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“The Beauty is Relentless; The Short Movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby is a book of essays about the art of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. As creators they sit on the frontiers of the imagination, excavating wonder from the hidden recesses of the body. Their complex oeuvre cracks open the imagination. Quite simply, their collected video works are a stunning display of storytelling. This publication takes an interdisciplinary approach in deciphering the work of Duke and Battersby, inviting experts from the fields of animal studies, video art, installation practice, queer theory, music and literature to weigh in on the complex ingenuity of their practice.” Full Excerpt of Forward by Andrea Cooper & Dave Liss and Introduction by Mike Hoolboom below:
“The literary post-punk short movies of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby have been tearing up the festival/gallery circuit for the past ﬁfteen years with their blend of bedroom pop, perverse animations and hopes for fame. In this collection of award-winning scripts, creative writings and critical missives, scholars, video legends and animal experts – including Steve Reinke, Sarah Hollenberg, Akira Mizuta Lippit and Tom Sherman – weigh in on why these movies matter.” (Mike Hoolboom)
Table of Contents
Forward by Andrea Cooper & David Liss
Introduction by Mike Hoolboom
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Jason McBride
White Cat to Duke, Do You Read Me? by Claudia Dey
Crazy Pinkie Business by Sholem Krishtalka
An Uncivilised Love by Kyo Maclear
The Song Sung of Emily & Cooper by Terence Dick
Important Things That We Like by Andrea Slováková
People who make rules: Watch Out! by Tom Sherman
My Life (With Duke and Battersby) by Steve Reinke
Dear Steve Reinke by Emily Duke
Audiences: An Interview by Sarah Hollenberg and Mike Hoolboom
Beauty Plus Pity: An Interview by Monique Moumblow
Copula by Akira Mizuta Lippit
Songs of Praise (Script)
Lesser Apes (Script)
Andrea Cooper and David Liss
It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction, yet truths may be best understood through fiction, through the stories, parables, and mythologies that we create to make sense of what is essentially the abject nature of our mortal existence. We are born, we live, and we die. But, of course, another truth is that nothing is ever that simple. That is only where the story begins. At the thematic core of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby’s art is their unflinching contemplation of the beautiful mess of what it means to be human. Drawing inspiration from pop culture, animated cartoons, environmentalism, sex, drugs, science, and magic, and often taking the perspective of various animal species, they wryly examine the idiosyncracies of human behaviour through our relationships to each other, to nature, and to the apparent inevitabilities and unseen forces that govern our existence. Their video work in particular is a trigger point for unexpected emotions and curious behaviour. It’s like accidentally stumbling upon a trap door that leads to a secret universe. Project coordinator and editor Mike Hoolboom refers to their videos as a “celebration of curiosity,” but they are also a celebration of our absurdly wicked universe.
To understand their work is to laugh and cry, to be horrified and uplifted, and to be depressed and joyful of our shared circumstances. In many ways they mock our behaviours and in doing so entertain and engage our imaginations, attuning our awareness to our surroundings and perhaps providing us with some glimmer of an insight into who we are, into this crazy thing that we call life. It is their tenacious curiosity and critical voice that has inspired the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and Pleasure Dome to publish this volume on their extraordinary body of work.
The Beauty is Relentless is a book of essays about the art of Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby. As creators they sit on the frontiers of the imagination, excavating wonder from the hidden recesses of the body. Their complex oeuvre cracks open the imagination. Quite simply, their collected video works are a stunning display of storytelling. This publication takes an interisciplinary approach in deciphering the work of Duke and Battersby, inviting experts from the fields of animal studies, video art, installation practice, queer theory, music, and literature to weigh in on the complex ingenuity of their practice.
Included here are a suite of eleven essays, ten of which were commissioned for this book, while Jason McBride’s ‘Enormous Changes at the Last Minute,’ originally published in Cinema Scopein 2006, was too good to resist reprinting. The new writings are by Claudia Dey, Terence Dick, Sarah Hollenberg,
Sholem Krishtalka, Akira Mizuta Lippit, Kyo Maclear, Monique Moumblow, Steve Reinke, Tom Sherman, and Andrea Slováková, and we are grateful to them for their astute contributions.
It is quite fitting that The Beauty is Relentless contains eight provocative and beautifully written works by Emily Vey Duke because words anchor their art and inspire the audience through audacious, bold, and beautiful storytelling. Duke and Battersby create a new kind of narrative that is part drawing, part poem, and part performance, using its disparate elements to create new conversations.
This publication is the most recent collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and Pleasure Dome, and we are very pleased to join together in supporting the extraordinary work of Duke and Battersby. We are extremely grateful to the artists and to all who have contributed to the project.
Andrea Cooper was a Pleasure Dome collective member and curator from 2007 to 2012. David Liss is the Artistic Director of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.
“There is a visual shorthand I use for each of my friends to keep their celestial heat from turning me into stir-fry. There is one I think of only as “that face,” while another has been reduced to a pair of hands always opening. The caption I run under Emily and Cooper is simple enough; they are the future of the couple. While so many dyads use their togetherness as a fortress against the world, bulwarked behind the tragedies of monogamy, Vey Battersduke seem determined to push against every border and boundary until it gives way under their celebration of curiosity. And once they have worked themselves outside of the rules, their newly won vantage offers a pretty good place from which to make art, though this is not a word that comes easily to them. Literature remains the hoped-for grail, while art is the disappointed bride that they have decided to embrace. The truth is, they have little patience for most of what passes for video art these days, or any other day, and as a result their post-human offerings are tuned up with a rare and exacting invocation of standards. Imagine an indie pop producer demanding all-night studio sessions for her young charges, take after take, until the new tunes lift at every corner.
In an art moment frozen in thrall to the sway of conceptualisms, their work is narrative, hummable, humanoid, and invites identification. Hand-drawn cartoons let animal familiars talk to us about children and God and Daddy’s porn. Stripped down bedroom pop and home-video makeovers jostle with time-lapse compressions unafraid to be beautiful. They don’t proceed with a plan or program; instead, they throw themselves out the windows of their own needs and despairs and wonders, opening their four-armed embrace to homeless island dwellers and feral cats and art mavens. From these close encounters they have created a rare video voice: at once smart and accessible, beautiful and word-wise.
Instead of falling in love with Emily, and of course with Cooper—the two are inseparable, in nearly every sense that matters—we began to correspond, to fill up long text fields with characters, most of them unrecognizable as ourselves—and that brought more relief than perhaps it should have. Our mailings run well past a hundred pages, and one day it will be the best thing I’ve ever been part of, in the art-world, meta-lingo sense of things, that is. One afternoon she wrote: I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Mequitta about the accusation (much flung at me as a younger person) that one is ‘just doing it for attention.’ IT usually being trying to kill one’s self, or cutting, or posting the pages of one’s diary around town. Nobody, for instance, said that Flaubert was just trying to write great novels for attention, or that Jesus was just being the Messiah for attention. Nobody even says (or not
much) that Bob Dylan was just writing those folk songs for attention. People did, however, say that Carolee Schneeman was getting naked and rolling around in sausage for attention. People said that Vito Acconci was just making The Red Tapes for attention (specifically Rosalind Krauss said it). Two years ago, in a fit of masochism and hope, I proposed to Emily and Cooper that we make a movie together. If we were still without a general public’s attention, then perhaps we could grant this gift to one another. They said sure and I proceeded to blitz the two of them (can a chest hold two hearts?) with one idea after another—uncanny songs, genius quotes, found-footage irresistibles. When is too much too little?They were interested in bonobos, as it turned out, a matriarchal society of nearly vegetarian peacenik apes who have sex often and in every possible combination. We staggered through a year and a half of foreign-language mistranslations and pyramid studies before divvying up the pile and heading our separate ways. I worked relentlessly and managed to uncover only new beginnings, while they continued to live every weekend as if it were the last one on the planet and then screamed out a movie with a Sobey deadline pressing on their chests that will be watched for years to come. “So this is what it was like to live in 2010,” some stranger will mutter, wondering that movies could ever have been made, never mind attended, that were flat, and lacking any sense of touch, taste, or smell. Yes, this is what it was like. Welcome to the future of the couple.”