In 1963, John Giorno became the protagonist of Sleep, one of the first notoriously unwatchable films by his friend and one-time lover Andy Warhol. For five hours and twenty minutes Giorno sleeps, breathing gently, with almost the only movement on screen coming from the slight wobble of the camera. Sleep would become one of many films that Warhol shot at 24 frames per second (fps) (the standard speed for sound film) and then played back at 16 fps (standard silent film speed), thus slowing down time and elongating the viewing experience beyond even the time the artist spent making the film. Other similar films include Kiss (1963) and Eat (1964), as well as Warhol’s Screen Tests (1964–6), which, like Sleep, each examine a single action or visage for an absurd amount of time—almost like a humorous high modernism—and test the limits of boredom.
The longest of these films is Empire, an eight-hour-and-five-minute shot of the Empire State Building filmed from the 41st floor of the nearby Time-Life Building. In 2012, High Line Art presented Sturtevant’s Warhol Empire State (1972), the artist’s signature duplication of Warhol’s Empire as part of our video program, High Line Channels. The film was projected against the west-facing wall of a residential building next to the High Line; thus, behind the projection emerged the film’s protagonist—the Empire State Building itself, glowing in its changing panoply of colors behind its black-and-white representation. In many ways, the Empire State Building aligns appropriately with Warhol’s celebrity and culinary fixations—icons representative of both everything and nothing. Sturtevant’s copy encapsulates the perfect partner piece to Warhol’s film, even repeating its banality in her facsimile and making the film’s numb boredom all the more pronounced and bizarre.
For the I ♥ John Giorno festival, High Line Art presents Michael Stipe and Dominic DeJoseph’s music video We All Go Back to Where We Belong, John (2011), also as part of High Line Channels, this time projected on a screen in the 14th Street Passage of the park. The video also takes inspiration from Warhol’s films, but in a very different modality from that of Sturtevant’s. In 2011, Michael Stipe and Dominic DeJoseph asked John Giorno and Kirsten Dunst (Stipe’s neighbor at the time) to sit for two separate music videos for their final single. Titled “We All Go Back to Where We Belong,” the song was released on the album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011, a double-disc compilation album that was to be their last. The album also included three new songs, of which this was the final. Stipe and DeJoseph chose to direct the music videos in the style of Warhol’s Screen Tests, inviting Giorno and Dunst to sit in front of the camera, listening to Stipe sing an acoustic version of the simple, sweet farewell ballad.
In contrast with so many of Warhol’s films, which indulge mundanity, unemotive stares into the camera, and cults of personality enacted through the reduction of individuals to their stoic faces, these videos well with emotion, personality, narrative, and the palpable intimacy of the relationships between
the sitters and the musicians. We All Go Back to Where We Belong, John, the video featuring Giorno, even ends with the poet’s silent-lipped thank you’s to the
musicians behind the camera, his eyes welling with grateful tears.
It is exciting to be able to present both Sturtevant’s architectural homage to Warhol and Stipe, DeJoseph, and Giorno’s articulation of friendship and appreciation as part of High Line Channels. Both works show the impossibility of summing up a single person or single lifetime of experience on film. While Warhol attempted to enact this impossibility by vacating his films of narrative, Stipe and DeJoseph stripped down their video as much as possible in order to show one friendship and one song as one modest, yet infinitely moving stand-in for the whole.
High Line Art Assistant Curator