Discussion of John Fillwalk’s work by Donald Kuspit


“I think the best way to indicate Fillwalk’s significance is by comparing his video work--in particular his prize-winning “Final Wisdom” piece--with other important video works. Fillwalk is much more conceptually and technically innovative--unique--however technically masterful and undoubtedly interesting than other video artists. Thus, Michael Somoroff’s time-lapse study of “Nude Descending the Staircase”, which takes as its point of departure Duchamp’s and Richter’s paintings of the same theme, is technically brilliant by way of its transformation of the nude’s body into a time-diagram of her movement. But, as in Duchamp and Richter, the blur of the movement counts for more than the female body, suggesting a neutralization of it into ironic indifference, to refer to Duchamp’s phrase. In contrast, motion does not dissolve female matter in Fillwalk’s work, indicating that Fillwalk moves beyond the all too familiar concern with motion for the sake of motion that informs much modernism, toward a recognition of bodily presence--lived body, as the phenomenological existentialists put it. Similarly, Joseph Nechvatel’s “virus paintings” carry color field painting into computerized video, resulting in an aesthetically brilliant tour de force, but Nechvatel claims to convey “sexual interiority” rather than simply to update (“upgrade”?) color field painting--and yet there is little of the sexual intensity that emerges in Fillwalk’s work. Finally, Michael Reis’s computer-generated “skeleton” figures, presented both in sculptural and video form, “spiritualize” the body by “re-creating” its chakras, but the result is a loss rather than gain in presence.

The brilliance of Fillwalk has to do with his ability to balance the claims of body and spirit, technique and vision. Most uniquely, he integrates language and “matter”--the use of language the conceptualists advocate and the matter they destructively eschew as merely “illustrative” of an idea. In doing so, Fillwalk restores “fullness” to art which has been conceptualized into emotional irrelevance. This in itself gives him an important place in the development of conceptual video.”

Donald Kuspit
Professor of Art History and Philosophy
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Stony Brook, New York