The Disc Decays; whatever happened to the new flesh?
So it happened, while leading a course in creative writing for what turned out to be a group of six women, approximately aged 35 – 55, that I saw my chance to watch the disc handed over to me earlier that week – which I had not seen, due to the usual circumstances; my dvd-player broke down, the TV set went with it, and the disc drive on my computer was permanently hungry – it would never let go of that fatal cd I stuck in it after it fell on the floor one day. I ́m running out of luck when it comes to electronic equipment — it usually breaks the moment I look at it. Bought a new computer the other day, and it was dead on arrival, fucked up already from the beginning. These days I don`t even carry a watch, and my mobile phone only accepts calls at random.
So, to cut it short; my first exposure to “Memento Mori” took place in this context, as a teacher in creative writing, with some vague excuse that it might be relevant to the writing process of the group…which is perfect, really. Because its relevance constitutes a problem in this context. And this I should have foreseen, being familiar with van Eijk ́s earlier work. In a discipline depending on words, this one is a piece of potentially fatal information. If anything, it represents the end of the word – i.e. not the world – and by God did I have a hard time to explain it ́s relevance for these fine women afterwards. Again, just perfect, because it kept all of us alert the rest of the day. And of course, with its focus on that potentially extatic last gasp of the dying individual, its very basic knowledge – not the fact that we ́re all gonna die, but rather what it will really be like – lacking in all known languages, the inability to communicate this deeper meaning as it exists outside of time and therefore outside of words, it IS relevant to writing. How could it possibly not be?
With its repetetive soundtrack, repetetive visual patterns, and what some would call outdated shock tactics — though that would be like not seeing the work for all the flesh – “Memento Mori” makes conscious formal use of video ́s own history; from the early 60 ́s up til todays portable laptop editing; with it ́s epicentre in the mid-90 ́s post- identity, post-body, post-human landscape. In its own wicked way, it sums up the discourses on the very fringe of video art spanning five decades in a few minutes. The points of reference should be obvious; Viennese aktionism, Chris Burden, Genesis P-Orridge, John Duncan, and so forth; the list could easily be an exhaustive one. I would say van Eijk is a traditionalist in this sense – a dark, complex tradition it is, but nevertheless a recognised tradition. Unpredictable, certainly, but one thing ́s for sure; a lot of people are left feeling disturbed, sometimes even violated by this kind of work – it ́s impact is usually stronger than the sum of its parts, and thats one way to recognise it. Because if you dissect this video; what is actually going on? You ́re left with a woman urinating, a man in her golden shower, and a rotating skull. And, yes, the first part does have som explicit messy scenes from the surgical unit as a backdrop. Seen it before, have we? Maybe we would like to think so, but we haven't, really. Because these are the tools, see; not the camera, not the editing unit – THESE are the tools, and they work in the hands of a master. They really do.
“Memento Mori” is likely to cause a stir anywhere, not because of its parts, not even because of the sum total of its parts, but because the effect it has on the viewer is so powerful it could easily become adictive. And this, I must stress, has just as much to do with the viewer as with the piece itself. This might not be for all, but for the chosen few it is the updated version of the ongoing search for the new flesh – the electronic revolution is far from over.
— Notes on Tor Jørgen van Eijk's “Memento Mori” by Tommy Olsson.