Pier Marton – What You See Is Not (from “Tapes”) 1979


P ier Marton‘s Tapes begins with ‘subversion’ and ends in suicide. A collection of a dozen short video vignettes, Tapes informs us that unnerving imagery and sound, when handled cunningly, can be soothing; that horror, brutality, and confusion are capable of charming us. Marton finds comfort on the razor’s edge. He walks atop sharpened steel with a disconcertingly careless air. By watching his contortions and tricks, and by listening to his tormented moans and whispered words, we find ourselves at the end of this tunnel of tortured fantasy-possessing skills and insights that we previously might never have imagined. We find ourselves sitting comfortably amidst unreconciled contradictions and, like Marton, at home hanging from our heels.  “… Watch! Watch! Don‘t watch! Watch! … Keep watching! … Watch! … Don’t watch! … ” shouts an ascotted Marton while three other images of him stand unmoved by the demands. He ejaculates as if caught in the grips of an epileptic seizure. “Ma! Ma… My fa! … My father, my father died!”  cry the moving lips of a photographed soldier. Pain and anguish are proclaimed with a pagan‘s passion. “So! … So you! … So! … So you think l’m here?! So!” jeer eerie facial fragments as they float about the screen. Marton asks us to question whether what we see is what we hear. He repeats sounds, repeats syllables and words with a religious rigor. He repeats phrases, sentences, and themes. He chants. He drones, whispering as another might pound a drum. These rhythms, rhymes, and monosyllabic utterances are carefully plotted and patterned.
Tapes is no free-for-all, no video-verité documentary on therapy of the Primal persuasion. Rather, it is chaos craftily controlled; a realm in which both nightmarish imagery and gut-wrenching sighs are organized with an irrational precision.
Marton’s concern, as he states in the opening segment of his work, is to ‘subvert’: to pull up from under — to turn the inside out. He attempts to do this by presenting discomforting images and sounds in a fashion that suggests that the strange should, at no time, be considered extraordinary; that the bizarre, no matter how repulsive, is something quite harmless. Contradictions and inconsistencies, in other words, are made to seem standard and commonplace. But despite the unassuming manner with which these confusions are presented, the images and voices cannot remain digested. They come back to haunt us, for it is simply impossible to reconcile sights such as Marton‘s suicide with the calm, witty words the murderer uses to describe his actions.
“What you see is not… What you see is not what you hear … is not what you see … ” we are told over and over and over again by Marton’s isolated whispering lips. His repetitions calm us, for repetition has the power to standardize. It gives us the sense that these flights of fantasy are, in some way, systematic. Repeated, an act, idea, or word gains solidity. Repetition allows the irrational to appear concrete, for even the vaguest notions seem graspable the second time around. Marton melds the seemingly objective dry precision of his repetitious language to images of self-inflicted torment. In so doing, he is able to undermine our sense of order in order to replace it with his own more resonant realm of stylized brutality. Although we never become completely comfortable atop this pinnacle of sharpened steel, we do find ourselves strangely soothed by the view and by the precariousness of our pose. Still, it is a somewhat disconcerting sensation to find yourself on intimate terms with violence and suicide.

Marton’s acts are intimate affairs. However raw his images and sounds may be, we never forget that Marton is attacking ideas and not himself. Mindless mutilation is never glorified as it is in the films of Peter Kubelka; unlike Kubelka, Marton refuses to reduce himself to the level of coarse vulgarity. Never does he renounce his integrity or his control over himself and the medium he manipulates. Marton is no masochist, no martyr. His use of the idea and image of violence is not intended to be taken literally. By making himself the target of his own mock-torture, he places himself in a position to propose a stylization of uninhibited sensation. He creates a realm in which the heights and depths of extremely rarefied emotion are given a free rein in spite of the restricting holds over them.

lt is Marton’s wit that allows us to easily entertain these apparent contradictions. He tries to charm us into believing that the pain in our stomachs is caused by our giggles, and not by the surgeon’s blade that actually plays about our insides. Yet we never become unaware of his manipulations, for the only anesthetics we receive during the course of this operation are ‘repetition’ and ‘wit‘. They are soothing enough-they lull, but never allow us to sleep. Marton seeks only to awaken our understanding of sensations and to rouse those parts of us that seem to doze eternally. Nightmares, he insists, can only be ArtsMagazinedreamed by a conscious mind. (The Kitchen, December 4-29)

Douglas Blau