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Gutai Art Exhibition at The Guggenheim Museum

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

I recently saw a stunning show of Gutai Art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

As Ming Tiampo, Associate Professor, Art History, Carleton University, Ottawa, and Alexandra Munroe, Samsung Senior Curator, Asian Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York wrote of the exhibition, “Gutai: Splendid Playground presents the creative spectrum of Japan’s most influential avant-garde collective of the postwar era. Founded by the visionary artist Yoshihara Jirō in 1954, the Gutai group was legendary in its own time. Its young members explored new art forms combining performance, painting, and interactive environments, and realized an ‘international common ground’ of experimental art through the worldwide reach of their exhibition and publication activities. Against the backdrop of wartime totalitarianism, Gutai forged an ethics of creative freedom, breaking through myriad boundaries to create some of the most exuberant works and events in the history of Japanese and international avant-garde art. Yoshihara’s Please Draw Freely (1956/2013), a collective drawing on a freestanding signboard reconceived for the Guggenheim’s rotunda and created by visitors, invites adults and children to collaborate, think, and imagine for themselves.

The Gutai Art Association (active 1954–72) originated in the cosmopolitan town of Ashiya, near Osaka, in western Japan. Spanning two generations, the group totaled 59 Japanese artists over its 18-year history. The name Gutai literally means ‘concreteness’ and captures the direct engagement with materials its members were experimenting with around the time of its founding in 1954. From its earliest festival-like events, Gutai artists sought to break down the barriers between art, the ordinary public, and everyday life, and continuously took on new artistic challenges using the body in direct action with materials, time and space, and nature and technology. Charting Gutai’s creation of visual, conceptual, and theoretical terrains, this exhibition is organized throughout the museum in chronological and thematic sections: Play, Network, Concept, the Concrete, Performance Painting, and Environment Art.

The outdoor exhibitions of 1955 and 1956 literally set the stage for the group’s artistic strategies. Held in a pine grove park in Ashiya, these events brought art outside and released it from its confines, like Motonaga Sadamasa’s magisterial Work (Water). The Guggenheim commissioned the artist to recreate this work for the rotunda, where he hangs common, polyethylene tubes of varying widths filled with brightly-colored water between the rotunda levels, making giant brushstrokes out of catenaries in the open air that catch the sunlight (Work [Water], 1956/2011).

Moving from what Yoshihara decried as ‘fraudulent . . . appearances’ to lived reality, Gutai artists invented ways to go beyond contemporary styles of abstract painting into concrete pictures, blurring representational significance by incorporating raw matter, as well as time and space, as the stuff of art. Tanaka Atsuko’s Work (Bell) (1955/1993), reimagines painting as an acoustic composition of living sound through a sequential ringing of electric alarm bells wired along the entire expanse of Rotunda Level 2. Her interests in schematic and technical representation, wiring systems, lights, and the human form reached a pinnacle in her best-known work, Electric Dress (1956). The artist wore this spectacular costume made of flashing incandescent light bulbs painted in bright yellow, green, red, and blue for her performance during Gutai Art on the Stage (1957), whose documentary film is projected on Rotunda Level 5.

Like Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism, Gutai rejected psychic automatism for acts of corporeal materiality in the real world. Yoshihara’s involvement with the revitalization of Japanese traditional arts, specifically Japanese calligraphy, also informed his idea of art making as an unmediated experiential encounter between artist, gesture, and material. Shiraga Kazuo’s Untitled (1957), made by the artist painting on the floor with his bare feet, or Murakami Saburō’s Passage (1956), a performance painting made by the artist flinging himself through taut paper screens, both demonstrate Gutai’s call to release the ’scream of matter itself.’ In the context of live events, Gutai artists extended their objectives to theater, music, and film. The Gutai Card Box (1962) transformed the act of viewing paintings into an interaction, with the viewer purchasing a work from the artist hidden inside a vending machine.

As the global pioneers of environmental art, Gutai’s participatory environments take the form of organic or geometric abstract sculptures incorporating kinetic, light, and sound art, turning exhibition spaces into chaotic dens of screeching, pulsing, machine-like organisms. Yoshida Minoru’s erotic machine-sculpture Bisexual Flower (1969) mines the psychedelic effects of this approach. Gutai environments drew from contemporary architecture, technology, and urban design to promote a futuristic, space-age aesthetic. This can be seen in Nasaka Senkichirō’s giant armature composed of aluminum plumbing pipes punctured with holes, broadcasting a music composition as it zigzags its way up the exhibition space. This site of creativity is what Shiraga called ‘a splendid playground’ and what Yoshihara sought as a ‘free site that can contribute to the progress of humanity.’”

I was lucky enough to see the show — which ran from February 15–May 8, 2013 — on its last day of exhibition; I was unaware at the time that the show would soon be dismantled, but I was stunned by the originality, lack of commercialism, and genuine sense of wonder that the show displayed, which was also documented in numerous short films and videos projected throughout the museum. The Gutai movement was clearly very much ahead of the curve in terms of art in the United States, and in the happenings and performance pieces of the late 1950s and early 1960s done in the US, you can more than a little of Gutai’s influence.

However, due to the fact the international boundaries were more defined during the pre-web era than they are now, very little of Gutai’s output made it to the United States, except for those artists who visited Japan during the period when the group was active, and obviously took home notes. The other aspect of the Gutai movement that’s fascinating is that they knew when they had accomplished ewhat they wanted to do, and having worked continuously on creating boundary-breaking art since 1954, called a halt to the group’s activities in 1972, rather than just continuing on as a commercial entity. This is art at it’s purest, most genuine, and most affecting.

Click here, or on the image above, for a video on this exceptional show.

Taylor Mead 1924 – 2013

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Taylor Mead, center in the photograph above from the 1960s, and one of the authentic stars of the American underground film, has died at the age of 88.

As Elaine Woo wrote, in a sharply observed and deeply sympathetic obituary in The Los Angeles Times on May 11, 2013, “Taylor Mead, an underground cinema legend whose comic charm and sense of the surreal inspired Andy Warhol and other seminal figures in the alternative film world, died Wednesday in Denver. He was 88. A fixture of bohemian New York who was also a poet and artist, Mead was visiting family in Colorado when he had a stroke, said his niece, Priscilla Mead.

Called ‘the Charlie Chaplin of the 1960s underground,’ Mead was an elfin figure with kewpie-doll eyes who appeared, by his count, in 130 films, starting with the 1960 art house classic The Flower Thief. In a review for the Village Voice, film critic J. Hoberman pronounced him ‘the first underground movie star.’

He later became one of Warhol’s first superstars, appearing in films such as Tarzan and Jane Regained … Sort Of and Lonesome Cowboys. He also was known for his work in Ron Rice’s The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man and Robert Downey Sr.’s Babo 73. Indie auteur Jim Jarmusch, who cast Mead in a moving vignette that closed his 2003 film Coffee and Cigarettes, considered Mead one of his heroes.

A dropout from a life of privilege, Mead allied himself with Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and other early leaders of the San Francisco Beat scene of the 1950s before settling in New York to eke out a living as a member of its thriving arts underground. He was a familiar face on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where he wandered the streets with a notebook, read his poetry in coffeehouses – often against a background of a Charles Mingus recording – and fed feral cats in the predawn hours.

‘Taylor was a spark who inspired filmmakers, poets and artists on both coasts,’ said Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive, which sponsored a Mead retrospective last fall. ‘He saw his life as his art and his art as his life and didn’t separate them the way we do today.’ He was the subject of Excavating Taylor Mead, a 2005 documentary by William Kirkley that knits the actor’s personal history with later struggles to hold on to his decrepit New York apartment and maintain his free-spirited life.

Born on the last day of 1924 in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Mead was the son of a wealthy businessman and his socialite wife who divorced before he was born. He floated through boarding schools and a number of colleges before his father found him a job in a brokerage house, which was not to his liking.

Openly gay since he was about 12, he left the East Coast in the mid-1950s, hitchhiked to California and studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. Inspired by Pull My Daisy, a short 1959 film based on the Kerouac play Beat Generation, he collaborated with Rice on The Flower Thief, a somewhat haphazardly structured film shot with a handheld camera that features Mead wandering through San Francisco coffeehouses and dives carrying a flower, an American flag and a teddy bear. ‘There was no plot, no planning,’ he told the Philadelphia City Paper in 2005. ‘It was … extremely spontaneous, and all of us were just crazy anyway.’ Village Voice critic J. Hoberman praised it as ‘the beatnik film par excellence,’ with Mead playing ‘a kind of Zen village idiot.’

In 1964, before Warhol was a pop-art mega-celebrity, he invited Mead on a road trip to California for the opening of a gallery show. They wound up making Tarzan and Jane Regained…Sort Of, a spoof of Hollywood adventure movies that was Warhol’s first partially scripted feature. It starred Mead as a Hollywood Tarzan cavorting with a naked Jane in a bathtub at the Beverly Hills Hotel, exercising on Venice Beach and having a bicep-flexing contest with Dennis Hopper as a rival Tarzan. Mead would appear in about 10 Warhol films over the next decade.

Calling himself ‘a drifter in the arts,’ Mead also acted on stage, winning an Obie Award in 1963 for his performance in the Frank O’Hara play The General Returns From One Place to Another. He published poetry and three volumes of his journals, displayed his art in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and read his poems weekly at Manhattan’s Bowery Poetry Club. ‘His whole campaign was, stay creative, active, busy. And he did,’ said filmmaker and friend Clayton Patterson.

He made his biggest splash in decades in 2003 in Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, a loosely connected series of vignettes with a wide-ranging cast including Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. Critics were moved by Mead’s performance as a janitor on a coffee break who doesn’t want to go back to work. The film ends with Mead closing his eyes to the strains of a favorite Mahler song, which resonated with his colorful past:

I am dead to the world’s tumult,

And I rest in a quiet realm!

I live alone in my heaven,

In my love and in my song!”

Taylor Mead, one of the authentic figures of the American avant-garde.

Post Tenebras Lux (Light After Darkness)

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

I just got back from a research trip in New York City, where I saw a brilliant film.

I saw Post Tenebras Lux at Film Forum, and was absolutely mesmerized by the film. As Film Forum’s official notes for the film explain, “Post Tenebras Lux (‘light after darkness’) is a new autobiographical feature from acclaimed director Carlos Reygadas, winner of the Best Director prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Ostensibly the story of an upscale, urban family whose move to the Mexican countryside results in domestic crises and class friction, it’s a stunningly photographed, impressionistic psychological portrait of a family and their place within the sublime, unforgiving natural world.

Reygadas conjures a host of unforgettable, ominous images: a haunting sequence at dusk as Reygadas’s real-life daughter wanders a muddy field as farm animals loudly circle and thunder and lightning threaten; a glowing-red demon gliding through the rooms of a home; a husband and wife visiting a swingers’ bathhouse with rooms named after famous philosophers. By turns entrancing and mystifying, Post Tenebras Lux palpably explores the primal conflicts of the human condition.”

When the film was screened at Cannes, there was a near riot, and many of the audience members walked out in protest, but for the life of me, I can’t figure why. The film’s narrative is at once straightforward and filled with magical realism, as in the scene, pictured above, in which a glowing red demon silently enters a middle class house, toolbox in hand, intent on wreaking havoc in his wake. Indeed, I’ve seldom seen a film that was more accessible, and at the same time more mysterious, lingering in the memory long after the final images have faded from the screen.

Click here to read an interview with the director, Carlos Reygadas.

S.F. Trips Festival, An Opening – Ben Van Meter

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

People often ask me what experimental cinema was like in the 1960s; here is the answer.

Ben Van Meter’s S.F. Trips Festival — An Opening is one of my favorite films of all time, for a number of reasons, but the main reason I like the film so much is its’ economy of images; made for less than $100 to final print, van Meter shot the film over two nights — January 21-22, 1966 — on two and a half rolls of Ektachrome color reversal film, running each reel through the camera multiple times to create a labyrinth of images, effectively conveying the ecstasy and beauty of the scene in a very short space of time — roughly nine minutes. I’ve seen this film literally hundreds of times, and it never fails to impress me as an absolutely accurate document of a time and place now lost beyond authentic recall.

No money, just sheer inspiration and artistry, and a real commitment to embracing chance in the process of creating the film. Now, it’s here for everyone to enjoy; this used to be the model for experimental cinema until the Hollywood dominant model took over sometime in the early 1980s — the film school model — but even the most casual viewing of this film reveals the incomparable richness of Van Meter’s work. And all the editing was done in the camera; this is straight out of the Bolex, simply spliced together. Back then, nobody had the money for more raw stock than was absolutely necessary, but they made a virtue of penury, and they tried to jam as many images as possible into their films; the result is dazzling.

Absolutely stunning; click here, or on the image above, and see for yourself.

A Short History of Film, Second Edition

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

A Short History of Film

Second Edition

Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Rutgers University Press

A history of world cinema that makes its past as vibrant as its present—now revised and updated through 2012.

Praise for the previous edition:

“This is the film history book we’ve been waiting for.” —David Sterritt, Chairman, National Society of Film Critics

“Highly recommended for all collections.” —Library Journal (starred review)

The second edition of A Short History of film provides a concise and accurate overview of the history of world cinema, detailing the major movements, directors, studios, and genres from 1896 through 2012. Accompanied by more than 250 rare color and black and white stills—including photographs of some of the industry’s most recent films—the new edition is unmatched in its panoramic view of the medium as it is practiced in the United States and around the world as well as its sense of cinema’s sweep in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster present new and amended coverage of film in general as well as the birth and death dates and final works of notable directors. Their expanded focus on key films brings the book firmly into the digital era and chronicles the death of film as a production medium.

The book takes readers through the invention of the kinetoscope, the introduction of sound and color between the two world wars, and ultimately the computer generated imagery of the present day. It details significant periods in world cinema, including the early major industries in Europe, the dominance of the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s and 1940s, and the French New Wave of the 1960s.

Attention is given to small independent efforts in developing nations and the more personal independent film movement that briefly flourished in the United States, the significant filmmakers of all nations, and the effects of censorship and regulation on production everywhere. In addition, the authors incorporate the stories of women and other minority filmmakers who have often been overlooked in other texts.

Engaging and accessible, this is the best one-stop source for the history of world film available for students, teachers, and general audiences alike.

WHEELER WINSTON DIXON is the James Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His many books include Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood, 21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster), A History of Horror, and Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (all Rutgers University Press).

GWENDOLYN AUDREY FOSTER is a professor of film studies in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and with Wheeler Winston Dixon, Editor in Chief of Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Her many books include 21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Wheeler Winston Dixon) and Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture.

Second edition available in paper, hardcover and Kindle March, 2013 from Rutgers University Press.

Jennifer Steinkamp’s Madame Curie Video Installation

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see a brief video excerpt from Madame Curie.

Jennifer Steinkamp, whose video installations are reminiscent of the work of Pipilotti Rist, has created a first class video installation piece with this homage to Marie Curie, who in her spare time was an avid gardener. As Steinkamp notes of this endlessly looping video, which has been screened at numerous venues, and just finished up a three month run at The Sheldon Museum of Art here at UNL (it closed September 9th, 2012), the work “is inspired by [my] recent research into atomic energy, atomic explosions, and the effects of these forces on nature. Marie Curie was the recipient of two Nobel Prizes for creating the theory of radioactivity, and discovering radium and polonium. She was also an avid gardener and lover of flowers. An enveloping panoramic work, the new piece activates a field of moving flowers and flowering trees [. . .] Flowers rendered realistically for this new work include marsh marigolds, may flower, chestnut blooms, and hop plants, among many others drawn from a list of over 40 plants mentioned in Marie Curie’s biography written by her daughter, Eve Curie.”

Click here to see a slide show of the original installation of the piece at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Maidstone, and The Films of Norman Mailer

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see Rip Torn and Norman Mailer battle it out in Mailer’s film Maidstonefor real.

Criterion continues to surprise and delight with their ongoing Eclipse series, which brings back to public view forgotten and often brilliant films from the classical era of cinema.

The latest Eclipse box set, Number 35, is entitled “Maidstone and Other Films by Norman Mailer,” and features the title film, Maidstone, about Mailer’s fictional quest for the Presidency as the pompous Norman T. Kingsley, as well as his first improvised feature, Wild 90, which is of much less interest, and Beyond The Law, centering on one violent, boozy night in a fictional police precinct in Manhattan. All of these films were largely improvised; Wild 90 is completely made up on the spot, dialogue and all, and is fixed in one location, a dingy warehouse; Maidstone is set in a lush country estate, where Mailer gathered his friends and associates for five days of improv filming; and Beyond The Law follows the same format. The results, especially with Maidstone and Beyond the Law, are extraordinary.

As the Criterion notes for the set observe, “Norman Mailer is remembered for many things— his novels, his essays, his articles, his activism, his ego. One largely forgotten chapter of his life, however, is his late-sixties kamikaze-style plunge into making experimental films. These rough-hewn, self-financed, largely improvised metafictions are works of madness and bravado, all starring Mailer himself and with technical assistance from cinema verité trailblazers D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock. The most fully realized of his directorial efforts is the blustering, brawling Maidstone, a shocking sign of the political times, in which Mailer plays a filmmaker and presidential candidate who may be the target of an assassination attempt. Along with Mailer’s other films of the period—Wild 90 and Beyond the Law—it shows an uncompromising artist in thrall to both himself and a new medium.”

The actor Rip Torn was one of the principals in Maidstone, and in the film’s most notorious scene, convinced that the movie needed some more action, attacked Mailer with a hammer and bit off part of his ear in a very real, completely unstaged fight sequence. The film as a whole is a compelling exercise in self-psychoanalysis, but for me, Beyond The Law, shot in gritty black and white, with a cast that includes Rip Torn, George Plimpton, Mailer and a rogue’s gallery of hanger ons, is the gem of this group.

There will never be filmmaking like this again. Completely self-financed and shot in 16mm, these are films that Mailer made, at a great financial loss, simply because he felt had to express himself as a non-commercial, experimental filmmaker. Later in his career, Mailer directed a straight dramatic feature, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, based on one of his novels, but it’s a dull, commercial film, indifferently executed by a professional crew. Here, in these early, exhilarating, gloriously undisciplined and freewheeling films, he captures not only his own vision of the world he lived in, but also the essence of New York in the 1960s.

These are films not to be missed; it’s good to see them finally on DVD.

Subverting Capitalism and Blind Faith: Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a fascinating piece on Pascal Laugier’s controversial film Martyrs (2008) in the current issue of Film International. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“It’s not a likable movie. Even me, myself, I hate the film.” (Pascal Laugier)

Pascal Laugier’s radically experimental horror film Martyrs (2008) is a persuasive and explosive leveling of capitalism, which is not limited to materialism, the Catholic Church, the cynical genre of torture porn, and the widespread embrace of anti-humanist postmodern irony. Martyrs joins the work of Pasolini, Bava, Bataille and other confrontational artists, including Luis Buñuel. Specifically, Martyrs recalls the eye-slitting scene in Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. It directly assaults viewers with both detestable visuals and agonizing sounds of pain, in an almost unbearable filmic experience of terror that rouses the even the most cynical viewer from her/his postmodern stance of superiority. Martyrs makes the viewer responsible for the reinforcement of institutionalized capitalism, particularly religion, and more specifically religion’s obsessive embrace of death, its insistence on afterlife, its abuse of women, and its concomitant obsession with martyrdom. It is also a critique of the consumer of the horror film and an astounding film in and of itself.”

You can read the rest of this excellent essay by clicking here.

Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome Recreated at The New Museum

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Stan VanDerBeek was a revolutionary experimental filmmaker, video artist, and visual theoretician who began working in the 1950s and continued innovating right up until his untimely death in 1984.

He was famous early on for this collage films, in which he would manipulate, through animation, paper cutouts to create satirical comments on society, as in his films Breathdeath (1964), which VanDerBeek dedicated to Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and described as being a “surrealistic fantasy based on the 15th century woodcuts of the dance of the dead. A film experiment that deals with the photoreality and the surrealism of life. It is a collage-animation that cuts up photos and newsreel film and reassembles them, producing an image that is a mixture of unexplainable fact (Why is Harpo Marx playing a harp in the middle of a battlefield?) with the inexplicable act (Why is there a battlefield?). It is a black comedy, a fantasy that mocks at death … a parabolic parable,” and Achoo Mr. Keroochev (1959), described by its maker as a “sneezing, displeasing, crooked-looked of visual pratfalls by a patented politician in animation and live [action],” to mention just two of the many, many films he made during his lifetime.

But arguably his greatest achievement was the creation of his Movie-Drome, a geodesic dome whose interior served as a projection surface for a dazzling display of multiple images, in 16mm film or slide format, projected on the ceiling of the dome.

VanDerBeek wrote a manifesto describing his work with the Movie-Drome, which operated only briefly between 1963 and 1965, stating in part that: “it is imperative that we [the world’s artists] invent a new world language, that we invent a non-verbal international picture-language. I propose the following:

* The establishment of audio-visual research centers, preferably on an international scale. These centers to explore the existing audio-visual hardware. The development of new image-making devices (the storage and transfer of image materials, motion pictures, television, computers, videotape, etc.)

* The immediate research and development of image-events and performances in the Movie-Drome. I shall call these prototype presentations: Movie Murals, Ethos-Cinema, Newsreel of Dreams, Feedback, Image Libraries.

* When I talk of the Movie-Dromes as image libraries, it is understood that such life theaters would use some of the coming techniques…and thus be real communication and storage centers, that is, by satellite, each dome could receive its image from a world wide library source, store them and program a feedback presentation to the local community that lived near the center, this newsreel feedback, could authentically review the total world image reality in an hour-long show.

* Intra-communitronics, or dialogues with other centers would be likely, and instand reference material via transmission television and telephone would be called for and received at 186,000 m.p.s., from anywhere in the world. Thus I call this presentation,a newsreel of ideas, of dreams, a movie-mural. An image library, a culture de-compression chamber, a culture inter-com.”

Happily, The Movie-Drome has been recreated at The New Museum in New York as part of their “Ghosts in the Machine” show for a brief period of time — now through September 30, 2012 — and those lucky enough to live close by can experience it for themselves, a wondrous and humbling display of visual wizardry that has long been excluded from the conventional cinematic canon.

As the Museum writes in their program notes for the show, “the installation at the New Museum will include artists, writers, and visionaries whose works have explored the fears and aspirations generated by the technology of their time. From Jacob Mohr’s influencing machines to Emery Blagdon’s healing constructions, the exhibition brings together improvised technologies charged with magical powers. Historical works by Hans Haacke, Robert Breer, Otto Piene, and Gianni Colombo, amongst others, will be displayed alongside reconstructions of lost works and realizations of dystopian mechanical devices invented by figures like Franz Kafka. “Ghosts in the Machine” also takes its cue from a number of exhibitions designed by artists that incorporated modern technology to reimagine the role of art in contemporary societies, including Richard Hamilton’s “Man, Machine and Motion” (1955). Exploring the integration of art and science, “Ghosts in the Machine” also tries to identify an art historical lineage of works preoccupied with the way we imagine and experience the future, delineating an archeology of visionary dreams that have never become a reality.

Many of the artists in the show take a scientific approach to investigating the realm of the invisible, dismantling the mechanics of vision in order to conceive new possibilities for seeing. Central to the exhibition is a re-examination of Op Art and perceptual abstraction, with a particular focus on the work of painters Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Richard Anuskiewicz, and Julian Stanczak, amongst others. Op Art was unique in the way it internalized technology and captured both the ecstatic and threatening qualities it posed to the human body. Furthermore, the exhibition will include a number of kinetic and “programmed” artworks as well as expanded cinema pieces, which amplify the radical effects of technology on vision.

A section of the exhibition will present a selection of experimental films and videos realized with early computer technology. One highlight of the installation will be a reconstruction of Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome (1963–65), an immersive cinematic environment where the viewer is bathed in a constant stream of moving images, anticipating the fusion of information and the body, typical of the digital era.”

The image at the top of this post is from the original Movie-Drome; the image directly above is from the recreation at the New Museum, now open to the public. If you live in the vicinity of New York City, and have any interest in the arts or cinema history at all, you owe it to yourself to see this once in a lifetime recreation of an authentic cultural phenomenon of the 1960s, which still resonates today with artists, critics, and even the most casual of observers as a refreshingly original and daring conception, from a time when cinema ruled the arts. It’s a uniquely life-affirming experience, as is all of VanDerBeek’s work.

The New Museum is located at 235 Bowery Street, New York, NY 10002; telephone (212) 219-1222. Check it out if you possibly can.

On The Value of “Worthless” Endeavor

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

A scene from Peter Emanuel Goldman’s Echoes of Silence; click here, or on the image above, to see an excerpt from the film.

I have a new essay, “On The Value of ‘Worthless’ Endeavor,” in the latest issue of College Hill Review.

Here are the opening paragraphs: “In the 1960s, working in New York, I was part of a group of filmmakers who created films out of almost nothing at all; outdated raw stock, ancient cameras that barely functioned, often borrowed for a few days from someone else, a few lights, the barest outline of a script, and “financing” that consisted of donated labor both in front of and behind the camera. Nobody had any money; we lived in cheap apartments that cost as little as $100 a month, worked a variety of odd jobs to keep the wolf from the door, and plowed nearly everything we made back into films; films that had no market, no commercial value, and were so resolutely personal that it seemed that no one, outside of a small circle of friends, could ever possibly find them of value, worth or interest.

Sync-sound filmmaking equipment, only recently invented at that point, was beyond our financial range; so, like the early silent filmmakers, we were forced back to the primacy of the image, and we created films of deeply romantic intent using a few costumes, borrowed props, and the barest of sets. Another defining characteristic of these films was their calculated sloppiness, since we were dealing with second-, third- and fourth-rate equipment and film that was often of deeply uncertain origin; even then, it was all we could afford. So we would use every possible frame of what we shot, down to the last bit of leader streaked material at the end of the roll, in a desperate attempt to capture every last bit of our vision on film.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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