Brent Klinkum called a week ago and asked if I wanted to participate in this festival. My work was to be featured. A virtual unknown in Europe, I was a last minute addition. There was no time for the festival to commission an essay on my work, so it fell to me to suggest an alternative. I proposed excerpting quotes from various critics' writings on The Hundred Videos and commenting on the excerpts in a light-hearted, irreverent way. That is the task at hand. And here are the five quotes:
The work [Joke (Version 1)] is riddled with nonsense, but it is good, productive nonsense. ...the work declares early on that the boundaries of proper discourse have been neatly removed. Yet there is clearly much more at stake, for the work is highly structured; it is like a map, which is handsome in itself, but which lacks any suggestions about what exactly one is to do with it, or where to go with it. Yet it should not be thought that the artist is then that person best able to articulate the meaning of the work, or predict what will be the arrival point or destination of the thought process which has been set in motion. That's not the artist's job. Perhaps such works should be seen in the context of play, where the suggestions 'what if . . .' or 'let's pretend that . . .' are the first to be presented, with the tacit agreement on the part of the viewer that the rules of the game are also in question.
—Gary Kibbins, Tapes That Think, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario, 1995. (exhibition catalogue)
Steve Reinke's perhaps ironic aim is to produce, before the year 2001, The Hundred Videos, which would constitute his oeuvre as a young artist by the age of thirty-six. These videotapes are short, witty subversions of lore passed on to us - the "knowledge" available as social history in the memory bank of our culture, preserved in the found footage of old films and television. As such, these resources are available genres that still hold popular appeal despite our awareness of their outdatedness. They also serve as documentary proof of the fictional discourses Reinke juxtaposes in his own ad-libbed voice-overs, micro-narratives pertaining to the truth value of (auto)biography or science. The ensuing deadpan reversal of forms inverts the naturalness of any of these discourses, whether they touch on scientific laws, social interaction, gender function, or sexual identity. His discreet send-ups have the effect of creating new subjects of knowledge, given our conditioning by these genres to accept their narratives as true.
—Philip Monk, Beauty #2, The Power Plant, Toronto, 1995. (exhibition catalogue)
. . . it is the structuring of imagery and narrative in mass culture as it relates to gay sexuality, identity and popular discourses that Reinke parodies, analyses, plays out - while never appearing to take any of it seriously.
The title itself is a minimalist conceit: 100 videos, no more, no less. The content conforms to an arbitrary number, announcing from the outset Reinke's interest in the structuring of sexuality and popular culture imagery rather than its content. If there's no real, there's no genre: Reinke collapses the boundaries between documentary and fiction, between the most banal forms of film and video imagery and the most exalted. Moving through them all with equal abandon, Reinke creates a kind of shrine to a loss of the self in representation.
—Tom Folland, Fuse, V18, N. 4, Toronto, 1995 (exhibition review)
Among all the artists in the show the only one whose work does not rely on ostentation, sensational or off-colour subject matter, jaded self-promotion or visual hype, is Steve Reinke. He is the one artist here whose work offers something unmistakably fresh and nuanced. His slight, frothy videotapes manage to juxtapose high and low cultural idioms in an expansive way that destabilizes their respective contents and facilitates the emergence of new hybridizations. The tapes imitate and lampoon the hype, the authoritative pedantry, the elitism of expertise, the discursive style and the arcane vocabularies of institutionalized culture and they equally expose the intellectual bankruptcy, sentimentalism and neo-conservatism associated with popular culture. They are highly funny and on target.
—Gregory Salzman, C Magazine, #48, Toronto, 1996 (review of Beauty #2)
In a city [Toronto] so dense with smart psychoanalytic cinema, Reinke wields the language of the unconscious as lightly as a portable video camera. He plays with the thinness of images and the inadequacy of words, the gap between language and desire. Ever inventive and curious, he uses video like a sketch pad. . . The series is woven together by Reinke's pleasant, diffident voice, which eases the viewer into improbable scenarios or appalling fantasies.
. . . Not masochistically but quasi-scientifically, Reinke mortifies the flesh in order to isolate desire: if you cannot both be and have, Reinke chooses to have.
—Laura U. Marks, Artforum, May 1995. (exhibition review)
Of course, I've painted myself into a corner. There is no reasonable response to these elaborate, extravagant claims. (It's not modesty that prevents me from commenting on the commentary. When it says above that I'm selfless, it's true — I don't have an ego. And my id is rather unstable.)
Let me admit: I made these little videos for two reasons, to amuse myself and to incite critical commentary. (The commentary is also to amuse me.) Each individual video in The Hundred Videos calls out for explication. They are meant to give rise to mounds of paper, explaining everything and then explaining it again, in a different way. This hasn't quite happened yet, but I feel that within twenty years there will be a quarterly Journal of The Hundred Videos, perhaps out of the University of Texas at Austin, filled with articles, musings, explications. I encourage you to catch the first wave of the upcoming Reinke industry and begin writing today.