the motion of a moving image—“the picture is moving, not the things in the picture.” 9
Watching these films is an experience of the pleasure of looking at images, rather than objects, and looking in time.
The material quality of her film stock creates evercirculating particles of light and shadow. This surface interruption of continuous movement, emblematic of the molecular stuff of life, undermines the Barthesian moment of the photographs. A playful confusion ensues: a photographic representation, itself a reference to the past and death, of an object signifying an unattainably desirable life, is now reproduced as a still-moving-image consisting of nothing more than projected light. This is materiality that is—all that is solid melts into air.10 The spectacle of Catalogue wears its humour lightly. Viewing the films is an experience of continual revelation. What is thought to be an interior domestic space is revealed to be a photograph. Folded catalogue leaves reiterate the folds of linen and in so doing create Hannah Höch-style surreal collages. Gravity-defying chairs slowly float through space like Stanley Kubrick’s ape’s bone-cum-satellite. There is further interruption as well. These moving films of course don’t really move, but are constituted of nothing more than a series of still images that portray a series of still images. And with this stillness the flow of time is disturbed, holding the viewer in suspension, and calling attention to the very manipulation of temporality. As Perec’s description of “things” from Les Choses pauses the diegetic narrative of viewing to name each object, Duff ’s films isolate still moments in space to expand them over time. In fact, Catalogue Vol. 7 has been presented as a 7-hour long gallery installation. Watching these films is an experience of the pleasure of looking at images, rather than objects, and looking in time. The referred signification to an “original” is replaced with the value and pleasure of gazing. The narrative is transformed from the dulcet language of advertising; from the future-oriented, ever-delayed promise of pleasure, the promise of the object11—which is really just a substitute, a semantic sign of lack, that which is not there, what we don’t have—to a present moment, one that luxuriates in the visual pleasure of the image. This becomes a narrative of emancipation—it is “the miracle and the violence of representation.” 12 Duff continues to develop additional films for the series corresponding to the entire 13-volume RH catalogue, but as of the time of this writing, coincidentally as I sit on an Arne Jacobson Series 7 knock-off, there is only one existing, and two planned, exceptions to the adherence of the films’ internal logic
The beautiful and haunting pieces that comprise Dana Berman Duff’s Catalogue series feature objects of desire deftly abstracted by the artist into psycho-narratives that address our humanity in the absence of the body. Autonomous, they form a multilayered and evolving whole, as Duff works towards the 11 volumes she had imagined at the outset. All the more hallucinatory for their general languor and fragmented intensive gaze, these films manage to simultaneously disorient and act as beacons of embedded memory. Introducing a shifting textural temporality—they both speed up and slow down time—the films of the Catalogue series ask us to consider where and how we locate ourselves within the fictions of the things that surround us. —Deborah de Boer
of relying solely on the RH catalogue photography. In Catalogue Vol. 3, this same Jacobson Series 7 chair becomes the hero/protagonist of the film. In this narrative, the chair has its own direct experience. The film portrays transitions in the life of the object. There are layers of invisible resistance and emergence, sometimes literally. At one point, there is a chair-point-of-view sequence as the object surfaces from underwater after falling/floating down from the sky—this chair sits nicely within the Kubrick reference. The Series 7 chair was the instigator for Duff ’s project after having become aware of iterations of its presence everywhere.13 Calling it the (qualified) “most successful object in the world.” Through Catalogue she demonstrates her interest and attraction, seduction and attachment, to the object. Karin Knorr Cetina writes of “objects of knowledge,” that they are “the goal of expert work; and … also what experts, scientists, etc. regularly profess themselves to be interested in, attracted by, seduced into and attached to.”14 Sounding like a definition of much contemporary art, Cetina goes on to explain: “objects of knowledge being characteristically open, question-generating and complex … they are processes and projections rather than definitive things.”15 In encountering the chair, we are appreciating a stand-in, a representation to compensate for a more basic lack of object. “…this lack corresponds to a structure of wanting, a continually renewed interest in knowing, that appears to be never fulfilled by final knowledge.”16 “Accordingly, wants are always directed at an empirical object mediated by representations, through signifiers, which identify the object and render it significant. But these representations never quite catch up with the object, they always in some respects fail (misrepresent) the thing they articulate. They thereby reiterate the lack rather than eliminate it.” 17 For objects of knowledge such as Duff ’s chair, “they suggest which way to look further, through the insufficiencies they display. In that sense, one could say that objects of knowledge structure desire, or provide for the continuation of the structure of wanting.” 18 And as is apparent through the Catalogue film series, Cetina notes: “Since objects of knowledge are always in the process of being materially defined, they continually acquire new properties and change the ones they have. But this also means that objects of knowledge can never be fully attained, that they are, if you wish, never quite themselves.” 19 Further illustrating the desire unmet and the object
unattained, Catalogue Vol. 3 uses a digitized version of the 1955 Jacobson Series 7 chair for a CGI digital animation. This numeric representation of the chair, freely sourced from the Internet, only ever exists as binary information. Yet again, there is only image—no chair object. Duff continues the transformation and permutations of object/ image and image/object as she then uses the same data to output miniature plastic chairs on a 3D printer for the live action digital video of the forthcoming Catalogue Vol. 10. The chair object, itself already a substitution, has been done away with for its own image but it is not the only thing missing. From the outset of Catalogue, we have been presented with rooms devoid of human presence, interiors without bodies. These are settings for bodies that never appear. Even though they are sometimes apparent—evidence of presence through footsteps and voices, at times even the movement of shadow across a tufted velvet surface—these spaces are only preparation for people that might arrive, or trace of those gone past. Catalogue Vol. 6 is a study in abjection. The domestic settings now carry the soundtrack from horror films— they too, like the images, are only parts of something else, something before. There is the sound of crashing and falling, muffled laughter, a scream, a sting of ominous music. And like all the previous imagery from all the films, no one is visible. The sensuality of the images, the emphasis on texture and haptic experience, the physicality of desire that has gone unfulfilled, are finally given voice: “I am home I am home.” The journey is complete and the body is the objects, the objects are the body. There is only one other instance of corporeal presence. In Catalogue Vol. 2, Duff includes the audio of the time and space of the film’s production: studio noises, outside traffic, a brief excerpt from a podcast. Here Duff adds her narrative of making to the nostalgic fiction of the objects and the fantasy of the photographs. She claims her subjective experience—she is the desirer par excellence. In this way, the filmmaker’s subjectivity is a politics of desire: it is female, it is critical, and it shifts pleasure from that of being directed towards the object represented to the representation(s) of the object. In Death 24x a Second, Laura Mulvey refers to a scene from Max Ophuls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman in which photographs are presented on screen: “Creating another distance, another time, the photo permits me to reflect on the cinema.” 20
Endnotes 1 2
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Perec, G. Things: A Story of the Sixties (New York: Grove Press, 1976), 11-12. [Originally published in French as Les Choses]. Donoghue, K. “Gary Friedman,” Whitewall Contemporary Art Magazine (Summer 2016), 68-67. In 2009 the company was purchased by Gary Friedman who rebranded it from a mall merchandiser of tools into an upscale lifestyle brand. Furthering the reproduction/repetition theme, RH stores, called “galleries,” are organized to look like real rooms including real windows and light. RH also has real galleries and represents real artists. From the RH website copy: https://www.restorationhardware.com Furio, J. “Pieces of His Mind,” San Francisco Magazine (April 2011), 82-94. Stewart, S. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, The Souvenir, The Collection. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), 306. From the RH website copy: https://www.restorationhardware.com Problematically, the catalogue is full of stolen designs from mid-century designers (Arne Jacobsen, Mies Van der Rohe, George Nelson, et al) that were still being produced by the original manufacturers. Big companies like Herman Miller were constantly suing Restoration Hardware but smaller ones couldn’t afford to. Gradually these stolen designs have disappeared from the catalogues as they’ve moved to more traditional designs and used more of their own designers. Stewart. op. cit. 27. From conversation with Duff over email correspondence: “I discovered in working with the 16mm film that the picture is moving, not the things in the picture—it truly is a motion picture.” Howarth, D. “Space, Subjectivity, and Politics,” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 31, no. 2 (2006): 105-134. “All that is solid melts into air” refers to a passage in the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. They referred first of all to the fact that capitalism by its nature is constantly expanding and therefore needs to constantly revolutionize itself in order to create new markets, leaving nothing solid or permanent in its wake, they were also speaking of the way that capitalism reduces everything to the shadowy abstraction known as money. It also is the title of Marshall Berman’s 1982 examination of social and economic modernization and its conflicting relationship to modernism. Gary Freidman, Chairman CEO of RH, describing the Modern line of furniture: “The sense of ‘less’ makes you feel like you have more time.” From conversation with Duff over email correspondence: “Everything I’ve made after seeing [Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs] as a grad student (OMG chairs!), with few exceptions, continues to ponder the miracle and the violence of representation.” From conversation with Duff over email correspondence: “This work with the chairs started when I noticed that versions of the mid-century Jacobsen chair were everywhere and started calling it the ‘most successful object in the world.’ That trophy really goes to those awful white plastic jobs. But I’m still interested in what that success means for an object.”
Knorr Cetina, K. “Sociality with Objects: Social Relations in Post-Social Knowledge Societies,” Theory, Culture and Society 14, no. 4 (1997): 1-43.
Mulvey, L. Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. London: Reaktion Books, 2006. 185.
DANA BERMAN DUFF’S CATALOGUE FILMS By Harriet Warman
I saw Catalogue first at Edinburgh International Film Festival’s experimental Black Box strand in 2014. I hadn’t seen anything that quite grabbed me the way Duff ’s silent, black and white 16mm work did—I thought I knew what I was seeing, that I understood the cinematic language at play— then suddenly, a reveal that turned all those perceptual assumptions on their head. That first Catalogue was an experiment in the time it takes to look at desirable objects—or rather—the images of objects found in mainstream furniture catalogue Restoration Hardware. Duff ’s wit is in presenting such images with all the suspense of a Hitchcockian film set, as she holds a shot of an empty interior, waiting for something to happen within it. The reveal is that of the image making itself, that we are not within the space of a horror film, but contemplating the fake versions of designer furniture, indicated subtly by a page’s fold. Duff described to me following that Edinburgh screening, that she had discovered the narrative of Catalogue only in the experience of viewing the film with an audience, a narrative that wasn’t intended in the making of the film. The apparently simple pleasure of looking at beautiful images, the duration of a lingering look at one thing, then another thing, had revealed a familiar dramatic/comedic plot structure. We had all sunk into the rhythm of gazing at some flickering beauty, and then had its artifice become the punch line.
For Duff this made clear the separation between the film as a thought experiment and as a work of magical cinema. That Restoration Hardware sells furniture en mass copied from unique designer pieces, which are then made into an image within a magazine, then filmed by Duff, is the film’s critique of the copy. That we can still forget—or be unaware—of this idea and enjoy the film’s visual pleasure gives Catalogue its emotional heart and the affirmation of having that critique played out by an audience. Duff ’s continued fascination with Restoration Hardware has evolved to incorporate sound into the world of the lingering look. In Catalogue Vol. 2 the ambient sound of Duff ’s studio as she shoots the pages of that tome are heard throughout, while rugs and carpets provide the visual texture of the film. As with any sequel, Catalogue Vol. 2 can abandon the “set-up”—in this case the revelation of the image’s source—and instead, the effect is mesmeric as the relation between images—of one floor covering dissolving into another—is like a surrealist dream punctuated by ‘real’ sound. Duff ’s further experiments have explored the tension between interior and exterior worlds. In Catalogue Vol. 3 a chair from within the furniture catalogue literally plummets into the sea, in Vol. 4 and Vol. 5 extreme close-up is used to reveal the texture of the printed page, shifting the series deeper into its haptic qualities, as the layers of film grain express a corporeal beauty.
When viewing Catalogue Vol. 6 (Haunted House) there’s a sense of that initial audience reaction most obviously seeping into the making of Catalogue as a series.The interiors are dark spaces—under a table or an armchair—and thresholds such as a window, or wardrobe door, or an ominous painting on a wall are full of possibility, full of anticipation. Duff brings in cinematic sound, sampled from movies, of eerie laughter, anxious proclamations and a tense string score.The 16mm flicker and the minute camera movements make the images appear to move, but rather than enforce the narrative that we might now expect from Duff ’s work, attempts to form an arc are cut through with each jolting edit, and then, almost cathartically exclaimed, “Now I know where I’m going, I’m disappearing inch by inch into this house!”
Duff’s wit is in presenting such images with all the suspense of a Hitchcockian film set ...
Dr. S E Barnet is an internationally exhibiting artist based in London. She is a Research Fellow at Birmingham City University and an Associate Lecturer at University Arts London. Working across performance and installation, Barnet employs instigation and language with which she creates situations, collaborations and events. Deborah de Boer is a Canadian public gallery director and curator based in Victoria, BC. She founded Deluge Contemporary Art in 1991 and 1998 she co-founded Antimatter [Media Art], where she has curated and organized numerous programs of Canadian and international media work. Harriet Warman is a freelance film programmer and writer based in the Scottish Borders. She has written for BFI Sight and Sound magazine among other publications and has been a programme coordinator on several film festivals, including working on the programming team for the Edinburgh International Film Festival. She is currently Producer at Alchemy Film & Arts and is the creator of the online Cinematic Investigations. https://cinematicinvestigations.com/ Publication design concept: Tommy Gear Book production: Alan Berman
Special thanks to Dicky Bahto and Echo Park Film Center for your support.