twohundredfiftysixcolors – April 18, 2013
What do Orson Welles and dancing hamsters have in common? Though ‘artistic genius’ and ‘mad rhythm’ are also acceptable answers, their obvious connection is one more digital than literal: both are subjects of two of the most famous GIFs of all time—one in which Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane looks on formidably while clapping and another in which rows of dancing hamsters jam to a melody of squeaky critter voices. Both are also featured in Chicago-based filmmakers Eric Fleischauer and Jason Lazarus’ twohundredfiftysixcolors, a film comprised of approximately 3,000 GIFs; its title is the number of colors available in the GIF palette. more…
One afternoon two years ago, Eric Fleischauer, a filmmaker, and Jason Lazarus, a photographer, met for coffee. Gradually the conversation turned to one of their shared obsessions: GIFs, the infinitely looping minimovies ubiquitous on the Internet. Given their jobs, they were particularly interested in where GIFs came from and what they were becoming. … What would GIFs look like, the two of them wondered, if you removed them from their natural habitat and transplanted them to the cinema, projected onto a big screen, maybe even in 16-millimeter? A project began to take shape. more…
Art F Citytwohundredfiftysixcolors, a feature-length silent film about GIFs made up entirely of GIFs, reminds me of Fantasia. Like the Disney cartoon, the film is based around stand-alone vignettes, without much in the way of traditional plot structure. From the first second to the last, images pass over the screen in waves, sometimes randomly but often grouped together in categories (treadmills, cats, “under construction,” and twerking GIFs make up just a few of those groupings). twohundredfiftysixcolors’ filmmakers and friends of AFC, Chicago-based artists Eric Fleischauer and Jason Lazarus took two years to produce the film, and their dedication shows. more…
Hannes Schüpbach – April 4, 2013
Swiss filmmaker and artist Hannes Schüpbach works in a lyrical mode, perhaps most reminiscent of Nathaniel Dorsky or Robert Beavers, with beautifully composed fragmentary shots weaved together in an associational manner. Unlike Dorsky or Beavers, though, Schüpbach frequently (more often than not in these films) breaks up the shot-to-shot continuity with black, giving his films a strong disjunctive quality. more…
L.A. Rebellion - March 28, 2013
Black cinema has always been relegated to the cultural margins, but how does an artist survive at the margin of the margins? A year and a half ago, UCLA Film & Television Archive presented a sweeping retrospective on artists of color who’ve come through the school’s filmmaking program since the 1970s. You may know about Charles Burnett, whose Killer of Sheep (1977) was named to the National Film Registry in 1990, or Julie Dash, whose Daughters of the Dust (1991) won the same honor in 2004. But “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema” also showcased long-forgotten films by such adventurous talents as Ben Caldwell, Larry Clark, Zeinabu Irene Davis, Haile Gerima, Barbara McCullough, and Billy Woodberry. Needless to say, this explosion of underground, Afrocentric filmmaking at UCLA, mainly in the 70s and 80s, has gone completely unnoticed by the mainstream; even most histories of African-American cinema leapfrog it on their way from Shaft to Spike Lee. more…
Wavelengths: In the Blink of an Eye - March 21, 2013
Cine-File – Crucial Viewing
Contained within the massive Toronto International Film Festival is a small, concentrated, tightly curated avant-garde sidebar called Wavelengths. Considering this series contains so few films within such a massive entertainment machine, you might expect the films selected to always be from recognizable names and art-world stars. But curator Andréa Picard keeps the programming vital, unique, and surprising. more…
Time Out – Critic’s Pick
Toronto International Film Festival programmer Andréa Picard presents a selection of avant-garde shorts—including work from Nathaniel Dorsky and Ernie Gehr—previously screened during last year’s Wavelengths program at TIFF. Picard’s curatorial instincts are peerless, making this is a must-attend for experimental cinema fans.
Fern Silva – February 14, 2013
Bad at Sports
Even though we call them motion pictures, moving images, movies, not everything committed to celluloid or quicktime has motion at its locus. In the idiosyncratic, stirring body of filmic work that Fern Silva has produced—and will be screening five recent works to inaugurate Conversations at the Edge’s spring season this Thursday—movement is integral.The sumptuous and silent Passage Upon the Plume (2011) finds its rhythms in the coupled vertical impulses of hot air balloons and baskets being lured up and down the faces of buildings. Concrete Parlay (2012)—his latest as well as the source of the evening’s title—uses the trope of the magic carpet ride to guide us through cities and bodies and concepts both foreign and domestic. more…
John Akomfrah – November 15, 2012
The movie is as much of a mosaic as an essay, drawing from dozens of classic literary sources to address the experience of emigration. Director John Akomfrah says his central subject are the immigrants from former British colonies who came to the UK in the decades following World War II, but Muses also considers journeys in classical mythology and present-day explorations of the Alaskan wilderness. It’s a heady work, to be sure, but a consistently engaging one. more…
TVTV – Four More Years - October 25, 2012
The countercultural tide of the 1960s and 70s generated more than political protests, a growing drug culture, advancing feminism, and Bob Dylan—it also spurred an intense (though regrettably short-lived) burst of activist media makers, working in both film (the various Newsreel collectives) and newly-available portable video. One of these guerilla-style video collectives was TVTV (Top Value Television), founded in 1972 in San Francisco. more…
Laida Lertxundi - October 18, 2012
For my money, Laida Lertxundi is one of the best and most interesting experimental filmmakers to have emerged in the last decade. Her films evince a shared interest in both the lyrical tradition in the avant-garde (they are beautifully photographed, with a particular sensitivity to qualities of light) and the later structuralist movements. more…
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet- October 11, 2012
Jean-Marie Straub met Danièle Huillet in Paris in the autumn of 1954. From then until Huillet’s death from cancer in 2006, they were both personal and creative partners; Straub handled camera placement, Huillet handled editing and producing, and both were equally involved in writing scripts and directing actors. Together, the couple—often referred to as husband and wife, though they never married—developed a durable, personal aesthetic that valued transparency, simplicity, nature, and fidelity to a text. more…
Brenna Murphy – September 27, 2012
In an interview with Rhizome last year, Portland-based artist Brenna Murphy wrote “If I’ve been really in the zone all day, then my dreams at night will be in the shape of the programs that I was using.” In so saying, she illuminates much of what her work evokes: a disorienting, almost oneiric state of the zone while thrusting viewer and maker head-deep into the ways in which technologies shape aesthetic experience. more…
Murphy works in a variety of forms and therefore isn’t a “filmmaker” in the traditional sense—in addition to sculpting and music, she also creates experimental “video games” and labyrinth-like Web pages—but her video work, which utilizes 21st-century technology in truly unique ways, is some of the most sensuous filmmaking you’re likely to come across. Sight and sound are morphed and twisted to represent a reality that resembles our own but nevertheless yields to a burgeoning digital influence. more…
Robert Nelson: Special Warning – September 20 & 22, 2012
Co-founder of the venerable experimental film distribution collective Canyon Cinema, the late Robert Nelson is the subject of a two-day retrospective as part of the Conversations at the Edge series. Thursday night features six films all from the prolific year of 1967. more…
The second half of Conversations at the Edge’s two-day Robert Nelson retrospective screens in the early afternoon on a Saturday, a fitting time as any to watch irreverent experimental film. The centerpiece of the screening is Nelson’s indelible contribution to the experimental film canon, BLEU SHUT (1970). A masterful exploration of consumer and media culture demonstrated through participatory cinema, the film is structured as having “a boat game and entertainments,” set to last 30 minutes (with a tiny clock in the upper right corner counting down to the end). more…
Chicago Reader This week the Gene Siskel Film Center will celebrate experimental filmmaker Robert Nelson, who died earlier this year at the age of 81, by screening programs of his work tomorrow at 6 PM and on Saturday at 12:30 PM. As Bruce Weber wrote in his New York Times obituary, Nelson “brought spontaneity, teasing, and wit to the often deadly serious arena of avant-garde moviemaking,” though it should be noted he possessed a strong formal sensibility as well. more…
Daniel Eisenberg: The Unstable Object – May 1, 2012
Filmmaker Daniel Eisenberg, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, filmed the factory floor for his visual essay The Unstable Object, which screens at the Siskel Film Center next Tuesday. How do workers who literally can’t see what they are doing achieve assemble precision devices with a guaranteed accuracy of +/- 2 minutes/year? What does such a place look like? more…
James Benning: Twenty Cigarettes- April 19, 2012
Yvonne Rainer: Lives of Performers- April 12, 2012
Handsworth Songs- April 5, 2012
Brent Green: Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then- March 29 and 31, 2012
Tomonari Nishikawa & Small-Gauge Japan- March 8, 2012
The films of Japanese filmmaker and curator Tomonari Nishikawa are dazzling symphonies of the everyday. Working in formats ranging from Super 8mm to 35mm still photographic film, Nishikawa constructs his films through precise single-frame shooting, elaborate masking, superimposition, and in-camera editing. He transforms the elements of urban life — skyscrapers, traffic, as well as the organic flora of city boulevards and parks — into ecstatic multi-layered abstractions of light, movement, and space. more…
Laure Provoust: Don’t Look Up- March 6, 2012
French video artist Laure Prouvost assembles unrelated images, narration, and subtitles to question the ways in which films manufacture meaning, though her works on this program are far more playful than that description might suggest. Prouvost interrogates film form with a goofy sense of humor and some jazzy editing strategies: she’s the rare figure who makes academic theory sound like fun. Her cheap digital imagery may remind you of YouTube, but her catch-as-catch-can aesthetic has its roots in Dadaism and the Fluxus art of the 1960s. The program collects four shorts (from 2010, The Artist and It, Hit, Heat; from 2009, Monolog and the head-turning Burrow Me), plus three films she cites as influences (from 1975, Owen Land’s Wide Angle Saxon and John Smith’s Associations, and from 1962, John Latham’s abstract animation Speak) and some related samplings from YouTube. more…
George Kuchar: Hotspell- February 23, 2012
The School of the Art Institute’s Conversations at the Edge series will showcase the work of filmmaker George Kuchar, who died in September. Kuchar had created nearly 300 video diaries about “the pageant that is life” since the mid-’80s, with the complete archive housed at Video Data Bank, the company that also distributes Kuchar’s work. VDB director Abina Manning will present a collection of greatest hits and host a discussion about the filmmaker’s work and life.
Radical Light- February 16, 2012
Basma al-Sharif- February 9, 2012
Conversations at the Edge—the divergent series that sends folks from SAIC’s film, video, and new media department into the Siskel’s video vault to curate weekly screenings and director talks—sets off its tenth anniversary year with a collection of shorts by women filmmakers from or connected to Palestine. This Thursday’s installment borrows its name from a 19-minute film by artist and University of Illinois at Chicago alumna Basma al-Sharif, who fields questions after the showing. more…
Nicolas Provost: Long Live the New Flesh- November 20, 2012
Nicolas Provost edits Hollywood films into pastiches that pay tribute to their genres. This program includes Long Live the New Flesh (2009), Gravity (2007),Stardust (2010), and Storyteller (2010).
Gregory Markopolous: Eniaios II – October 6, 2011
Tonight at 6 PM the Gene Siskel Film Center’s experimental film series, “Conversations at the Edge,” will present a rare screening of Eniaios II, the second installment in a 22-film cycle by the Greek-American filmmaker Gregory J. Markopoulos (1928-1992). Once an instructor at the School of the Art Institute, Markopoulos established himself as a key figure in the New American Cinema movement but then left the U.S. in 1967 and eventually withdrew his work from circulation, for the most part allowing it to be screened only on a hillside theater in Lyssaraia, the Greek village where his father had lived before emigrating to Toledo, Ohio. “Alluding to ancient Greek religious traditions, he called the place he had selected for his theater a temenos,” wrote the critic P. Adams Sitney in a 2004 review for Artforum, “a sacred precinct, literally a place ‘cut off’ and dedicated to a divinity, where usually an altar, a temple, and a cult image would be erected.”
Markopoulos made some 28 films between 1947 and ’67, and in the late 70s he set out to reedit what he felt were his 16 most important works into the “Eniaios” cycle, which would run about 80 hours. Favoring the ones he’d shot in color over those in black-and-white, he dropped the films’ original soundtracks and added footage from 65 more films that he’d made in Europe, many of them studies of sacred sites. Sitney called Eniaios II “as astonishing a revelation of cinematic power as anything I had seen over the course of my nearly five decades in active pursuit of extraordinary films.”
Amy Beste of “Conversations at the Edge” reports that Eniaios II, which was unavailable for preview as we went to press on Tuesday, will be screened from “a gorgeous 16-millimeter archival print.” The program will include a discussion with SAIC professsor Bruce Jenkins and, via Skype, Sitney, a professor of visual arts at Princeton University and author of Visionary Film, the standard history on postwar avant-garde filmmaking in America. On Friday, November 18, at 7 PM, University of Chicago Film Studies Center will present a program of Markopoulos’s last U.S. works, including Ming Green (1966), Bliss (1967), Through a Lens Brightly: Mark Turbyfill (1967), and Genius (1970). (J.R. Jones)
Luke Fowler: A Grammar for Listening – October 27, 2011
Luke Fowler’s sonic cinema in Chicago
Scottish experimental filmmaker Luke Fowler will be present for a program of recent work on Thursday night at the Gene Siskel Film Center, part of Conversations at the Edge. Sound art and experimental music have been important concerns for Fowler from the start of his career—a 2006 program at the Siskel featured his experimental documentaries about oddball British musician Xentos Jones, who played in the Homosexuals and Die Computer Die, and brilliant composer Cornelius Cardew. But the films screening this week represent a major progression for Fowler: the sound artists documented in his A Grammar for Listening series are collaborators, not subjects.
Thursday’s program includes two of the three works from the Grammar series, which are built around field recordings made by Lee Patterson and Eric La Casa. The installment with Patterson features intertitles that elaborate on the sound sources, but Fowler’s visuals don’t always zero in on those sources. Instead, we take in a broader view of the setting, though even at the widest angles we see less than we can hear. In a revealing interview with scholar Christoph Cox—who’s in Chicago next weekend for the first Sound Art Theories Symposium at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—Fowler discusses this approach:
I would rarely, as you point out, want to film the sound’s source—like, say, those steel barriers—partly because we didn’t want to have constant hard syncs, but also because it seemed quite futile. Sound recording and filming often work with phenomena that are quite distinct—the camera being limited to documenting light across surfaces, whilst a microphone could record something that was miles away or a contact mic could transduce the vibrations deep within a surface or object, sounds that would often be imperceptible to the senses.
These are not easy films; they require immersion and concentration. But once you adjust to Fowler’s aesthetic, you can appreciate how effectively he frames the sound art of his collaborators with a dazzlingly rich fabric of environmental activity, both natural and industrial. The program also includes the four-part Tenement Series, for which Fowler created three-minute portraits of some of his Glasgow neighbors via their living spaces. The soundtracks for these films were made by Patterson and fellow experimental musicians Taku Unami, Charles Curtis, and Toshiya Tsunoda.
A second Fowler screening happens on Friday evening at the Film Studies Center on the University of Chicago campus, and will include his work in progress about Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, All Divided Selves. Below you can watch a music video Fowler made for Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts. (Peter Margasak)
Rebecca Meyers: Blue Mantle
Steina!- October 13, 2012
Landscape as Archive – October 6, 2011
Laura Parnes- September 29, 2012
Matthew Buckingham- September 22, 2011
The cinephile might rightly pity the film of the art gallery: detached from the enveloping, intimate darkness of the movie theater, it lays bare on antiseptic white walls that evoke the scientific laboratory (or the hospital); its “audience” a transience of often-disinterested observations, attending here and there to a gallery label, a bench, an overfull glass, or an exaggerated display of social capital. Matthew Buckingham—once just another cornfed SAIC undergrad (BFA 1984) with a senior show on Randolph Street, now a legitimated Art World participant—brings a variety of his films and videos to Conversations at the Edge, a night where the curtains are drawn and a different type of surgery may begin. more…
Consuming Spirits- September 15, 2011
[This review contains spoilers.] Chris Sullivan uses cutout and hand-drawn animation to create this gothic family saga involving corruption and madness in a decaying Appalachian industrial town. A talk-radio host dispenses vaguely sinister advice to listeners; his middle-aged daughter, who works at the local newspaper, tries to cover up a hit-and-run; and her alcoholic coworker, once her foster brother, fakes documents in order to claim possession of a truck that belonged to his biological father, now long missing. The film, screening as a work in progress, has a hallucinatory stream-of-consciousness feel and evocative ballads, and its macabre touches are sometimes funny. The animation is technically proficient but rarely pretty; Sullivan has made his characters look as grotesque as their warped personalities. (Andrea Gronvall)
Chris Sullivan’s CONSUMING SPIRITS (Experimental Animation)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center — Thursday, 6pm
Chris Sullivan’s otherworldly animation is full of tiny, odd, and potent details: the tremor of a hand, the turn of a radio dial, a bird on a tree limb. It is this world of small things that draws one in slowly. CONSUMING SPIRITS, local filmmaker and SIAC professor Chris Sullivan’s work in progress, a decade in the making so far, is an Appalachian gothic with four main characters—all trapped by some problem of their own making and held together by a sad and inescapably interconnected past. It is a remarkable achievement that such a simple story isn’t overwhelmed by the fractured visual world Sullivan builds. CONSUMING SPIRITS glides through stop-motion animation, pencil drawing, collage animation, and Sullivan’s signature style of cutout animation, and the movement is fragile and corporeal. While all of the characters in his film are grotesquely rendered, it is hard to imagine them as lifeless pieces of paper. The film is something akin to the magical animation of Yuri Norstein—more cinematic than cartoonish. It often delivers surprising moments of translucence or a mystifying depth of field or a strange spot of light, which all seem to be more captured than constructed. It is also often ruthlessly funny and gruesome, deepening our look at these troubled characters as they attempt to deal with their individual tragedies and disappointments. CONSUMING SPIRITS is exactly as advertised—a consumption. (2011, 125 min, 16mm on HDCam Video). (Christy LeMaster)
In Kim Collmer’s personal interview with Chris Sullivan, “Animations are closer to the ethereal quality that memories have, they kind of crumble in your hands…” he said, as if he is on a long journey to explore the possibility of using animation to represent human intimacies; by creating unique dialogues or actions for the animation, he truly pushes the line between his personal experience and creativity.
Sound design serves a very important role in animation. Animation creates movements out of imagination and visualizes them onto paper; there is no actual sound for this imaginary world. Animators either create the sound and log the audio before they animate, or base on the footage to create sound that matches it up; Foley Art in animation is also like providing souls for the characters, and creating space for the environment. Although the imagery Sullivan provides us may not be considered realistic — jerky movements, rough drawings, floating heads, stretched figures– the use of sound nails down the realistic aspect of the story. The Foley that Sullivan creates is remarkably rich yet realistically resembles live action films. With the ambient sound of the interior, the wooden structures of the house and the sizzling fire that spreads out in the space, he effectively brings us into the environment. Sullivan’s sound design aims for a subtlety that resembles the acoustic spaces that audiences are familiar with.
After Sullivan started his studies of art at Carnegie Mellon University, he took his first animation class and he made his first animation on Super-8 film. People who have the basic knowledge of animation understand the fact that it takes an extreme amount of time to make films in this manner. When I first met Chris Sullivan in 2008, he had been working on his feature-length puppet stop motion animation for twelve years. A year later, in a class he was teaching at SAIC, he announced again that he had been working on a feature length animation for twelve years. “Thirteen.” I reminded him. Now, it’s been the fourteenth year of the making of this animated film, everyone is holding their breath to wait for the birth of this old-new work of a master. (Wei-Hsuan Vicky Yen)
 A technique of recreating sound for film by using props and all kinds of materials, named after Jack Foley, the person who invented the technique.
Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure – April 14, 2011
“Dancing Cinema and Sound at the Gene Siskel Film Center”
In 2008 the SoSeditions label released an untitled collaboration between Chicago sound artist Olivia Block and New York experimental filmmakers Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. Around the time it was released, I wrote on this blog about it: “[Block has] devised a process-based approach to parallel the one that created the visuals. Her collaborators used projected film as their source material, creating ghostly effects with puffs of steam or fog and the inherent artifacts of video recording; Block used what she calls the ‘halos of static’ generated when she subjected cheap phone pickups to the electromagnetic disturbances around her CD player and computer, adding digital effects, bits of prerecorded music, and lots of edits to shape a flowing stream of sound that constantly shifts in density and color.”
Three years later I realize that, as impressive as the DVD is, it’s an inferior documentation of what the filmmakers do, which is perform rather than simply screen their work. For one thing, the image on the DVD is small, and you’re much better off experiencing the rich, shifting visual textures and the physicality of the celluloid on a big screen. More importantly, Gibson and Recoder use film projectors as instruments, in a sense. “The duo uses a system of film loops, crystals, and hand gestures to bend, reflect, and refract the projector’s beam, recasting the theatrical space of the cinema into a unique medium for sculpting light,” says a blurb about their new collaboration with Block, Aberration of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure, which happens Thursday night as part of the Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
I have no idea what the visual component of the performance will be like, but Block is one of Chicago’s greatest talents—if you think sound art is dry or archly modernist, you haven’t heard her. According to Conversations at the Edge programmer Amy Beste, Block has rehearsed and worked out the acoustics of the theater three times in preparation for Thursday evening’s event. Last fall she performed with Gibson and Recoder at International House in Philadelphia, and you can watch some clips of the collaboration on the venue’s website. (Peter Margasak)
Live projector performance can trace its roots back to the earliest days of cinema, when projectionists would often run films backwards for comic effect. Over the intervening years, the practice has primarily been taken up by experimental filmmakers and no one has been doing it longer or to greater effect than Ken Jacobs (coming to the U of C in May). Many have followed in his imposing footsteps and two of the most accomplished will be performing at the Conversations at the Edge series on Thursday. Luis Recoder and Sandra Gibson both made solo films and Recoder had a number of solo live projection works of his own before they teamed up several years ago. Since then, they have been creating gallery installation pieces and live projector performances of varying scales. This presentation is the second one made in collaboration with local composer and sound artist Olivia Block. I’ve not seen ABERRATION OF LIGHT, but based on their previous work (alone and together) it promises to be a not-to-be-missed event. Their earlier performance piece with Block, UNTITLED, was a stunning and delicate minimalist work (even in the video documentation that I’ve been able to see) that used humidifiers to fog a pane of glass, through which the projector light is passed. ABERRATION is said to use “film loops, crystals, and hand gestures to bend, reflect, and refract the projector’s beam, recasting the theatrical space of the cinema into a unique medium for sculpting light.” Recoder and Gibson’s approach to cinema hews closer to Plato’s shadows than it does to the hyper-digital everything we can’t seem to escape anymore. It’s streaming cinema of a very different kind. (Patrick Friel)
Yael Bartana: A Declaration – March 10, 2011
Yael Bartana is a female video artist who works from Amsterdam and Tel Aviv, whom recently was awarded the prestigious Artes Mundi Prize. Her work explores the complicated implications of social and political discourses revolving around the age of globalization.
Her work is currently being shown by Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center. (Michelle D. Villarreal)
Radical Closure – March 3, 2011
WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio
“‘Radical Closure’ offers perspectives on conflict in Middle East” STREAM DOWNLOAD
A collection of work screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday looks at conflict and closure in the Middle East through a variety of perspectives. Radical Closure screens as part of the series, Conversations at the Edge. It has also been released as a five DVD box set by Chicago’s Video Data Bank. Film Critic Jonathan Miller has this review.
Lebanese video artist Akram Zaatari assembled the work of 24 artists in the program Radical Closure. The videos look at the Middle East and were, in the curator’s words, “produced in response to situations of physical or ideological closure resulting from war and territorial conflicts.”
Given this statement, one could easily expect overtly polemical videos. There is much more than that to be found here. The works grapple with the image in politics and the politics in the image. For instance, several works by Turkish video artist Hatice Guleryuz focus on children. Intensive Care, from 2001, focuses on the face of a young boy, who is undergoing a circumcision. The procedure, explicitly documented, produces a visceral impact in the viewer that contrasts with the boy’s calm and beatific facial expression. In another work by Guleryuz, school children recite the national anthem. This is a complex moment with children taking pride in their mastery, indoctrination and nationalism.
A fitting companion to this work is I, Soldier, a piece by another Turkish video artist, Koken Ergun. The video records the events at a stadium on National Day for Youth and Sports, an annual event. An army officer recites an exhortatory poem that describes the identity of a soldier, as young troops parade and demonstrate their skills. The impassioned delivery by the officer, the stoic precision of the young men, and the fervently appreciative crowd mark a scene in which ideological formation takes form before our eyes. The festive atmosphere is shot through with ominous and fatal undertones.
These videos address the political question of how we become who we are in social contexts. Canadian artist Lisa Steele’s 1974 video “Birthday suit with scars and defects” poses the same question from a personal perspective. Steele, facing the camera, sheds her clothing and rigorously catalogues her scars in chronological order. Steele’s work invites oblique comparison to other instances, when bodies have been marked, scarred, or destroyed in historical conflicts.
Steele’s work approaches the fluid boundary of the personal and political from one direction. Lebanese video maker Mahmoud Hojeij comes at it from another in his 2006 work, We Will Win. Shot in a park in Paris, the artist and his Lebanese friend appear to have struck up a friendship with two young Israeli men. Together they attempt to create a playful stunt for the camera, a sort of leapfrog routine. But they can’t seem to coordinate properly for various amusing reasons. Despite the jocular camaraderie,whispered interjections from the two Lebanese men invoke the territorial conflict between Israel and Lebanon. And the game becomes more than just play.
Deadpan comedy is the hallmark of Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman’s 1991 film “Homage by Assasination. Suleiman plays a Palestinian filmmaker writing a screenplay in New York, separated from events in the Middle East during the First Gulf War. In fact, Suleiman is confined to his apartment as if imprisoned. News of the conflict filters in from various sources. His detachment fills the rooms of his apartment with tension, and desire. Suleiman finds ingenious ways to convey the frustration and anxiety of being here when the action is there. He is due to be a guest on a radio talk show — but when the phone rings, he cannot make a connection with the radio host. Standing at the stove, distracted, Suleiman seems not to notice a pot boiling over. That would be a simple everyday event except that it’s laden under the circumstances with metaphorical resonance. The predicament he delineates in this featurette clearly manifests the agenda of the Radical Closure set. It condenses the dynamics of physical, ideological and territorial conflict into an artfully minimal serio-comedy.
Suleiman’s predicament seems to belong to another era, a distant time before floods of citizen image-makers could take to the streets with video cameras in their mobile phones as they are now able to do. With the unprecedented political events unfolding today in the Middle East, the works contained in the Radical Closure DVD set may be acquiring a new, privileged status: videograms from before the revolution. (Jonathan Miller, March 1, 2011)
The Wild Triumphs of Martha Colburn – February 10, 2011
‘The Wild Triumphs of Martha Colburn’ ★★★
Manic, mesmerizing animated shorts make up the program “The Wild Triumphs of Martha Colburn.” Using a stop-motion style, director Martha Colburn edits in camera. Hinged puppet figures, glass paintings and magazine cutouts supply raw material for creating “outrageous pastiches that offer incendiary commentary on our contemporary condition,” as programming assistant Kelly Shindler aptly tags Colburn’s aesthetic.
“Dolls vs. Dictators” (2011) depicts a series of fantasy smackdowns between superhero dolls and bad guys with fangs. This geopolitical sally darts from Uzbekistan to Zimbabwe, mapping and naming dictators in the headlines. “Triumph of the Wild” (2009) repurposes Frederick Remington paintings of the American Wild West for a biting zap at international aggression. “Myth Labs” (2008), screened earlier at the Chicago Underground Film Festival, is a nasty revisionist spin on the Pilgrims. Here they bring methamphetamine to the New World.
Colburn also takes on the politics of appearances and porn. During a sojourn in Amsterdam, she grabbed some video of the Dutch ambassador of cosmetic surgery. “Cosmetic Emergency” (2005) then hooks this spokeswoman to statistics about the elective cosmetic surgery — not war-related reconstructive plastic surgery — that members of the U.S. military get.
Risque procedures in “Cats Amore” (2002) stitch cats into porn get-ups. Reaction shots reveal turned-on salivating dogs. Colburn hits her human viewers with 15 comic, visceral collages that bark and bite.
No MPAA rating. Running time: 75 minutes. Screening at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the “Conversations at the Edge” series. Director Martha Colburn will appear and converse with audience. (Bill Stamets)
Vivienne Dick - February 3, 2011
Director Vivienne Dick‘s Super8 short films, featuring feminist punk performances and music set in iconic NYC locations, are canonical late ’70s No Wave cinema. Now a teaching artist in Ireland documenting underground bands, Dick has been recognized by two major ’90s retrospectives of experimental American film at the Whitney and MoMA. The Siskel’s program screens some of Dick’s quintessential films, including the sadomasochistic She Had Her Gun All Ready and surreal monsters facing off with punk poet Lydia Lunch in Beauty Becomes the Beast.” (Monica Westin)
Like the screeching din of No Wave’s amateurish musical aesthetic, Vivienne Dick’s Super-8 films cast off traditional narrative filmmaking methods in favor of a more immediate bricolage of calico sets, poor sound recording, and improvised acting. Imagine if the Kuchar brothers had even less of a budget to work with, if that’s possible. Dick’s films exemplify No Wave’s cart-before-the-horse approach to art that freed the thinking of a lot of novice musicians and filmmakers, allowing them to reinvent the (squeaky) wheel. At times challenging to watch, the experience of viewing these films drives towards some of the larger issues that Vivienne Dick is exploring. This is exemplified in the jarring construction of BEAUTY BECOMES THE BEAST (1979), which plots the effects that the current political/media/environmental landscape has on young women. No Wave darling Lydia Lunch (from Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, whose song “Baby Doll” is the film’s theme) plays a multitude of feminine tropes, from a playful child to a sexualized teenager, each more unhinged than the last. Relatives, or perhaps internalized anxieties, perform domestic tasks around Lydia while teenage boys dance and roughhouse. Dick’s interest in the women at the margins of New York’s musical boys’ club makes for an interesting examination of relational power dynamics in SHE HAD HER GUN ALL READY (1978), with Pat Place and Lydia Lunch alternating control of each other, leading up to the kinetic climax aboard Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster. Also screening is the beachcomber dystopia short STATEN ISLAND (1978). (1978-9, approx. 80 min total, Super-8mm on DigiBeta). (Doug McLaren)
Chicago’s Conversations at the Edge hosts a night of classic movies by Vivienne Dick, one of the leading figures of NYC’s No Wave scene. The screening will last about 80 minutes and featuring short films from the late ’70s, including her most notable films She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978) and Beauty Becomes the Beast (1979).
Born in Ireland and studying and living in places such as London, France and Germany, Dick eventually wound up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the mid-’70s. Although No Wave would never consolidate into a movement like the Cinema of Transgression that followed it, there was a loose coalition of low-budget filmmakers, such as Dick, Amos Poe, James Nares and more, screening films in unconventional places such as Max’s Kansas City and the New Cinema storefront theater.
Dick’s early movies were mostly shot on Super8 — although the movies screening at this event have been transferred to Digibeta video — and featured punk musicians such as Lydia Lunch, Pat Place and Adele Bertei. She Had Her Gun All Ready features Lunch and Place in a twisted psychodrama that culminates in a to-the-death fight between them on Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster; while Beauty Becomes the Beast has Lunch tormented by ghouls and recounting horrific tales of parental sexual abuse. (Mike Everleth)
Kevin Everson - November 11, 2010
Let’s just get this out of the way: ERIE is an awesome film. Kevin Everson’s fourth feature is his best since his first film, the remarkable SPICEBUSH (2005). Intentionally or not, Everson has taken up the mantle of Charles Burnett’s KILLER OF SHEEP: perhaps no two filmmakers have turned as sensitive and human an eye to the lives of working-class African Americans as they have. Where Burnett had Watts in Los Angeles for SHEEP, Everson frequently returns to his home state of Ohio, and other rustbelt environs, for his features (he currently lives and teaches in Virginia). He focuses on the disenfranchised (particularly those who are casualties of the decline of the industrial base in the US) and blue-collar workers, people whose vision of the American Dream is an honest one, a fair one. Everson’s films often shade whether we are seeing documentary or narrative or something in-between. In ERIE, the series of long-take vignettes continues this elusiveness. It’s unclear how much of what we’re shown is staged or arranged. It plays like documentary, but the moments are too perfect to simply be happened upon. It doesn’t really matter, though. What we see are the people. Black people. Living lives or just being. Privileged and dignified by Everson’s camera. Real people, whether they are scripted or not. No artificial dramatics; no drugs; no bangers; no “victims.” Just people. High school students rehearsing two vastly different musical numbers simultaneously. A man struggling to unlock his car with a coat hanger. A young girl staring at a candle, silently, fidgeting slightly. For sixteen minutes. Who else allows a young African American girl so much uninterrupted screen time? Who else gives us so much time to really see a young African American girl? Amen. Showing with a selection of Everson’s short films. Kevin Everson in person. (2009, 81 min, HDCam). (Patrick Friel)
Luis Gispert - October 21, 2010
Luis Gispert’s You’re My Favorite Kind of American at Rhona Hoffman was a standout of last year’s fall art season, showcasing the artist’s noted hip-hop ornamentation alongside more formal work. One piece in that exhibition, the realist, multi-channel video Réne, a kind of visual working diary of an artist friend of Gispert, screens in tonight’s program. Also showing: Smother, a much-praised and vastly more stylized affair, also from 2008. There, sumptuous visuals, lurid melodrama, and street-culture signifiers are the gilded gold overlaying a heap of Freudian squirms. Steven Bauer (Scarface) and Taryn Manning (8 Mile) co-star. (Stephen Gossett)
Coleen Fitzgibbon – October 14, 2010
When structuralist filmmaking works, its like watching performance art. You are often intrigued and confused, unsure of whether or not you liked it, only able to intelligently speculate on the artists’ intentions at a later date. The work of Coleen Fitzgibbon does that too, but in a warmer way. Where Vito Acconci’s video work makes you anxious, Fitzgibbon’s RESTORING APPEARANCES TO ORDER IN TWELVE MINUTES (1975, 12 min) delivers calm like a cup of chamomile. The camera holds a static close-up as she scrubs a well-used utility sink throughout, clearing up every drop of paint from the labor of art making. She also tries her hand at found image manipulation in FOUND FILM FLASHES (1974, 3 min), stuttering and blinking her way through what appears to be an interview. The subject never gets to blurt out his story, as the sound skips back and forth and the images slow down in the projector gate. The result is alternating squelch and mind’s-eye view, and works to subvert any concrete meaning outside the film itself. The bulk of the program is taken up with INTERNAL SYSTEM (1974, 45 min), an ambitious work of abstract film. The entire frame is taken up with monochromatic color, subtly shifting in hue and saturation and brightness, breaking down the projected image into the barest components of light. Shape, line, texture, and depth are eliminated, leaving only shifts from red to green to blue, broken by clouds of black, and distinguishable only by the change in speed. ALSO SCREENING: FM/TRCS (1974, 11 min) Fitzgibbon in person. (1974-75, 71 min total, 16mm). (Jason Halprin)
“Coleen Fitzgibbon’s experimental eye for cinema”
Coleen Fitzgibbon is an avant-garde filmmaker who developed her chops right here in Chicago. The School of the Art Institute graduate’s most famous work includes Internal Systems and FM/TRCS.
During a prolific period in the 1970s, Fitzgibbon explored film frames, color and contrast in a minimalistic way. Eventually she took a trip to the commercial side, working for CNN and the Nightly Business Report. Recently, she began the process of having her early work restored. That work brought Fitzgibbon back to Chicago.
The Conversations at the Edge series will screen Internal Systems: Films by Coleen Fitzgibbon tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. A different program of her work, Restoring Appearances to Order, screens tomorrow night at the Nightingale Theatre in Chicago.
Bruce Bickford – October 7, 2010
Animated filmmaker Bruce Bickford, who works chiefly with clay (and now 3D paper) animation, is in the process of transitioning from shorts to feature-length films. The Siskel’s screening of mostly recent work includes Bickford’s 28-minute film Prometheus Garden (2008), the director’s first completely solo project (his career began with video collaborations with Frank Zappa in the ’70s). Surreal, quicksilver, and marked by the constantly transmorphing of figures, Bickford’s work is pure dream logic. (Monica Westin)
“The Amazing Mr.Bickford”
Tonight, as part of the Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center, experimental animator Bruce Bickford will preside over a screening of several of his works, including Prometheus’ Garden (1988). I’m no Bickford expert, but I find his psychedelic transformations appealingly perverse, whether he’s using clay figures or simple pencil drawings; people, objects, animals, and shapes constantly morph into one another with a decidedly sexualized glee.
It’s no surprise that somebody like Frank Zappa would call him a genius. In fact, Bickford is well-known in the music world for his animations in Zappa videos, including “Baby Snakes” and “Dub Room Special.” Zappa also created an orchestral score for the 52-minute film The Amazing Mr. Bickford.
Tonight’s 90-minute program begins at 6 PM and will include the more recent The Comic That Frenches Your Mind, along with an assortment of rare animations for which guitarist Jeff Parker and percussionist Frank Rosaly will provide improvised accompaniment.
Rosa Menkman – September 30, 2010
Rosa Menkman, a visual artist who resides in Amsterdam, is one of the most recognized visual artists in the Glitch genre. Glitch is an art form where artists purposely compress images and videos to create computer errors known as glitches. Glitches come in many colors and shapes, from blinking bright pixels to TV static. Like most glitch art, Rosa’s process is just as celebrated as what she produces.
As well as Menkman’s videos, images, and other works produced with glitch methods, she has written about her discoveries and theories about the unique art form. Artists interested in creating glitch can refer to Menkman’s articles on how make it and follow her footsteps. SAIC’s Glitch Class, taught by Jon Satrom in the Film, Video, New Media, and Animation department, was able to sort out the time difference between Chicago and Amsterdam and ask her questions via webcam. The class brainstormed on questions to ask before she logged onto Skype, eager to hear the answers as they threw their ideas left and right.
“Rosa Menkman came online,” read Skype, and her face was soon splashed across the fabric of the projector screen. After a few technological adjustments, the first question was out in the open, without any glitches.
How did you come across these methods? Was it all you playing, or did you work together with other artists? When did you get engaged in glitch?
“Here in the Netherlands Art School and University are very much separated; one is practical and the other one is theoretical. I didn’t go to art school. I tried it, but I felt it was really not for me so I quit after two months. The first time I encountered glitch was when I visited the JODI solo show in NIMK. What I remembered when I was there is that I heard the sounds of Quake,”
“I recognized these Quake sounds in Untitled Game (an artwork that consists of 14 MODs), but when I saw it and tried to play it, it was really fucked up and unplayable. I went home to read about what I had seen and later decided to write an 70 page master thesis about the work.
I moved from theory to static imagery to videos. I read a lot about glitch theories and histories before I started making things. While I am interested in what other people write and make I also try to write and share.”
If you are open to sharing your process then how do you preserve the uniqueness of your own work?
“I think there are certain subjects I am most interested in, like emptiness and void. Those are subjects that I am constantly working with. Another thing that is special to my style is that I combine theory and practice.
I’m not afraid to loose my style to other people; I don’t think this is even possible. I believe that if you are deep into what you are doing then you will develop your own style.”
Are you Buddhist? With your fascination with the void and emptiness?
“Excellent! yeaaaah…NO!” she laughs, “in a way I am not religious at all. I have enough spirit inside of me to not feel the need to subscribe to a spiritual ‘standard’. Besides that, my room is not empty! Full of crap!”
You like to share your working-process. Do you think glitch artists focus more on sharing their processes then their end-products?
“I am kind of ambivalent to that statement. On the one hand, I think there is a cool side to glitch art that is open and about procedural workings, curiosity, sharing and exploring. On the other, ‘hot’ side of glitch art I see mostly works that focus on aesthetics and end products. We should not underestimate nor judge either side (that I actually see as existing on a continuum). I believe there is a lot to be learned from both sides and the tension between those two sides.
Without being dramatic, I do think I lost part of my ‘belief’ in glitch being always very special .. avant-garde or transgressive. There is good and popular work that is at the same time kind of one dimensional – existing only as a design or an end-product. Besides that I think that many people like to share their working methods, not only within the glitch art genre but as a frame of mind within many art genres.
I still love the glitch genre because it has has so much potential.
I think in the end, for me personally it is important to focus on both a working process, a concept, sometimes a narrative (or the idea of a story) and on the creation of an end product (a design). I think that if you make something ugly you cant expect to get an audience – or anybody to be moved or touched by your work. Jodi is smart that way because they make very aesthetically pleasing artwork.
What did you learn about yourself through glitch art?
“It could be personal psychological and physical. I learned in so many directions. I have been living in glitch. I didn’t sleep one real night this week (in preparation for the Filtering Failure exhibition) and I just got back from a six-hour class. It’s chaotic. Maybe that’s a boring answer? Hm…I’m less afraid of technology (or life in general); if something breaks it will be able to be fixed or the next step will be better anyway. I learned to loose a lot of doubts and holding back in many ways.”
To learn more about Rosa Menkman, visit her blog at http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.com/. To learn how you can create your own glitch art, read her article,“Vernacular of File Formats,” located on the site. (Olivia Rogers)
Kent Lambert and Jesse McLean – September 23, 2010
Where so many found-footage assemblers settle for easy irony or literal-minded punchlines, local video artist Kent Lambert’s work looms ominously. Security Anthem (2003) and Hymn of Reckoning (2006) — both of which screen tonight — appropriate clips of John “Let the Eagle Soar” Ashcroft and overlay dialogue from 24 onto Nintendo graphics, respectively. The mashed-up results can be funny; but Lambert’s pointed political undercurrents usually feel more attuned to pioneers like Dara Birnbaum and Brue Conner than millennial freelance hell-raising. Jesse McLean is a natural fit for a screening partner (see last year’s like-minded Invisible Tracks, an excellent Iraq-via-Photoshop meditation). McLean screens her Bearing Witness trilogy along with a new premiere and a recent collaboration with Lambert. (Stephen Gossett)
Danièle Wilmouth - September 16, 2010
CATE jumps back into the school year with a beautifully-lensed and patient documentary by local filmmaker Danièle Wilmouth set in rural Pennsylvania. Eleanore is the matriarch of Wilmouth’s family (her grandmother) and the timekeeper is Ronnie, her developmentally disabled adult son (Wilmouth’s uncle). As Eleanore has cared for Ronnie for over 60 years, their lives have become a quiet dance of routine and companionship, until Eleanore’s failing health requires her to seek other ways to make sure Ronnie is cared for after her death. Wilmouth tells the story gracefully and doesn’t push her subjects to talk about how they are handling the change. Rather, her camera focuses in on the tiny details of small town living. A moving portrait of separation and mortality, ELEANORE gracefully displays the heart-wrenching sadness of losing your other half. Wilmouth in person. (2010, 76 min, video). (Christy LeMaster)
Producer Joe DeCeault guest hosts this special encore edition of “Eight Forty-Eight”. First, regular film contributors Hank Sartin and Christy LeMaster talk film in Chicago in 2010. They talk with host Alison Cuddy about the movies being made here – from the Hollywood blockbusters to the smaller, independent productions. Then, we revisit some film segments from the past including an interview with an author who’s written about the cultural impact of filmmaker John Hughes, and also a look at a documentary about the trading floors of Chicago’s exchanges. (Christy LeMaster)
Documentary maker Daniele Wilmouth looks at her 85-year-old grandmother Eleanore and 62-year-old, mentally retarded uncle Ronnie, who have lived together in rural Pennsylvania for decades. Cognizant of her advancing age and waning vitality, Eleanore undertakes to find a group home for Ronnie; the new arrangement is a striking success but leaves her to cope with the abrupt rearrangement of her life’s central relationship. Admirers of Sarah Polley’s Away From Her (2006) will find much to appreciate in this similarly dry-eyed account of life’s endgame. (Cliff Doerksen)
Ryan Trecartin: New Work – April 15, 2010
Filmmaker and artist Ryan Trecartin is present on Thursday to discuss several recent short films — part of an epic series that will be launched as a museum solo exhibition in May — screened through the Siskel’s “Conversations at the Edge” series. Trecartin, whose frenetic and burlesque approach to avant-garde film has earned him a spot at the Whitney Biennale, creates worlds in his work that are simultaneously surreal, exaggeratedly absurd versions of our own, and disturbingly realistic depictions of post-digital conditions of existence. Trecartin’s major theme within this exploration is nothing new: how to find meaning and identity in a digital age; but the feverish energy and exquisitely garish aesthetic he brings to it is still hypnotizing. (Monica Westin)
British academic artist Emily Wardill makes short films that often begin as performances obsessed with the rhetoric of metaphor and structuralist problems of language, but they draw on references both esoteric and popular, from high theory and canonical philosophers to Nintendo Wii, to create off-kilter productions that make theoretical arguments while remaining tangible and beautiful. Case in point: The Diamond (Descartes’ Daughter) begins with a story of Descartes constructing an automaton of his dead daughter, entwined with a blurred memory of a diamond protected by a laser security system. All five short films are Chicago premieres, and Wardill is present to lead an audience discussion after the screening. (Monica Westin)
On the Third Planet from the Sun: The Films of Pavel Medvedev – April 1, 2010
WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio
“Jonathan Miller Reviews Documentaries from Pavel Medvedev” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Pavel Medvedev documentaries traverse a very different terrain – the landscape of post-Soviet Russia. Tonight the Gene Siskel screens four of his films, which provide different perspectives on some of the more isolated aspects of contemporary Russian life. For WBEZ, Eight Forty-Eight’s film critic Jonathan Miller has this preview. (April 1, 2010)
From tundra to tarmac, Pavel Medvedev maps a post-Soviet terrain of deaf foundry workers, rocket debris scavengers, reindeer butchers and summit staffers. “On the Third Planet from the Sun: The Films of Pavel Medvedev” assembles three 35mm films and one video made between 2003 and 2008 by this Russian documentary filmmaker.
Medvedev’s style is poetic and sympathetic, with traces of irony for social commentary. His choices of communities and occasions to document are inspired, but he designs these allusive verite essays to lesser effect. “Wedding of Silence” observes deaf Russians as they celebrate a wedding and forge a 75-ton bell for St. Petersburg’s tricentenary. None of their signing is subtitled. Cutting to two train cars coupling is a dumb metaphor for linking a bride and groom.
“On the Third Planet from the Sun” evokes a landscape from an Andrei Tarkovsky film. In the far north, snowmobilers traverse a soggy tundra to harvest rusty scraps of fallen test missiles. “Vacation in November” shows women on a trek to a religious shrine, while menfolk kill and skin reindeer to supplement their income as coal miners.
“The Unseen” is Medvedev’s most recent piece, a video report on preparations, photo ops and the aftermath of the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg. Due to security concerns, the city made a nearby cemetery off-limits. Medvedev edits in shots of gravestones engraved with photos of the deceased. Like the living who line the motorcade route, the dead stare blankly at the political pomp. (Bill Stamets, March 26, 2010)
THE BLINDNESS SERIES – March 11, 2010
Vision and its impairments are explored in these five experimental videos by the artist who calls herself Tran, T. Kim-Trang. The least subtle is Operculum (1993), in which Tran consults several cosmetic surgeons about altering her eyelids; as the doctors chatter about different types of Asian skin folds, a text crawl recounts lobotomy procedures once used to treat hysteria, a juxtaposition implying that the desire to look Caucasian is a neurotic response to racism. Hysterical blindness is the subject of the most moving video, Ekleipsis (1998), about a Long Beach group of sightless Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge. Tran’s most provocative short is Ocularis (1997), which considers the pervasiveness of video surveillance, from spycams that monitor babysitters to security cameras that record crime but do little to deter it. 82 min. (Andrea Gronvall)
Fnewsmagazine March Picks
It’s hard to choose just one evening from Conversation at the Edge’s ever-rich bevy of programming, but this showing of Tran, T. Kim-Trang’s famed Blindness Series is definitely at the top. The artist will be present to present five of the cycle’s eight videos, including, in CATE’s words, “a provocative documentary on hysterical blindness and the Cambodian civil war (‘ekleipsis,’ 1998); an essay on cosmetic eyelid surgery (‘operculum,’ 1993); and a meditation on the phenomenon of word blindness (‘alexia,’ 2000).” (Ania Szremski, March 5, 2010)
VIDEO & SOUND FROM TAKESHI MURATA & ROBERT BEATTY – March 4, 2010
Chicago Reader Blog
“Robert Beatty’s New Noise”
Robert Beatty was supposed to play in Chicago last week with his long-running brutal noise group Hair Police, but when tourmates and headliners Cold Cave canceled, so did Beatty and company. But Beatty, who’s based in Lexington, Kentucky, is in town tomorrow night in an arguably more interesting and satisfying mode, collaborating with experimental animator Takeshi Murata and performing a short solo set at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The event is part of the theater’s superb Conversations at the Edge series.
Beatty, who also frequently plays in C. Spencer Yeh’s Burning Star Core, first showed off his more, uh, gentle side a couple years ago with a solo concert presented by Lampo, which is also copresenting this event. That performance was by Beatty’s Three-Legged Race project, but I don’t think the solo stuff he’ll be doing tomorrow night will be too different. In both cases he uses primitive electronics—hacked, repurposed, homemade—to create unsettling, otherworldly soundscapes that ought to make a great complement to Murata’s work. Born in Chicago, Murata is a RISD grad who specializes in constantly morphing digital psychedelia, using both hand-drawn animations and glitchy, hijacked digital software to create mind-blowing images. He’s built a visual universe all his own, though at first glance you might understandably be reminded of fellow RISD maniacs Forcefield.
The first part of the program will feature an assortment of Murata’s works made between ’03 and ’08, some of which—including Cone Eater (2004), Untitled (Pink Dot) (2007), and Untitled (Face) (2007)—feature sound by Beatty. Then Beatty will do a set, which ought to be gripping if his recent album Solos (What the . . . ?, 2009) is any indication—it’s a series of short, weird solo pieces he recorded live during Burning Star Core concerts on a tour last year. They choke, sputter, and whine with pileups of blobby, gurgled bursts and piercing held tones.
The final part of the program will feature newer work by Murata with live accompaniment from Beatty. Below is a short excerpt from Melter 2 (2003), though the sound isn’t by Beatty. (Peter Margasak, March 3, 2010)
Takeshi Murata makes mesmerizing digital animations that are intended to sensually transport the viewer. Liquified color spills across the screen, blobs ripple in a constant psychedelic flux, or appropriated film fragments glitch out, decompose and re-form. In Murata’s collaborations with musician Robert Beatty (Three Legged Race), a pulsing or drone-like soundtrack intensifies the experience. Tonight the two share the stage, presenting their work in three acts. First Beatty performs solo, followed by a screening of Murata’s videos. Finally, the two appear together for a new audio-visual performance conceived for this event, which is co-sponsored by Conversations at the Edge and the intermedia non-profit Lampo. (Karsten Lund)
Dust: Videos by Moyra Davey – February 25, 2010
Long Live the Amorphous Law: Videos by Sterling Ruby – February 18, 2010
One of the rising art stars with a part-Chicago pedigree, L.A.-based Sterling Ruby is alluring partially because he’s hard to pin down. His practice encompasses monolithic sculptures, mutant ceramics, mock-polemic posters, spray-painted canvases, and more — not to mention videos, six of which he screens tonight. In The Transient Trilogy, Ruby plays both a drifter who cobbles art-like artifacts out of the detritus of a marginal landscape and a film director giving notes to his actor. Triviality ups the audacity as the artist fixes the camera on a lone porn star as the guy struggles, embarrassedly, to get off. Just crass or shrewd comment on masculinity and art as masturbation (in Vito Acconci’s wake)? Discuss. (Karsten Lund)
AN EVENING WITH DARA BIRNBAUM – February 11, 2010
In the late ’70s Dara Birnbaum was one of the first artists to swipe, sample, and deconstruct TV imagery. In pivotal videos such as Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman she turned the medium back onto itself with its grammar and subtexts laid bare. Birnbaum’s methods filtered into mainstream pop-culture in the ’80s, but today she feels like a pioneer all over again — with the ascendance of YouTube and rampant mash-up madness, it’s almost like she handed us the keys to the kingdom. Of course, Birnbaum didn’t stop at Wonder Woman. If you don’t have the luxury of flying to Portugal this year to see her touring retrospective, head to the Siskel Center’s screening tonight, where Birnbaum offers an overview of her practice. (Karsten Lund)
THE INDIAN BOUNDARY LINE – February 4, 2010
“Return engagement for some forgotten history”
In 1999 experimental filmmaker Thomas Comerford moved from Iowa City to Chicago, and along the way became “a bit of an amateur historian.” Chicago landscapes tend to catch his eye; the stories behind them catch his intellect.
The latest result of that dual interest is Comerford’s meditative, 41-minute non-narrative stroll through lesser-known corners of Rogers Park in “The Indian Boundary Line,” which originally played at the Siskel Film Center earlier this year. Due to popular demand, there is an encore screening Thursday with Comerford in attendance.
The film takes its title from the early 19th century border separating the U.S. frontier in Illinois from Native American lands — a boundary that lasted for 17 years until the Chicago Treaty of 1833 essentially pushed the remaining Indian tribes west of the Mississippi River.
The boundary became a thoroughfare known as Indian Boundary Road, a name that was changed to Rogers Avenue around the turn of the 20th century, in effect neutralizing the road’s origins. It’s hardly a major local landmark today; one of the first Web sites to pop up with information about it is called, appropriately enough, Forgotten Chicago.
It was while researching his previous film “Figures in the Landscape” (about the “edge city” look of Schaumburg that was inspired by — what else? — a trip to Ikea) that Comerford came across the speech transcripts of Frank Grover, an Evanston attorney from the late 1800s who was outspoken on a number of civic issues. Grover was especially critical of the road’s name change.
“I was like, whoa, I live right near there,” Comerford told me. “Once I came across that tidbit, I set it aside and did some more research — and for me, research was about just walking around.”
The words of Grover’s 1905 transcript (in voice-over) open the film and play over a quartet of modern-day images shot from the back of a car driving down Rogers Avenue. This is Comerford’s M.O. — juxtaposing the present with the past in unexpected ways. All the off-screen narration comes from archival sources — diary entries from the 19th century, the autobiography of Sauk warrior chief Black Hawk (for whom Chicago’s hockey team is named) and plain-spoken historical documents. For Comerford, the more conversational-sounding the material, the better.
“The film is very visual-oriented,” Comerford told me. It has the quiet, slowed-down pace of a “This American Life” radio segment set to pictures — minus anything resembling a traditional narrative or story, though one does emerge about a neighborhood that was once something completely different. The film has screenings coming up in New York and Vancouver, and Comerford is curious to see how it plays in locales that have no direct connection to the boundary line itself.
Comerford said his abstract aesthetic is about “spending time in a space. Looking is such an important part of trying to come to an understanding of what a place might mean — about the relationship of the present moment in a particular space to things that have happened in the past.” (Nina Metz, April 16, 2010)
“Thomas Comerford’s THE INDIAN BOUNDARY LINE”
If you couldn’t get in to the sold-out screening of this in February when it showed in the Conversations at the Edge series, here’s another chance for you. Thomas Comerford’s newest film, both quiet and compelling, collages together the story of the treaty that established the boundary between Native-American land and Settler territory in the locale we now know as Roger’s Park. THE INDIAN BOUNDARY LINE is an extension of the vocabulary Comerford develops in his earlier pinhole pieces. He builds site-specific histories of local places inviting the viewer to sit in these locations and re-walk their paths. A regionally-scaled piece, it provides a space for us to consider the look of the land before we were born and the decisions, political and personal, that paved the way for us to live here now. As Chicagoans, we get to recognize some of these spaces as our own, which make us culpable members of the history that has slowly stripped away almost every reference to the area’s original inhabitants. Playing on the tensions between the conditions of the two worlds present and past, comfortable and unconquered, developed and free, Comerford’s movie displays a resonant compassion and a visual patience that infuses forgotten history with new life. Showing with Comerford’s LAND MARKED / MARQUETTE. (Christy Lemaster, April 16, 2010)
“Review: The Films of Thomas Comerford”
Ah, the city symphony. With “The Indian Boundary Line,” Virginia-born Chicago musician and filmmaker Thomas Comerford portages a trace, now Rogers Avenue, once the boundary set by the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis between the United States and “Indian Territory.” Almost a dozen texts are read by different male and female voices, others are displayed in words, hieroglyphs and mapping as if drawn on parchment, while images of modern-day Rogers Park collide with this murmured history, shot in Super 8, 16mm and 8mm. Seasons come, ice cream trucks go. Found sounds pattern like music. The world fractures into grids and wanders down alleyways and paths. It’s the work of a Missing Immersions Bureau: we walk atop and through history, history doesn’t resist. (41m.) Shown with Comerford’s 2005 “Land Marked/Marquette,” landscape studies of sites and monuments in Chicago connected to the 17th century explorations of Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette. (23m.) Comerford will appear. (Ray Pride, April 13, 2010)
Chicago Reader Blog
Rogers Avenue and Forest Preserve Drive were once the disputed border that separated the United States’ Louisiana Territory from Indian country—the line over which settlers fought the settlers fought the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo and other tribes for control of the land in the 1832 Black Hawk War.
“I found stories of friendship and cooperation and interracial marriages, in addition to the more expected stories of conflict: the ‘massacre,’ the treaty, and Manifest Destiny.”
Comerford teaches film and punk rock at the School of the Art Institute, and has explored the geographical history of Chicago and the Midwest in a series of films over the past decade. Also screening Thursday is his 2005 film Land Marked/Marquette.
The Indian Boundary Line screens Thursday 2/4 at 6 PM at the Film Center. The score is by Tobin Summerfield with Frank Rosaly and Mark Trecka. (Ed M. Koziarski, February 3, 2010)
Local experimental filmmaker Thomas Comerford contemplates Rogers Avenue, a street on Chicago’s north side that once marked the dividing line between Native America and the Northwest Territory of the United States. In his 42-minute film, mundane street scenes are juxtaposed with leafy parks and historic plaques to mimic the encroachment of white civilization on Indian lands and culture, while offscreen narrators read the testimony of pioneers and their indigenous neighbors. Also screening is Comerford’s Land Marked/Marquette (2005, 23 min.), another exercise in subtle revisionism that suggests French explorer Jacques Marquette is no better remembered today than the Indians he encountered along the Chicago River in 1674. (Andrea Gronvall)
“Filmmaker Thomas Comerford Tracks the History of Rogers Avenue” STREAM DOWNLOAD
In 1816 under the Treaty of St. Louis, a line was drawn north and south of what would eventually become the City of Chicago. Land inside the boundary was ceded to the United States government. Beyond it lay the territory of a number of Indian tribes, including the Potawatomi. You can if you like, still follow the northern path of the boundary through Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Though now you’d be traversing Rogers Avenue and eventually Forest Preserve Drive. In his new film, The Indian Boundary Line, Thomas Comerford does just that. He talks to Alison Cuddy about what drew him to re-tracing and filming the boundary (February 2, 2010).
Nearly wordless and shot in 10-minute takes, this experimental ethnographic film by Chicagoan Ben Russell accompanies two South American descendants of African slaves on a kind of pilgrimage, from the developed north of Suriname, a former Dutch colony, to inland jungles that buffer old tribal villages. A Steadicam records the young brothers as they travel by bus, by boat, and on foot; gridlocked urban traffic gives way to a remote mining site, then trees falling in a rainforest, before they arrive at a hamlet of the Maroon tribe to dance in an archaic ritual masquerade. The hypnotic effect is completed by the final shot, in which the brothers head home via canoe, the receding sound of their oars leaving behind only the mythic image of man as journeyer. 135 min. (Andrea Gronvall)
Chicago Reader Blog
Akino Kondoh’s animation Ladybird’s Requiem, drawn in pencil, pastel, and acrylic, is among the 13 contemporary Japanese shorts screening in New Nippon Thursday 12/3 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
The films “draw from the country’s rich experimental film and hand-drawn animation traditions—’flip book’ paintings, diary films, and time-based collaborations between avant-garde artists and musicians,” writes SAIC grad student Kelly Shindler, who curated the show for the Film Center’s Thursday night Conversations at the Edge series.
The program also includes Maya Yonesho’s Kyoto Remix, Tomonari Nishikawa’s Sketch Films #3-5, Naoyuki Tsuji’s Zephyr, Wada Atsushi’s Well That’s Glasses, Joji Koyama’s From Nose to Mouth, Hiroshi Kondo’s Live Material 001 and Live Material 002, Ryusuke Ito’s Plate #43-44 (The Forked Tongues), Stom Sogo’s Try, and Makino Takashi’s Still in Cosmos. (Ed M. Koziarski, Dec. 2, 2009)
The 80-minute, nine-artist New Nippon is an eclectic and spirited jaunt through contemporary Japanese film and video art. Tomonari Nishikawa’s silent, Super-8 Sketch Films #3-5 reflexively examine filmmaking concepts, explicating the challenges of color projection and depth of field. The film grains and splotches in Hiroshi Kondo’s dazzling Live Material 001 juxtapose against new-wavey geometrics and, in 002, shifting symmetries of Tokyo neon. In Akino Kondoh’s Ladybirds’ Requiem, sparse, black-and-white pencil illustrations react in sublime understatement against morphing After Effects landscapes. The program concludes with Makino Takashi’s 19-minute Still In Cosmos. Featuring a score by Jim O’Rourke, the new film explores how even varying perspectives ultimately yield order from perceived chaos. (Stephen Gossett)
Urban angst and a subversive wit infuse these short works by Laura Heit, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute and a former puppeteer for Redmoon Theater who’s now codirector of experimental animation at California Institute of the Arts. In Parachute (1997) a young woman is almost literally swallowed up by downtown chaos; Look for Me (2005) is a meditative fantasy on invisibility; and the poignant puppet film The Amazing, Mysterious & True Story of Mary Anning and Her Monsters (2003) focuses on an amateur British paleontologist who preceded Charles Darwin. Heit will attend the screening and perform The Matchbox Show, a multimedia piece using live video projection of cutouts and line drawings. (Andrea Gronvall)
Chicago Art Magazine
“Look for Me: Animated Films at the Gene Siskel Film Center”
Many works by SAIC alumnus Laura Heit were screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center last Thursday, November 19th. Four animated films were shown, consisting of stop-motion, hand drawing, and computer animation, along with a miniature “matchbox” puppet show. Heit performed “The Matchbox Shows” with tiny puppets that fit in a matchbox. The matchbox also doubled as a title card and stage set. Overall the works were smart, often humorous, and at times profound
Heit’s hand drawn characters have an adolescent immediacy that is at times almost Basquiat-esque. They are rough but perfectly tailored to the narrative. Heit’s world seems to be an adult fascination with childhood and adolescence (what kind of animator or cartoonist wouldn’t be?). From this perspective she pushes humor to a deeper and more profound level. Read More… (Jared Weiss, Nov. 22, 2009)
Chicago Reader Blog
“Experimental Sound on Film”
We all know how important the soundtrack is to most films, and scores by certain composers—Ennio Morricone, Toru Takemitsu, Bernard Herrmann, Georges Delerue, and John Barry, to name a few—more than stand on their own. Other soundtracks rely heavily on nonmusical material, such as Walter Murch’s brilliant sound design in the Francis Ford Coppola film The Conversation. Though it’s rare for filmmakers to place as much emphasis on sound as they do on what’s on the screen, a program screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday night at 6 PM offers just as much to fans of experimental music and noise as it does to cinephiles.
“Variable Area: Hearing and Seeing Sound, 1966-1978″ is part of the Film Center’s weekly Conversations at the Edge series as well as part of this year’s Outer Ear Festival of Sound, presented by Experimental Sound Studio. (Full disclosure: the program was curated by my girlfriend, Michelle Puetz, but regular readers ought to know that I don’t need to fake an interest in this stuff—nor would I.)
Most of films get their juice from using optical sound, where a transparent strip marked with various lines and waves is printed on the margin of the actual film and read with light. Rather than try to explain this process further, I’ll direct you to this explanation. In any case, most films employ the technique to transmit music, dialogue, sound effects, or whatever we usually hear as we watch. But some of the directors whose work is being screened on Thursday fill that strip with deliberately abstract patterns to create intensely weird and noisy sound. Continue Reading… (Peter Margasak, Nov. 11, 2009)
Infusing video art with the spark of improv performance, Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn make short works that are funny and disarming, absurd and oddly touching, like sketch comedy that hasn’t been domesticated or reality TV turned on its head. In last year’s Whitney Biennial standout, a Valkyrie with a bloody nose and a plastic Viking helmet wanders Los Angeles, rambling nutso commentary to the cameraman that trails her. In the pair’s latest, All Together Now, the barren city sprouts a post-collapse social order of hooded tribes and taciturn foragers. Kahn is a captivating performer, while Dodge wields the camera — which becomes another main character of sorts, a silent but evident interlocutor. The artists join us in person for the screening (Karsten Lund)
Bad at Sports
“Mike Hoolboom’s Mark at the Gene Siskel Film Center”
Presented by the Department of Film Video and New Media at SAIC, the Video Data Bank and the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of their Conversations at the Edge series, Mark is a video portrait of Mark Karbusicky, created after his suicide in 2007.
Director Mike Hoolboom began his opening remarks by stating that there was a time in his life when all the good things happened in a movie theater, until a day in 2007 when he found out that his friend and collaborator of six years Mark had killed himself, which he was told right before a movie began. Yikes.
The film reads less like a documentary and more like a moving collage of stock footage, childhood portraits and relics, as well as interviews with his friends and family. Beginning with his oldest childhood friend, the film traces the life of a man you end up knowing less about in the end than you did to begin with. It is an odd portrait in that it seems to capture more the periphery of his life than actually attempting to memorialize the man himself. Or perhaps documenting the margins of his life, his politics, odd moments in home videos, Hoolboom was attempting to achieve a more genuine view of Mark as a person.
Created mostly of footage taken by his partner (who happens to be transsexual, although this is actually irrelevant), of her own performances and activism, Mark by default seems to be the supporting character in his own life memorium. Mark was clearly a tortured person. Deeply invested in animal rights, queer politics, and helping others with mental illness, a lot of attention was focused on how little he cared about himself and put all others before him. Hoolboom spoke after the screening about how the film was created in the space between the way things were before Mark had died and before things had settled into the way they would be after his death. The rawness of this period is apparent especially in the interviews, which were all done within the year after his death.
The film is edited to create an intense amount of tension. Many pieces of footage are overlapped, the hand-heldness is emphasized in upside down and shaky camera work, and shots seems to be just too short, or just too long or just too out of focus for one to feel comfortable. In an interview with one of Mark’s friend and coworker, the camera is at table height, and the woman is half obscured by a large candle holder. The focus goes in and out as she tells this heartwrenching rendition of their final interaction. After the screening, Hoolboom explains that he wanted to give his interviewees physical space, and referenced this shot in particular to demonstrate how he wanted the candle to mediate the space between her and the camera. Although I acknowledge the gesture after he spoke about it, during the shot I felt myself wanting to peer around the obstacle and actually see her face. Another shot I thought was more successful was that of Mark’s partner Mirha-Soleil Ross; the camera was focused on the deep red wall of their apartment, you could see a bookcase and a plant, and she walked almost around the frame while she spoke about her recurring dreams during their ten year relationship that he had left her. Her body was just present enough to give you a sense of agency, but the lack of her presence really caused you to focus on her words and storytelling.
I wish the voiceover was left out. Hoolboom in person is charming and eloquent and gesticulates beautifully; on screen his voice seems affected and melodramatic. I think the subtly is lost when documentarians feel the need to describe what has happened instead of letting moods come across through images.
The film was successful in that it felt vast and encompassing, through the use of stock footage that spanned decades, Mark’s own home videos and photos as well as different people speaking about him. It did not feel like the entire momentum of the piece lead up to a dramatic revelation of how he killed himself, which was refreshing. Hoolboom said that his death was not the most important thing that happened in his life, and I think the film reflected this sentiment. (Lauren Vallone, October 22, 2009)
Eight Forty-Eight, Chicago Public Radio
“Vision in Motion Series Brings New Light to Old Films” STREAM DOWNLOAD
When you think film, Hollywood may come to mind. But think again. One of the first American film and photography schools started right here in Chicago. The Institute of Design produced some of the most influential works of its time. See some of those films in the Gene Siskel Film Center’s two-part series Vision in Motion: Filmmaking at the Institute of Design, 1944-70. For a sense of what you’ll see, Eight Forty-Eight’s Film Critic Jonathan Miller has this review. (October 1, 2009)
“Glimpses of Chicago past: Siskel Center explores groundbreaking early film”
The Gene Siskel Film Center’s early October program, Vision in Motion: Filmmaking at the Institute of Design, 1944-70, examines one of the first art-film programs in the United States. Now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Bauhaus-inspired Institute of Design offered film classes in Chicago as early as 1942.
The Institute positioned film as an extension of photography, design and other fine arts fields. Emphasis was placed on experimentation, with results skewing towards the avant garde rather than traditional cinema.
The Siskel’s two-day-long, thirteen-film program presents a fascinating glimpse into this phase of scholastic filmmaking. An energetic air runs through the shorts — the byproduct of excited youth brimming with ideas in the face of a “new” artistic pursuit.
Do Not Disturb, produced by Institute of Design head Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and his students in 1945, is the perfect encapsulation of this brio. Jealousies and tensions amongst young lovers are projected using every trick of the trade: multiple exposures, reverse motion, handheld camerawork, split screen, prism lenses, rapid motion, distortions and more.
Motions, directed by Harry Callahan from 1948-49, furthers this momentum. Again, camera trick upon camera trick is thrown into the pot. But this time, they are deployed to emphasize the intersections of man, machine and nature in motion. The overboard accumulation is saved by pristine imagery — the play of light on running water, cars superimposed upon each other as they race up and down Lake Shore Drive.
The documentary quality of these films is invaluable, capturing mid-20th century Chicago in all of their gritty beauty. Three films in particular are essential.
Chicago Morning, produced by Boris Yakovleff and eleven students in 1952, charts the early morning hours, when humanity rushes into the quiet Loop, lakefront and South Side stockyards. Studs Terkel poetically narrates this rise to life, his gravel voice adding authenticity.
The Church on Maxwell Street, directed by Yasuhiro Ishimoto and Marvin Newman in 1951, heads to the heart of the Chicago blues, translating the religious ecstasy of a raw street-side church revival into a series of beautifully framed images.
A perfect encapsulation of Vision in Motion’s documentary and experimental sides is found in Ken Josephson’s 1962 short, 33rd and LaSalle. The premise is simple: detail the demolition of an apartment building located on a South Side street corner. Josephson finds sophistication in the simplicity, however.
Remnants of lives long gone haunt the urban decay via lone shoes, discarded calendars and newspapers strewn everywhere. When the destruction begins, a movie poster for the Yul Brynner and Gina Lollobrigida vehicle, Solomon & Sheba, adorning an exterior wall becomes a target for the wrecking ball. The metaphor is obvious and brilliant. (Phil Morehart, September 23, 2009)
Artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner announced his own death on two occasions, but the real thing had to come eventually (and so it did last summer.) Over consecutive evenings, the Siskel Film Center celebrates the late innovator with a survey of his films, spanning 50 years. Looking at visual culture today, Conner’s influence can be felt all over. His 1958 film A Movie, assembled entirely out of scavenged footage, launched a creative method that lives on in recent art and YouTube’s remix fever, and in setting his films to a pop music soundtrack he anticipated MTV. Not to be forgotten are Conner’s collaborations with musicians like Brian Eno and David Byrne, one of which screens on Thursday. (Karsten Lund, April 16, 2009)
The first of two programs surveying the 50-year career of found-footage filmmaker Bill Conner. Among the eight shorts screening in this installment are A Movie (1958), The White Rose (1967), Looking for Mushrooms (1996), and Easter Morning (2008). 75 min. Michelle Silva, a representative of the Conner Family Trust, will attend the screening, a mix of 16-millimeter and projected video. A second program follows on Friday, April 17. (April 10-16, 2009)
Time Out Chicago
“Bank Holiday: Video Data Bank opens the vault”
When Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield founded the Video Data Bank (VDB) in 1976, the two School of the Art Institute of Chicago grad students hoped to preserve the neglected work of women artists. Over the decades since, the VDB has amassed the best library of videos by and about contemporary artists in the United States.
The VDB’s 2,500-plus videos include works from 1968 through the present, by artists including Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas, Miranda July and Paul Chan. Anyone can watch these videos at the nonprofit’s SAIC headquarters—for free.
In 1995, the VDB produced Surveying the First Decade: Video Art & Alternative Media in the U.S., 1968–1980, a massive anthology of its early holdings that was curated by Chris Hill. In conjunction with the anthology’s recent release on DVD, Hill presents a 75-minute sampling of Surveying the First Decade at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Thursday 9 at 6pm, as part of the SAIC’s Conversations at the Edge series.
But we know a mere 75 minutes can’t satisfy our thirst for the groundbreaking video art of Martha Rosler, Bruce Nauman and Nam June Paik. So over the next several weeks at timeoutchicago.com/blog, we’ll recap all 16 hours and 26 minutes of Surveying the First Decade. We expect the box set to feature less torture than 24 but more William Wegman. (Lauren Weinberg, Issue 215, April 9–15, 2009)
Time Out Chicago blog
“5 Things to Do Today”
Chicago’s famous Video Data Bank offers a taste of its 16-hour anthology of 1970s video art—finally available on DVD—with the compilation’s original curator, Chris Hill. (April 9, 2009)
“Art Break: Blast from the Past”
When video-recording equipment became commercially available in the 1960s, a new art medium was born. Perhaps television and cinema are the best and most interesting expressions of recorded imagery, with screenwriters and directors being some of the most compelling, if not the most popular, artists of the twentieth century, but other artists—those who went to art school and showed their work in galleries—adopted film and video with equal energy. In 1973 Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman’s bought some airtime and broadcast Television Delivers People, a scrolling set of truisms that derided the viewing public as a bunch of complacent nitwits. “You are the product of t.v.” ran one criticism, coupled with ironically chipper public-service-announcement music. Such reactionary work ran counter to the massively popular dramas and sitcoms broadcast each evening, but it’s no wonder since contemporary academic art of the time was in the throes of being challenging, critical and “conceptual.” Video was quickly folded into the avant-garde regime at a time when painting was deemed too conventional. Continue reading… (Jason Foumberg, April 6, 2009)
Former video curator at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center in Buffalo and administrator of the public access TV station there, Hill was a media arts professor at my alma mater Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio until the school was shut down last year by the umbrella Antioch University. Now, along with most of the Antioch College faculty, Hill soldiers on as a professor and administrator at the experimental Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute, which is fighting for its continued existence amid efforts to reopen Antioch College independent from the university.
Surveying the First Decade screens Thursday at 6PM at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St. Hill will speak afterward. (April 8, 2009)
“Video’s First Decade” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Film on video is turning 40. In the mid-’70s, the Video Data Bank was formed to archive videos by or about artists. Located right here in Chicago, the VDB is now the leading source in the United States for contemporary video work. In 1995, the group put together a 16-hour collection documenting the first ten years of video.
The collection has just been reissued, and some of the works screen tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of its Conversations at the Edge series. Eight Forty-Eight’s film critic Jonathan Miller explains what you can expect to see. (April 9, 2009)
“Video: The First Decade”
Tonight Chris Hill of the Video Data Bank will host screenings from the VDB’s collection of experimental and activist videos from the 1970s at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of its series Conversations at the Edge. Video from this period may seem crude compared to contemporary digital multimedia texts, but the decade was a critical point in the history of visual media. The dominant medium of the century was supposed to be visual technologies–first cinema, then television–but by the 1970s film and TV had neither penetrated the culture to the extent analysts thought they would, and both were in something of a creative funk. Modernism in film had run its course, and high production value television fattened corporate coffers while doing little to create anything genuinely new. The 1970s were also a period when philosophers and cultural theorists recognized that language–old-fashioned words–were at the center of everything.
This tension between a supposedly dominant media technologies floundering and the centrality of written and spoken language can be seen in Vito Acconci’s The Red Tapes (1976). The video is boring and language-centric. It recreates the boredom of watching the whole flow of television by stripping out the mesmerizing images and leaving words just floating out there, as incantatory by themselves as television images. (April 9, 2009)
In his self-made short films, Britain’s Ben Rivers hovers along the fringes of contemporary society, creating expressive portraits of hermetic worlds and the people who inhabit them. Reflecting his creative use of the hand-wound Bolex camera, which limits the length of his shots to 30 seconds, each film unfolds as a rich series of visual fragments. Whether he’s examining the remnants of abandoned houses or passing time with a family living in the wilderness, Rivers’ productions are more poetic proposals or evocative sketches than complete stories where everything is spelled out. For tonight’s screening, Rivers presents a selection of his films — including a sneak peek at one in progress — along with works by three other filmmakers. (Karsten Lund, Issue 237, March 31 – April 6, 2009)
Time Out Chicago blog
“Five Things to Do Today”
The Brooklyn-based artist tweaks pop culture through sound, performance and online projects including his Super Mario Bros. movies and Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Glockenspiel Addendum. (March 19, 2009)
“Thoughts on Cory”
Cory Arcangel was in Chicago at Conversations at the Edge this past week and I had a chance to talk to him in jonCate’s class the following day. I guess it’s obvious that I would be familiar with Cory’s work, but I have to say hearing where he’s coming from really changed my perception of his work. I felt as though he doesn’t typically have the opportunity to discuss his work in an academic environment often, and his reluctance to get too specifically historical/academic during these conversations seemed evidence of this fact. I assume that Cory’s work is interpreted as being highly nostaglic or otherwise vested in hyper-aware irony. Although, I do think that Cory agrees with this kind of reception of the work, he seemed to have more acute intentions in mind.
He spoke often about his work being an equivalent to a time capsule, citing not knowing any of the cover artists from old Art Forum’s of the 80s (which Cory is on the cover of, which jonCates has talked about here). He seemed to be dedicating himself to the transient principles/nature of the newMedia Art; focusing on how media objects/installations can be testaments to future obsolescence. Questions about his practice lead him to admit that often times his presentations/talks were used to test new materials out on an audience. In doing so, the new material that he showed seemed to be veering into more calculated approaches to working with transient/ephemeral forms (youtube vs. white cube, internet vs. hardware hacks). The cultural ambiguity of these projects seemed to be the central issue of this work – how can he equally affect Art aficionados and grandmothers that love videos of cats – as opposed to irony being the primary issue. (Nicholas O’Brien, March 22, 2009)
“In Progress + Gatten’s Traces”
…I want to take a brief moment to reflect on the recent screening of films by David Gatten at the Siskel Center as part of the Conversations at the Edge series that SAIC’s Film, Video, and New Media department puts together (very brilliantly crafted/organized by Amy Beste). The screening consisted of aprox. 80 mostly silent minuets of films from a substantial body of work deeply invested in the personal cartographic/literary life of William Byrd II. The yet to be finished series of films followed a interwoven history between Byrd, his daughter, his daughter’s secret lover/suitor, Thomas Jefferson, and the (secret) history of demarcating space.
The most captivating piece for me was the final film in the screening: Film for Invisible Ink Case No. 142: Abbreviation for Dead Winter [Diminished by 1,794] (dedicated to Philip Solomon). This piece was a series of optically printed intricate rack focuses of blots of ink. The magnification process that the film made transformed these spills into oceans of black splashed with dark tributaries that would only be sharply depicted momentarily before fading away into the milky reservoir from which they emerged. The metaphor here of the disappearing ink, both faded through time and memory, is executed in such a poetically technical manner; treating these streaks as ripples from a distant seas of diary scratchings, or hasty scrawls of passion.
Amy introduced Gatten’s work as being heavily invested in “the trace.” Although I didn’t think that this was necessarily true during the screening, I’ve come back to this association many times since. I find myself questioning the trace that the history of these tangled relationships left upon the land in which the Byrd’s owned, as well as the boundaries which Byrd himself drafted (specifically the border between Virginia and North Carolina). Continue reading…(Nicholas O’Brien, March 12, 2009)
Amie Siegel charts anxiety and architecture in her analytical films. Surveillance cameras and psychoanalysts’ couches are recurring motifs in her uncanny essay films. Her first two works—Sleeper and Empathy—were shot in her hometown of Chicago. DDR/DDR is about the former East Germany, a k a DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), and made during her recent sojourn in Berlin.
Siegel plumbs the psychic aftermath of the 1989 reunification of East and West Germany. Her polymathic style recalls Countdown (1990), Berlin filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger’s account of the two Germanys uniting their currencies. DDR/DDR also evokes Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968), a provocative essay mixing a Rolling Stones session, Black Panther rhetoric and Native Americans.
Siegel interviews therapists and secret police operatives from infamous Stasi, the DDR’s largest employer. She deconstructs Stasi footage and samples the anti-imperialist Westerns once made by DDR film studios. She also visits a tepee encampment of enthusiasts who dress up in Native American garb to identify with their oppression.
Siegel breaks the frame on occasion. In one scene, she reclines on a day bed in the inner sanctum of former Stasi director Erich Mielke. It looks like it’s there for trysts or therapy, she says. Addressing the lens in an odalisque-like pose, she looks like comic Sarah Silverman as she recites her film’s precis: “psychoanalyst as Stasi, Stasi as psychoanalyst, filmmaker as psychoanalyst, filmmaker as Stasi, Stasi as filmmaker.” DDR/DDR is an alluring and allusive dossier. (Bill Stamets, February 20, 2009)
“East Germany and Krypton Come to Chicago” STREAM DOWNLOAD
The documentary film DDR/DDR by Chicago native Amie Siegel examines the reactions of ordinary East Germans to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Film critic Jonathan Miller discusses Siegel’s approach, as well as that of Ken Jacobs in his film Krypton is Doomed. (February 26, 2009)
Le Chicago Art Blog
“DDR/DDR screening at Conversations at the Edge, Gene Siskel Center”
Amie Siegel’s 2008 film DDR/DDR weaves together strange tales of individuals living in East Germany after the fall of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). Not strictly a film about the people living in the DDR, the networks explored in this film consists of the technologies – in particular, the types of camera and recording technology used – architectural spaces, and even the fate of psychoanalysis during these years. Siegel positions hereself as an artist performing as psychoanalyst, mining the archives of the Stasi’s films – a tremendous feat – and the spaces occupied by them. What has survived the approximately 20 years since die Wende has been shaped by the films of the DDR – a technophile’s dream! Scenes of present-day German “Indian Hobbyists” discussing the East German films based on the American Western genre, filled with cowboys and “Indians,” are novel and disturbing to my Chicagoan eyes, but if I wasn’t so affected, then this film would be just another type of effort at multi-culturalism. (March 1, 2009)
This intriguing 2008 documentary on life in communist East Germany rambles a bit, but its focus on state surveillance is all too relevant today. The secret police used cameras with custom lenses, while citizens were recruited to spy on each other and psychiatrists were sometimes enlisted to drive their patients insane. Director Amie Siegel provides some counterbalance by interviewing Germans who fondly recall the job security of the communist system (there was no “existential fear,” says one). A fascinating interlude shows westerns produced by East German moviemakers that portrayed Indians as good communists and whites as dishonest capitalists–images with a grain of truth. 135 min. (Fred Camper)
Curated by Daniele Wilmouth, these eight shorts showcase dance in provocative ways–from Switzerland, Elodie Pong’s Je Suis une Bombe (2006) includes the startling image of a young woman pole dancing in a panda suit. In Miranda Pennell and John Smith’s UK short You Made Me Love You (2005) students scramble to stay in close-up during a tracking shot, as if they know their careers will be brief. In Pennell’s Tattoo (2001) military dress parades on Salisbury Plain resemble precision chorus lines, suggesting a connection between popular dance and war dances. The most charged piece, Benoit Dervaux’s French-Algerian-Nigerian Black Spring (2002), raises questions of cultural appropriation when an African dancer halts in the middle of a performance to demand payment. 78 min. (Andrea Gronvall)
“Wendy and Lucy arrive at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Film critic Jonathan Miller discusses the Kelly Reichardt film Wendy and Lucy. The film stars Michelle Williams as Wendy – a woman on a journey across the United States in the company of her dog Lucy. It opens tonight at the Music Box Theatre. And, the next installment of the Conversations at the Edge film series kicks up at the Gene Siskel Film Center. (January 30, 2009)
Cecelia Condit, who teaches film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, presents a career-spanning program of her videos, which have aspects of the horror movie, fairy tale, avant-garde film, and Hollywood musical. She’s written that they “explore the dark side of female subjectivity,” but what most engages me is how, with characters breaking into song at the most unpredictable moments, they can seem unclassifiable, even charmingly goofy. The lyrics are often the most meaningful element, but meaning is highly provisional here, as the chaotic forces of the id escape. In the earliest short, Possibly in Michigan (1983), a wolfman pursues two women in a shopping mall, but not every woman is a victim (we hear of one who microwaved her poodle). Both childhood (for its free imagination) and old age (for its sense of limits) are frequent subjects. (Fred Camper)
“Haptic + Interbellum”
If we’re living at the end of the music business’s Cretaceous period, Chicago’s Flingco Sound System label may be one of the small, adaptable mammals that will inherit the Earth after the dinosaurs keel over. Determined to remain unencumbered by an unmovable inventory of CDs, it has turned to a mix of old and new media, releasing music in cheap download and premium vinyl formats. Label boss Bruce Adams further tinkered with the formula by pairing three Flingco acts with experimental filmmakers and presenting the results in a movie theatre instead of a bar. Too often the union between sound and vision is hierarchical, with one of the other dominating; the audio supports the video, or the video sells the audio. While two of tonight’s performers failed to transform the relationship, one offered a rare glimpse of the two media on equal footing.
Pianist and sampler player Brendan Burke’s Interbellum, which also features cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, simply played their music while Annie Feldmeier Adams’s amalgam of recently shot and found footage ran onscreen. Since the cellist faced the audience and Burke’s piano abutted the wall where the screen hung, it was impossible for either player to see much of the video, let alone interact with it. Even so, the set was a success; while it broke no new ground, the mix of sound and vision was complementary. The music’s persistently wistful mood provided an affective baseline for the images, which jumped from wintry lakescapes, to sadly ironic footage crowing about the safety of New Orleans’s spillway system, to parade sequences populated by creepy and comic clowns. Interbellum didn’t play anything from their new record, which may be as well; the meandering, piano-led pieces on Over All Of Spain The Sky Is Clear too often smudges the line between melancholy and maudlin. Recently Burke has discovered Just Intonation, and his new music rebalances the record’s mix so that his piano sketches sparse melodies upon a surface of looped samples and keening strings rather than loom over them. All-electronic trio Cristal opted for a gambit that made sense in the current economic climate, but was equally traditional. Rather than treck from Virginia to Illinois, they gave a track from their LP Re-Ups to video maker Clayton Flynn. Its measured, electrical pulse functioned purely as backdrop for his barrage of colour-enhanced astrological and geographical stills.
Haptic’s appearance with Lisa Slodki offered much more. Haptic comprise Adam Sonderberg, Joseph Mills, and Steven Hess; all three wield electronics, and Hess also plays a conventional drum kit. They usually include a different guest fourth member for every concert; film maker Lisa Slodki broke that rule by playing with them for the second time tonight. Working behind a bank of VHS tape players, she superimposed loops of children’s faces and light reflecting off water. Haptic’s first sound closely resembled the machine clatter of an old film projector; ironically, Mills’s oscillator looked like one that had had its reels removed. The trio’s engine-like hums and high sine tones seemed to insinuate themselves into the theatre, keyed to the moment-to-moment shifts of onscreen light. The musicians and projectionist made real-time changes in response to each other’s input, sometimes recreating one medium’s effect in another. This was not simply music plus video, but an interactive performance. (Bill Meyer, May 2009)
“Haptic + Noise Crush, Last Night ”
I attended the Conversations at the Edge / Sight & Sound: Flingco Sound System event last night at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Interesting stuff all around but I was utterly blown away by what Lisa and Haptic presented. Of course, it was nice to watch one of Lisa’s video pieces unfold when I was not in the middle of muddling through some guitar and synth work, myself. And my simmering jealousy of Haptic stealing Noise Crush away from The Fortieth Day was at least partially soothed by Lisa’s use of human beings throughout much of her program. Her signature style and feel were there, but it was quite different, overall, as it was not primarily abstract. But it was definitely a beautiful and melancholy presentation, projected on a really large screen, as deserved. And she was actually performing under her own name, after all. Haptic built a much more complex soundscape than on their recent BloodLust! cassette, and their sound really locked in nicely with the video. They showed great restraint, whether with electronic frequencies or the bass-enhancing percussion — lending a still-minimal feel to their set, even if there were several layers of sound happening. And at the right moment, there were some glorious feedback-esque pure frequencies that probably jolted people back to attention, were they drifting off due to the mesmerizing video and sound. A nice full house turned out for this and it was good to see some familiar faces… (Mark Solotroff, February 6, 2009)
“Semiconductor Joins Art and Science” STREAM DOWNLOAD
What is the theory of everything? Are art and science disciplines that cannot coexist in the same space? For answers to those questions – and a tip on an interesting film collaboration screening tonight at the Gene Siskel Film Center, we turn to Eight Forty-Eight’s film critic, Jonathan Miller.
A quick lesson in electronics: the term “semiconductor” typically refers to a computer chip. But it also refers to a material through which an electric current passes. These materials possess intriguing properties. When a substance is a semiconductor, it can both impede and permit the flow of electrons. UK filmmaking team Joe Gerhardt and Ruth Jarman have aptly chosen the name Semiconductor for their collaboration. Their work shuttles betwixt and between the poles of art and science.
When scientists investigate the physical world, their work often takes them to realms beyond the reach of the human eye. Akin to scientists, artists make things visible, and they often shine light on unforeseen or overlooked phenomenon. Jarman and Gerhardt’s work make it clear how much the two endeavors have in common. (October 30, 2008)
Time Out Chicago
Miranda July’s “video chain letters” for women filmmakers get some respect at the Siskel.
Given the success of her 2005 film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, and her 2007 book of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July has become a recognizable name in the arts. But long before she even began working on such successes, July founded Joanie 4 Jackie, an alternative distribution company turned supportive community for women in filmmaking.
The way the organization worked was simple: A filmmaker would send in a copy of a film she’d made and, in return, receive what was called a “chain-letter tape” consisting of bits of others’ video projects or films. Occasionally, July would organize screenings of the films she collected. This started in 1995, before the Internet and social media made it so easy to share work and create any sense of community for budding filmmakers outside of New York or Los Angeles.
Although July’s current involvement in Joanie 4 Jackie is that of “almost consulting,” as she says, she’s glad it’s still going strong and getting attention in the form of exhibits and screenings, including an upcoming series at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
“When I first started gathering the movies, having screenings seemed to be the only way the women could see each other’s work,” July says. “It felt like the more people became aware, the more they’d come together. It was really a whole different world, where the only way to show and see work was really by coming together.”
The network July launched and the subsequent archive of films by hundreds of women will be highlighted on October 16 at “Joanie 4 Jackie: The Lady Glitterati of the New Movie Uprising,” at Conversations at the Edge, the weekly series put on by the School of the Art Institute. Though July won’t be present for the screening, her influence will be felt in the films. Continue reading…(Jamie Murnane, Issue 189, October 9–15, 2008)
Ten shorts by the experimental animator, restored and blown up to 35-millimeter. Reviewing a similar retrospective, Fred Camper wrote, “Breer builds sequences out of tiny bits of intercut imagery–mostly only a few frames long, some abstract and some representational–to produce a flicker that both reflects the rhythm of film projection and keeps the viewer on edge. At the very moment you think you understand the organizing principles of a sequence, Breer will introduce a live-action shot of, say, a toy telephone prancing across the floor on little plastic feet. . . . Breer’s short films are surprisingly varied in feeling and tempo, moving from energized, almost electric movement to brief meditative silences, from intimations of sadness to humor–a humor that allows Breer to confront doubt and loss without ever becoming portentous.” Screening are A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957), Eyewash (1959), Blazes (1961), Fist Fight (1964), 66 (1966), 69 (1968), 77 (1970), Fuji (1974), Swiss Army Knife With Rats and Pigeons (1981), and Bang! (1986). (J.R. Jones)
Chicago Reader Critics’ Choice!
Inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, this beautiful documentary by John Gianvito (The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein) documents not only graves and memorials across the U.S. for people (both famous and unknown) who died in political struggles but also the surrounding landscapes that nestle and sometimes hide these largely unremarked sites. The casual way Gianvito introduces us to these settings via sound and image, the varying cinematic means employed (including stretches of animation), and the powerful maximal effects he achieves from his supposedly minimalist agenda are all essential elements of the film’s haunting poetry. Named best experimental film of 2007 by the National Society of Film Critics, it displays a strong passion for history–including film history, from Griffith, Stroheim, and Dovzhenko to Straub-Huillet. (Jonathan Rosenbaum, August 29-September 4, 2008)
Films of Gordon Matta Clark – Thursday, March 13, 2008
From a photographer’s conversation on human intimacy, to Conversations at the Edge, stop Three of our Three to See are three films by artist Gordon Matta-Clark. Matta-Clark cut through dilapidated structures, bringing light and perspective to these dark spaces.
Besides the short film Clockshower, which is also on view as part of the exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, two other films are being featured. City Slivers is a 9 ½ minute silent film that only lets you see a sliver of the cityscape through the lens. Office Baroque, is a documentary about Matta-Clarks dissection of a 5-story office building in Antwerp, Belgium. Amy Beste coordinates the series.
BESTE: Office Barogue contains a number of really really beautiful, interesting and beautiful revealing interviews with Matta-Clark. But also some really gorgeous images of the actually cutting really gives a sense of the way it moves through the building. This particular cutting was so large that you couldn’t take it all in, in one go.
As part of the conversation, his widow, Jane Crawford will be there to share personal perspectives on his work. (March 7, 2008)
Prisoners of War – Thursday, February 28, 2008
Chicago Reader Critics’ Choice!
Starting with From the Pole to the Equator (1987), the Milan-based couple Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi have excelled at compiling silent archival footage, encouraging the material to speak, both historically and poetically, through masterful use of music, tinting, and variable speeds. (Their mystical reverence for the footage is reflected in how they commune with it by keeping film cans around the house before opening them.) Drawn from many war museums, this 1995 work is the first part of a World War I trilogy, and it’s a spellbinder, alternately beautiful and horrifying. It concentrates on POWs in prerevolutionary Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but there’s also some extraordinary combat footage. The few Italian intertitles, most of them identifying dates and locations, are unsubtitled. (Jonathan Rosenbaum, February 22-28, 2008)
I Love Presets – Thursday, February 21, 2008
I Love Presets, the local audio/video art conglomerate of Jon Satrom, Jason Soliday, and Rob Ray, presents its work for this week’s Conversations at the Edge series at the Siskel Center. The trio chops up and recontextualizes bits of digital ephemera into new processes, sounds, and even games; it may sound a bit techy, but one look at Ray’s ultra-provocative Guilty Party installation or ILP’s labyrinthine website, and it becomes clear that the gadgetry’s impressive, but the concepts are just as fully formed. (Issue 179, February 21, 2008)
Conversations at the Edge, 2007 Season Overview
“Jonathan Miller at the Edge” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Now don’t get us wrong—we watch our share of Hollywood blockbusters and romantic comedies. But isn’t it sometimes a little more entertaining to find films on the edge? Who better to answer that question than our own edgy film critic Jonathan Miller? He tells Eight Forty-Eight’s Alison Cuddy about a homegrown program of new film, video and other media works called Conversations at the Edge, or CATE for short. (September 28, 2007)
Peggy Ahwesh: Pistolary! – Thursday, April 26, 2007
Peggy Ahwesh’s experimental videos investigate sexual pleasure, gender, and cultural identity. Tonight’s screening marks more than 20 years of artistic production and the concurrent Video Data Bank release of Pistolary!, a three-disc DVD compilation of her work. (Issue 136, April 24-30, 2007)
“Experimental Filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh” STREAM DOWNLOAD
American experimental filmmaker Peggy Ahwesh developed her sensibility in the punk rock 70s and early 80s making super-8 films of friends and bands in Philadelphia. The transgressive impulses, countercultural energies and do-it-yourself aesthetic strategies of the era have continued to inform her work. Horror films and low-budget exploitation films, as well as the work of other underground filmmakers, also provide points of departure for Ahwesh.
Martina’s Playhouse is a work from 1989 that offers a deceptively casual and ultimately complex investigation of feminine identity. Ahwesh focuses her camera on a young girl named Martina. At first it seems she wants to document the child’s everyday behavior. Martina eats and plays. Then, Martina reads French psychoanalytic theory aloud. She exhibits need and then independence. The playhouse of the title is a reference to the popular television show Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Ahwesh’s version of a playhouse shows the construction of identity at work in the interplay between child and adult, filmmaker and subject. Diverse and disparate scenes involve Martina and her mother but also the filmmaker and her protege, Jennifer Montgomery. A multi-faceted interaction unfolds between the elements of the film. The filmmaker’s camera functions as an instrument of investigation but also seduction. Mother and daughter switch roles with the grown-up cast in role of a suckling baby. Martina becomes the boss, protege becomes mentor. Ahwesh wields the camera as epistemological scalpel, slicing the skin of what we see to reveal how it makes the layers of what we know and who we are…Throughout her work, with its dead men and lively women, Ahwesh charts the circuits and interruptions of desire, its exuberant ceaseless flow. She confronts her viewer with a manifold task: to interrogate who we are, how we became that way and how we can become more alive, more fully human. Continue reading…(Jonathan Miller, April 26, 2007)
Conversations at the Edge and the Gene Siskel Film Center
“Act 1: Chicago’s Cinema” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Edward talks with Jean de St. Aubin about one of Chicago’s premier cinematic venues: the Gene Siskel Film Center. The film center is currently hosting the 10th Annual European Union Film Festival, but also plays host to a wealth of independent and experimental films from Chicago and the world. (March 4, 2007)
Notes on the Death of Kodachrome – Thursday, April 12, 2007
Sure, a documentary about Kodachrome, the discontinued Super 8 film stock, doesn’t sound exciting, but this beloved filmmaking medium serves as a nice catalyst for delving into more personal subjects in “Notes on the Death of Kodachrome.” Director Jennifer Montgomery tracks down three old friends — writer Joe Westmoreland and directors Lisa Cholodenko and Todd Haynes — who borrowed but never returned her equipment. As the story unfolds, the character of the filmmaking and the director’s own personal reckoning are both revealed. Montgomery is on hand for the screening, which includes Age 12: Love with a Little L (1990), an adolescent account of sexuality and lesbian identity. (Issue 134, April 10-16, 2007)
Copy-It-Right! Selections From The Phil Morton Memorial Research Archive – Thursday, February 15, 2007
“And Now for Another Perspective . . .”
“It’s OK to copy!” was the rallying cry of video artist and wild man Phil Morton, who joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute in 1969 and created what would become SAIC’s Department of Film, Video, and New Media as well as the nation’s first BA and MFA programs in video studies. “Believe in the process of copying . . . with all your heart,” he wrote. “Copying is as good as any other way of getting ‘there.’” In the early 1970s Morton hooked up with UIC physicist and artist Dan Sandin, creator of the Sandin Image Processor (a sort of Moog synthesizer for video), in the promulgation of the Distribution Religion, a philosophy of sharing that was a precursor to today’s open-source movement. Sandin made the plans for his processor available to anyone who would pledge to keep any improvement they made on it free as well, and Morton promoted a general anticopyright ethic he called “Copy-It-Right,” the granddaddy of efforts like Copy Left and Creative Commons. Morton died in 2003, but professor Jon Cates has brought his work back to SAIC in the newly established Phil Morton Memorial Research Archive. In celebration of its opening, Cates will present a selection of Morton’s work Thursday, February 15, at the Siskel Center. (Deanna Sirlin, February 2, 2007)
Michael Snow – February 8, 9, and 17, 2007
“Experimental Artist and Filmmaker Michael Snow” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Canadian artist Michael Snow has been a prolific experimental filmmaker for more than 50 years. His acclaimed 1966 film, Wavelength, has been simultaneously described as the Citizen Kane of avant-garde film, and as an event signaling the eminent passing of the film era. This month, the Gene Siskel Film Center is hosting a tribute to Snow, including screenings of some of his earliest films, some of his more recent digital video works, and a survey of his sound work. He recently spoke with Chicago Public Radio’s Alison Cuddy. (February 9, 2007)
Chicago Reader blog
Canada’s Michael Snow is generally regarded as one of the two or three most important experimental filmmakers in the history of the form, and while his talent as an improvising musician is hardly secret, it’s usually overshadowed by his cinematic reputation. (He’s known best to music fans for his 1964 film New York Eye & Ear Control, which featured a bracing soundtrack by free jazz heavies like Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, and Don Cherry.) Snow arrives in town this week for two evenings of screenings at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of the Conversations at the Edge series.
On Thursday, February 8, Snow will present Wavelength and Back and Forth, followed on Friday night by a new video piece called Reverberlin, with sound by his long running improv group CCMC (Canadian Creative Music Collective), which these days includes John Oswald and Paul Dutton. This assemblage has a long if obscure history, releasing a slew of hard-to-find records during the 70s. But Snow has spent five decades traveling all over the musical map, and the pianist was initially taken by straight-ahead jazz. A fascinating track on the compilation Eye & Ear—assembled in conjunction with a show at Corbett Vs. Dempsey a couple years back—found him playing with the legendary clarinetist Pee Wee Russell. During Friday’s program Snow will offer a survey of his musical endeavors and discuss various aspects of his work. Snow’s La Region Centrale will also screen on Saturday, February 12 at 2 PM, although the filmmaker won’t be in attendance. (Peter Margasak, February 7, 2008)
The Wave: New Experimental Films from China – Thursday, February 1, 2007
Curator Li Zhenhua’s collection of recent experimental films from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou leaps across the ocean with startling clarity. Included are 14 artists who discuss and react to a rapidly modernizing China. Highlights contain Yang Fudong’s Backyard—Hey, Sun Is Rising!, a staged video revealing how Old World rituals are quickly becoming extinct, and Zheng Yunhan’s Sing with Me, a documentary-style piece that records the changing lives of miners in the small northeastern Chinese town of Dongbei from the past to the present. As China becomes a major contender in international culture, all eyes turn to its artists. (Issue 124, January 30-February 5, 2007)
Daylight Moon & the Sunset Strip: Recent Films by Lewis Klahr – Thursday, November 30, 2006
Avant-garde filmmaker Lewis Klahr uses collage imagery and old-school animation to create hauntingly poetic, visually arresting surrealist films that imbue discarded bits of cultural ephemera with sensuality and archetypal meaning. Fascinated with “the pastness of the present” since he began making films in the ’70s, Klahr reconfigures memories by lovingly coaxing metaphor from found photographs, old medical books, postcards, and other forgotten pop-culture imagery. Klahr appears tonight to present two of his recent films: the otherworldly, richly colored Daylight Moon (A Quartet) and the abstract crime narrative Three Minutes to Zero Trilogy. (Issue 115, November 28-December 4, 2006)
Chicago Reader Critics’ Choice!
For two decades Lewis Klahr has been developing a deeply emotional cinema based on cutout animation. His technique is now masterful: jittery movements and frequent focus changes heighten the fragility of his image fragments and of the memories and dreams they evoke. The bank robbery in Three Minutes to Zero Trilogy isn’t presented linearly: an image of scattered money keeps recurring, suggesting that it’s a memory. The images in Daylight Moon (A Quartet) tend toward the spectacular—a steering wheel seems to guide us through the stars—while the narrative is obscure. But here too evocativeness is what counts, as Klahr creates a multileveled nostalgia that’s mirrored in songs on the sound track. (Fred Camper, November 24-30, 2006)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Worldly Desires – Thursday, October 12, 2006
Chicago Reader Critics’ Choice!
Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours), who studied at the School of the Art Institute, ranks as one of the most creative and unpredictable film artists working anywhere. With a few notable exceptions, all his work is experimental, though these seven lovely shorts, made between 1994 and 2003, are experimental in the classic sense of being painterly, musical, and nonnarrative. The stories that do surface come from such sources as a comic book (Malee and the Boy), a radio play (Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves), and an offscreen conversation (Thirdworld). (Jonathan Rosenbaum, October 6-12, 2006)
JODI: Max Payne Cheats Only – Thursday, October 5, 2006
Each week the Gene Siskel Film Center hosts Conversations at the Edge, a series highlighting unique works in new media. Tonight, Netherlands-based artist duo JODI (aka Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans) shows the crowd how it likes to play with video games. Brimming with curiosity, technological know-how, and an artistic temperament, the pair tweaks the programming of its favorite games, creating an unsettling, almost Warholian distortion of an everyday phenomenon. A Q&A session follows a live demonstration of JODI’s versions of death-and-destruction game Max Payne and Wolfenstein 3D, and forgotten 1984 treasure Jet Set Willy. (Issue 107, October 3-9, 2006)
Old Joy — Thursday, September 28, 2006
Chicago Reader Critics’ Choice!
“Into the Woods with Will”
Kelly Reichardt’s new film, Old Joy, stars Will Oldham and Daniel London as estranged friends trying to reconnect on a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest. This is the Chicago premiere of the film, which features a soundtrack by Yo La Tengo. Reichardt will attend. (September 22, 2006)
In Between Days – Thursday, September 21, 2006
“In Between Days” STREAM DOWNLOAD
The distinctive sound of the crisp crunch of powdery snow underfoot begins In Between Days, Director So Yong Kim’s debut feature. A wintry atmosphere comes to life as the sound intensifies: a teenage girl trudges across an urban nowhere in a grainy blue twilight. Aimee is a young Korean girl who has recently immigrated to a city somewhere in North America. She lives with her single mom and writes letters in her head to her Dad. No answers come.
Aimee takes English classes and hangs out with a guy named Tran. Tran keeps a wool cap on all the time, slung low over his brow, framing his handsome young face. Tran helps Aimie study, but she has no knack or drive and would rather doodle and daydream. They pass time together playing video games, walking places, eating. They trace a wobbly arc between friendship and something more. At least Aimee seems to have more serious feelings for Tran than he does for her. Still, in Kim’s film, everything is in between.
The capacity to render the unspoken complexities of human relationships is not a skill endowed to many filmmakers: Kim has it. It takes patience: the patience to hold an actor in frame, often doing so little that it seems to be nothing, and to hold the actor there long enough for that little to become quite a lot. As all the pieces fall into place, duration and behavior add up to something so familiar and understandable that we believe that the ebb and flow of life is on screen.
Kim composes her film with a predominance of close-ups, bringing us into an intimate relationship with her main character. Actress Jiseon Kim who plays Aimie has the perfect face for the role. Its changing looks are well captured by the film’s talented cinematographer Sarah Levy. The young actress looks at times like a pouty baby, at other times like a grown woman who knows the ways of the world. And most of the time, she looks like a typical teen whose feelings flash across her face, mercurial updates coming minute to minute. (September 10, 2007)
Calculations: Pioneers of Computer Animation – Thursday, May 4, 2006
Decades before companies such as Pixar and JibJab made dazzling, must-see films and shorts, computer animation was simple, unsophisticated, and crude — even by South Park standards. It took the work of the eight filmmakers celebrated in “Calculations: Pioneers of Computer Animation” to repurpose old technology and develop mechanically produced visuals that leapt off the screen. Artists such as John Whitney, a former airplane factory worker during WWII, used existing devices (in his case, targeting elements in weapons) to create constantly mutating, complex kinetic visuals. Not surprisingly, some of these experimental films became psychedelic classics. (Issue 85, May 2-8, 2006)
The Time We Killed – Thursday, April 20, 2006
Avant-garde director Jennifer Todd Reeves’ feature debut The Time We Killed is a black-and-white experimental narrative that follows a writer who holes up in her Brooklyn apartment after September 11th, immersing herself in television and self-exploration. (Issue 83, April 18-24, 2006)
“Slowdown” (Pick of the Day)
As part of the Conversations on the Edge series, avant-garde filmmaker Jennifer Reeves presents her first feature, a fiction film about a Brooklyn agoraphobic after 9-11. (April 20, 2006)
Image X Sound: The Short Films of Tatsu Aoki – Thursday, April 13, 2006
Tatsu Aoki is a bassist, composer, and producer, as well as director of the Asian American Jazz Festival, president of Asian Improv Records — and an avant-garde filmmaker. Tonight, he screens several of his short films and premieres his latest work, Traveling Spirits. (Issue 82, April 11-16, 2006)
Media City 2006 – Thursday, April 6, 2006
“Slowdown” (Pick of the Day)
As part of the Conversations on the Edge series, Media City program director David Dinnell curates tonight’s selections from Windsor’s experimental film and video festival. (April 6, 2006)
Phil Collins – Thursday, March 16, 2006
“Slowdown” (Pick of the Day)
No, not that Phil Collins; this Phil Collins. As part of the Conversations at the Edge series, Collins screens a selection of his videos, which juxtapose Western pop music and pop culture with people living in extremity. Young Palestinians compete in a disco marathon; Turkish participants in reality television shows discuss their experiences; Colombians sing karaoke-style along with the Smiths’ “The World Won’t Listen.” (March 16, 2006)
Alexandra Juhasz, Video Remains – Thursday, December 1, 2005
“Video Remains” STREAM DOWNLOAD
Documentary filmmaker Alexandra Juhasz recounts the story of her best friend Jim, who died of AIDS in 1993, in the movie Video Remains. (December 1, 2005)
Burnt Oranges – Thursday, May 5, 2005
“Burnt Oranges” STREAM
Silvia Malagrino—Associate Professor, School of Art and Design; College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois, Chicago. A look at the origins and consequences of state-sponsored terrorism in 1970s Argentina, the film, Burnt Oranges, is also a personal and poetic search for truth, memory, and justice for Chicago artist and Argentine native Silvia Malagrino. (May 4, 2005)