The Collector #21

 Keith Sanborn / Les LeVeque

Untitled painting based on on several frames of film
from a 16mm print of the Lumière Brothers Workers Leaving the Factory by Les LeVeque.

We’re already in deep with the title, which amounts to at least a partial description of one of my favorite paintings. It hangs dark yellow on pushpins through gromets on the pale yellow wall above the two monitors in the workspace where I edit. We go deeper into the dark inchoate mass and we actually try to look at it. The reproduction here is predictably unreliable.

It is a subtle complex work that inhabits the spaces of film, photography, painting, and myriad forms of digital reproduction. I call it a painting. Some might object, since it was produced by multiple passes on an inkjet printer, but it’s as much a painting as any silk screen produced by Warhol’s factory. This is not a coincidence; it is perhaps a kind of funhouse mirroring of absences: The workers leaving Warhol’s factory were not recorded, as far as I know, though I know they were recorded as they worked and in some sense, this was at least part of their work: to be recorded. The Lumière Brothers filmed the workers leaving their family factory. And this they did at least 3, possibly 4 times. As far as I know, they never filmed their employees as they worked, nor was it their work to be filmed, and yet they were. Pronouns, pronouns, pronouns.

In the case of the work on my wall, it is arguably more painterly than any Warhol silk screen—if we are to believe Warholian mythology—since the one on my wall had more artisanal supervision by the artist: LeVeque extracted a number of frames from a 16mm print of the Lumière film in question, then caused his mammoth printer to overlay these frames by executing multiple passes of each frame onto the same canvas, a procedure, which eventually caused a fatal breakdown of the printer, which remains unrepaired and perhaps unrepairable to this day. The impasto which is not one.

And besides its problematic relationship to painting, it has an even more problematic relationship to the body of work for which it was made and the film from which it was extracted and perhaps an even more problematic relationship to image-making generally, since it is, in effect, a painted text. And the elusive text itself only appears here partially and never appeared in any form in the film made by the Brothers Lumière. It was a kind of historical afterthought and as such an hors-texte, that is, a kind of parenthetical remark, both internal to and external to the visual “text” on which it comments. You don’t need to be a grammatologist to understand this paradox. Literally, the phrase would parse as “[something] outside [a] text” and it refers to unnumbered pages printed separately and later inserted into a book. Neither was it exhibited in the gallery show for which the series was intended by LeVeque, so it’s hors-série, like a special issue of a magazine in addition to the normal numbered issues.

So, it’s an insider-outsider, or an outsider-insider, or neither, or both. And its murkiness and the fragmented presentation of the text from the 16mm film—which sought, in its “original” form, to provide historical context for the film to students or museum-goers long after the Lumière Brothers and their factory had ceased to exist—brings forward the ravages of time. In short, it is the center of a complex of splendid ruins: a filmic ruin, a photographic ruin, a ruined printer, a ruined painting, and a ruin of language and time and history. In these dark times, it reminds me, that I am not alone.

Keith Sanborn
October 17, 2020



“The Collector” is an ongoing series in which I ask people to talk about a painting or a drawing they own. See other installments here.

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