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Vdrome #21 : Matt Wolf

Vdrome #21

Matt Wolf “I Remember: A Film About Joe Brainard”

30 September–9 October 2013


2012, 24’35″
Video, color and sound

 Using found footage and archival audio and visual materials to construct his narrative Matt Wolf creates a memento-like reenactment of Joe Brainard’s poem I Remember. Composed by an ongoing flux of recollections and images, the film maintains the fast cadency of the Brainard’s text while weaving a touching biographical account of the American artist and writer.

Introduced by Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing: Your film I Remember is a kind of biography of the New York School writer and artist Joe Brainard, who died of Aids in 1994 at the age of 53. I say kind of because it’s also a visualisation or vivification of his wonderful book I Remember, which is in itself a difficult to categorise work – an autobiography, let’s say, by way of intensely sensual fragments of memory. What drew you to Brainard as a subject? It strikes me that there’s a kinship between the collaged quality in both his poetry and paintings and your style as a filmmaker.

Matt Wolf: Reading I Remember, I got a sense of Joe’s gentle demeanor… his self-deprecating humor, and the charming modesty that comes across in his work. I’m drawn to that type of person, and there’s something very magical and idiosyncratic about Joe. I think the conceit of his poem is brilliant in its simplicity—just lists of memories that jump between the past and the present. That form really inspired me, and it connects to a kind of experiment I’m also exploring. How do you make memories and stories from the past resonate in the now? When I made this film about Joe, I was in the midst of making another film called Teenage. It’s a very panoramic, collaged treatment of the early history of youth culture. So it felt very natural for me to combine lots of vintage adolescent imagery alongside Joe’s text.

OL: I Remember is interesting as a book because the memories are both intensely personal and somehow also communal, even universal. There’s a relationship, isn’t there, between that and the slippery, complex way you use archival and recreated material in your films (I’m thinking here of Wild Combination, your beautiful portrait of the musician Arthur Russell, and Teenage, too). What I like about I Remember in particular is the way these cookie-cutter images of the American past are redeployed to tell a queer history. Can you talk about the ways you use archival material? I’m always impressed by the way your films disrupt a conventional sense of history by blurring the lines between what actually occurred and what is recreated.

MF: I’m definitely engaging in a sort of biographical fantasy with my films. They’re selective histories, and in a lot of my work, I’m tracing the footsteps of absent subjects, like Joe. So I take certain liberties to bring these figures to life. For I Remember it’s about transforming 1950s Americana imagery into a queer narrative, like you said. I play a lot with context when I use archival footage to change its meaning. For instance, a lot of the footage in I Remember comes from sex education films about Syphilis, but it’s repurposed as more universal images of adolescent awkwardness and longing. I love how these industrial films use real kids, not actors, so I see a kind of documentary integrity there.

OL: We’re both very interested in artists who died of Aids, and in bringing what threatens to become lost work back into the slipstream of history – a kind of salvage, I suppose. One of the charges I find most irritating about this kind of work is that it’s nostalgic. It seems to me a way of shutting down the conversation. Do you think about nostalgia? And can you talk about the place of Aids in your work, particularly in I Remember?

MF: I specifically got stuck making this film because I didn’t want it to be nostalgic. Initially I was just working with the archival recordings of Joe’s text, and it felt locked in the past to me. That’s why I decided to interview Joe’s best friend, the poet Ron Padgett. My conversation with Ron turned into a sort of biography about Joe, but also a larger meditation on creative friendship. Their friendship extended from elementary school until Joe’s death. That longevity and continuity is really profound, I think. So in the film, I tried to shift pretty seamlessly between a biography, a memoir, a poem, and a document of friendship. I was really trying to simulate a conversation between Joe and Ron. That felt very present tense to me, even though Joe isn’t with us.
The danger of nostalgia is romanticizing the past as a better, or more authentic period. That’s not my preoccupation, but I definitely see the world generationally. I try to understand my time and place by analyzing what came before me. Recognizing the destruction and injustice of AIDS is part of that process. So much was lost… what if these incredible artists and cultural figures were forgotten? I want to tell their stories – it gives me more clarity about being an artist in the world today.


A film by Matt Wold

Featuring Joe Brainard & Ron Padgett

Sound design & Editing: Mark Phillips

Produced by Ken Kuchin

Commissioned by Nathan Lee

Research: Michael Dolan

Onine editor & colorist: Sandy Patch (Final Frame Post)

Sound recording: Micah Bloomberg

Additional editing: Nicole Turney

Archival footage & audio courtesy: National Archives, Penn Sound, Ron Padgett

Funding: The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College Foundation For Contemporary Arts

Thank you: Bill Berkson, Ken Kuchin, John Brainard, Nathan Lee, Johanna Burton, Tibor De Nagy Gallery, Tom Eccles, Patricia Padgett, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, Colter Jacobsen, Carl Williamson



Vdrome is an online platform that offers regular, high quality screenings of films and videos directed by visual artists and filmmakers, whose production lies in-between contemporary art and cinema.

Each screening is presented during a limited period, as in a movie theatre.
Vdrome makes available a program of exceptional artists’s films and videos that are selected due to their importance, quality and innovative strength, many of which are only shown in the context of film festivals, exhibitions or specific surveys, being therefore of very limited access.
Vdrome is an initiative conceived and promoted byВ Mousse.

В Vdrome has a permanent viewing location at theВ Museum of Contemporary Art of Detroit.

В Curators: Edoardo Bonaspetti, Jens Hoffmann, Andrea Lissoni and Filipa Ramos

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