As James Franco continues his multidisciplinary approach to creativity with his collaboration with Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, Psycho Nacirema, at London’s Pace Gallery, he takes us through why he looked to the Hitchcock classic in today’s short. The American A-lister has also penned an exclusive piece for NOWNESS, delving into the inspirations behind his twisted, cinematic installation.
Film into Art in Psycho Nacirema
Psycho Nacirema is a show that builds on projects and conversations that I have shared with Douglas Gordon. I’ve known Douglas for over six years; we first met in Avignon where he was having a retrospective. I was exposed to the wide range of his work. As someone who worked professionally in the film business, what struck me most was his appropriation of film and film forms into his work. He has undoubtedly been influenced by Hollywood and avant-garde film throughout his career, but this influence has not (yet) resulted in conventional narrative features. Instead he has used the influence to create structurally and conceptually dense work of various forms: film, video, photography, performance, music, sculpture, text, etc. Seeing all of this blew me away, it showed me that film, the world I was immersed in, could be used for results other than traditional narrative films.
For the past century, film and television have dominated popular culture. Moving pictures are what we turn to, more often than not, to reflect ourselves to ourselves. They have defined us, at least they have defined Americans, for better or worse, because of the power and pervasiveness of their images. Thus, partially influenced by my exposure to Douglas’s work (as well as the work of Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthy, Richard Prince, Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Isaac Julien, Mike Kelley, Chris Burden, Jeff Koons), I was drawn to the idea of using film as a source for other kinds of work. Using film as a starting point would provide me with a common base that many people could relate to. In addition, film and television techniques and procedures of production, distribution and interpretation have woven themselves into our everyday lives, so I also saw potential for a more meta kind of work to derive from the meditation on the practice of filmmaking.
I had worked with Douglas and several other artists on Rebel at MoCA in LA, a large collaborative show based on the Nicholas Ray film, Rebel Without a Cause. That project used the film as a starting place from which to branch off into many different kinds of projects based on different aspects of the film. Douglas worked on scenes that had been intended for the original film but were never shot because they were too violent. Douglas reinterpreted them with Dennis Hopper’s (a cast member in the original film) son, Henry Hopper and made an incredible video/sculpture/installation called “Henry Rebel.” With Psycho Nacirema, I wanted to build on the ideas that were explored in Rebel.
I am interested in performance and reality, and the differences and similarities between the two. I feel we are all performers in the sense that our personalities and the way we live our lives are the result of choices and the ways we choose to react to our circumstances. Of course things are acted upon us, but the way we react always defines character. What we do in life is just a more sophisticated, open ended and subtle version of decisions that actors make when performing in front of a camera. The show explores all this by breaking down barriers between these two spheres, performance and reality.
The show also isolates and makes discrete all the different aspects of film, which in a narrative film come together to make a tight and inextricable web: I speak of set construction, backdrop painting, acting, film and video themselves, music. All of these things are made discrete so that they can once again stand on their own as pieces. So, the set is a sculpture, a video is a sculpture, paintings become performances, etc. Once each aspect is made discrete then they are all brought together in the big installation so that one is immersed.
I love that Douglas comes from the art world, but looks to the film world for inspiration, while I come from the film world and look to the art world. We meet in the middle of both, have fun, and then cross over to the opposite sides.