On Joan Jonas

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 19, 2018

Joan Jonas, performance documentation of They Come to Us Without a Word II, U.S. Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale, 2015. Photograph by Moira Ricci

We end our spring 2018 season with program featuring the work of prolific interdisciplinary artist Joan Jonas.

Jonas is a pioneer of performance and video art whose career spans more than five decades. As one of the most important female artists to emerge in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jonas has pushed the boundaries of these two disciplines through large scale installations and collaborative projects. Her work is currently the subject of a massive retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern.

This week, we feature an excerpt from an article written by Jonas for the Guardian in which she discusses the numerous and various influences that have helped shape her work.


Joan Jonas, still from Stream or River, Flight or Patter, 2016-2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mirror mirror
Joan Jonas

am always reading something: newspapers, periodicals, poetry, philosophy, fiction and non-fiction. I’m interested in many forms of narrative, of storytelling – movies and television, dance and theatre. Naturally not everything I read or see ends up becoming a part of my work, but sometimes a story sticks in my mind – I can’t get rid of it, and then I begin to analyse what it’s about, how it works and why it has taken such a hold on me.

In the early 1960s, when the writings of Jorge Luis Borges were first published in English, reading his work was a transformative experience. For one of my earliest solo performance works in 1968, I made a costume that had mirrors of various sizes attached to the material. For the text, I took every reference to mirrors from Borges’s Labyrinths and assembled the excerpts into a script, which I memorised and recited aloud.

Mirrors and poetry, as well as myth and fairytales, refract reality in unexpected ways. Mirrors can collapse or confuse the distance between performer and audience and disrupt visual frameworks. When I use a myth or a story or a literary text in my work, I often extract particular passages from a larger narrative that resonates with me. In performance, the audience hears the text, recorded in advance or recited in real time, in fragments, and sees components – such as movements, props, drawings and video – that may relate only indirectly to the text. I don’t change the language, but rather I change the context, which opens up the text to different possibilities of meaning. I don’t illustrate; I juxtapose.

Read the full article here.

April 19 – An Evening with Joan Jonas

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 13, 2018

Joan Jonas, Reanimation 2012 performance at the Hangar Bicocca Milan, Italy Light Time Tales, 2014. Photo by Moira Ricci.

Among the most significant artists working today, Joan Jonas has a groundbreaking body of work that spans video, performance, dance, installation, and drawing to explore fundamental questions around visual perception, ritual, archetypes, and transmission of knowledge. Initially trained as a sculptor, she began experimenting with performance in the late 1960s, merging elements of contemporary dance, Japanese Noh theater, and props like masks, mirrors, and eventually, video cameras and monitors. In works like Songdelay (1973) she incorporated distance and sound to draw attention to the ways perception is altered by space. In Organic Honey’s Vertical Roll (1972) she performed alongside a video monitor, exploring the medium’s ability to both reflect and obscure her image. In the years since, her electrifying videos and multimedia works have combined folk tales, dreams, and autobiography and frequently feature collaborators, including Tilda Swinton, jazz pianist Jason Moran, and Sami yoik singer Ánde Somby, among others. Jonas presents an overview of her practice, including a selection of films and videos from across her career.

Tonight’s program will include new 16mm prints of Wind (1968) and Songdelay (1973). These films have been preserved by Anthology Film Archives through the National Film Preservation Foundation’s Avant-Garde Masters Grant program and The Film Foundation. Funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation. This is the first time these prints have screened outside of New York.

1968–2017, multiple countries, multiple formats, ca 90 min + discussion
Joan Jonas in person

Joan Jonas is a pioneer of performance and video art. Since 1968, she has worked with video, installation, sculpture, and drawing to explore ways of seeing, the rhythms of ritual, and the authority of objects and gestures. Among her many honors are awards from Anonymous Was A Woman (1998); the Rockefeller Foundation (1990); American Film Institute’s Maya Deren Award for Video (1989); Guggenheim Foundation (1976); and the National Endowment for the Arts (1974). Jonas is the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London opening in March 2018 and represented the US at the 2015 Venice Biennial. She has had major exhibitions at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern, Stockholm; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Documenta; Performa; The Kitchen, New York; Bergen Kunsthall, Norway; Museum of Modern Art, New York; among many others. Jonas is Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology within the School of Architecture and Planning. She lives and works in New York and Nova Scotia, Canada.

On The Nation’s Finest

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 12, 2018

This week, we present The Nation’s Finest, a program that deconstructs the athlete body – how it is used for national, political, and social agendas, and how it is viewed and re-crafted by artists (who are sometimes athletic!). Curated by Astria Suparak and Brett KashmereThe Nation’s Finest is part of A Non-Zero-Sum Game: Sports, Art, and the Moving Images, a series of exhibitions and events launching, and part of INCITE: Journal of Experimental Media’s newest issue, Sports.

For this post, we welcome School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum, Jacqueline Surdell (MFA 2017) to reflect on the work in this screening, relating back to her own interdisciplinary artistic practice and past experience as a former athlete.


Tara Mateik, still from Putting the Balls Away, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

The Nation’s Finest
Jacqueline Surdell

Writing now from the perspective of a practicing artist and washed up athlete, I work, struggle, and play with sport on personal and philosophical levels. I see the general sphere of “sports” as a genre of labor relating to contemporary society. The latter is considered through representations of the commercialized and increasingly brutal field of sport.

The Nation’s Finest features work by artists Haig Aivazian, I AM A BOYS CHOIR, Tara Mateik, Nam June Paik, Keith Piper, Lillian Schwartz, and the Internet. The work included in this program is an apt conduit in which to study, probe, and consider the overlapping spaces sport occupies within popular culture. Employing sport as a framework, the artists present sport-like/sport-ish performances and videos to ask questions about gender roles, nationalism, anger, and resulting violence in contemporary society. Overall, these artists demonstrate that the actions of sport — gesticulations both in, around, and through the actual game — are inherently political.

Tara Mateik considers the changing roles of women in contemporary society through a playfully tactful rendition of the historic 1973 tennis match, Battle of the Sexes. Beginning with collaged images and interviews of actual news coverage, Mateik’s consideration devolves into a performance where the artist himself plays both Billy Jean King and Bobby Rigs in the infamous match. What begins as an almost cliche montage of sexism and pushback of the women’s movement during the 1970s evolves into a smart and savvy consideration of the ways remnants of this latent sexism reverberate in the now. Mateik accomplishes this through a well-crafted video installation that includes a large screen, a green plane, white lines, a blue cooler, sideline  chair, and complete with ball handlers. Mateik incorporates the illusionism of theater set culture in order to play out an epic saga of gender play. The result is a visual reminder of the ways in which gender is coded, performed, and stereotyped as unnatural occurrences that are socially constructed courts of difference.

I AM A BOYS CHOIR, still from Demonstrating the Imaginary Body, 2015. Image courtesy of the artists.

Humor is a key player in what makes Mateik’s gender theater accessible, relatable, and deeply resonant. Similarly, demonstrating the imaginary body by I AM A BOYS CHOIR employs a glitterful-twisted humor and role-play forcing the spectator to think through gender performances, sexuality, and openly confront the disavowal of queerness present in contemporary sport. Collaged scenes of men squeezing into blue sparkly uniforms, standing on cement platforms and performing figure skating poses for the camera are paired with a spit-fire verbal rendition of the ways we are coded to understand how someone is “supposed to look”. The work further serves to challenge stereotypes associated with the masculinity of sport and constructed effeminate nature of art. Something curious of note is the effort to think about the performances of gender  and sexuality through what is largely considered a “feminine sport”.

The endlessly elaborate costuming of glittery, strappy, and short dresses over skin toned tights combined with the actions, the stereotypical thinness of figure skaters, even the demonstrations of extreme athleticism never confront watchers with a question of her sexuality. Yet the sexuality of male figure skaters is always questioned. Spectators can be objectively safe in assuming the women they are watching are attractive not only in their athleticism and idealized bodies but also in their perceived straightness and purity. demonstrating the imaginary body challenges viewers to consider the reasons perhaps women figure skating is relatively visible whilst other female sports (i.e. rugby, lacrosse, etc.) are left out of the broader conversation. Demonstrations of queerness or possible queerness are quenched and silenced in their invisibility. In response, I AM A BOYS CHOIR highlights and glorifies queerness in lieu of straightness.

Both Keith Piper’s The Nation’s Finest and You Are O Son of the Desert! Part I by Haig Aivazian consider the devastating realities of race relations deeply intertwined with nationality, classism, and violence as played out and mirrored in sport. In The Nation’s Finest, the viewer is confronted  with images of blackness contrasted with gyrating images of the English flag —  presenting black athletes as equatable with the symbol of national pride. Incorporating a very literal juxtaposition of glowing black bodies performing on top of the red, white, and blue coloring, Piper calls upon the histories of countries such like Nazi Germany and the GDR that historically used their athletes as tools — a means to an end — in attempts to construct a sense of international respect and internal nationalism. The work forces viewers to contend with the ways in which the labors of the successful athlete of color functions as both liberation and entrapment. By employing historical images reminiscent of modernist propaganda, Piper strategically and subtly leads to the sense of violence happening beneath the surface of sport — referencing the lack of agency of individuals in a broader system of constructed powers.

Keith Piper, still from The Nation’s Finest, 1990. Image courtesy of the artist.

Aivazian, on the other hand, uses a historically violent sport scene — “the headbutt heard around the world” — to reveal a dark underbelly of anger, conflict, and the ugliness of human nature. Aivazian sets the scene: a soccer match between France and Italy, two countries with historically competitive histories. Within the first minute of the video we are presented with an extraordinarily violent act of Zidane headbutting Materazzi in the chest, causing Materazzi to crumble to the ground, writhing in pain. In post-game analysis, lip readers determined Materazzi verbally assaulted Zidane calling him, “the son of a terrorist whore” before being headbutted square in the chest. Aivazian uses this instance as a narrative through which to consider the complicated internal and external conflicts of race, class, and nationalism within France and beyond. This instance of “combustion” on the field represents a general feeling of disquiet. Like Mateik, Aivazian uses the symbolism and signs — the language  — of drawing up sport plays in order to reveal internal violence, racism, and police brutality within France. A sense of “unfair play” is highlighted here as a representation of the uneven playing field that is life for individuals of color, immigrants, and youth.

Haig Aivazian, still from How Great You Are O Son of the Desert!, Part I, 2013. Image courtesy of the artist.

My understanding of discipline, hard work, dedication to craft, and social sensitivity comes from my years as an athlete. I was not someone who identified with the entirety of “sport”, which typically evokes an image of the football playing male dominant. I was a volleyball player. This specificity is important as I consider, in hindsight, my “sport experience” as a powerfully feminist,  and queer, fantasy-like space of shared growth. My teammates and fellow volleyball players remain some of the most badass, beautiful, strong, fierce women I know. Our coaches, head of the club, and trainers were predominately gay men or female. In this way, my understanding of sport subverts broader connotations of sport as conventionally masculine.

Within our utopian-volleyball space, social issues were always present. When participating in tournaments in some of the white-washed suburbs, other teams would ask our team (predominantly women of color) if we were “from Chicago” and if so were we from “the inner city”. Such instances marked my first blatant experiences with the ignorance that belies bigotry, racism, and classism. We had no set rhetoric (or time for that matter) to discuss critically the ways in which these experiences impacted us. In fact, it is without a doubt that my whiteness functioned(s) to shield me from other present transgressions. Instead, we used the experiences to fuel and uplift our level of play — moving on with our bodies and shared knowledge of being collectively, and unwarrantedly, underestimated.

Jacqueline Surdell during her volleyball playing days.

On a broad scope, sports represent an acute, stripped down, rendered, and commercialized version of contemporary society. There are endless examples of sport touching on issues of gender, race, national identity, and beyond. The Nation’s Finest is a positive representation of the interrogation of sport and art, further increasing scholarship on the evolving relationship between these cultural siblings.

April 12 – The Nation’s Finest

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 6, 2018

Tara Mateik, still from Putting the Balls Away, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist.

For millennia, sports have been intrinsic to daily life, physical well-being, education, civic identity, and social harmony. Over the past decade, sports have assumed an even larger, more multidimensional place in our culture. The traditional schisms and antagonisms between sports performance and spectatorship, creative production, and scholarly activity (jocks vs nerds, square vs cool), have been blurred. Featuring works by Haig AivazianI AM A BOYS CHOIRTara MateikNam June PaikKeith PiperLillian Schwartz, and the Internet, this program deconstructs the athlete’s body—how it is used for national, political, and social agendas, and how it is viewed and re-crafted by artists (who are sometimes athletic). For example, Nam June Paik’s Lake Placid ‘80 (1980) is an unruly and slyly subversive commission for the Olympic Winter Games whereas Keith Piper’s Nation’s Finest (1990) mimics the look and tone of state propaganda with a silky, biting critique of the way predominantly White countries use Black bodies in the service of national pride while simultaneously disenfranchising their Black residents. The Nation’s Finest is curated by Astria Suparak and Brett Kashmere and organized as part of INCITE: Journal of Experimental Media’s forthcoming issue, “Sports.”

1971–2013, multiple artists, USA/Lebanon/United Kingdom/Hong Kong, multiple formats, ca 71 min + discussion
Introduced by curators Astria Suparak and Brett Kashmere.

Brett Kashmere is a media artist, historian, and curator. His work explores the intersection of history and (counter-)memory, sports, and popular culture by combining archival research with materialist aesthetics, hybrid forms, and explorations of voice. Kashmere is the founding editor and publisher of INCITE: Journal of Experimental MediaHe has curated projects for the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Strasbourg, France; Cinémathèque québecoise, Montréal; Light Cone, Paris; Toronto International Film Festival Cinémathèque; among others. His writing has appeared in journals, magazines, and anthologies such as Moving Image Review & Art JournalThe Canadian Journal of Film StudiesMillennium Film Journal, and A Microcinema Primer: A Brief History of Small Cinemas. Kashmere has taught film and video production and exhibition practices at Oberlin College and Concordia University.

Astria Suparak has curated exhibitions, screenings, live music events, and performances for MoMA PS1, New York; Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City; The Kitchen, New York; Eyebeam, New York; and the Liverpool Biennial, United Kingdom. At Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery, she curated Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men, the first survey of the culture-jamming group; Whatever It Takes: Steelers Fan Collections, Rituals, and Obsessions with artist Jon Rubin, which explored sports fanaticism as a form of cultural production; and Alien She with Ceci Moss, a traveling exhibition on the impact of the global punk feminist movement Riot Grrrl. Suparak coproduced the publication New Art/Science Affinities, and her writing has been published recently by The Exhibitionist; NoiseyThe Iris, the blog of the J.Paul Getty Trust; and Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community. Her curated videotape, Some Kind of Loving, produced by Joanie 4 Jackie, was acquired by the Getty Research Institute earlier this year.

On Hayoun Kwon

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | April 5, 2018

Hayoun Kwon, still from 489 Years, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

We are thrilled to present a screening of work by Paris and South Korea based multimedia artist Hayoun Kwon. Through animation and virtual reality technologies, Kwon bridges the realms of documentary and fiction to question ideas around borders, territory, memory, testimony, and reality itself. This week, we welcome School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate student Jooyoung Lee to share some thoughts and contextual insight into Hayoun Kwon’s work.


Hayoun Kwon: Crossing the Forbidden Lands
Jooyoung Lee

Born in 1981 in Seoul, Hayoun Kwon is an artist and filmmaker based in France and South Korea. Working across documentary, virtual reality and animation, Kwon investigates the geopolitical questions of border and territoriality and their relation to national identity, memory, and history. Her works have been shown at the Cinéma du Réel Festival at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2014), the 62nd International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany (2016), Doc Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2017), and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2017). In addition, Kwon has participated in the Real DMZ Project, a contemporary art project based on research conducted on the Korean Demilitarized Zone in South Korea and its border area.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone, also known as the DMZ, is a buffer zone between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) defined as a result of the Korean War. Kwon’s two works, 489 Years (2016) and Model Village (2014), invite the audience into the prohibited area of the DMZ. By merging both the fictional aspect and the reality of the border, the works reflect the DMZ’s particular geopolitical condition as an aftermath of the Cold War and an interwoven part of everyday life in the two Koreas.

Hayoun Kwon, still from 489 Years, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

In 489 Years (2016), Kwon adopts the form of documentary and virtual reality to take us into this forbidden and thus distant land. Based on the memories of a South Korean soldier who served in the DMZ, Kwon recreated an allusion of the no man’s land – a “natural paradise” that is  simultaneously a field full of mines. The title, 489 Years, refers to the length of the time that it will take to remove all the landmines that were planted in the DMZ during the 73 years of division of two Koreas. “When you enter the DMZ you never know what will happen to you.” Following the narration of the soldier, a viewer passes a guarded gate and walks into the unknown in-between place for the survey mission where no map exists. In a lecture titled Behind the DMZ, Kwon remarks, “I was born in South Korea. So, North Korea was always a forbidden zone for me. I was very interested in the fictional dimension of North Korea.”

Hayoun Kwon, still from Model Village, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist.

Model Village (2014) renders the fictional dimension of the DMZ and North Korea even more by remaking a North Korean propaganda village, Kijong-dong. Located near Panmunjom in the North Korean side of Demilitarized zone, Kijong-dong is a ghost town that was built for a propaganda purpose after the 1953 agreement, reflecting the tension between the two Koreas. Starting with the voice of an assumed agent rejecting the artist’s request to film Kijong-dong as it requires the UN’s approval, the film focuses on the mechanism of fiction in the constructed village. Rebuilt with transparent models of empty houses, the work also brings lines from A Broad Bellflower, a 1987 North Korean film directed by Kyung Soon Jo, further reinforcing its cinematic and empty utopian aspect.

Kwon’s interest in revisiting an individual’s memory, sensitively investigating the personal narrative and political situations, while questioning border and nationality, tracks back to an earlier time within her practice. The 2011 film Lack of Evidence invites viewers into the recollection of memory of a Nigerian asylum seeker named Oscar who escaped from his home country, in danger of being murdered. Reconstructed from an excerpt of an interview using 3D rendering and wire-frame, the film reveals how Oscar was refused asylum by the French administration because of the lack of evidence.

Hayoun Kwon, still from Lack of Evidence, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

In 2017, Kwon presented her new virtual reality-based installation Bird Lady as a part of a group exhibition titled The Principle of Uncertainty, along with artists Walid Raad, Zachary Formwalt and Ho Tzu Nyen, in the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea. During a discussion about the exhibition, Kwon remarks: “I believe that virtual reality has to show more than an imitation of the reality. It is meaningful when a work can show what is beyond the reality. That is why I mainly use animation when I work with VR.” In an interview with Amelia Seely of Glasgow Film, Kwon explains that she utilizes the possibility of virtual reality to question what reality actually is in a society where “the truth is not fixed” but is in a continuous transition. The artist also finds it critical to be able to look around 360 degrees in VR as it breaks the rectangular frame of the camera and enables the spectators to sink deeply into the reconstructed personal and collective memory.

Hayoun Kwon, still from The Bird Lady, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Investigating the construct of both the fictional and the documentary, the virtual and the real, Kwon asks the viewers to question the lines of separation. 489 Years and Model Village allow us to enter into the forbidden lands. While Lack of Evidence  invites us to walk alongside the individuals whose lives become conflicted by politics, Bird Lady questions reality and memory. By fully immersing the viewers into the works, Kwon invites us to re-imagine the other realities beyond our own.

April 5 – Hayoun Kwon: Films and Virtual Realities

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 30, 2018

Hayoun Kwon, still from The Bird Lady, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.

Through a unique interplay of documentary techniques and animation technologies, the films and virtual reality projects of Paris-based South Korean artist Hayoun Kwon present new realms for history and memory. Biographical accounts of a Nigerian asylum seeker in Lack of Evidence (2011) and a South Korean soldier serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone in 489 Years (2016) are mapped onto spectacular animated landscapes that undergo dramatic transformations in perspective. North Korea’s propaganda village Kijong-dong is replicated in Kwon’s Model Village (2014), which highlights the irony of an uninhabited utopia, while The Bird Lady (2017) immerses viewers into a Parisian apartment turned aviary. Kwon’s striking images reflect the shifting psychic and geopolitical realities of her subjects. The artist presents a selection of films, two recent virtual reality projects, and discusses the ideas and technologies that sustain her practice.

2011–2017, South Korea/France/USA, multiple formats, ca 75 min + discussion
Hayoun Kwon in person

Hayoun Kwon is a filmmaker and multimedia artist. Her work has been screened in museums, galleries, and film festivals around the world including at the Cinéma du Réel festival at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Spain; Doc Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, California; and the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Netherlands, among others. Kwon is the recipient of numerous awards in filmmaking and media art including the Prix de la Jeune Création (2012); the Arte Creative Newcomer Award from the European Media Art Festival in Osnabrück, Germany (2014); the Prix Découverte des Amis du Palais de Tokyo (2015); and first prize at the 62nd International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany (2016). She graduated in 2011 from Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing, France. She is based in France and South Korea.

On Thorsten Trimpop

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 29, 2018

Thorsten Trimpop, still from Furusato, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

This week, we are thrilled to present a screening of Furusato, the latest feature documentary by Chicago-based filmmaker and School of the Art Institute of Chicago faculty, Thorsten Trimpop.

Furusato, which translates to home or hometown, is human-scale portrait of Minamisōma, a small town in Japan’s nuclear exclusion zone. The film explores how the town’s inhabitants and surrounding landscape have been affected by the devastating Fukushima Daiichi Nuclean Power Plant meltdown. Furusato has had its successful theatrical release in 52 cities in Germany and Austria, with screenings in Europe continuing until fall of this year.

In the following director’s statement, Trimpop reflects on his time spent filming in Minamisōma and how he came to understand the concept of furusato through his experience of living alongside the town’s residents.


Furusato: Director’s Statement

Thorsten Trimpop

At first glance, the Japanese town of Minamisoma felt to me like a ghost town, blanketed in snow, depopulated and dystopian. The town had already been divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into sectors deemed safe and unsafe for habitation. It was January 2012, nine months after a massive tsunami had struck Japan’s eastern coast, killing almost 20,000 people and triggering meltdowns at three of the five reactors at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Out of nowhere, three young men with guitar cases slung over their shoulders and white safety masks on their faces appeared, walking down a street empty of cars, the stores all shuttered. When I stopped them to ask what they were up to, they hesitated. Finally, one of them shyly said that they had a band, and that they were going to a studio to rehearse. He invited us to join them. Once in the studio, I watched in astonishment as this shy boy, Kazuki, who would become one of the film’s protagonists, screamed out his primal fear, frustration and rage.

It was during this initial five-month trip that I began to see the elements that would later become Furusato, the film I shot over the course of the next four years.

Thorsten Trimpop, still from Furusato, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Japan’s history of catastrophe movies seemed to eerily foreshadow the events of March 2011, after which two hundred thousand locals were forced to flee their homes, leaving everything—possessions and pets, the bodies of deceased loved ones, a sense of future–behind.

As the news cycle quickly moved on to other stories, I had wondered what happened to all of these people. Disaster narratives are relayed and consumed for entertainment in many ways. Around the catastrophe’s first anniversary, the town once again became a magnet for TV journalists from all over the world using the dystopian landscape as backdrops: Fukushima’s Ground Zero.

This was when I began to see the possibility of a film, an antidote to such superficial images—a deeper, sustained look at the relationship of the local people to the wounded landscape they called home—a tensionI could sense but did not yet understand. As I met people who decided to remain in highly contaminated areas, unwilling to give up their homes or conceive of themselves as refugees, I asked myself, why did they stay?

There were immediate and obvious challenges: how, as an outsider, could I approach these people, many of whom were shell-shocked, angry, and understandably wary? How could I convey, on film, the unseen danger they were contending with? Those questions would soon feed into a larger, more universal inquiry about how we create home, the need for security, even if illusory, and the overlooked human cost of our way of life.

Thorsten Trimpop, still from Furusato, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

I kept returning, sleeping on the floor of a local shrine, and this inquiry acquired texture and complexity. Protective gear disappeared, replaced by a pretense of normalcy best conveyed in images, like the sight of a samurai in full regalia on horseback passing a fleet of uniformed workers decontaminating a cemetery. What was initially a visual absence became a monolithic presence, represented by millions of 1-ton bags of radioactive topsoil scarring the bewilderingly lush green landscape.

My outsider status became an unexpected asset as the universal need to air grievance asserted itself with time and trust. I was humbled by my protagonists’ generosity with their stories, which often surprised me: a daughter sacrificing her career in the city—and her health–to help her horse breeder father; the ambiguous motives of a glamorous activist on a messiah-like mission; the unsettling movement from guilt to denial of the Stanford-educated TEPCO nuclear safety engineer.

Furusato is the first film I shot myself without a crew, working only with a translator. Because I don’t speak Japanese, my instinct directed the camera. This hardwon intimacy, I hope, translates on film into moments of unexpected lyricism and grace.

Few concepts in Japanese culture carry as much weight as furusato, which translates as home or hometown, but is also wrapped up in the dramatic changes that resulted from Japan’s modernization. Furusato describes the lost landscape of childhood that you can’t return to, as well as the final landscape you see before you die. It reminds us of our connection to the earth, to the past and the future, and the ease with which profit models and Insta-culture imperil and disconnect us.

We are living in an era of man-made catastrophes, from climate change to corporation-enriching wars. Fukushima will become a cautionary symbol of our insatiable thirst for cheap energy and our willingness to sacrifice those things that make us human–including our responsibility to future generations. It is my hope that this film will grant the space to observe just how fragile those things are.

Thorsten Trimpop, still from Furusato, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

March 29 – Thorsten Trimpop: Furusato 古里

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 23, 2018

Our Thursday March 29 screening is now SOLD OUT. We’ve added a second screening, with Thorsten Trimpop in person, on Sunday April 8 at 12:00 p.m.

Thorsten Trimpop, still from Furusato, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist.

Thorsten Trimpop’s films explore the many ways cultural, political, and ecological histories are borne by individuals in their daily lives. His most recent feature, Furusato, exposes the devastating effects of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown on the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants. Shot over the course of four years, the film follows a media-savvy activist, a horse breeder, a teen-rocker, and a nuclear engineer for the Tokyo Electric Power Company as they struggle to cope with the fallout of the ongoing disaster. The land that had once been a source of profound physical and cultural sustenance for Japan’s eastern coast is now tainted with the invisible danger of radiation. Culminating in a traditional horse race, one that has taken place since the eighth century, but now provokes intense anxiety among inhabitants, Furusato meditates on the unfathomable sacrifices wrought in the name of progress.

2016, Japan, DCP, 90 min + discussion
Thorsten Trimpop in person

Thorsten Trimpop is a filmmaker and visual artist based in Chicago. His current film, Furusato, is a human-scale portrait of a small town in Japan’s nuclear exclusion zone. It premiered at DOK Leipzig, Germany, where it won the grand prize, the Golden Dove. His film and theater works have been presented at venues such as the Locarno Festival, Switzerland; the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Netherlands; at the Viennale, Austria; Marseille Festival of Documentary Film, France; Ann Arbor Film Festival, Michigan; Busan International Film Festival, South Korea; among others. Trimpop has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, and Boston University. From 2014 to 2017, he was a fellow at the MIT Open Documentary Lab. He is currently Assistant Professor at SAIC in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation department, where he is working on a new feature film about the destructive human obsession with beauty.

On Edward Owens

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 22, 2018

Edward Owens, still from Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1967. Image courtesy of the Filmmakers Cooperative.

This week, we are thrilled to present a screening of rare films by the late Chicago-based artist and School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum, Edward Owens (SAIC 1966-67).
Owens, who was a native of South Side Chicago, made headway the 1960s New York City underground artistic scene with his beautifully crafted films that poetically explore heartbreak, queer desire, and his own family.

In the following excerpt, critic Ed Halter shares his insight on Owens’ work, reflecting on the filmmaker’s time in New York and his final years in Chicago.


Edward Owens: Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts
Ed Halter

In the mid 1960s, Edward Owens was an African-American teenager attending the Art Institute of Chicago when Gregory Markopoulos arrived to found the school’s film program. Owens, who was then studying painting and sculpture, had already been making 8mm movies for a few years; impressed by the maturity of his work, Markopoulos encouraged him to move to New York. Owens arrived in Manhattan in 1966 with Markopoulos, who quickly ushered him into the world of the city’s cultured demimonde, introducing him to figures like Andy Warhol, Gerard Malanga, Marie Menken, Gregory Battcock, and filmmaker-poet Charles Boultenhouse. Soon, Owens became romantically involved with Boultenhouse, and moved into the West Village apartment where Boultenhouse already lived with his lover of many decades, the legendary critic Parker Tyler, who accepted the arrangement.

Edward Owens, still from Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1967. Courtesy of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative.

Over the next four years, Owens created a cluster of films that display an increasing mastery of form, inspired by Markopoulos’s style but transformed into something purely his own. ‘With each subsequent struggle to complete a film he will leave us breathless with anticipation for his next work,’ Markopoulos remarked around this time. Owens’s featurette Tomorrow’s Promise shows the particular influence of his mentor’s Twice a Man, telling the elliptical tale of a broken romance between a man and a woman through strobing edits, layered images, and dramatically lit nudes. The sophistication of the film is all the more impressive when one considers that Owens was only eighteen years old when he made it. The extant reel of Tomorrow’s Promise still bears the filmmaker’s editing marks, as if a work in progress, though this is the version placed in distribution by Owens, and likely screened at the Fourth International Film Exhibition at Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium in 1968. Even Tyler, who by the 1960s was highly critical of many new filmmakers, granted Owens curmudgeonly praise for the film, writing that Tomorrow’s Promise bore “a quality so pictorially exciting that the next thing he must do is listen to my advice.”

Read the full piece here.

March 22 – Edward Owens: A Portrait Study

Posted by | Paris Jomadiao | Posted on | March 16, 2018

Edward Owens, still from Remembrance: A Portrait Study, 1967. Image courtesy of the Film-makers’ Cooperative.

In the mid 1960s, Edward Owens (SAIC 1966–67), a young African American artist from the South Side of Chicago, burst onto New York’s artistic underground scene with a series of strikingly beautiful films of heartbreak, queer desire, and his own family. With their layered images and flickering edits, the films show the influence of Owens’ mentor, filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos, with whom he had studied as one of the first film students at SAIC. Yet, Owens developed a distinct style, particularly in his painterly approach to portraiture and allegory. These films were lauded by his contemporaries; for example, the critic Parker Tyler included Owens’ 1967 film Remembrance: A Portrait Study as one of the avant-garde’s key works in his landmark study Underground Film: A Critical History. Despite these achievements, Owens’ works have been largely overlooked until recent efforts by the critic Ed Halter and New York’s Film-Makers’ Cooperative to bring them to new light. Rarely screened in his own home town, this evening’s program is a unique opportunity to reassess Owens’ singular body of work.

1966–68, USA, 16mm to 2K digital file, ca 57 min + discussion
Introduced by critic Ed Halter

Edward Owens was an African American artist and filmmaker. He studied painting and sculpture at SAIC, in addition to making 8mm movies. Encouraged by his mentor, filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos, Owens moved to New York City. There he met filmmaker-poet Charles Boultenhouse, with whom Owens became romantically involved. Owens returned to Chicago for personal reasons in 1971, finishing his college degree but never completing another film. The time Owens spent in New York resulted in several films that showcase a unique approach to imagery, lighting, editing, and narrative that defines his brief yet meaningful career.

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