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.