Disciplinary Institutions on the big screen this Thursday in Brighton!!!

‘Disciplinary Institutions’ will play on Thursday August 1st at Duke’s at Komedia Brighton as part of the Brighton Pride 2013 Short Film Compilation. Screening starts at 18h30.

I am thrilled because, although my short films have already played on the big screen, it was at festivals abroad so I never got to see them myself, I only ever saw them on computer screens :)

I’m really hoping to be able to meet local independent filmmakers and performers on the night. If you are reading this post and you are a Brighton based underground film maker, an actor or performer, someone who does sound design or composes music, please come talk to me at the bar afterwards! The film selected for the festival is purely visual video art, but I’ve been (slowly :( working on a new project for while. Thanks to the recent heatwave, I nearly finished reading ‘Visionary Film’ by P. Adams Sitney (that’s more than 400 pages of really hardcore reading!) on the beach, and it helped me a lot clarify my ideas. Another post to come on this once I manage to copy my notes scribbled in the margins onto the computer… However a narrative short, even a no budget experimental one like I want to do, is not something I can make on my own like purely visual video art. I need at least 3 performers and a sound person. I probably can manage the camera work and editing by myself, and just use natural lighting cleverly. So really, if you are a Brighton based film or performance person, and you like stuff like David Lynch (my film hero <3 ), Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, ‘The Blue Angel’, Ingmar Bergman, Fassbinder, come talk to me! We could work together and make absolutely no money :)

Contextualising my practice within experimental film and traditional video art

I read the book ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing in order to find more moving image artists who share my themes and concerns. The book surveys moving image art from early cinema to today’s digital moving image, which enabled me to isolate certain themes and genres that creep back in different cultural and technological contexts.

The book surveys avant guarde cinema close to Surrealism, for example the films of Germaine Dulaine and Man Rays’s Le mystère du chateau de Dé, where the camera tracks at low level through the empty rooms of a modernist house, anticipating contemporary works dealing with space and emptiness. I have already written about these artists when I surveyed photography and cinema within Surrealism.

In the 1940s, a new wave of avant garde cinema reappropriated the Surrealist idea of the importance of subjective vision in film. Filmmakers in this tradition are Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton. Critic A.L. Rees coins the term ‘psychodrama’ to describe their works that deal with inner life and conflict, and suggest their air of menace and obsssession may be linked to the cold war climate of paranoia which also influenced the film noir genre.

In Maya Deren Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a woman chases a cloaked figure that may or may not represent the temptation of suicide in successive sequences that blur chronology and geography.

Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) is one the first films ever to have an explicit gay theme: a sleeper awakes to be tormented and and torn apart by mocking sailors, but is reborn in a flow of light and balm to find himself back in bed but no longer alone. The theme reminds me of the old myths of the vegetation Gods (Dyonisos) who suffered ritual sacrifice to be reborn.

(Warning: the following short film contains nudity. Click the embedded player at your own risk.)

Kenneth Anger later made another film dealing with ritual sacrifice: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954-6).

‘Fireworks’ and other films depicting dreams are sometimes referred to as ‘trance films’. The term “trance-film” is taken from P. Adams Sitney, whose book ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) has become the bible of American avant-garde film history.

Sidney Peterson’s The lead shoes (1949) deals with Oedipal themes.

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xe7579
The Lead Shoes (1949) by Lost_Shangri_La_Horizon

Stan Brakhage, a young student of Maya Deren, investigated wish-dreams vs. reality in his films. I liked the light play in ‘Cat’s Cradle’ (1959)

Bruce Baillie’s ‘Castro Street’ (1966) is a non narrative film made of footage of urban landscape and industrial spaces.

During the 60’s, experimental cinema moved towards formal abstraction. In the late 1970’s however, some film makers moved back to exploring the subjective. The best known are Patrick Keiller (now famous for dealing with psychogeography in his films), and Derek Jarman and the ‘new romantics filmmakers’ (including Cerith Wyn-Evans and John Maybury).

The 70’s marked the beginning of a stronger separation between experimental film makers and gallery based video artists. The two traditions of work became very distinct, with gallery based video art tending back then to be non narrative.

However, some works explore the boundary between the real and the dreamlike, for example Robert Whitman ‘Prune flat’ where two performers merge with the images projected onto them and the background.

still from Prune flat

The ‘Psychodrama’ genre in experimental moving image picked up in the 90s.

The works of Canadian artist Stan Douglas deals with the uncanny, the urban space and memory.

‘The Sandman’ (1995) shows two loops filmed at allotments in Potsdam in former East Berlin, while on the soundtrack, someone reads an adapted version of E.T.A. Hoffman’s ‘The Sandmann’ that inspired Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’.

‘Le Detroit’ also uses 2 loops, one projected in negative, the other in positive. It shows a black woman wandering through an abandoned house, looking at abandoned possessions. ‘Le detroit’ makes references to Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and Marie Hamlin’s 1883 chronicle ‘Legends of Le Détroit’ (Le detroit being a French name for the city of Detroit, MI). The video uses the conventions of the horror film to comment on the decline of urban neighbourhoods in Detroit, and the problems of racial tensions in this city.

still from 'Le detroit'

Isaac Julien and Sunil Gupta ‘Looking for Langston: Homage Noir’ (1989) mixes archive footage, dream sequences and staged photographs to talk about American Black Gay poet Langston Hughes and the cultural renaissance of Harlem.

Matthew Buckingham’s film installation ‘A Man of the Crowd’ (2003) is based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe that influenced Baudelaire’s concept of the Flâneur. The camera follows a man wandering through the streets of Vienna, and shows reflections in cafes and store windows while the viewer themselves is reflected on the glass used to make the installation, thus questioning reality and illusion in everyday life.

still from 'Man of the Crowd'

Catherine Sullivan explores theatricality and social conventions. Her work is insprired by film noir and avant-garde cinema. In ‘The Chittendens’ (2005), a six screen video installation, actors in period costumes perform gestures that symbolise different social attitudes or psychological mindsets. Most of the video was shot in an abandoned Post Office in Chicago. The work reflects on property, insecurity, the act of performance in everyday life and hysteria.

still from chittendens

Judith Barry’s ‘Ars Memoriae Carnegiensis’ reinvents the Renaissance concept of ‘memory theatre’, that is, a mental process where a person maps memories to the physical space of a building filled with symbolic objects (and also the drawing or painting of the resulting imaginary space).

In Doug Aitken’s video installation ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) shows a black man wandering the streets and parking lots of Los Angeles by night. The installation is immersive: the viewer is invited to physically moves through the spaces delimited by the several screens, while the sound design gives a unity to the different visuals. The immersive quality invites the viewer to share the protagonist’s feeling of urban alienation.

In 2006, Aitken produced ‘Broken Screen: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken’ (Distributed Art Publishers, 2006), a book of interviews with twenty-six artists who aim to explore and challenge the conventions of linear narrative. Interviews included Robert Altman, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, Kenneth Anger and others. It seems this book cross references both artists that I found while doing this research, and filmmakers that I like such as Herzog, so it may be worth checking it out.

Irish artist Willie Doherty also uses installations to create feelings of physical unease and psychological paranoia. Ghost Story (2007) shows how the landscape of the North of Ireland is haunted by the traumatic events that took place there. The camera moves down a road, never reaching any destination, while a man (actor Stephen Rea) narrates in voice-over horrible events that he witnessed. However, no pshysical trace of these events are visible on the onscreen visuals, it is just an empty landscape. The land is scarred psychologically, but not visibly.

Kutlug Ataman’s five-screen video installation ‘Stefan’s Room’ (2004) is a psychological study of obssession and an individual’s relation to their private space. On one screen, a young German man, Stephan, discusses in detail his passion for moths which he both breeds and collects. The other screens show close-ups of insects, either live specimen crawling quietly on Stephan’s arms and hands, or his collection of dead specimen on display in his appartment.

Stephan's Room still

Douglas Gordon uses the screen and formal cinematic conventions to explore psychological instability. In a show ‘what have i done’ at the Hayward Gallery in 2003, he used mirrors reflecting his screen based work to create illusions of spatial confusion in the viewer. Because he is is interested in the formal conventions of cinema, he often uses found footage, most notably in ’24 hour psycho’ (about which I had already talked in a previous blog post) where he slows down Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ to last 24 hours. However, a newer piece ‘Fog’ (2002) uses original footage. Inspired by a 19th-century Scottish novel by James Hogg, ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ (1824) where a man meets his double, who really is the Devil and convinces him to commit crimes, ‘Fog’ shows a man looking at his own shadow. The image is repeated on the other side of the screen, deliberately out of synch, so that at times the man is looking at himself looking at his shadow. The theme of the double is also present in ‘Self-portrait’ (1994) where the artist confronts his reflection. The video is shown as a negative image so as to question issues of reality and illusions. In Douglas Gordon’s own words, ‘The negative image indicates a flip-side of our reality, and so everything we know is turned upside down / inside out. What is the reverse side of self-reflection? What is the opposite of truth?’

I found my own video work to be very close to these works which use the aesthetic conventions of fiction, such as horror, noir or other genre movies or dream sequences, to talk about social concerns without formally resorting to the traditional documentary style. I like the aura of moral and philosophical ambiguity that blurring the lines of documentary and fiction gives to a moving image work.

Contextualising my practice within digital moving image

In Digital Art, Christiane Paul writes about a type of Digital Art that uses Digital technologies as a tool, without necessarily ‘reflecting on those technologies’ aesthetics [nor] making a statement about them’.

Among the works of this types, Craig Kalpakjian’s digital video Corridor (1997) follows a computer generated seemingly endless hallway that causes in the viewer feelings emptiness and alienation by way of its cold formal perfection.

She makes a difference with Digital Art using digital technologies as a medium. She says that such art ‘exclusively uses the digital platform from production to presentation’ and ‘exhibits and explores that platform’s inherent possibilities’. In consequence, such art is ‘interactive, participatory, dynamic, and customizable’ but it ‘has multiple manifestations and is extremely hybrid’ and its theme is not necessarily technology-related. She classifies interactive installations within this category of art, and I feel this is the direction I could take to use more cutting edge technologies within my work. I am particularly interested in installation that use digital technology to go beyond traditional video installation by enhancing the feeling of immersion, or by making them react to the viewer. Christiane Paul extends her survey of such art in her essay ‘Expanding cinema: the moving image in Digital Art’, published in ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing.

Some immersive video installations experiment with the spatialisation of moving image in a physical environment, for example Michael Naimark’s Be Here Now (1995) and Jeffrey Shaw’s Place, a user manual (1995). Both works are descriptive and documentary like, but I would like to use spatialisation together with the next type of work which explores narrative.

Other video works explore the possibility of ‘abandoning control over an image sequence’ (in Grahame Weinbren’s words), constructing a digital cinema based on interactive visual narratives.

One of the earliest interactive narrative films is Lynn Hershman’s Lorna (1979-84) made for television. The viewer navigates the narrative with a remote control. The minimal control technology is similar to a favourite piece of mine, Markus Schinwald’s Dictio Pii, where the viewer switches between characters’ point of views using a remote control. Lorna tells the story of a woman who lives a completely isolated life in her appartment, her TV being her only interaction with the outside world. The disruption in the non-linear narrative caused by the viewer’s using the remote mirror Lorna’s unstable psychological state. The story has three possible endings: escape from the apartment, suicide or the end of mediation by shooting the television.

Weinbren’s own work Sonata (1991-3) blends two classical works, allowing the viewer to modify the steam of the narrative. The 2 story lines share the themes of seduction and murder: the Biblical story of Judith who pretended to seduce and decapitated the general Holofernes, and Tolstoy’s The Kreuzer Sonata in which a man’s suspicion that his wife has an affair with a violinist leads him to kill her.

weinbren - sonata (still from)

Toni Dove made a trilogy of digital video installations that address the unconscious of consumer economies.

In Artificial Changelings (1998) (on Toni doves’s website and on , the viewer controls the narrative by stepping into four sensor-controlled zones on the floor. Zone 1 steps into a character’s mind, Zone 2 prompts a character to address the viewer directly and Zone 3 induces a trance or dream state. The last zone causes the story to travel into the past.

still from toni Dove's Artificial Changelings

Spectropia (1999-2002) uses the metaphor of time travel and supernatural possession to connect two narratives, one taking place in the future and the other in 1931. The interface employs sensors, speech recognition and vocal triggers in order to enable viewers to navigate the spaces, speak to characters and have them respond, move a characters’s body and alter or create a sound.

I found those works very interesting and relevant to my practice because they explore dark psychological themes. It’s almost as though they use the possibility of random choices afforded by digital technologies to simulate the often erratic and irrational way human beings make decisions and choices.

I might look for further information on the subject in a book she recommends: Expanded Cinema (1970) by Gene Youngblood.

I found Christiane Paul’s book an interesting read because it helped me contextualise my own practice within digital art, while I often feel I share little concern with the more technology-centric hardcore digital art. It gave me ideas about how I could use more cutting edge technology within my practice while still keeping my non-technology minded themes.

Markus Schinwald

I realised I had no post about Austrian Video artist Markus Schinwald despite him being my very first video art influence. In 2005, I saw “Dictio Pii” (2001) at the Tate modern and I was immeditely spellbound by it. The video shows strange, stoic looking characters wandering aimlessly though a drab, dark hotel that would not look out of place in a David Lynch or Roy Andersson movie, or a Kafka novel. The characters perform odd, seemingly pointless actions and seem utterly lost in the labyrinth of the hotel. Apparently, the journey of each character is on a separate channel and the viewer is invited to switch between them with a remote. However I did not know that when I saw it at the Tate as I did not get access to the remote. I thought the switch of point of view was pre-ordained by the artist. This turned out irrelevant to my enjoyment of the piece though.

I copy here the haunting voice over monologue that accompanies the characters’s meanderings:

We are the perfume of corridors
Unfamiliarised with isolated activity
Traitors of privacy.

We are Utopian craftsmen
Scope heeled diplomats, pretty beggars
Not the product of poverty
We don’t take from anyone.

We are pillared by mild sadness and polymorphic history
Eternally skeptical,

But We Believe.

We are immortal volunteers
Living in the sensation of being everything
And the certitude of being nothing.
We are just an outline.

We disband prompted paths of movement
Extend our bodies,
Become abysmal dancers.
We are illiterate of perfection, following the curves of belief.
Interested only in the gestures of bending.
Scaffold-ed postures,
obscene geometry.
Frozen irony.

We are derranged.

Other works with the same atmosphere of claustrophobia and isolation seem to be “1st Part conditionnal” (2004) and
“Ten in Love” but I could only see excerpts from it on youtube.

Video Art – Sylvia Martin

This books surveys 40 years of video-art.

P10: Andy Warhol 16mm film installation called “Outer and Inner Space” (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/outer-and-inner-space/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHz4yWx9MtE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB8lesKwf5Q

P16: Bruce Nauman, “Live/Taped Video Corridor” (1970): The visitor is filmed in the corridor, and their image is shown on a screen. The closer the viewer comes to the scree, the smaller their image appears (because the camera is located att he opposite end from the screen). “The viewers’s sense of orientation and mental security were equally challenged by this video installation” “visually [multiplying] the feeling of physical distress already caused by the confining space”.

P17: “Pipilotti Rist and Diana Thater play with mentally annexing the viewer in their video installations. With their monumental projections which, from various perspectives, overlay the real architecture and create their own, illusionistic space, they approach the strategies of feature films: that is, conventional narrative films aim at suspending cinema visitors’ belief and getting them to identify with the plot.”

Pipilotti Rist, “Homo Sapiens Sapiens”(2005), projections on the dome of the San Staë Church in Venice.

Diana Thater, “Delphine”(1999), underwater world into which visitors can walk, until they run into the video screens and are brought back to reality.

P18: “conventional narrative cinema works with a parallel film time not connected to reality. The ideal aim of this type of different time level is for the cinema audience to synchronize themselves with it, meaning that they should enter fully into the story and its temporal narrative.”

P24: Gitte Villesen: “I want the line between art and documentary, fiction and reality, to be blurred.”

P24: Eija-Liisa Ahtila «Talo (The House)» (2002) “tells the story of a woman whose connection to reality begins to dissolve. The woman hears voices that disrupt her everyday life and invalidate the “normal” structure of space and time. This work was based upon discussions with psychosis patients who had overcome their illness. Ahtila attempts to cinematically understand an altered spatial and temporal perception, and to audio-visually reproduce abnormal thought processes.” The video contains “perspectively distorted details from the house’s interior”.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/the-house/

Ahtila’s installation explores the mind of a young woman who undergoes episodes of psychosis, yet in the end somehow comes to term with her newly ordered world. Choosing unremarkable surroundings, objects, and activities, Ahtila depicts the everyday trials of mental illness as a rupture in the flow of images, placing on three screens alternate views.
Nuanced and subtle in her portrayal of mental illness, Ahtila avoids melodrama to present a narrative in which the brilliant light of the Finnish midsummer serves as a backdrop for a domestic drama in which, eventually, an unpredictable psyche adapts, however precariously, to the profound and sometimes marvelous distortions it is capable of producing.
(Source:http://www.dm-art.org/PastExhibitions/exhibition_ahtila.htm)

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4vwi5_the-house-eijaliisa-ahtila-1_creation

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4w98d_the-house-eija-liisa-ahtila-2_creation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-ZbvZY7o0Y

P32: Doug Aitken, “Electric Earth” (1999), 8 channel video, “walking through the deserted city at night”, “desolate landscapes, deserted towns, dilapidated industrial zones”.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/electric-earth/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zdSMVhqOsQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSziysd2Duk

P52: Douglas Gordon, “Twenty four Hour Psycho” (1993)
slowed down version of Hitchcock’s psycho, “cinematic ready-made”

P60: Pierre Huyghe
“Remake”(1994), remake of Hitchcock’s “Rear window”(1954) as a home movie
“Les Incivils”(1995), remake of Pasolini’s “Hawks and sparrows”(1966)

P94: Gillian Wearing, “strange mixture of documentation, theatrical production and everyday life”.