Images Blog 6 - 2010 Andrew James Paterson
Sunday (Easter, no less) was the marathon cinematic grinder of the 23rd Images Festival. This was the day for three On-Screen programmes and, not unlike a durational performance-artist, I clocked in and clocked out.
The first afternoon programme - Eliminate or Minimize. Substitute - focused on an underlying theme linking much of this year’s festival programme. That theme is one of choreography in relation to social space, which means a lot of dancers and then a whole lot more. The works in this programme were linked by a refusal to adhere to dominant forms of producing choreography and images resulting from choreography, and the works ran the gamut from solo performance to crowd celebration.
The Source is Thirsty to Taste Itself, by Elaine Despins, was a haunting solo exercise in stillness in relation to a moving surface. Momma Dadda, by Kaitlin Till-Landry, was a simple exercise involving the artist’s body in relation to light sources. These are individual bodies in their not anti-social but rather private personal spaces, which are more than just comfort zones. Till-Landry’s title suggests a poke at Dada’s masculinist legacies, as well as eternal connections between infantilism and compulsive needs to perform or be on camera. Also notable in this programme was Emily Roysdon’s Story of History, in which a representation of that thing between the legs of biological men gets slowly but surely chipped away at.
The longest piece in the programme was Johanna Billing’s I’m Lost Without Your Rhythm, which is looped so that it plays through twice. Billings’ project links several days of work into a continuous performance (in Romania in 2008) for an unfixed audience, who could enter and leave at their will. Dutiful workers were motivated to fold up their chairs by an insistent drum rhythm provided by a live drummer, who used this rhythm to kick in a quasi-anthemic song. The drumming suggested imminent ecstasy, but that was not quite what resulted. What did result was a choreographed performance involving choreographers, audience members, performing musicians, and dancers outside of traditional performance spaces with their hierarchical relationships. This performance certainly achieved a seamless fluidity, which is no mean achievement. However, the song itself annoyed me the first time through and not to mention the second. It was harmonious and celebratory, which was probably the point. But it did seem like the sort of song that one of the probably well-meaning Western liberal entertainers gently but firmly chided in John Greyson’s film Covered would themselves cover. I found myself thinking about Benetton ads, when I probably should have been just letting go and going with the flow.
The afternoon’s second programme - Disembodied Bodies Pts. 1 & 11 - was bracketed by two short action-pieces (or arguably non-action pieces) by Jon Sasaki. Both is Sasaki’s pieces involved light. One has a match that never gets lit; one has a light that never goes out. Sasaki has been building a justifiably profile career as a gallery-artist. (Think Jacques Tati as a conceptualist - not so far fetched at all. Sasaki is a subtle prankster). A subject of discussion during the question and answer session following the first part of this programme concerned works shown in galleries and their translation to theatrical/cinematic screening formats. There actually are many time-based works that can play effectively in both gallery and theatrical situations; although attention must be paid to the nuts and bolts and possibilities of installation just as colour resolution and audio should be checked before any kind of projection. But I think the length of a work is a key factor in how or where the work best plays. Sasaki makes good miniatures, which play well with typical gallery attention spans. But... why not mix gallery artists working with performance and narrative elements with those whose careers have been rooted in the cinema? Why not indeed?
Whose Toes, by Vancouver wunderkind Barry Doupe, is a longer work which has also played in gallery formats. I have enjoyed many works by Doupe on previous occasions - notably his almost-feature “Ponytail“, in which language was a crucial component of his fantastic landscape. In Whose Toes, language is not at all present. A steadily rhythmic shifting static and surface noise locks Doupe’s virtuoso editing and image manipulation into an omnipresent rhythm. In Whose Toes, people truly float in a timeless ozone; the primary recognizable floating “characters” are J.F. Kennedy and Princess Diana. Yes, two famous political-celebrity deaths one of whom was definitely assassinated and one who allegedly might have been. They float in and out of motsam jetsam flotsam medicated goo - there are other characters Doupe has drawn who I stopped trying to recognize (El-Dodi Whatshisname? The drunken chauffeur? Freddie Mercury?). I abandoned Cartesian logic and found myself appreciating systemic netherworld logic. One minute I’m seeing fingers through the glory holes, and the next I’m seeing what is usually there - a cock. And is that or is that not shit dripping from the unadorned fingers? Excess floats in mysterious ways, and toes (feet, fingers, other bodily parts) do not seem to belong to their biological orders.
Part II of Disembodied Bodies was taken up by Emily Wardill’s feature Game Keepers Without Game. Doupe reduces his characters to their framed essences by means of his skilled draughtsmanship and image manipulation; and Wardill moves her live but still figurine characters against a blank screen (a gallery white wall?) in a manner not unlike that of minimalist animation. Her source material is a play by a 17th Spanish writer - “Life is a Dream“, which Wardill has adapted to contemporary London. The narrative is melodramatic, and Wardill has stripped melodrama down to its basic elements: the players, the props, and the soundtrack. Melodrama is a genre known for its excess - melodrama whether Sirk or Fassbinder or Todd Haynes uses excess to turn that excess back upon itself - Brecht meets camp. Melodrama literally translates as melody plus drama, but Wardill almost eliminates melody. Or, rather she finds it in the drumbeats which literally move her narrative. There are no swelling orchestral manoeuvres and no crocodile tears in this movie. Melodrama is also the progenitor of soap-operas, and both melodrama and soap-operas have often used prop close-ups to stand in for their owners or users. Game Keepers Without Game is a close cousin of Wardill’s installation Sea Oak, concurrently on “display” at YYZ. One tests the limits and limitations of the art or gallery film, one does the same with the theatrical screening. If Godard went through his seventies abandonment of film for video by virtue of the latter’s flatness, then where does that situate Emily Wardill, who in this film has utterly eliminated depth of field? Today, many films are conceived and executed with animation being in the back of the director’s and editor’s psyches. And Wardill has stripped the theatrical cinematic experience to its basic mechanisms, and they only appear when necessary. Now if only the sound in the current Workman auditorium had been cleaner - when dialogue is the main event happening then one should be able to hear that dialogue as clearly as possible.
And then the evening’s programme - Included in the Present Classification - focused on order and its antonym, and on “same” surveying and classifying “other“. Benjamin Tong’s not so oxymoronic title - Genuine Fake - pretty well set the tone. Disruptions, by Juan Ortiz-Aguy, effectively maintained a split-frame structure to depict an intruder in an unidentified public library disordering the collection. The intruder can only intrude to a slight degree indeed since the collection is not only alphabetically-sequenced buts also colout coded. These are two ordering systems which are rather difficult to argue with, unless one does come out and declare radical subjectivity. John Forget revels in the contents of his “music boxes” and his central texts in Flares for the Melodic Forest. Many a queer life has been anchored by the classifications and revelations of Richard Dyer. “Included in the Present Classification” also focuses on those in power positions labelling and classifying those who are either clearly or apparently “other”. Jenny Perlin’s Leads draws from FBI files on a woman (with a Russian name) who seems actually quite ordinary but perhaps a lead will lead to a lead and so on and on. Perhaps repetition ultimately lead to breakdown? In Non-Aryan, by Abraham Ravett, a prominent seemingly liberal university had a system of restricting the number of non-Aryans to be hired. And then Madness in Four Acts, by Thirza Jean Cuthand, skews confrontational scenes from a Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft movie underneath roll texts by anti-psychiatric theorists and activists. Texts in this film, by R.D. Laing among others, argue on behalf of madness as a zone that one might be capable of passing through and subsequently coming out both stronger and more imaginative than before. Order and disorder are indeed symbiotic, and those who can play with disorder arguably understand order better than those who act but don’t think. This was a good concentrated programme.