Essays about exhibitions
On Frances Scholz and Mark von Schlegell: Amboy
by the artists
Amboy / Fragments for a Screenplay

Frances Scholz & Mark von Schlegell

with help from
Chris Kraus and Leslie Allison

“BP,” land art by Karl Amboy, located near Amboy City. Susan Lichtenstein photograph taken from plane during location scouting, March 2014.



To what extent are gender norms policed by culture and the arts? Accessing the violence Judith Butler and others speak of at the core of the cultural enforcement of gender, the artist Karl Amboy has made an infamous career by spoofing and embodying the male-ist fanaticism of Western American culture. He’s gotten incredibly rich in the process. But the artist has retreated into silence long ago, into the creation of a perfectly real western horror movie town, Amboy, out in the desert.

“AMBOY/ in out /AMGIRL. . .”

Our filmmaker, German artist “Susan Lichtenstein,” is making a film about Lydia van Vogt, German emigrant and widow of science fiction grandmaster A.E. van Vogt, when she’s interrupted to make the first documentary about Amboy.

She’s heard of Amboy. At age 19 in the ’80s our filmmaker once published a short text in an art magazine where she herself had naively pointed to Amboy as a feminist.

She has not heard of the town. It’s an incredibly secreted place, famously without any law, a symbol of art’s removal from ordinary reality and laws. Was this the reason she was selected to make the film? As the film is being made, so it immediately seems, Susan glimpses a movie beyond the horror picture Amboy clearly intends her to make: where gender is itself a projection from outside onto the skin of the real and where the artist craves her/his transformation into a woman.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the serial killing of female artists has begun . . . .


1. Lydia Leaving. Alone.

2. Lydia Entering/Door.

3. Office. Time Machine.

4. Lydia Leaving.

Downtown Santa Monica, CA.
Susan is filming Lydia in a Bookstore, looking for copies of Slan. A stranger appears and buys the book out from under them.

Later, dinner with Mrs. van Vogt.
Discover: the stranger is the waiter.

“There’s no such thing as a time machine...”


Ext. Los Angeles art gallery. Night
Susan stands among a group of artists and visitors to a gallery.

Int. Los Angeles art gallery. Night
People saying awkward art world things together, including Juliet. Juliet sees S. through windows.

Ext. Los Angeles art gallery. Night
S. seems confused as people are saying things to her.

  What?? Oh yes. I plan on seeing that show tomorrow.

Juliet approaches now.

  Hi. I’m Juliet Romero. I’m a freelance curator! And a writer! I’ve got you now! Finally!

  Me?? But. . .

  Yes You.

Juliet points something at the camera. Is that a knife??

  Juliet (whispers)
  Karl Amboy wants you to make a film.

  No thanks. I’m already making films.

  Hey—where’re you going? I was just—it’s—but you can’t say no!

Cut To:
Ext. Los Angeles street. Night.
S. is hurrying down the street, alone in the darkness. She hears footsteps behind her.

Cut To:
Ext. Los Angeles street. Night.
S. comes around a corner, running: a car almost hits her! But it’s

Cut To:
Ext. Los Angeles street. Night.
A Taxi. With a friendly Driver.

  Anything I can help with, ma’am??

Fade Out


Ext. Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Next day
Susan is entering the museum in the broad light of day. A Protester outside holds a sign: SURVEILLANCE ART IS STILL SURVEILLANCE!

Int. Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
S. walks through an empty gallery room. On the wall there is a small video screen. She approaches it.

Close-up on TV Screen
As we look, TV shows Juliet and a rich Collector in another room. Juliet is turning—wide-eyed and pointing. Collector is nodding furiously.

Cut to:
Cont. Int. Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
S. turns to her left and sees Juliet and the Collector on the far end of this room, approaching her rapidly. To her right a Museum Guard seems to block exit. Juliet greets S. with over-the-top intimacy.

  Sweetie! So great to see you! What a dream! I want you to meet Udo!

  Yes yes I know who you are.

  She’s the one doing the Amboy film.

  Amboy film? I thought I—

  Amboy? Again??? (he laughs) But do you think you’ll really go all the way with him? All the way to Amboy my dear—aren’t you afraid of the desert—

Stop it Udo! Don’t scare her—

S .
I told you no.

S Pulls away forcefully. S . bumps past Museum Guard.

Close-Up on TV Screen
Juliet and Udo are laughing at S.

Fade Out


Int. French Publishers Office.
Hedi (Publisher) and Noura (translator) greet Lydia
van Vogt.

As you know, we French adore van Vogt. We want to translate everything new. So we were translating NULL-A 3 and Noura noticed


Noura explains.
Not problems; differences. In how the earlier books were written, even improvements.

I ask you point blank, Mrs. van Vogt. Did you
write NULL-A 3?


They all look at each other.

Mrs. van Vogt. It’s only because I would like to discuss with you the possibility of a Null-A 4.

Lydia (beat)
I might have something in the garage.

Int. Los Angeles café. Afternoon.
S. is at a table with a laptop. Accessing information about Karl Amboy. Documentary Footage/Headlines/etc. information goes for sometime, demonstrating Amboy was a bad-boy ’80s art star whose decadent lifestyle was inseparable from his extravagant career. At some point everything became secretive. There’s something about an artificial volcano.

Email Text
You’ve got mail!

It is an invitation to a lecture by writer Chris Kraus and shows her face and the title: Amboy: American Artist, a lecture.

Fade Out


Susan reads an old letter. Opened. Addressed to Mrs. Lydia van Vogt, Beechwood Canyon.

  Dear Lydia,
  This letter, witnessed and signed in the presence of Jeremy P. Koralski, notary public of Amboy, CA, April 23, 1953, testifies irrevocably to the following fact (as determined to be so by the undersigned members of the Los Angeles Society of Science and Fiction):

  Alfred Elton van Vogt (your present husband) never owned a time machine. Nor will you. Ever.

  Yours truly, in perpetuity,
A.E. van Vogt
  Ron Hubbard
  C. L. Moore
  Harlan Ellison
  Ray Bradbury


Camera discovers: The letter was postmarked 1789.


Chris Kraus Gives Lecture
Amboy, American Artist

  Do you think of your work as a self-perpetuating machine?

  Yeah, when it runs perfectly. My work has to have information to feed on. It doesn’t feed on itself. It doesn’t feed into some bathtub conception of art. I never sit in a bathtub and come up with ideas.

Amboy in conversation with Bernard Elsemere & Mark Sanders
Dazed & Confused, August 1998

"I'd like to talk tonight about Amboy, American Artist..."


Int. Museum Lecture Hall.
People rising from their seats and beginning to chat, etc. Everyone’s moving (Udo is visible and other friends from the Opening).

Close-Up on Juliet.
She’s looking for someone. Sees nothing. Stonefaced, she heads for exit. We follow. She is greeted etc. and ignores everyone, hurrying for the exit. As she exits S. grabs her and surprises her.

  I’ll do it. But if there’s a film it happens on my terms.

  Sweetie! I knew you’d come around!

Fade out

The woman artist must die..."


A party where all the groups are talking about Amboy.
We overhear:

  Amboy is concrete poetry, quite literally.
  Amboy is to curating what Pound is to literature.

  Amboy is performance.
  Amboy is trash.

  Amboy makes no sense without neo-feminism.
  Amboy is music.

  Don’t buy into the Amboy persona.
  Amboy had his own tuning.
  Amboy reinvented the folk blues.

  Why publish without Amboy?
  Amboy is the of so-called neo- conceptual art.

Later S . catches Norman M. Klein with the camera.

  So you wanna know the truth about Amboy? Well OK. But I don’t want to say it on camera—

Fade Out


Ext. Neighborhood
Susan and Assistant approach the door of what might be Amboy’s father’s house.

Father in boxers and t-shirt is reading poems of Francois Villon. After knock he’s running around and hides. There’s another knock.

  Father (D. Devito)
  What da fuck has she—

He goes up the peep-hole. Sees

Susan camera and assistant.

  Father ctd.
  What the fuck?

  Hello? Mr. Amboy?

He opens the door. She steps back. He sticks his head out.

  Mr. Amboy?

  You’re calling me that for satirical purposes?

I am making a film about your son.

Son! Son!

He looks at camera then. Steps forward in bathrobe.

  Father ctd.
  You ask for some little testament. To him of whom you ask, I leave—no, not my van. That big-city bastard—no better player ever lived. I leave him three straw trusses! To spread as his mattress on the ground ... For on it his living must be found— (he smiles) the only trade or skill he ever knew. That’s my item. Good day to you, too.

He slams the door.

S. discovers a tape of father dressed in priest costume going through what appears to be a ritual.

Still Later
We discover Amboy’s father was an actor who did bit parts in Hollywood.

"I'm on a stake-out. You better keep walking..."



Uncle Charlie is a well-known western musician with head in the clouds. We come upon him playing a song in a canyon in the desert. Later we find him playing another song. In mid-song he stops and sees a poster across from him fixed into a tree. He reads the poster, tears it from the tree and keeps it. Starts walking. He’s walking with the guitar down the road feeling good. Sees another Stranger.

  Uncle Charlie
  Pardon me, are you Amboy by any chance?

  Amboy is not a personage. Amboy’s a whole town. (He points). That way.

  Uncle Charlie
  Well, all right. . . (he walks)

EXT. Near Amboy.
A car is zooming through desert. From inside Sister and Nieces see Uncle Charlie walking in distance.

  There he is! There he is! Uncle Charlie!

The car comes squealing to halt next to him on the road. The kids open the door for him, as Sister leans out.

  Uncle Charlie!

He leans in the open window.

  Are you crazy? You’ve got a show tonight in Hollywood!

  Uncle Charlie
  You said “Valley of the Shadow of Death.”

  No. I said Museum of Contemporary Art.

  Charlie (takes it in slowly)
  AH. O.K. sorry.

  If I wasn’t your sister. . .

  Niece 1
  She’s your manager too!

  Niece 2
  Fear no evil, Uncle Charlie! We’ll protect you!

  Get in already!

  Well, all right. It’s cool. . .

He gets in. They drive off.


The Woman Artist is dying, sees a vision.

  Priest (giving a weird sermon)
  Sanskrit, Aramaic, Hebrew, they lead to the same place. Each letter is in fact hand gestures. There is a real code.

He is moving his hands to make weird shadow animals.

  Priest cont.
  The only book that knows this is the Nible. . .

  Priest cont.
  The letter aleph is the hanged man reborn born again. Its number is the one of the eye and so Christ is the node, the maleficence, the booty.

S. dying, the Priest finally looks at her, acknowledging he is real, beyond death.

  All right. I confess! she left you a message. She is a he. You belong to him. To Amboy for all time. Welcome to Hell. You’re home.



Leslie Allison

Why the female artist must die
In this film, female artists die. Woolf says the future is dark. It is not that the future is female, but that the future is death.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

Thousands of years ago
When we wandered out of Alexandria we padded into the desert. And now we wander out of the desert into the dark. Lilting into darkness powered by pearls.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

On being a pearl
Woolf says the shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central pearl of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

On death
You can’t be mortal if you’re dead. Woolf says why are the women artists dying? Death increases perception, in the same way darkness, moreover uncertainty and ambiguity, transforms you into a giant pearl, rounded in slippery non-binary gleaming.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

On being a pearl
This lack of a side, of any anatomical determination, rolls time, that is to say the planet, forward.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

Stein says, Can women have wishes? Can women have wishes?
Lifted from our invented bodies, we can. It has already begun with the women artists in this film and now their moonstruck eyes swallow everything. There is resonance of a bell, of a bottle, wind sucking into or out of.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

Why the female artist must die
When we left Alexandria we found caves to fuck in and sought to establish a separatist matriarchal artist- run society but it was flawed by necessity of our being alive, and over time it crumbled. The hope is now in dying, thousands of years later.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

On Death
Women are dying everywhere because men kill them. How do we escape the authoritarian control of the patriarchy over our bodies but to go for death. Joyfully.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

Kill me
Am I getting too heavy with this lecture? Because I feel heavy.

Third eye breast, breast third eye

Kill me
I feel generations of sand and rocks blocking my third eye and every other orifice. My fantasy kill me. My fantasy kill me.

Third eye breast, breast third eye


"I'll be your ghost. Forever."


STOP/THE/BUS productions presents
AMBOY (a two alien situation) a Frances Scholz film

Paul Giamatti, Lydia van Vogt and Leslie Allison, Eleanor Antin, Penny Arcade, Lily Benson, Colin C. Blodorn, Sol Blodorn, Kath Bloom, Connor Boettger, Matthew Chambers, Gracie DeVito, Jake DeVito, Ruben Diaz, Travis Diehl, Hedi El Kholti, Claire L. Evans, Alaina Claire Feldman, Matt Fishbeck, Andrea Fraser, Jeff Hassay, Nikolaus Hirsch, Bettina Hubby, Jessica Jackson, Hutchins Keenan, Jay Sergej, Jensen Robert, Kinberg Chris, Kraus Sarah, Lehrer-Graiwer, Barry Levin, Lottie Jackson Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus, Sunday Malkmus, Brian Mann, Juliet McIver, Kimberli Meyer, Douglas Messerli, Kim Mitseff, Warren Neidich, Annie O’Malley, Laura Owens, Tom Peters, George Porcari, Ralf Rosar, Magnus Schäfer, Frances Scholz, Tif Sigfrids, Joe Sola, Andy Stewart, Colm Tóibín, Bec Ullrich, Sophie von Olfers, Mark von Schlegell, Tom Watson, Noura Wedell

directed by
Frances Scholz

screenplay by
Mark von Schlegell and Frances Scholz

with lectures by
Chris Kraus and Leslie Allison

Frances Scholz, Mark von Schlegell and Tif Sigfrids

production assistance
Evamaria Schaller

Frances Scholz

additional camera
Mark von Schlegell, LeRoy Stevens and Lily Benson

Frances Scholz

editing assistance
Jan Höhe

Dieter Bähr

swan costume
Bec Ulrich

songs by
Bill “Country,” Kath Bloom “Something to Tell you,” “Fall Again,” Cross “Cry,” “Horoscopes,” E-Rock “Beneath The Lake,” “Damp Cave,” “The Temple of Fine,” Holy Shit “Labradors,” “Who am I,” “7 Audiosur,” “11 Audiospur,” “Anything Else,” Milkblood “You Forgot,” “A.M.B.O.Y.,” “Bad Union,” “When a Cat,” “High In the Morning,” Milkblood & Tif “Irish Lily,” “A.M.G.I.R.L.,” Stephen Malkmus instru-mentals, Stefan Müller “Poisoned Tea,” “Tissues.”

with additional music by
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks Barry Sallaberry and Andy Stewart

special thanks to
Carlos Aceve, Dieter Bähr, Hastings Farrel, In N Out Burger, Karin Hochstatter, Michael Ned Holte, Philip Kaiser, Robbie Kinberg ,Barry R. Levin Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, George Taylor Louden, Eric Mast, Julia McIver, Kimberli Meyer, MAK Center, Schindler House, Shirley Morales, Albert Okura, Joe Perloff, Marjorie Perloff, Lúcia Prancha, Jason Rhoades, Julia Scher, Sensation X, Sprüth Magers, London, Berlin, Jamie Stevens, The Jicks, Philip Valdez, Lydia & Alfred Elton van Vogt and Scott Zwiezen

shot on location in
Los Angeles, Malibu, Amboy City, Mojave Desert, Brooklyn and Route 66


Frances Scholz and Mark von Schlegell: Amboy is on view at CCAWattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, in San Francisco, from September 10 to November 21, 2015. It is curated by Jamie Stevens and organized with Leila Grothe. Special thanks to Tif Sigfrids, Los Angeles, and Kunststiftung NRW.

Visit the exhibition here.

Download the PDF of the exhibition brochure here.