Observers and Performers: On “Life and People” at BAMcinematek

Written by Conor O’Brien

The films discussed were shown at “Shorts Program: Life and People,” during BAMcinématek‘s 2014 Migrating Forms series. 

Jon Rafman, "Mainsqueeze" (still), 2014

Jon Rafman, “Mainsqueeze” (still), 2014

Jon Rafman’s film “Mainsqueeze” opens with a washing machine in a backyard. The machine starts to cycle. The familiar rattling din as its innerchamber spins, a common enough sound now, this comforting chorus of appliances, dishwashers, ovens, boilers, toilets, the white noise that (no, not at all secondary or incidental to their “intended” functions) keep sedated blank silence, cooed into coiled submission under the mothering hum. Soon the sound grows from the familiar to the discomforting, blooms from an innocuous, mechanical buzz into an hominoid, earthen growl. The machine is pushing its rotation to increasingly violent extremes. The frame becomes unhinged and loosely wobbles about the innerchamber’s fierce convulsions. As parts of the outerstructure are cast off, it is only this, the innerchamber, that still belongs to the “washing machine,” the idea of it, the limp frame having lost all identity and coherence in the mad self-destruction. Soon, even the gaping core of the appliance loses this center of control in a final burst of intensity. It collapses, and lies still in the silent backyard.

The full video, which is returned to repeatedly during Rafman’s film, could be at home in (and was most likely taken from) the Internet’s video landscape, populated in large part by such documentations of home experiments. Does the sadistic destruction of household appliances speak to a pent-up frustration with the ease and sterility of the modern experience? Is it a lashing out at the mask of convenience that, with one finger to its lips, shh’s our primal anxieties into an uneasy quiet? Is it the basis of all spectacle and theater, tragedy and comedy, the perverse thrill of seeing the shimmering and godlike erode into profane parody? To locate on these seemingly-enclosed and stone-perfect systems an obscene, belching hole? Rafman’s film continues: iphone snapshots of teens unconscious at parties with horrifically Sharpie-marred faces, images of devils and demons from the various Infernos of classical painting, a woman lovingly caressing a large prawn-like creature before setting it under her foot to crush it in callous close-up, a person in a frog costume bound to a table writhing, the unsettling musings of an inhuman voice-over. In this barrage of grotesque sadism, the film could come off as invariably bleak: an indifferent, robotic distillation of human behavior rummaged from the Internet’s shadowier nooks. Yet, there is something behind that, perhaps compassion, but maybe just pity, for the hopelessly abusive and self-destructive creatures it depicts.

Barry Doupé, "Life and People" (still), 2014

Barry Doupé, “Life and People” (still), 2014

 

The camera is the disembodied eye, functioning with the unblinking, clinical lucidity reserved for ghosts and machines. The camera itself disappears in the film illusion, never to be caught by its own gaze: even that image, the one that passed there on that polished, silver ovoid, that looked strikingly like a camera, though distorted by the convex surface, is not the Camera. This anti-Narcissus, completely unmoved by its reflection, does not identify itself as part of the scene it observes. It is not fooled by make-up, costumes, sets, performance; it will not be drowned in the illusion. Film is a product of an argument between subjective human performers, in their manic, self-mutilating frenzy, and this uncaring, alien Eye.

In Barry Doupé’s “Life and People,” the performers, paradoxically, seem to take on the perspective of the Camera in that, though they performing in the scene, none seem to have an emotional/psychological/economic stake in it. They are vessels for the delivery of dialogue that, because of misplaced facial expression and lack of eye contact between players, is always disconnected from the speaker and unperceived by the spoken-to, existing in a neutral auditory realm that is only intercepted by the Camera and the audience. All of the action takes place in a unidentified location, seemingly a warehouse that is partially obscured by several white walls. The film consists of a series of discontinuous scenes, ranging from the utterly mundane (parent-teacher conferences, open houses, gossip, various consumer situations) to the tragic (sexual abuse, suicide), all delivered in the same robotic disinterest, a vague approximation of human interaction. The situations are made more alien by the choreography: players stand in random relations to each other: sometimes too close or far away, facing in different directions, some characters climb a ladder in order to deliver their lines without relevant reason. The film concludes with a woman lying on her side in the center of the shot. She remains motionless while arguing with another woman outside the frame, and over the course of the argument, the camera, disinterested, revolves around the woman, closes in on the back of her head, and then returns to its original position. This final scene brings together all the techniques of disconnection used throughout the film. There is disconnection on every level: setting, choreography, cinematography, delivery, facial expression, no element interacts with or relates to any other element. This is the perspective of the removed Eye, the Camera, which without emotional investment, perceives the scene as a collection of disparate contrivances that never resolve into a coherent illusion.

Jeremy Shaw, "Quickeners" (still), 2014

Jeremy Shaw, “Quickeners” (still), 2014

 

The interplay of disinterested observer and delusional performer is further dramatized in the final film of this shorts series, “Quickeners” directed by Jeremy Shaw. The piece takes the form of a faux-documentary film reel from a future after the extinction of homo sapiens and the emergence of our evolutionary successors, “quantum humans.” The film is from the perspective of these quantum humans, who are an immortal, hive-mind species, and the subject of the film is the disease “Human Ativism Syndrome.” HAS is described as causing in victims a reversion to the obsolete behaviors of their human ancestors. The documentary focuses on a certain group of HAS victims who have embraced their disease, and try to tap into the ritualistic delusions it induces in order to experience something called a “Quickening,” which is a kind of orgasmic trance caused by a feeling of disconnection from the Hive. The deathless quantum humans have transcended the need for ritual, performance, music, dance, etc, all of which reemerge in the Quickeners’ meetings and are contextualized by a monotone narrator for the quantum audience who may not understand the absurd customs. Part of the ritual involves the handling of a poisonous snake, which creates a “simulacrum threat of death,” recalling the mortality of the ancestors they intend to imitate. The narrator emphasizes the importance of the serpent, expounding on its ubiquity in global culture and its varied symbolic meaning. The serpent becomes a unifier, bringing into the same symbol opposing associations: at one side it is corruption, sickness, sin, evil and on the other medicine, health, intelligence, ingenuity. Maybe most significantly the serpent is the ouroboros, symbol of life-death-rebirth infinitely looping, the self-consuming, self-regenerating system.

This is the image of life and death in intimate concert, the supreme opposite resolution. The “simulacrum of death” in ritual is of vital significance: if ritual is a performance of life, than death too, with its unblinking glass eye, must be reflected somewhere on the mirror. More than this, ritual is a movement beyond death, which is no more graspable to us than to any hypothetical immortal being. Only the threat of death, a withdrawing shadow, is available to us: past this we make assumptions, create symbols, take faith-leaps. But there is always that threat, reflection flickering time to time in the corner of our vision, and when we turn to face it, gone, save a lingering absence. It is this tormenting ghost that induces our sadomasochistic obsessions. It is before this featureless, stone gaze we perform the scrimmage of our annihilation. It is to this icey lab-table we strap ourselves, awaiting the scalpel’s descent. This is the true Camera, of which every other camera is a distorted reflection. Film, a death-ritual, teaches us that the act of living is necessarily self-destructive, just as self-destruction is necessarily regenerative, and every film is indicative of the infinite performance before the true Camera: but onto what blank screen, and into what theater, reeking of artificial butter, white noise of wrapper-cracks and mechanical humming, is this Film projected? By what silent audience watched?

Advertisements

AROUND TOWN: Exhibition at Microscope Gallery, “Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye”

Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye

KATHERINE BAUER

Exhibition Dates: December 15, 2013 through January 5 January 13, 2014 (extended!)
Gallery Hours: Thursday to Monday from 1:00pm to 6:00pm, or by appointment
Gallery Location: Microscope Gallery, 4 Charles Place, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Contact: 347-925-1433 / info@microscopegallery.com

Photos Below:  Courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery © 2013
Text Below: From Microscope Gallery (http://www.microscopegallery.com/?page_id=12312)

Katherine Bauer, "Sizzle", 2013, b/w photographic print on fiber paper, 5 x 5"

Katherine Bauer, “Sizzle”, 2013, b/w photographic print on fiber paper, 5 x 5″

Microscope is pleased to present KATHERINE BAUER, Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye, the third in a series of live film performance events and exhibitions, following the 2010 Black Sabbath Black Mass and this year’s Invocation of Joan of Arc, which took place at Cité Internationale des Arts, in Paris. With Seduction…, the New York-based artist continues her series inspired by coming of age rites of the American female teenager – rock & roll rebellion, teen idolization, “dirty” novels, etc. – addressing that time of transition in an interpretation of Georges Bataille’s 1928 “The Story of the Eye”.

“[Seduction…] is about the seduction of the eye, of seeing and the desires that it creates. Or of not seeing… about what we do not see… what is not there, what is imagined, in the way that [Bataille’s] novel is not about sex but desire and fantasy of discovering unknown secrets of life and death of birth and excess, death and denial.” KB

Seduction… opens with a 16mm film performance event (on 12/15) that doubles as an apparatus for the live production of photograms, which along with the film loops, projectors and ephemera from the event – the only evidence of the event that took place – will be mounted in an exhibition (opening on 12/19). The experiential, mysterious, and uncertain nature of Bauer’s work draws influence from 1960s expanded cinema, the ritualism and black magic of Kenneth Anger, Viennese Actionism, and body art among others. Seduction… may also be seen as a “literal cinema”, or a work in which content is further considered as an exploration of the material and technological nature of celluloid film and its projection.

Katherine Bauer, "Eye-O-Gram #1", 2013, egg, milk, urine, champagne on b/w photosensitive fiber paper, 42 x 100"

Katherine Bauer, “Eye-O-Gram #1″, 2013, egg, milk, urine, champagne on b/w photosensitive fiber paper, 42 x 100”

During the performance, light from 16mm film loops, projecting images of the eyes of the female performers onto their actual eyes, exposes photosensitive paper, positioned as both stage and backdrop, to capture impressions of the bodies and objects in the room. Bataille’s concepts of vision and liquids surface in the performance culminating as an erotic presence, summoned and transferred through milk, urine, and raw egg. Sound is an important and purposeful coalescence of the voices of the performers reading excerpts from Bataille’s “Story…”, analog synth compositions, and the hum of the rotating film strips.

The artworks in Seduction… are conceived not as remnants or residues, but as temporal crystallizations – the filmic surface itself composed of crystals – of the forces at play during the performance. Bauer states, “…the images are not representations, just as the performance is not an adaptation of The Story of the Eye – instead they are presentations, making its content present…”

Katherine Bauer CV

"Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye" - Installation View

“Teenage Dream Sequence: Seduction of the Eye” – Installation View

Katherine Bauer, "Wide Eyes/White Eggs", 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

Katherine Bauer, “Wide Eyes/White Eggs”, 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

KATHERINE BAUER works primarily with 16mm film and its material potential for sculpture, photography and installation. Much of her work involves mythologies, folklores, and narratives. Her work has previously exhibited at Participant Inc., NY; Shoot the Lobster, Dusseldorf, Germany; Place Gallery, Portland, Oregon; and Immanence Gallery, Paris, France among others. Bauer was awarded a 2012-13 Cité Internationale des Arts Paris Residency and was a recipient of a Carla Bruni-Sarkozy Foundation Fellowship (2012-13). Bauer holds a BA in film and electronic arts from Bard College and a MFA from NYU Steinhardt (2013). Bauer was born in Houston, Texas and currently lives and works in New York.

For additional information please contact Microscope Gallery at 347.925.1433 or info@microscopegallery.com

Katherine Bauer, "Wide Eyes/White Eggs", 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

Katherine Bauer, “Wide Eyes/White Eggs”, 2013, 16mm film strip installation, dimensions variable

Still from "Wide Eyes/White Eggs", 2013, b&w hand-processed 16mm film, 6 minutes 49 seconds, sound

Still from “Wide Eyes/White Eggs”, 2013, b&w hand-processed 16mm film, 6 minutes 49 seconds, sound

RSVP on their Facebook Event!

REVIEW: Camera in the Mirror: Response to Migrating Forms Programs 3 and 4

Camera in the Mirror: Response to Migrating Forms Programs 3 and 4
written by Conor O’Brien, The Living Gallery

Screenshot from Ian Cheng’s “bbrraattss.” Taken from his Vimeo channel.

Screenshot from Ian Cheng’s “bbrraattss.” Taken from his Vimeo channel.

The mirror is a threat to the film illusion. In the presence of a mirror, the camera is in danger of being revealed; it is timid: approaching the mirror cautiously, and angling itself in such a way that it remains hidden. A familiar and relatively harmless object in daily life, the mirror is an absolutely subversive, destructive force in the world of film; painstakingly avoided for those films that aim to keep film illusion undisturbed. The familiar technique of horror films is to use a mirror to reveal the monster. A character is in the bathroom with the mirror angled toward his/her face. The mirror is then turned suddenly and the monster is revealed to have been standing there, behind the character the whole time. This technique is meant to heighten the shock of the reveal, but because it remains within the fantasy of the film, this revelation of the monster ultimately comes as a relief. It is a displacement of the true threat: the mirror suddenly angled in the other direction, revealing that a camera has been standing behind the character the whole time. The shock of this revelation stems from realizing that your experience is being manipulated, forced through a lens over which you have no control. It is the shock of looking into a mirror and seeing, in place of your own reflection, a different reflection, the eye of a camera.

In Stephen Broomer’s “Pepper’s Ghost,” shown at BAMcinematek’s Migrating Forms Program 3, the camera remains in the center of the shot through the film’s entirety. According to the trailer posted on Broomer’s Vimeo channel, the film is shot in two rooms separated by a two-way mirror used for “psychological observation studies.” Throughout the film’s 20 minutes, Broomer and assistants create optical illusions using the two-way mirror, colored gel paper, and other objects in the rooms, lights, curtains, as a kind of meditative, guttural chanting plays over these shots. In one shot, Broomer seems to stand behind the camera next to a window. As he pulls down the window’s curtain, his image gradually fades away, and what seemed to be him standing in one room was revealed to actually be his reflection on the mirror from the other room. Broomer claims in the trailer that the mirror is transformed into a “mysterious tunnel.” The film seems to be about the kind of funhouse effects that are achieved when, instead of being timidly avoided, the mirror is surrendered to; when both mirror and camera are allowed to respond to each other.

Gina Telaroli created her piece “Amuse-gueule #1: Digital Destinies,” by playing a copy of the 2009 movie “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp on an old television and using a Blackberry (with, she claims, poor zooming capabilities), recorded the same 12 minutes of the movie four times, at four different levels of zoom, and these recordings are played simultaneously. The television frame is in the center of the shot, but because four different versions of the film are playing at the same time, the images seem to float out of and around the frame. By using “poor” recording technology, the Blackberry recordings draw attention to the materiality of digital film: images of the appropriated film become fuzzy, blown out, distorted, non-referential abstractions; the images are rendered material, reduced to their material qualities: light, transparency, color, form, movement.

Telaroli and Broomer’s films are similar in this way: they are explorations of the elements of filmmaking most films attempt to subdue. These are the mechanical elements, the materials and techniques of film that make up the film illusion. Rather than trying to work around the “inferior” recording technology of her phone, Telaroli emphasizes it, and as a result the images in her film burst with overexposed light, unsubdued and unconstrained.

Many of the other filmmakers in the program are also interested into playing around film’s material production. Andrew Lampert presented a restoration of the original print of Roger Altman’s film “The Long Goodbye,” which Lampert claimed to have purchased for $20 from a magazine. The piece highlights the process of colorizing black and white footage, the idea behind which is that color film is better because it is closer to reality and colorization aims to enhance the illusion of reality on film. As the piece progresses, the fact that the film was artificially colored becomes increasingly obvious: colors become less natural and float free of any reference point.

Shambhavi Kaul’s film “Mount Song” shows shots of several artificially constructed sets of forests and temples. Devoid of human form, the artificial scenery becomes alien and disorienting. The two films by Ed Atkins, “Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths” and “Even Pricks,” also the artificial construction of film, focusing specifically on the digital creation of images used so frequently in bigger budget film. The film’s title “Even Pricks” repeatedly flies at the viewer in different forms reminiscent of the title sequences of action movies. Computer constructed human and animal forms appear in undefined spaces to speak in often interrupted bits of dialogue. As in Kaul’s film, this emphasizing of artificiality becomes strange and disorienting: the images remain vaguely familiar, uncanny because we are used to seeing (often unconsciously) these techniques used in film, but we are not used to the heightening of their artificiality. Ian Cheng’s film “bbrraattss” is a short 3-minute clip of two computer generated figures, a humanoid rabbit and hunter, moving around and bumping into each other in a white space, their bodies twitching, bending, twisting in unnatural ways. The animation resembles a glitch in a computer game, a limitation of computer generation that is meant to be hidden or subdued. But, as with the other filmmakers, it is the “glitch” that interests Cheng, and the resulting film is both nightmarish and slapstick, unsettling and absurd.

The narrator of Benjamin Tiven’s film “A Third Version of the Imaginary” calls film an “amnesiac medium.” The film documents the Kenya Broadcasting Company as a narrator speaking in Swahili, talks about film and language. He claims that the word “image” does not exist in the Swahili language, the closest word is ‘taswira,’ which is more accurately translated as ‘vision.’ “Image” is an imported concept. He explains that at the television broadcasting company, films deemed significant are stored and preserved and those that are not important are filmed over. The narrator thinks about whether the filmed-over images still exist somehow beneath the new images. He thinks of this as being a kind of “guilt” that haunts the footage, that the old images refuse to be completely suppressed. The film ends with an employee of the broadcasting company playing footage of 1973 Independence Parade, but due to some technical problem the footage is distorted and discolored. The narrator explains that they were originally not allowed to film the screening of this footage, but since the images that were being projected were distorted, they were given permission to film.

Tiven’s film comments on our complicated relationship with images. Photographic and cinematic images are not objective. A photograph of an object, no matter how little it is influenced by the hand of the photographer, cannot be looked at in the same way as an encounter with the same object in the world. Images always contain some ideology. But the images of the Independence Parade in the film loose their power as ideological instruments, become useless as such, because of the technical difficulties which make the viewer aware of their artificiality. Such is the move of many films shown at Migrating Forms: to make the viewer aware of the power of images as ideological objects, to show them the reflection of the camera within the image.

6th Annual Bushwick Film Festival!

The 6th Annual Bushwick Film Festival

begins on Thursday, October 3rd (TOMORROW!)

at 7:00pm at Light Space Studios

FOR THE FULL SCHEDULE, CLICK HERE AND HERE!

Bushwick Film Festival

October 3rd through 6th, 2013

Find Tickets to the 2013 Bushwick Film Festival – HERE

www.bushwickfilmfestival.com
Facebook/BushwickFilmFestival
Twitter@BushwickFilm
Tumblrbuswhick-filmfestival
Vimeo/bushwickfilmfestival

Bushwick Film Fest