STEVE REINKE

Artist, writer, professor, and clever misfit Steve Reinke (1963) roams in a world of diverse images, scanning a variety of film and video forms – archival TV footage, animation, television talk shows, home movies, porn flicks, or educational films. With his brand of wry humour, he prefers to be known instead for his small, unassuming ideas. His work is testimony to those ideas, unrecognised as such, which we nevertheless act upon, or have acted upon us, in our everyday lives. Reinke confesses, repeatedly, in video after video. Anything can serve as a trigger or screen for discussing his fears, desires, dreams, disappointments, or anxieties. In his darkly witty works Reinke appropriates everything he sees and creates multiple fictions. He manages to couch his improbable scenarios and appalling fantasies into statements of universal truth, making them sound completely reasonable. He lures us into complicity, then take us one step beyond, into a region we can neither anticipate nor occupy comfortably, but one where we might have a chuckle at our own expense. The simple addition of voice and text – both by Reinke, who can make himself sound scientific, suave, indifferent, childish, aggressive, assured, ironic, or melancholic – predisposes the observer to being absorbed in his stories. Reinke opens the Pandora’s box of homosexual desire and fills the screen with anthropological fantasies of primitivism and with images of animals and micro-organisms.In his video work he deploys an amazing repertoire of fantasies, the accumulation of which evinces an obsession with and total openness, if not permeability, to reality.


Ever attuned to the conceits of the art world, media artist, writer and clever misfit Steve Reinke declared his intention to make one hundred videos before the year 2000 (his thirty-sixth birthday). Completed well ahead of schedule, The Hundred Videos (1990-1997) read as a video sketchbook, the chronicle of a young artist exploring his chosen medium. Reinke is best known for these hundred tapes, but also developed several mid-length features. In his video work he deploys an amazing repertoire of fantasies, the accumulation of which evinces an obsession with and total openness, if not permeability, to reality.
Reinke has invented himself as a voluble character -the universal narrator and strange wordsmith- who by turns comments on, analyses, interprets, parodies, describes and obliterates what he sees. He employs the fascinating power of language to transform reality, as well as the impact irony exerts on this observed reality. As we listen to Reinke speak on the track of several of his short video pieces, we think that his deadpan voice-over is mocking seriousness. His uninflected voice is too sincere to be lying but we suspect it probably is. Reinke’s voice further illustrates his personal theory of documentary, which he elaborates in a published essay as well as on the sound track of one of his hundred videotapes. The use of documentary material allows him a peculiar distance on his work, a distance that lets him ’off the hook’, so to speak, as creator, allowing him what he calls ’the excuse of the real’. His subtle point is always that he didn’t create these images, this world (in case of his found footage), it was already out there. Reinke always works on this hesitation: "it is and it isn’t true". In Testimonials (1997) five friends warmly describe what a good lover he is. By this point, the attentive viewer realizes that, like the Reinke family members baring their psyches in Eleven Dreams (1997), they are all gamely saying what Steve has asked them to say.

Many of his videos refer to an autobiographical self offered in the first person narrative, or running as text at the bottom of the image. However, it is not always possible to understand them as being simply of, or about, the artist’s own life. "My video work is elusively autobiographical. I am able to satisfy my need for self-expression without actually expressing anything true about myself. Which is to say that my autobiographical visual essays are for the most part fictional. I am everywhere in my work but you cannot see me. I am forthcoming, but I play fast and loose with the facts."

Reinke invokes the archival material as a site for the play and proliferation of his fantasised self. Reinke’s interest further lies in the analysis of the structuring of identity, sexuality and popular culture imagery. By collapsing the boundaries between documentary and fiction, a video by Reinke states that the boundaries of accepted discourse about these issues have been neatly removed. The ensuing deadpan reversal of both forms inverts the naturalness of any of these discourses, whether they touch on scientific laws, social interaction, gender function or sexual identity. His work can be seen as a laborious undermining of the veracity of representation. His questioning of evidence extends to his playfulness with the historical record, even to absurd extremes. Did Neil Armstrong really say "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" upon setting foot on the moon, as the official line would have it, or did he, as according to Reinke, make a dedication to his much beloved and lost childhood pet? Drawing upon a vast storehouse of popular cultural imagery from, for example, talk shows, pornography and childhood games his videos make demotic cultural forms and techniques the focus for its peculiar brand of archival practice. Reinke rearticulates moribund or vernacular representations, not in terms of a kind of alternative epistemology, but rather in the interests of a technology of pleasure and humour. Thus his tapes might also be seen as exploring the consequences of unleashing the disruptive possibilities of ’camp’ within cultural archives.

Reinke confesses, repeatedly, in video after video. The confessional is a dominant trope in gay discourse. He confesses his desires most directly by taping men undressing, jerking off, lounging around with their shirts off, and surfing in skin-tight body suits. Reinke opens the Pandora’s box of homosexual desire and fills the screen with anthropological fantasies of primitivism, with images of animals and micro-organisms, and of men ejaculating. He however subverts the confessional by confessing to what has not happened, may not be true and queers the reductive identity project of gay assimilation. His boldest transgression is perhaps contained in his videos where he inhabits the role of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. For the gay community Dahmer is (to put it mildly) bad PR. What unifies the videos is an interest in ordinary weirdness, perhaps created by the juxtaposition of his soothing voice over unsettling images. In addition to the discovery of ordinary weirdness, Reinke is also committed to the production of weirdness; for in his tapes, objects and people are as often ’made weird’. If Reinke’s work can be seen to be lacking in big themes, then this is because it deliberately looks elsewhere, eschewing grand scale significance.

Reinke prefers to be known instead for his small, unassuming ideas. His work is testimony to those ideas, unrecognised as such, which we nevertheless act upon, or have acted upon us, in our everyday lives. Reinke received a BFA in Fine Art from York University, an MFA in Visual Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and also attended Interactive Multimedia Design and Production at the Digital Media Studios. His work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, festivals and screenings, at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Power Plant in Toronto. In 1997 he won the Best Canadian Film or Video Award at the Images Festival in Toronto. He co-edited By the Skin of Their Tongues: Artist Video Scripts and Lux: A Decade of Artists’ Film and Video. He lectured at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and currently associate professor of Art Theory & Practice at Northwestern University of Illinois in Chicago.

Steve Reinke’s The Hundred Videos (1990-1997) appear to sum up the various concerns of the ’90s. They begin with a linguistic understanding of meaning, and the use of psychoanalysis, a linguistic form of interpretation, to unravel it. They moved to interests in sexuality, desire, the body, and AIDS. Following the anti-visual turn in the arts mid-decade, they questioned documentary’s relation to truth. But throughout the decade Reinke maintained a conceptual rigour that made these slight works linger in the memory of the viewer. By the end of the decade, in a final rejection of linguistic signification, Reinke and his camera were chasing dustballs under the bed. The Hundred Videos moves its audience through humour to empathy in the time of a music video. Among these videos are those that go one step beyond the expository to the downright discomfiting.

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