Images Blog 7 - 2010 Andrew James Paterson


A recurring motif throughout this 23rd Images Festival is one of cinematic experiences devoid of production and post-production elements usually taken for granted. There have been a few works which strip cinematic apparatus down to bare essentials - moving them in and out of visual and sonic frames according to their necessity if even that. Emily Wardill’s installation at YYZ - Sea Oaks - and her feature film Gamekeepers Without Game are both exercises in provocatively structural reductionism.

Films are generally considered to be synonymous with movies, a word which is colloquial short form for moving pictures. But there are indeed cinematic situations in which there are no pictures to be sequenced or highlighted or montages or whatever the cinematic verb. One of the 23rd Festival’s Live Images programmes specifically addressed the absence of pictures - it was titled No Images. Yes sound, no pictures. Audiences were ushered into a completely black auditorium, after being instructed to not only turn off their cell phones but also to pee if they must before the event as there would be no exiting except for medical emergencies. When everybody was seated, then a succession of audio pieces by five artists (two working in collaboration) commenced. I was rather disappointed in this event. I had expected the withdrawal of pictures to heighten my appreciation as to what pictures could be accompanying the array of sounds on display. But what I heard most often resembled audio-art or even a radio play. Annie McDonnell - the first of the artists in sequenced - recited a dense quasi-academic text about perceptions of sound and perceptions of image over the sounds of various cinematic room tones (on film reels that she found in somebody’s waste). Her text was quite good - I would have rather been reading it or listening to it in either a formal lecture situation or perhaps an essay-film. If the text had not been present, then I could have had fun imagining the films that had been reduced to the room-tones of their various setups and scenes. None of the other artists made me think very much about the cinema, although I appreciated Ryan Driver’s musique concrete. Perhaps drugs might have helped the situation, although I doubt it.

The exercise in visual deprivation was followed by a film essaying the use of silence within cinema and narrative. Todo, en film, el silencio lo ocupaba (All Things Were Now Overtaken by Silence), by Mexican filmmaker Nicolas Pereda, was many things. It was structurally a film about the making of a film, a time-honoured but here very useful device. Pereda films a crew in the acts of filming a performance. The performance is by performance artist cum activist Jususa Rodriguez, and it is a theatrical recitation of an epic poem Primo Suerio (First I Dream), by 17th century Mexican writer Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. As Pereda’s film is about the making of the image, it almost (but not completely) resists making its own images. It is also an excellent depiction of not necessarily tensions but certainly differences between performative and poetic impulses and the technicalities of production. What seems like a perfect take to the performer is often a flawed take to crew members - such are the rotes of not only dramatic but even experimental filmmaking. Sor Juana’s poem is epic, but it is also broken down into cinematic stations for the purpose of filming. And sometimes the text is broken off, and tableaux are held for effect. I did find myself reminiscing how Jean-Luc Godard has considered natural light to be God. The first portion of Todo, en film, el silencio lo ocupaba uses the candles of the performer’s original theatrical set as light sources. If natural light is divine, then how about sublime candlelight?

Primo Suerio is a well-known Mexican poem and theatrical and (not to mention cinematic) adaptations must tread very carefully indeed. The documentation of what is oral is a means of preservation, although it is hopefully much more. It can be a means of revisitation, or even re-enactment. Two installations at A Space by Rotterdam-based artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh are concerned with the recovering of lost or deliberately neglected histories by means of theatrical adaptation and script-revisions. The Past is Never Dead consists of two works. Après le reprise, la prise emerges focuses on labour unrest, strikes, and subsequent closure of four Levi’s plants. Van Oldenborgh collaborates with two former Levi’s workers and several women about to graduate from the Royal Technical Atheneum (in Mechelen, Belgium), where the filming is taking place. The women talk at length without script, and then a “script” is assembled. Parallels of course emerge between workers and actors - both are subject to choreography with varying degrees of volition. There is also a tradition in both political theatre and filmmaking in which “real people” are used instead of “actors” because the former already know their lines and their movements. The other work in The Past is Never Dead is Instruction, which addresses the aftermath of the Dutch military intervention in Indonesia following World War II. Van Oldenborgh casts a group of young cadets from the Royal Netherlands Military. What they had previously thought was their history was not actually their history. What has originally been categorized as a “police action” was unfortunately so much more. The script is assembled from various archival and documentary sources, which have been uncovered well after the original events. Intervention uses dramatization from historical material to deal with personal and national responsibilities and the heritage of the nation-state’s colonial past. The Past is Never Dead is low-key in format and performance, and is all the more effective because of this.