Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Encounter: "Hello" Song

Christian Marclay’s Telephones is a fun piece. In the approximately seven-minute long installation, we see clips of characters from popular films answering the phone with the greeting “Hello”. This reminded me of an I-pod commercial that uses a similar gimmick. I later found out, during a short investigation, that this is actually matter of some dispute, with Marclay feeling a tad “ripped off” by Apple. They certainly took a cue from him, but what sets him apart is that he’s not trying to sell a product and his work is considerably longer.

I found the sound in Telephones particularly interesting because of the length and continuous play of the clips. It was fun to watch the familiar clips as they went by, but after a while I began to ignore the visuals. I just closed my eyes and listened for a bit to the sounds of telephones ringing and hellos. Though the aural stimuli are much less varied, I was reminded of the sensation I felt while listening to Ximm’s work presented in class by Glen Bach. To me, Ximm’s work began as just sounds, but it quickly built into something more, and through its length it became more like music. Bach and many of the students commented that they felt the same way. So, after a moderate duration of denying myself the visual stimuli, Marclay’s piece had a similar (though admittedly less pleasant) effect. The rhythm of ringing and hello’s created its own little song.

After opening my eyes, I wanted to watch for a bit more because, as I’ve said, I found the piece fun. At this point, another idea occurred to me; the characters all appear to be conversing with one another. It’s a great correspondence between and through the boundaries of each other’s films. This makes them seem real; as if they were once lonely, stuck within their own worlds, but now they can break through and finally communicate.

Telephones differs from Cantor’s Deeparture in that something is created by the sounds instead of the lack of them. However, when considering my last paragraph, the two pieces maintain some similarity. Deeparture presents two creatures in a light as we have never seen them, just as Telephones gives us a new dimension of the film characters.

Encounter: Silence and our Projected Feelings

Of all the installations at the Haggerty Museum, Mircea Cantor’s Deeparture is certainly my favorite. The piece involves shots of a wolf and deer in a plain, white room. The linearity of such a piece should seem obvious; the wolf acts as predator and the deer as prey, but this is not the case. The animals seem to try hard to ignore one another and both seem to become fatigued by it. Deeparture played on my expectations. It made me thoughtful and uneasy. The explanation for the way I felt resides entirely within me because the silence of the piece gave me nothing to work with. By which, I mean, that the silence allowed for no emotions to be projected aurally.
Being the sensitive person that I am, I was initially nervous for the deer when I saw it standing in same room as the wolf. It would be within the nature of the wolf to attack the deer, but it never did. Tension never mounts through devices of the film because nothing ever really changes. The animals walk around, never making any sound, never interacting. Yet, I felt myself becoming tenser as I watched. The panting of the wolf, the fleet sounds of his footsteps, and any distressful sound made by the deer are muted. These would all help add tension, but they just aren’t there. I suppose my tension resides in my expectations for the work and in my expectations about nature. The silence allows me to project my own feelings and anxieties onto the scene because it presents me with none. After a few minutes of viewing, my anxiety peaks and I come to realize that my expectations are not going to play out. The wolf is shot lying down, panting, next to the profile of the deer. Both creatures are not in their natural environment. The white box affects the nature of their relationship. Perhaps their drives are not as inherent in them as they are dependent on their surroundings.
This piece differs greatly from Christian Marclay’s Telephones (separate post) because it depends on silence and careful watching, while Marclay’s work depends on the aural signifiers of the film collage. Telephones is entirely about sound and its association with the collage of films that make up the piece. We react to the sounds of the films and the way they change the meaning of what we’re watching. In Deeparture, silence allows us to make meaning of what is going on in the film.

Journal: Film Education

The John Potts article “What I Owe to Hammer Horror” from the 47th edition of Senses of Cinema ( caught my eye because of the idea of owing something to film. Also, I feel I am too young to have been acquainted with the Hammer Horror film, yet the genre is too recent to be part of the more accessible classics (Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff etc.), thus I was curious to know what could be learned from them.
Potts was born and raised in a small Australian town. He juxtaposes his memories of this town with his memories of the Hammer vampire films of the 60’s and 70’s. His town was closed off to foreign, non-British influence, possessed little semblance of a social hierarchy and was lacking in mysterious landscapes. It is primarily for these reasons that he was drawn to the Christopher Lee films. They showcased all the elements that his upbringing lacked. Essentially, they taught him about Europe and a world different from his own.
Due to what Potts presumes as a lacking budget, the movies were filmed in Germanic regions. What most struck him about the settings were their lush forests and beautiful landscapes, populated by old-world churches. Since these were very much unlike those of his youth, they intrigued him. He states later in the article that when he made his first visits to Europe, these are precisely the things that he searched out. Another mystery of the films was their portrayal of social class relations. Dracula is an aristocrat and he physically drains the peasants of their lives. An idea like this was foreign to Potts as the member of a simply middle-class town. This education was valuable because class differences are typical in most parts of the world. He even recounts a visit to a small Yorkshire town where a pub owner was busying himself for the arrival of a lord, at whose arrival all the villagers would gather. At times, the ideas presented in the Hammer Horror films seemed not to apply, but instances like this always brought them back. These films gave Potts a heads-up concerning the world outside his small town.
This idea of being taught by films is important to me. I am also from a small town and I’ve never been outside the country. I wish I could afford to travel far and abroad, but at the moment I’m stuck an hour drive from where I was born. I watch films from all over the world. In them, I’m given the chance to look into foreign eyes and foreign lands and see the world outside my own. Granted, I can’t take the elements of these films for fact in all cases, the lack of their validity would at least teach me something about their society. If I were to travel to Europe, I would probably act in much the same way as Potts. I would seek out the old-world and the lush forests and the small town people because these are the things are most mysterious to me when watching films about the region. I think I have a similar infatuation with Pott’s homeland of Australia. Peter Weir’s The Last Wave educated me in the social problems of the country that exist between the whites and the aborigines. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition has a similar effect, while also introducing me to the harshness of the outback. Since viewing that film, there is no place I’d rather explore. In a time when travel costs are so high, sometimes the only way to educate ourselves in the world around us is through film.

Survey: Looking Back

Filmmaking today is nostalgic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blogs Pt. 2: Cultural education

To get a more complete feeling for Senses of Cinema, I had to go back and look at some of their previous issues. Much of what I found throughout the recent issues of the journal was education on film and not in the same fashion as a lot of high-end film criticism. Senses of Cinema isn’t only about educating the educated on films they’ve already seen, it’s also concerned with exposing its readers to things they normally wouldn’t.

An article that popped out at me from a previous issue was one called Slavic Cinema of the 1970’s Revisited by Paul Hourigan. It didn’t catch my attention because I enjoy Slavic Cinema or because I am familiar with the author; Slavic Cinema is completely esoteric to me. I enjoy films from the 70’s, but (before reading this article) I was part of the ignorant majority on the country. Was it a country? Is it a country? Do they even have a film industry? What the article explained to me was that Slovakia is an independent nation and that it has had a hard time expressing its cultural identity in film. The Shop on Main Street is a film that Slovaks consider to be representative of their culture and even though it truly is a Slavic film, it won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars as a Czech film.

In the second part of his article, Hourigan unearths and describes a great number of unknown Slavic films from the 70’s, educating the reader not only on their existence, but on their relationship with the illusive Slavic culture. A quick note at the end of the article informs us that the films mentioned were supplied by the Slavic Film Institute and that they can be perused and bought at their online site. This brings to mind the importance of the DVD and how many great unknown films would be lost to time without it. Through their use the Slavic Film Institute was able to greatly prolong the preservation of cultural artifacts in these films as well as expose others to their culture through distribution of them.

Blogs Pt. 2: The Report

In the comment made about my decision to use Senses of Cinema’s online journal (, I was encouraged to keep up with the festival reports. To be completely honest, they were the last thing I checked out. Many of the other articles on the web page examine at length about some way to view films or speak to their importance. In comparison to these thought provoking pieces, I figured festival reports would pale, giving me no important information. However, when I started looking at the category, I began to see how Senses of Cinema’s outside-the-box examination of film applied to it too.

In Nagisa Hikino’s report The 62nd Edinburgh International Film Festival from June of this year, I expected to get a list of the films playing and perhaps some recommendations. Though I received both of these things, I also got a lot more. Hikino’s report is not a mindless endorsement of the popular film festival, it examines the atmosphere and quality of the fest. During a review of the Scottish film Summer, Hikino takes time to address the logistics of the showing: the state of the audience, the order of events, the state of those involved with the film and how that made her feel. The section reviewing this film ends by tying the film’s nature to the audience reaction. “After seeing this genuinely human film, it was very easy to feel part of the warm atmosphere in the auditorium”.

From here, Hikino transitions into discussing the festival’s change in dates (it used to be held in August, but was moved to June). This change has had a negative effect on the EIFF, it would seem. She was disappointed with the number of countries represented at the festival, which were down from the previous two years. She hopes that in the future they will have more time to prepare and find films.

What follows this is a discussion of some stand out British films and a mention of the importance of documentary to the EIFF. She ends her article pondering a world where such documentaries are more accessible to the general public, but is glad for the festival format because of the reality of the situation.

Blogs Pt. 2: Endless Art

While experiencing the Act/React exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I felt two different motivations to interact: creation and performance. The works of Camille Utterback, Liz Phillips, Janet Cadiff, and Brian Knep all compelled me to use my physical motions to create new experiences. The works of Scott Snibbe and Daniel Rozin were like strange mirrors that in which I could view skewed visions of my movements. I was performing for myself. It was these two, broad categories that really divided my experience at Act/React.

Of the first category of artists, Camille Utterback’s pieces had me most engaged. Untitled 6 looks different than all the other works in the exhibit. As you approach it from across the hall, you might see blue, green and red lines and shapes that don’t truly resemble anything at all upon a screen. In the middle of that last sentence, I truly could find no words for the images cultivated in this piece of work. Are the shapes tears? Veins? Designs? I can’t say, they’re just there. The platform in front of the screen invites you to stand atop it, so you do and the screen before you begins to change. The images before you shrink, spread, appear and disappear with your movements and your very presence before it. A wave of the hand might make a squiggly red line and a spin might create some sharp, white lines. There doesn’t really appear to be any method to the madness, but the fundamental rule remains apparent; movement creates images. So, I stood in front of this screen testing the different movements I was comfortable with, trying to create something new. This work allows for audience action to elicit artistic reaction. I suppose the closest art one could compare it to would be flinging paint at a canvas, except images can be moved and removed from the product, but the same feeling is still there. The movements of the artist holding the brush greatly influence what manifests itself on the canvas, just as the spectator’s movements influence what shows up on Utterback’s screen.

Daniel Rozin’s two pieces both had me performing in front of them. In front of Snow Mirrows I tested the camera’s capacity to reproduce me on screen in the image of “snow”. I jumped from place to place and across the room, switching spaces with another audience member. Our images swept away calmly and reappeared in our new space each time. Upon entering the dark room of Snow Mirrors, you are quick to see that you are being reproduced on the screen in the form of flaky white images that resemble drifting snow. Once I got over the initial “that’s me!” reaction, I wanted to test whether the camera could maintain the mirror image of me in this new format. My perception of Rozin’s work was that his goal was physical reproduction through artistic means. It was my goal to assess the degree of this. After seeing how my image and movements were captured, (both side-to-side, forward-and-back) I could detect no flaw in the method, so I was left to just stare at my image in the alternate reality created. This piece brought to mind digital video in that it also used a camera to capture/display images of reality. Video accomplishes similar representation, though it is more akin to a mirror, showing life as it is, while Rozin’s representation of reality is more abstract.

In his article on Act/React, George Fifield mentioned, when discussing a work called Wipe Cycle that, “the art you were seeing could exist only with you in it, at that moment” (14). This notion certainly seems to fit into mine concerning much of the work at Act/React. Spectator interaction with the artists’ work makes them endless art. Each person and their experience with each piece is different, garnering different results and perceptions continuously throughout each works existence. Never twice will it be the same; the variations are infinite. However, this leaves me to ponder the question: are the results of interactive pieces the “art”, or are the mechanisms and pieces themselves the “art”? What is truly on display? The work of the audience, or the potential of the device? I couldn’t say myself. It’s probably both, but it is something I’m left wondering.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Nothing!

Today, at the last minute, I decided to go see Mary Lucier's Polaroid Projection Series at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I had been to museum once recently and I much enjoyed the Sensory Overload exhibit that Lucier's work is a part of. However, I had never experienced her work. I enjoyed the pyramid of televisions and the flashing lights, but my attention span is limited, so when I walked into the Pyramid Projection Series that first time and saw 4 unimpressive pictures being projected, one on each wall, and heard a monotone voice speaking slowly, I vocalized my disinterest with a "pff" and proceeded back to the pretty lights. I was not being a very good spectator. Today, I walked back in to that exhibit with a more open mind, which was unfortunate for the state of my mind.

I began my viewing experience without knowing what exactly I was watching (I walked in when the series was about 3/4 complete). The images on the walls and the voice were different than I remembered. They were now formless spots of black and white and the voice was just strange sounds. I was curious. The pictures changed slightly at different intervals and the sounds became more distant. My girlfriend watched with me for a bit, but decided it wasn't for her. I told her that I wanted to see where it was going and that she should have a look around. Her response sums up the atmosphere of the room. "I'm afraid that when I come back I'll find you decapitated or something." I was pretty sure that wouldn't happen (not 100%, mind you), but I did feel like this was a place one could lose their mind in. I sat alone for the remainder of the series. A few stragglers popped in every so often, but they didn't stay for long and I was glad for that. The audio had become almost like sonar; it gave me the impression that I was in a film about deep space. The blackness of the images started to peel away to reveal white and I was becoming eager to see where they had begun. It eventually ended; everything stopped and the series started over again.

The four original images appeared to me (a woman, the city of Boston, a chair, and people playing croquet). They weren't very interesting in themselves, but I was sure their transformations would be. The audio also irked me slightly. It was clearly a man talking now and what he had to say wasn't particularly interesting. The deterioration of all the images was pleasing, but particularly the city and the girl. The girl became more blown out, but her black hair remained and became even darker. It looked like paint spilled over a white canvas. The city dissolved more and more until the ball of nothing I knew it would become. I became more comfortable in the room as this went on. I wanted nothing more than a return to the room I had originally entered. I wanted everything to be formless and to not understand the words being spoken to me. I wanted to feel like I was in deep space again. It was peaceful. The piece starts as something very recognizable and easy to understand; the images and words are clear, but they're not interesting. It's as things become simpler that they become more pleasing. When the images and words are no longer relate-able to real life, the piece becomes more pleasing. After 23 minutes of degrading the stimulus, the senses are free to take everything in.

The course was prefaced by an article on the relationship between art and the spectator. I truly have no idea what was meant by Mary Lucier and I'm not liable to find out. This was an exhibit aimed at the spectator. It's not something to be merely glanced at; it's an experience. I went to the museum with the mindset of experiencing this series, it's obvious that everyone else that waltzed into it today was not. What did they gain from their momentary glance inside the room? I can't imagine anything. This is something to be experienced in 23 minutes. From this experience, I can feel what I feel about it and judge whether it was worth it, or whether it has any meaning. I feel it was worth it and it means something to me. I may be wrong in my way of thinking about it, but I'm the spectator damn it and what I say goes.

My Journal Choice

My choice for this project will be the online journal Senses of Cinema ( Upon looking at the site, I found that a few of the films/ideas in the article titles were recognizable, but many were not. However, all of what is presented on the home page intrigues me. The works, ideas, and auteurs discussed on this site seem to span many different generations and genres, so I am looking forward to the variety in store for me.