Currently on view at Montreal’s Parisian Laundry, BAND by New York’s Adam Pendleton is a thoroughly hybrid creation, spanning years, mediums, borders and cultural moments, with an origin as circuitous as its concept. Taking as its primary riff Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 cult film about the Black Panthers and the Rolling Stones, One Plus One (a.k.a. Sympathy for the Devil), Pendleton’s project began as a performance at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was initiated by Illingworth Kerr Gallery director/curator Wayne Baerwaldt. The performance, at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, was by San Francisco indie-rock band Deerhoof, and Pendleton—after presenting clips from Godard’s film and reading aloud a letter by ex-Panther Eldridge Cleaver—had Deerhoof play while projecting a live feed as well as previous rehearsal footage behind them.
Months later, this happening was followed by another event/reading at Amsterdam’s de Appel. And last fall, in the project’s final stage, Illingworth Kerr and, shortly after, New York’s Kitchen displayed a black-and-white, three-channel film, the same one now at Parisian Laundry. (At the Kitchen, associated black-and-white works from Pendleton’s series Black Dada and System of Display were also on view). This film, whose production crew includes Winnipeggers Deco Dawson (who acted as editor) and Noam Gonick (who acted as cinematographer, as did Pendleton), consists chiefly of the aforementioned rehearsal footage of Deerhoof at a Toronto recording studio, laying down a brand new song, “I Did Crimes for You,” that eventually turned up on their 2011 LP, Deerhoof vs. Evil.
Pendleton’s film follows Godard’s in its fragmented format and emphasis on process: anyone who has seen the original will recall its incessant focus on rehearsals for the Stones’ legendary song “Sympathy for the Devil,” which plays repeatedly, sometimes with scenes of the band in the studio, sometimes with scenes of the film’s alternate subject, a staged Black Panther uprising. Godard’s film revels in this disparity: a largely politically disengaged rock band playing, in chunks and loops, a song about historical malfeasance as a soundtrack to violent leftist revolt.
In BAND, Deerhoof’s rehearsal of the considerably more obscure “I Did Crimes for You,” which contains lyrics like “Smash the windows / The people are wrong / The leader is strong / Guerilla surrender,” is cut with audio snippets from a 1971 documentary about a politically awakened black teenager and from a police raid on the Black Panthers. The result appears to draw attention to the even wider contemporary gap between aesthetics and real, active political engagement. The apolitical Deerhoof, whose lyrics here are merely an allusion to radicalism (they are, seemingly, used as a metaphor for romantic longing), are separated from the Black Panthers not just by intention, but by time. In BAND, Pendleton, a young black artist, demonstrates how easily political movements can become works of art, an advent which separates us from the immediacy and desperation of the original moment—but which, curiously, also acts to keep it alive. (3550 rue St-Antoine O, Montreal QC)