On April 30, 2009, San Jose State University MFA and MA students from Anthony Raynsford’s Contemporary Art Seminar on Empathy and Embodiment took a field trip to the Cantor Arts Center to view the collection and to hear a Stanford Art Department lecture by art historian and critic Michael Fried in Annenberg Auditorium. Nancy Sevier and Joveena Prince offer two different reactions to Fried’s lecture and his showing of Anri Sala’s Long Sorrow a film by the contemporary Berlin-based Albanian video artist.
The Long Sorrow
By Nancy Sevier

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Video still from Anri Sala, Long Sorrow

Art theorist, Michael Fried, treated the public to an animated lecture at Stanford University. Over the years, Fried has concerned himself with the relationship of the artist and the viewer. He is well known for his essay, “Art and Objecthood,” in which he accuses the Minimalists of the 1960’s, of being “theatrical” and dishonest about the means in which their work is seen by the viewer.

Exemplary of the kind of honesty Fried is looking for, he showed the audience a film titled, “Long Sorrow,” by Anri Sala. In the thirteen minute film we are slowly pulled into a small room. The camera image deliberately controls our pace. There is something there beneath the open window but we can’t yet make out what it is. Our perspective changes as the camera rolls in. From radiator to window to saxophone to mouthpiece, the camera is constantly reframing. We are aware that Anri is in control.

All the while, we are drawn in by the free-jazz sounds emanating from the saxophone. We are given fractional sites of embodiment. This fragmentary presentation holds our attention and builds intensity. Because we are aware that the camera is controlling the situation, we are simultaneously informed of the director’s intention. In “Long Sorrow,” this emphasis of the activity of the camera is seen by Fried as the “owning up to” its theatricality.

The soulful and sorrowful wailing of free-jazz artist, Jemeel Moondoc, acts as a “high wire act,” said Fried, “at any moment it could fail.‚Äù We experience the tension of this balancing act held within each fragment. This tension moves us inward, into the soul of this man and into ourselves, as well as moving us outward, to the streets, where we see a man sitting on the ledge of a high rise apartment building, blowing his horn like there is no tomorrow.

The man is absorbed in his playing and is unaware of being viewed. Fried refers to the use of “absorption,” by artists such as Sala and photographer Jeff Wall, as a “to be seen-ness,” another means of making the viewer aware of the artist’s intention, a means endorsed by Fried in his discourse of the viewer/artist relationship.

I loved this film, and recommend “Long Sorrow,” if you can get your hands on it. The music is awesome. But thinking back on the evening, it is also Fried’s voice that I remember, rapid firing his words as though there was an urgency in his getting out all that he had to say.


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Video still from Anri Sala, Long Sorrow

Great Intensity

by Joveena Prince

“Long Sorrow” could also have the title, ‚Äúgreat intensity‚Äù. Anri Sala‚Äôs 13 minute film immediately draws in the viewer, with the mystery of sound and sight. The Harvard-educated art critic and art historian Michael Freid shared the film during a presentation at Stanford University, to discuss his early and most recent theories. During Freid‚Äôs presentation he explains that the work is not the most significant, but the experience of the work is of greater importance.

The initial scene of “Long Sorrow” is placed outside a door, leading to a room. The camera gradually moves inside the room, towards an open window. A mysterious sound is heard in the distance and an unknown figure appears to move, which resembles a plant, bird wings or flowers. As the narrative unfolds, the sounds continue sporadically. The camera moves closer to the moving object and it eventually becomes recognizable, as flowers placed in the dreadlocks of a male musician.

The intensity of the narrative is increased as the viewer can see the man is suspended outside the window, many stories above ground. The viewer is drawn in further, as the sounds are intensified, with the sounds of free style jazz, played by the musician, Jeemel Moondoc. A type of call and response, with the background sounds of both traffic and a church bell are eventually heard. The view shifts from inside the room, to the outside. The method of the man’s suspension remains unknown, but the camera scans the area, surrounding the building and eventually settles on sporadic fragments of the man’s face. Michael Freid notes that the viewer is often closer than the viewer would like to be. Embodiment is experienced as the camera permits, with the fragmentized view throughout the film.

The musician’s playing is sharply captured in a fragmentized view of his eyes. Towards the end of the film Moondoc’s eyes slightly close and open, not appearing to focus on any of his surroundings. He seems to be unaware and not interested in the camera. His spirit, the surroundings and music have merged, as evident in his physical response to playing the saxophone.

Freid states that “theater and theatrical are at war today…”. This refers to an image that is contrived, where the subjects act as if there is no camera versus one that is considered authentic, as it depicts a candid moment. While it’s clear from the location of his performance the musician is aware that he is being filmed, the sincerity with being in the moment is also evident.

It is evident that the concept of free jazz is integral to the film, as Moondoc performs in response to his surroundings. There was not a musical composition written for the film. At the end of the 13 minutes of “Long Sorrow” I desired to experience more; more sounds of the saxophone; more sights of the greenery surrounding Jemeel Moondoc and most importantly a view not controlled by the camera. I wanted the camera‚Äôs wall to be torn down or at least ripped. I wanted to put the fragmentized frames together, I wished to experience the moment as Jemeel Moondoc, or at least someone with a ‚Äòbird‚Äôs eye view‚Äô.

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