We Heart Our VCRs

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It's been said that necessity is the mother of all invention. That is, that true innovators were often responding to a lack of materials in crafting their art. This seems particularly true in the field of filmic media, where art history offers us so many examples, ranging from the Soviet KINO school's use of rearranged bits of paper to fine-tune the practice of montage to Britain's early-80s Scratch Video movement. The latter is the subject of an exhibition at London's Seventeen Gallery, May 28th-June 28th. "SCRATCH" presents work by intimate colleagues George Barber, The Duvet Brothers, Goldbacher & Flitcroft, and Gorilla Tapes, each of whom participated in this movement that involved sourcing material directly from existing broadcasts and other moving images sources, and often reprocessing them with what were then the latest in video editing techniques and tools. While all of the these artists' work responds largely to the new creative possibilities afforded by the birth of the VCR, Seventeen points out that they took this work in two distinct directions: politics and aesthetics. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive!) The Duvet Brothers and Gorilla Tapes directly engaged the Thatcher/Reagan new world order of conservativism and the ongoing issues in Northern Ireland with an anti-establishment ethos that marked all of their works. Their peers in the show explored visual styles ranging from dreams to pop music videos, imbuing their sources with rhythm, pulse, and a new life. If you're in the area, come check-out this often under-recognized work whose copious imitators, in the last two decades, are a testament to its influence and staying power. - Marisa Olson


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Cine City: Mark Leckey's "Cinema in the Round"

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Artworlders turned out in droves at the Guggenheim this past Wednesday for Mark Leckey's performance-cum-lecture, "Cinema in the Round," the penultimate event in Creative Time's Hey Hey Glossolalia series. Pairing a handsome suit with his blonde, surfer shag, Leckey looked every bit the irreverent orator as he assumed the lectern in the museum auditorium and delivered a refreshingly unorthodox reading of art and cinema history. Of particular importance was the question of how something cinematic may move from a state of "pure horizontality" to that of "pure verticality," which, for Leckey, was analogous to asking how a cinematic image may become an object, sculpture, monument or "beast." James Cameron's Titanic was one of many exemplars of this process, described by Leckey as a "time-travel film" that compressed "the bookends of the 20th century" (the materiality of early industrial manufacturing, the immateriality of late software production and 3D design) and torqued this resulting hybrid around one deceptively small iceberg. At other moments, Leckey's interest in exploring the sculptural and material language of cinema led to his relating Philip Guston's "ham-fisted, meat-and-potatoes" paintings and Georg Baselitz's still-lives of severed feet to skitterish, early Felix the Cat animations and the mass-agglutination aesthetics of music video production company Encylopedia Pictura. Such eclectic sampling would seem haphazard in other hands, but Leckey's familiarity with his source material bolstered its expressive content, and the narrational pliancy he brought to the lecture's structure proved thoughtful and engaging. - Tyler Coburn


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Call Me!

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Touting the theme of "Impakt yourspace," the latest edition of Utrecht's Impakt Festival takes on the impact of Web 2.0 through its typically tightly-organized set of panels and curated programs of film, video, new media and performance. The central event, "Hybrid Playground," presents variations by Dutch artists on the melding of social networks and physical spaces. Here, attendees will experience KKEP's ParaPlay project, a democratic iTunes happening, and Bliin, which enables mobile phone users to post media to shared geographic maps; NetNiet.org's Gifted, a real-time phone-enabled social judgment system; and Alchemyst's open-source Roomware, which detects phone users and links their identity to networked personal profiles. Other internet-aware events include tech-inflected animations by painter Federico Solmi and "Self-Confession vs. Exploitation" a program of film and video diaries ranging from Joyce Wieland's 8mm work of the 1960s to modern-day web-based autobiographies. In perhaps the most self-referential move of all, Impakt will convene a panel on "The Future of Festivals" with organizers from Migrating Forms, Submarineand tank.tv, exploring what the role of live media events should be in the light of our increasingly online social world. - Ed Halter

Image Credit: NetNiet.org, Gifted, 2008

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Life Transformations

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There's a very nepotistic event happening tonight at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (the new venue with a whopper of a name presenting great science-related art), and it looks good! Chris, Birgitta, and Geoff Bjornsson happen to be siblings with some shared interests--go figure, maybe they had similar childhoods--but they are each making distinct "artworks that represent living biological systems." The common thread in the work they'll present at tonight's panel, "Essence: Transfigure," is an interest in "transformation from one state to another," whether that shift happens in a single cell, an entire organism, or a larger ecosystem. The Bjornssons use a variety of media to address and imagine these transfigurations. Birgitta Bjornsson's project, The Space of Disgust employs photography, film, sculpture, installation, and drawing to explore the terrain between the idealized no-place of utopian environments and the reality of the disorder and decay wrought by the very nature of our own biological existence, if not our culture's compulsion to pollute. Real-life scientist Chris Bjornsson's The Illuminated Veil, uses "immunohistochemistry and spectral confocal microscopy to highlight specific cells within the brain." The end result is a series of large-scale microscopic images that seek to map and pinpoint the identifying characteristics and relationships between every cell of our brain. If Chris's creative impetus seems to entail an almost impossible feat, his brother Geoff Bjornsson's work is more fantastical. Inspired by a constellation of interests in minimal Japanese animation, science fiction, and the tradition of hand-crafting, his sculpture, Sleeping golem II, is a vessel made with the potential to "enshrine a spirit." The container sleeps until aroused by a spirit, though that spirit will suffer karmic damage by choosing the vessel as its home. Obvious mechanical challenges ensue... Each ...

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THEEND/THEBEGINNING (2008) by Chris Coy

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Ignivomous posted a new guest artist project to their site for Spring 2008. "THEEND/THEBEGINNING" by Chris Coy is a credit roll, complete with an elevator music-style soundtrack, comprised of image captures of actor Kevin Bacon's credit line from every film in which he appeared. Bacon famously claimed that he has worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone related to them, and this assertion became the grounds for a trivia game entitled "the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," in which participants attempt to connect any actor to appear on screen in history to Kevin Bacon with as few links as possible. The game popularized the myth that Kevin Bacon is a nexus for all Hollywood. By assembling Bacon's credit lines into one place, Coy's piece can be interpreted as a credit roll for all films ever made, giving the title "THEEND/THEBEGINNING" greater significance.

For those of you considering bookmarking the project, Coy provided a list of tags in lieu of an artist's statement. See below:

nastynets, endcredits, socialnetworking, screencaps, archive, collecting, collage, kevinbacon, 6degrees, surfing, myspace, cinema_on_the_web, scrollbarFormalism, deathofnetart?, birthofnetart, vuk_y2k_cosic, IamSo_xcited4spirit_surfers:), theColorGreyAsAnIdea, transitionaryPeriods, LoVid, hyperlinkz, starring, ignivomous, seecoy, c.coy, THEEND, THEBEGINNING, loop=true

- Ceci Moss

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Cinema of the Future

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Ongoing in Amsterdam, through February 24th, is the twelfth annual Sonic Acts conference and festival. This year's focus is on The Cinematic Experience and the framers of the symposium have an interesting take on the nature of this experience. They argue that cinema preceded celluloid (with the magic lantern, zoetrope, etc) and that it now supercedes it--not only with video, but also with higher resolutions, faster distribution networks, and ever more portable recording devices. They ask what the future of the cinematic experience will be, and to reflect on this question, they offer a series of performances, talks, and exhibitions, the highlight of which is a show at Netherlands Media Art Institute featuring the work of Julien Maire (F), Ulf Langheinrich (D), Boris Debackere (BE) and Kurt Hentschl´┐Żger (AT). Ultimately, this merging of sound and cinema is a provocative one, as it casts into speculation the relationship of our senses to these evolvingly more "virtual" media. If a trip to Amsterdam isn't in your immediate future, check out the festivals live feeds, online. - Marisa Olson

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Fantastic Voyage

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Since its earliest days, cinema has drawn comparison to the domain of magic and fantasies. Many of the form's early scholars agreed less on what film was (theatre? a new kind of pencil?) and more on its ability to psychologically transport viewers. A two-part show opening February 14 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, D.C., explores the ongoing development of this scenario, especially as it relates to the move toward the realm of video and digital media. The first component of The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality and the Moving Image is thus entitled "Dreams," and it explores "film's ability to transport viewers out of their everyday lives into states that lie between wakefulness and sleep, sending them on journeys into the darker recesses of the imagination." Artists in the first half of this pioneering exhibition include Darren Almond, Michael Bell-Smith, Bruce Conner, Tacita Dean, Stan Douglas, Harun Farocki, Douglas Gordon, Rodney Graham, Gary Hill, Steve McQueen, Tony Oursler, Wolfgang Staehle, Siebren Versteeg, Andy Warhol, and others. Common among their works is a tracing of the moving image's collapse into pop culture--and vice-versa-- which is to be expected as this form of expression becomes the dominant context for communicative exchange. "Dreams" will be followed-up by a second component, "Realisms," which plumbs a fascinating irony--that "in an age when documenting 'real life' in moving image formats becomes ever easier," because of the increased availability of DIY media, "the line between fact and fiction is increasingly complicated." Both halves work together to present a fantastical and high-fidelity vision of the cinematic. - Marisa Olson



Image credit: Still from Kelly Richardson's "Exiles of the Shattered Star," 2006, from the Hirshhorn's collection. Image courtesy the artist.

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Landscapes in Motion

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Throughout his career, English filmmaker Patrick Keiller has explored the nuances of his country's landscape. His investigations are set apart by their interest in the way the social, economic and political forces have shaped the nation's geography. One of his most famous films, London (1994), is a documentary account of the year 1992 in England's capital, as narrated by a fictional protagonist "Robinson". Keiller captures the grit and strife of London during the early 1990s, against the turbulent backdrop of declining infrastructure, IRA bombings, and longstanding Tory rule. Keiller combines static camera shots of London streets and landmarks with a poetic voice-over to create landscapes that evoke the political situation of the time. In his new installation The City of the Future (2007), currently on view at the British Film Institute on London's Southbank, Keiller marks a new phase in his exploration of England's socio-economic geography. Based on his research project "The Future of the Landscape and the Moving Image" (2007) at the Royal College of Art, The City of the Future unfolds as a multi-channel installation composed of moving images of London's late 19th century and early 20th century urban landscape collected from "actuality films," an early genre of documentary film that loosely captures footage of events and areas. Using an interactive map, visitors to the space may select a city and play films corresponding to the location. As such, the participant is made aware not only of the differences and similarities of the city's urban geography over time, but also the ever-changing social and economic realities written on the city itself. - Caitlin Jones



Image: Patrick Keiller, The City of the Future, 2007

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