LUX ICO ‘Parallel: Artist Moving Image’
Bristol 4-6 March 2016
Parallel was a LUX/ICO training and preview screening weekend. It also coincided with a Bristol based art collective’s showcase exhibition.
‘PARALLEL rethinks the format of industry-only Screening Days, to instead present a public event which in addition to previewing new work, also affords itself the space to think more broadly about contemporary practice, and the artist’s relationship to the site of the cinema in particular, as distinct from the space of the gallery.’ Adam Pugh, ICO
Arnolfini, a centre for contemporary arts, was the venue for the weekend, and the screenings took in shorts, feature film and documentary previews, archive films and Q&As. The training session gave an overview of Artist Moving Image, and how it is integrated into larger programmes of artistic practice.
Lucy Reynolds; MRes Central St. Martins.
In the space of an hour, Reynolds covered a brief history of AMI. Citing examples of pioneering figures and movements in the field of experimental film. These included: Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, Derek Jarman, Guy Sherwin and London’s Filmmaker Co-op from 60s/70s, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger and the French avant-garde of the 20s, Maya Deren, Hanz Richter, Stan Vanderbeek, Stan Brakhage and the various New York underground scenes, Christian Marclay, Anthony McCall, Valie Export, Laure Provoust. Literature on the subject was also quoted. Writers included: Lewis Jacobs, Sheldon Renan.
Of special note: London Film Society (1925), Cinema 16 and Amos Vogel, ‘Line Describing A Cone’ 1973 by Anthony McCall, filmmaker Jonas Mekas and Anthology Film Archives, and New Zealand filmmaker/ sculptor Len Lye.
‘Case Studies in Contemporary Practice’
Isla Leaver-Yap; LUX Scotland, Glasgow
Leaver-Yap discussed a LUX Scotland non-urban touring programme, ‘Where I Am’. She revealed how practice and programming should be receptive to locality, how WIA has become a resource platform and how the online template for it has inversely affected the digital mapping of similar AMI programmes in SW England. She explained about the genesis of LUX Scotland, how it acts more on an agency model basis, working in kind support of other organisations, and cited a number of artists they work with: Douglas Gordon, Rosalind Nashashibi, Margaret Salmon, Duncan Campbell, Luke Fowler. She went on to briefly describe the LUX Collection of over 4000 films and how to access it, the Critical Forum discussion groups in Glasgow and Dundee, and finally SUPERLUX, their membership programme.
Christo Wallers; Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle
Wallers began by drawing on the collective experience of spectatorship, and expressed his belief that the viewing of films of any kind is best done in a cinema. He went on to speak of how he and a friend took over a closed cinema in Newcastle called Side Cinema, a space originally established by a left-wing collective in 60s/70s called Amber. Inspired by both the DIY and Squat cultures, Wallers explained how they then expanded Side Cinema into ‘Star & Shadow Cinema’ and relocated it in a purpose built space within a warehouse. Turning our attention to Burnlaw, a village outside of Newcastle, where Wallers lives with his family, he then explained about his other project, ‘Losing The Plot’, an annual film retreat where film enthusiasts gather to watch and discuss challenging and non-mainstream films amidst a landscape of barns and forest. He made reference to a book, ‘The Ignorant School-Teacher’ and emphasised some of the principles in it that have influenced what they do at LTP:
- No hierarchies
- Create conditions for good relationships- food, friendship, time
- Experimental Spectatorship
- Artist film is an agent for discourse
He concluded his talk listing a number of networks for experimental film: Lightcone, Kino Climates and Collectif du Jeune Cinema.
Liz Leyshon; Strode Theatre, Somerset
Leyshon described the situation within a SW England regional mixed arts centre, Strode Theatre, where she has been manager since 1993. Having been refused all its local authority funding in 2011, they were forced to look outside of the normal parameters for support. This included local trusts, personal donations from Friends of the Theatre, and private funding, and Leyshon openly illustrated the manner in which money is filtered through private and public bodies.
Over the course of 5 years, she has overseen the successful renovation of the building to cater for cinema, and despite the normal viewing habits of the audience at Strode, this now also includes art-house and AMI. Leyshon also gave a brief description of how to nurture a more varied taste in an otherwise closed demographic, the history of regional theatre, and with particular reference to SPECTREX, (the current box-office selling and reporting package they use at Strode), gave a quick overview of their box-office and marketing strategies.
‘Marketing & Audience Development’
Jo Blair; Picturehouse Cinemas
Duncan Carson; ICO
Adam Pugh; ICO
Drawing on events they had been involved in, and works that have greatly inspired them, the speakers highlighted key means of best marketing an event:
- Build on established networks, including pre-existing festivals
- Self design flyers, and ensure clarity of message (what, directions etc.)
- Don’t alienate pre-existing audiences or artists
- Experiment with screenings as parts of bigger events
- Challenge social conditioning
- Work with children, offering workshops
- Stay up to date with Social Media
- Key ways in which works will be accessed include: location, genre, star, history
- Cross-promote other events
- Use target emails
- Delegate enough time to Marketing, being careful not to concentrate solely on Curating
- Key words to include: originality, beauty, rawness, provocative
- Include any scenes the work may fall under
- Source exciting or intriguing images and stills
Jemma Desai; British Council/ICO
I Am Dora Jemma Desai
Desai gave a presentation in 2 parts. In the first part she invited each member of the audience to describe an event they were involved in that used programming of the moving image in an otherwise alternative context. I cited an upcoming Belfast Film Festival special event aimed at gently challenging conditioned xenophobia in a localised area of Belfast- a screening of ‘Life May Be’, a UK/Iran collaboration film, followed by Iranian food and music. Other examples from those there present, (programmers, curators, artists, festival organisers, venue managers), included using AMI in an educational context, experimental use of sound in a gallery installation, using the musical genre as a specialised programme, and site specific work. In the second part Desai went on to encourage us as programmers to have courage in our convictions, to not underestimate our audience, to have precise coherence and subjectivity in any personalised programme, to be generous and to allow for fluidity and change. She then discussed her own recently curated event, ‘I Am Dora’, using it as an example of subjective interpretations of cinema, and a body of work having multiple reactions to one original starting point.
‘La Giubba’ by Corin Sworn and Tony Romano (Canada/Italy/UK)
A tender and very loose drama, abstract in parts, about a few nomadic characters roaming Italian countryside, who cross paths so fleetingly it barely registers, however a piece of clothing goes missing, and from this encounter the potential for further narrative is left open. With stunning images of the pastoral countryside and vast, often inhabited skies, the filmmakers draw attention to the various languages and traits of migrants and indigenous people alike. Sworn who was in attendance for the screening, was the recent winner of the ‘Max Mara Art Prize for Women’. With this she was able to avail of 3 separate residencies in Italy in order to further her research into the rich history of Commedia dell’Arte, the acting troupes that toured Italy from 16th Century.
‘The Sky Trembles…’ by Ben Rivers (UK)
‘A multi-layered excavation into the illusion of cinema itself, a director abandons his film set and descends into a hallucinatory, perilous adventure. Rivers latest feature is a visually unsettling film that moves between documentary, fiction and fable, taking us from the staggering beauty of the Moroccan landscape to the rugged terrain of the Atlas mountains, and the emptiness of The Sahara.’
I was only able to see the first half of Rivers’ film. I was taken by the landscape and the gentle pace. I look forward to seeing it properly on its general release, and hope to access his earlier work.
‘The Host’ by Miranda Pennell (UK)
‘While investigating her parents involvement with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP), filmmaker Pennell came across the letters of an Iranian geologist in Iran in 1930s, who would later embark on a search for the origins of civilisation. The Host interweaves stories drawn from both personal memory and from imperial archives.’
I enjoyed this film a great deal, and was taken by the mix of personal memories, historical overview, intriguing mention of extra-terrestrial involvement in mans’ history, as well as some sumptuous shots of the Middle East.
‘The Artist Cinema 2016’ http://www.lux.org.uk/whats-on/lux-news/artists-cinema-2016
‘5 films commissioned by ICO and LUX. This unique project brought leading visual artists’ work into cinemas in a subversive and playful way. The films shown were: ‘El Helicóptero’ (Dora García, Belgium/Spain), footage of a re-enactment of a happening from 1966, and the first chapter in a longer film by García entitled ‘Seguna Vez’; ‘The Coat’ (Corin Sworn & Tony Romano, Canada/Italy/UK), an extract of the film ‘La Giubba’; ‘Abu Ammar is Coming’ (Naeem Mohaiemen, Bangladesh/Lebanon/USA), analysis of a photograph from 1982, this film continues Mohaiemen’s project ‘The Young man Was’, an exploration of the revolutionary Left as a form of tragic utopia; ‘Bird’ (Margaret Salmon, UK) a homage to Childrens Film Fund Secrets of nature series; ‘A Brief History of Princess X’ (Gabriel Abrantes with Francisco Cipriani, Portugal/France), a supercharged history of sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s infamous ‘Princess X’, a futuristic bronze phallus that is actually a bust portrait of Napoleon’s infamous great grand-niece, Marie Bonaparte.’
ICO Touring Programmes
‘Cadenza’ curated by Beatrice Gibson
This programme explores abstraction as subject and form. Looking at music, money, and numbers as starting points, 5 films are included. Filmmakers: Tony Conrad, Laida Lertxundi, Mary Helena Clark, as well as Gibson herself.
Highlights for me were Conrad’s ‘Cycles of 3s and 7s’ (1976) ‘in which harmonic intervals ordinarily performed by a musical instrument are represented through the computation of their arithmetic relationships or frequency ratios’ (ICO handout), and ‘F for Fibonacci’, the first of Gibson’s 2 films. Conrad lived in New York, and was a member of ‘Theater of Eternal Music’. This included LaMonte Young, Marian Zazeela, John Cale, and Angus MacLise, and they composed and performed ‘dream music’ in the early 60s. This group were a major influence on what became minimalist music. ‘F for Fibonacci’ develops a n episode of William Gaddis’ eerily prescient modernist novel JR (1975) in which a televised music lesson is scrambled with a maths class on derivatives inside the mind of ats child protagonist. Unfolding through the modular machine aesthetics of the video game MInecraft, text book geometries, graphic scores and images from physics experiments blend with images from Wall Street: stock market crashes, trading pits and algorithms. As well as the writings of Gaddis, the work draws on the music of British experimental educator and composer John Paynter, who infamously took Cornelius Cardew, John Cage, and Karlheinz Stockhausen into primary schools. Following Paynter’s lead, Gibson worked closely with an 11 year old boy on a number of the film’s production elements, commissioning him to design an office in Minecraft for one of his characters, Mr. Money.
‘Before and After Selfies’ 1967-2015 curated by Herb Shellenberger
Vimeo and Youtube videos made in the past few years by contemporary artists placed alongside artist films made since the 60s. Shellenberger was able to use this programme as a platform for artists who would not normally be exhibited in a cinema context.
Works I found particularly impressive were by the following artists: Jolanta Marcolla, Lindsay Dye, Stephen Dwoskin, Carolyn Lazard, Tony Hill, Juno Calypso, Jayson Musson, Howardena Pindell, Audrey Wollen. Other artists mentioned in the Q&A: Aria Elise Dean, Cindy Sherman, Anne Charlotte Robertson and German Expressionist Lutz Mommartz.
‘I See it Feelingly’ 1973-2015 curated by Amy Budd
Texture, and framing human life and human experience through touch were at the forefront of this programme. I am certainly keen to explore the idea of using more than sight in an artistic experience, but as far as this programme went, I don’t believe the works on show were a good enough example of how we incorporate ‘touch’, certainly not when it comes to the moving image.
That being said, I really enjoyed the films on show. Works I found particularly impressive were by the following artists: David Panos, Woody Vasulka, Daria Martin, Laure Prouvost. This programme drew on the theoretical notion of ‘hapticity’ which comes from a 2004 essay by Laura U. Marks entitled ‘Haptic Visuality: Touching with the Eyes’, which in turn is based on the writing of art historian, Alöis Riegel. From what I could take from the works on show and the Q&A session, ‘hapticity’ refers not to the materiality of ‘film’, or ‘screen’, but the notion that when confronted with abstraction we are forced in some way to alter the perception of what we see to somehow engage more emotionally, and with greater sensitivity to what we feel. In hindsight, I can see how this relates to all abstract visual art as well as experimental film.
New Natural History curated by Margaret Salmon and Bryony Dixon
Another programme worthy of note was that by Bryony Dixon, BFI curator of the National Archive, which was presented alongside extracts of a first feature film by Margaret Salmon. Salmon who is currently based in Glasgow, was present to discuss her upcoming film, ‘Eglantine’, the story of a girl’s encounters in the woods one night. Shot of 35mm with a score by British experimental musician Matthew Herbert, the film is a love poem to the natural world, and the imagination of children.
Dixon’s programme consisted of a number of 35mm shot official documentary pieces, which often incorporated classical music. These included pieces on the behaviour of Myxomycete, a slime fungus, one on the Dodder plant, a parasitic flora, and ones on the nesting habits of cuckoos, tits, and bees!
Parts of the weekend which I unfortunately missed were the ICO touring programme, ‘Soil is History’ curated by Louis Henderson: 3 films proposing that colonialism has not vanished, rather gone underground, and it isn’t about land so much as it is about the resources under the land; ‘Conversations’ a programme curated by Ute Aurand and Peter Todd; and LUX Critical Forum: Bristol.
A short walk across town from Arnolfini on the Friday night, and I had the very great pleasure to witness the BEEF inaugural Members’ Showcase Exhibition. BEEF stands for Bristol Experimental and Expanded Film, and is an art collective, and judging from the posters on the walls in the corridor, they host regular screenings, workshops and exhibitions. In a 3 storey building facing a small urban copse, Portland Square, stands their current premises. On the staircase as you ascend, lighting up the ceiling, was a projection of a cat mid-jump. Each time I passed it the cat was caught in a different pose. On another ceiling, by another staircase, was a projected image of what looked like a close up of a painted window frame.
I passed through a performance space where in the duration of the evening I caught 2 very different pieces: The first one had a female with her back to the audience and her face to a wall, narrating live to a projection of a remote viewing of the artist at work on a computer- utilising video editing software, sourcing a clip of ‘Grin Without A Cat’ (an essay film by Chris Marker), and opening up notes on the dialogue being performed. The context of her work appeared to cover contemporary Palestine, family life, disability, and history. Process and a sense of ‘work-in-progress’ were very much thematic preoccupations as well.
The second performance was by a male, and consisted of live sound recordings and slides projected onto 2 constructed rectangular screens, one vertical the other horizontal. I enjoyed the soundscape, which went on for about 20mins, a mix of radioactive crackles and drones, synthisizers, and a heavy bass thud repeated every 20-25seconds. This all morphed into something similarly bleak, but less dense and making strong use of delay. The artist was using audio-cassettes, and possibly contact mics. Although his movements were composed, together the effect was quite sinister. In this darkened 10mx10m room, with he in one corner and the audience of about 40-45 all mostly sitting or kneeling around him, from the ether came the sound of a male reading in American English. It was very difficult to make out all of what was being said, and I imagine this was deliberate. The voice seemed to be reciting a detailed account to something of a grave nature. Was I wrong to discern a theme of reincarnation? Was he detailing some in-between bardo state? With this recording playing out for about 10min, the slides then took on the emphasis of the performance, and consisted of ghostly images and awkward angles: in one I made out the bars of an elevator cage, in another a long library corridor, but many were vague, sometimes blurred. I had to work to make out anything more than shapes, and I had to work to suppress the fear of not knowing. The final image was abstract and fitting, was it ripples in sand, or textile folds, or was it synthetic? I remember nothing computer generated, and left with a strong admiration for the materiality of analogue sound and still imagery.
Elsewhere 2 x 16mm projectors on plinths faced one another, each with their take-up spools hanging from the ceiling by fishing wire- in mid-air, literally ‘stretched’ out into space. Clear leader tape ran through each, and the sporadic audio from each was of 2 human voices screaming at one another in fear. There were TV monitors upended, monitors stacked, all showing random seemingly unrelated footage, some on loops, some static, some clearly digital, but most video or celluloid. There were Super-8 projectors, digital data projectors, and in one room a Super-8 and a data projector facing off, projecting archive stills onto a white sheet surface between them, one a rear projection of the facade of a building, and super-imposed upon this b/w image, a red still of something else.
Through a metal revolving dark-room door, I ventured into a room containing 3 large empty sinks, and an overpowering smell of photo chemicals. Hanging vertical above one of the sinks was a large white sheet of paper, and onto it was a moving image projection of about 1minute on a loop. Best seen from the next room, through a punched hole in the stud wall, the projection was of a naked man kneeling in one of the sinks, urinating, whilst at the same time drinking water from a hose above his head. Powerful. The message was clear: Nourishment to waste, and body as vessel, under a context explicitly DIY film lab.
Another room, and yet more installations: A large circle reflector, the likes of which used in photography and filmmaking to bounce light, mounted upon a 35mm slide projector containing no slides, yet the light from which was reflected onto a hanging mirror on an opposing wall, angled towards the reflector screen. Over time the mounted reflector turned incrementally, as each empty slide in the 360° reel gets projected. All in all, time slowed down.
Along a whole back wall of one of the rooms was another art piece, this time much more sculptural with no visible light or sound involvement: small hand-made models, all abstract and somewhat industrial in form, text engraved onto slate, that of a parting letter to a loved one. I recall a horrific b/w image of a baby crying over the dead body of a parent, below it explicit reference to Hiroshima and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In this context I perceived a desolate vast space, devoid of sentient life. However, the landscape had been painted green. Was this vegetation, a sign of nature gently restoring balance, or was in radioactive? A no-go area perhaps. I thought of Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’, and the famous Artemyev soundtrack. Funny how visual art, through association, can conjure sound in your mind.
Upstairs led to a room I hadn’t yet visited. I’d seen the water tanks for processing, and large cold, bare rooms with walls painted white or grey. I’d got a strong sense of disconnection. Upstairs however was another matter: Cosiness, comfort, the warmth of tungsten and a live dj, seats to sit on, and a drinks bar. In a glass-partitioned side room I saw a stack of equipment and the ends of film-reels celotaped to the wall. The main prize for venturing up this far and in this deep into 25 Portland Square, was an authentic Steenback Flatbed 16mm editing desk. I’d first seen one of these in 1998 when I studied film at Farnham in Surrey. I chose not to touch BEEF’s desk though, even just to see the parts move and bring me back to that pivotal year in my life. Instead I respected its presence and took enough from that.
I mingled a bit, and had the good fortune to speak with one of the organisers about the event and the building. Then once everyone had settled and found somewhere to sit, the finale began: 2 men at one end of the room, operated 2 EIKI Elf 16mm projectors, each with a short reel on a loop, while at the other end, below a flat white wall acting as screen, another guy operated 4 reel-to-reel tape recorders, a TEAC mixing desk, some effects pedals, and was using what looked like the red cover part of a fire alarm as a theremin. The piece began with sound, and before long gave the audience a sense of 50s sci-fi. We were going on a journey. There were no voices and no instrumentation, just bleeps and twinkles underscored with fluctuating drones. I later discovered that he was running the same piece of tape through his various recorders, with microphones picking up the audio at different points, thus creating warped delay and a balmy fog of hiss.
On the wall above him, through skilful use of coloured glass filters, kaleidoscope and diffusion lenses, and blocking with their fingers, the operators orchestrated the projections. Again running in loops, but with the difference being that they overlapped and pulsated slowly. I recall geometric patterns gently overlapping, making me think of psychedelic wallpaper devoid of colour. Punctuating these graphics was a bungled mess of dots and fine etchings forming a fuzzy black sphere. For the next 30mins, to the 50s sci-fi soundtrack, these images would dance and bend, disappear then reappear, tease, liberate and collide, then journey on. A wonder to behold.
In the small number of expanded cinema performances I have seen there has been no attempt made to hide process, on the contrary what the projectionist does in order to manipulate the image has all been what makes it a performance; total transparency has been key.
I spoke to a number of others in attendance throughout the night. Whether students, artists, musicians, writers, or drifters tagging along, they all seemed very open to what was on show, and this was greatly encouraging to me. There was no sense of elitism or dismissal, nor was there any urgency to ‘get’ what it was all about. I liked that. Things like performance and mixed media take time to process, and abstraction is a delicate matter. Upon reflection though, I feel invigorated still by the starkness of the presentation. To those new to this kind of thing, know that BEEF serves it up bold.