Last night at PSU's Lincoln Hall, vocalist and musician Liz Harris (aka, Grouper) and experimental filmmaker Paul Clipson performed Hypnosis Display for the first time on US soil. The 75-minute, live audiovisual collaboration, commissioned by Opera North, is sourced from Harris' field recordings and Clipson's in-camera-edited films that capture naturalistic and man-made American landscapes. The performance notes on PICA's website hint at the piece's significance: "Hypnosis Display envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place. With an attentive yet neutral eye, the film reflects on the American experience and what creates a sense of being at 'home.'"
The piece starts with a tangled and cacophonous take on nature: Using an array of cassette players, Harris mixes together sounds of water, while Clipson matches the ominous rumble with overlapping closeups of turbulent, oceanic surfaces. The water travels forward, across America. Breaking waves wash over the hard lines of pipes and wires, across unnamed roads and flashes of faces. Water beads up on green leaves, hangs in drops from blades of grass, feeds into the lush and later, the concrete. We're never in one place at one time. Both audio and visual layer and stack locations and subjects. Jittery edits of broken windows introduce an increasingly intense pace and, meanwhile, juxtapositional content becomes the rule. The piece moves from coast to continent, shuffling together instances of city infrastructure and places where the natural world edges back in, looking at technological order, human order, and ecological order (and where these forces fit into one another) with kaleidoscopic irreverence for the divisions in between.
As the title suggests, we're dealing with a hypnotic and dreamlike piece, though in terms of reflecting the American experience, I'm not sure that I follow. The sights and sounds didn't really bear an appearance I would describe as uniquely American. Undersides of bridges and closeups of disembodied legs, neon signs and streaks of light, could be from anywhere where these things exist. We're told that the films and field recordings are of America, therefor about America, but what is being said about America— about "a sense of being at 'home'"— isn't really clear. Is it that America is now a place like any other place? That what makes America distinct is its most indistinct features? Is it a way of pointing out the hegemonic quality of Western culture? Or, like the craftsmanship of the piece, is it that America is frantic, always divided, a culture in superposition and chaos?
I couldn't say.
Additionally, the claim that Hypnosis Display "envelops viewers in deeply felt connections to landscape, environment, and place" didn't hold up from my seat. The wild-eyed edits and ever-changing poly-subjects did less to envelope me and more to push me out, and after seeing Tim Hecker's TBA set last Sunday— which absolutely sucked me in and imparted environmental sensations— I was pretty underwhelmed. Halfway through Hypnosis Display, when images stopped for a reel-change, I was ready for things to wrap up, and subsequently didn't notice any specific moments that announced the necessity of the second half of the performance (which isn't to say things were unpleasant, just not super compelling).
When exiting the auditorium, one friend groggily commented that she'd fallen asleep, another that they had to close their eyes a lot because all the pulsing and flashing and never standing still got to be too much. A local comedian buddy noted that he would've given the piece about thirty seconds in any setting that wasn't "auditorium."
Ouch. It's a case of less is more, I think. And also a case of a project that might be a little too coy about how it packages and relates its significance.
Regardless, we can take it as a reminder that mastery of technique and craftsmanship don't guarantee an outcome that people connect with, and that artists might be wise to put an audience's needs before their own.
"The new creed of the obscenely rich: sorrow for sorrow's sake alone." Daniel Barrow's The Thief of Mirrors is a wry takedown of the upper class, positing that "crying is a class privilege." The wealthy victims of the story's protagonist, a harlequin "kissing bandit," wake one morning to find that they've been robbed of their jewels, their wealth, and with it their ability to express sadness. What they're left with is a kiss, a simple red rose, and the sad clown visage of the thief etched permanently into the glass of their mirror, a symbol of their new status.
"Dear Mom and Dad," begins each letter which serve as the narrative device in Barrow's second piece, Looking for Love in the Hall of Mirrors. Inspired partly by Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird and partly by the gay cruising park known as "the hill" in Winnipeg, where the story is set, this piece is a melancholy tale of an aging, closeted man who moves from the farm where he's lived all his life to the big city searching for a new life in art and love. He likes the city, is fascinated by the cruising culture in this park (though he never quite fully describes this to Mom and Dad), but ultimately seems to be stuck on the outside looking in.
What I appreciated most about this performance, which was co-presented at the Whitsell Auditorium by the NW Film Center, is Daniel Barrow's innovation, and his multimedia approach. It is rare to see someone creating a completely new and different form of performance, and especially surprising when it uses such a familiar and utilitarian piece of equipment as the overhead projector.
Just gonna put it out there: I pretty much want to live in The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, the live documentary written and performed by filmmaker Sam Green and scored by Yo La Tengo (originally commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to be performed during the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival).
Last night at Washington High School, as Yo La Tengo played behind Green's friendly narration and slideshow of videos and stills detailing the life of Buckminster Fuller, I was reminded that strong entertainment value and contemporary art aren't mutually exclusive forces. This reminder has become something of a TBA tradition: each year I'm bombarded with challenging art of elusive value/meaning, I get tired, frustrated, etc., and then in the middle of the hairiness something just blows me away with its entertainment value, relevance to everyday life, and clear and present meaning (sans unnecessary codifications or large, showy art moves). In short, I left Love Song with the same sort of joy for storytelling that I walked away with after seeing Mike Daisey perform The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at TBA:10. That's a tall order, and I couldn't be more happy with this particular 'art is worthwhile' moment.
Things I was looking forward to seeing last night at The Works: Weston Currie premiering a new film with a live soundtrack provided by Portland's own Liz Harris (Grouper). And B-Movie Bingo presented by Wolf Choir, in which audience members play bingo using movie cliches from Bulletproof starring Gary Busey(!).
I didn't see them though. I left The Works at 1:15am and the basically cleared out theater was still being setup for these two portions of last night's Future Cinema. There were murmurs going around that neither of these films/performances were even going to happen.
What I did see last night: a two hour Google+ chat amongst five seemingly intoxicated friends made increasingly tedious with obscure inside jokes and failed audience participation.
This was Terrifying Women, a program of videos and performances by current and past Portland artists Alicia McDaid, Tanya Smith, Wendy Haynes, Sarah Johnson, Diana Joy, Kathleen Keogh, and Angela Fair. I think the idea here was to have a modern day panel of sorts in which work could be shown and then discussed by each of the respective artists participating. But what was actually presented was more of a confusing conference call interrupted at times by videos and loosely structured live compositions. As an audience member I felt bewildered and also a bit put out that I was either not in on the joke, or just completely missing it.
Some of the videos were interesting however. The ones shown by Diana Joy in particular were impressive in regards to production value and content. But on a whole this loosely structured and meandering program left me cold and wishing I stayed out in the beer garden.
More photos after the jump if you'd like to take a gander...
Seven shots compose the two-hour piece, all sourcing imagery from the Ruhr District of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, a manufacturing center with roots in the early water-powered stages of the Industrial Revolution. All shots weigh in between 8 minutes and an hour— the camera stationary for each— and vantage points feel like those of inanimate objects; maybe a piece of signage staring off down a tunnel, or a dead-leaf's view of the forest beyond Dusseldorf International, planes passing overhead.
Compared to my past TBA experiences (admittedly, a relatively limited set of experiences), Ruhr most outwardly deals with time— duration of shot being just as important as the subject matter therein.
While these long, uneventful clips serve a purpose, Benning tests his audience in working against cinema's narrative traditions. 8 minutes inside a tunnel are followed by an equal measure inside a steel coking plant; an 18-minute stint in a forest outside Dusseldorf International makes way for a service inside a mosque.
My recognition of slow pace isn't to say that Ruhr is without its pay offs. Rewards are paid at both visual and conceptual levels. There's a mesmerizing shot of a worker sandblasting graffiti from a Richard Serra sculpture, an angular negative space growing inside the colorful layers of unapproved communication. Conceptually, shots focus on the conversion of nature into industrial, civic, religious, and transportation systems, each presenting their own fingerprints in time: a steel mill's glowing-rod minutes or the graffiti's afternoon-long erasure, a mosque's sundial believers or a side street's irregular travelers.
The hour-long final shot of a tower letting out huge billows of smoke works to put the previous scenes into perspective, highlighting the relative timescales that all these nature-taming processes work within. Smoke chokes from the tower, its thick cloud blotting the building out of the sky, then slowly clearing before its dirty weather happens again.
When minute fifty-nine of Building Makes Smoke is over, the previously-tedious shorter shots look like ice cream cones and back rubs in the rearview mirror. It's not really a pleasant journey, but it's a meaningful one: a declaration of relativity, more than anything else. Time is relative. Different tasks breed different clocks. All clocks are simultaneous. I think I get it.
The paradox here though is this: Ruhr's vehicle for communication is also its own best censorship. Audience attrition under the sloth-paced shots began halfway into the third scene and continued throughout. If I had to guess at the dropout rate, I'd say roughly half the audience was still seated when the credits rolled. So, fifty percent?
The reality of it is that 10-minute shots of Nothing Is Really Happening are surmountable repellents; an hour of the same is tenfold the noisome, and all the more risky. I admire Benning's willingness to push duration to its limits, to test his audience, but I wonder if there are less tedious ways to talk about time.
(James Benning's Ruhr is screening this afternoon at 4 pm in the Whitsell Auditorium, located inside the Portland Art Museum at 1219 SW Park. Tickets are $9 for non-members. For more details, click here.)
By now, if you've been paying any attention, you've heard about The Hidden Life of Bridges. Or maybe you noticed something going on while crossing the Hawthorne Bridge last night. Either way, the installation is finally open, and it turned out to be just what I expected: a thought-provoking spectacle.
We previously reported (per the press release) that the film would be looping at 15-minute intervals, but apparently the artists - Ed Purver, who I just found out last night has a delightful English accent, and Portland's own Tim DuRoche - got so much usable stuff from their interviews with County Bridge Section staff that the prerecorded audio is more like a half hour long, repeating, and overlaid with always-live sound from the Hawthorne Bridge itself.
I was watching last night from the center span of the Hawthorne, where hefty outdoor PAs make the audio pretty loud and clear. And hearing the sound that's broadcast along with the ambient sound and feel of being on the bridge definitely makes it the best spot to watch/listen from. But for a closer view of the projection on the Morrison piers, you can watch from the Waterfront park and listen live by calling 503-713-5852 or tuning in on the website. I didn't get a chance to try that method; if you did, please share your impressions in the comments. Hell, share your impressions either way.
Two more nights to experience this, dudes. Tonight and tomorrow, 9-11pm. Then, of course, the audio continues for another month.
TBA:11 - ready or not, here it comes! I'm pretty psyched to check out The Hidden Life of Bridges which runs from this Thursday (opening night of the fest) through Saturday night. Here's a little preview:
As I mentioned in my article a couple weeks ago, this large-scale public art collaboration from Ed Purver and Tim DuRoche aims to show a new perspective on a couple of the bridges we think we're so familiar with. What I didn't get to mention in much depth are the logistics of the thing, the how and what, which are the most useful bits. So hit the jump.
Ok, now that I got that out of the way, a bit about This Is Displacement. The hour long program is a collection of shorts that are made by Native American artists that explore the plights, the postmodern insights, and the relationship that native adults and youth have with the idea of home. Emily Johnson was on hand at the screening to explain that showing this series was in lieu of an art installation that is normally setup in conjunction with The Thank-You Bar, but one that wasn't able to be part of TBA:10.
The films vary from fictional narratives that tell the stories of native individuals living in modern society, to documentary styled accounts of Native American youth and elders working together to preserve traditions of their tribes/cultures. Some films are very low-budget. Some look as though they could be submitted to Sundance. All of them speak to one another and postulate the theme of displacement and the struggle to not let go of the concept of culture while integration is a reality that is becoming evermore prevalent.
Anyway, to say more at this juncture would most likely be a disservice to both Anderson and Johnson's vision. Not to mention, writing about it more would most likely plunge me even more into an Emily Johnson praise fest. Suffice to say, go see these films and go see The Thank-you Bar. You will be glad that you did.
I highly recommend visiting the installations at the Works when there isn't a performance or a crowd (and it's free). The magical creepiness of empty hallways with sounds emanating from darkened rooms where strange lights flicker across the wall is an experience in its own right, and one I think best enjoyed alone. I stole down there yesterday afternoon for just that reason, and while I was drawn to some of the video installations much more than others, I've been assigned to comment on Christopher Miner's The Safest Place and John Smith's The Girl Chewing Gum. Miner, who is from the South, is preoccupied with the influence of one's upbringing, and in this piece is addressing that specifically in regards to religion. The film is the same constant image of a young man clad in taupe-y t-shirt and shorts clasping his knees to his chest as he rotates round and round in the zero-gravity environs of what appears to be a space shuttle. Meanwhile Miner's voice eerily chants an old spiritual. Some of the words are hard to make out but Jesus having mercy is really all you've got to know. The mix of old-school, earthy spirituality and of mankind's most advanced technological aspirations, are in a way the best of both worlds; both are reaching to the heavens/the next world in their own way, and so yeah... Jesus in space pretty much has your bases covered. Point taken.
As for John Smith's The Girl Chewing Gum, it's a work from 1976, which makes it a questionable inclusion for a contemporary art festival. What's more, I've seen it online prior to the festival, and so can you:
That said, I like the humor here as a send-up of hyper-controlling directorship, and there's something satisfying about when the narration is especially well timed to the actions onscreen. As it steadily becomes more imaginative ("he's just robbed a bank," etc), the pretense becomes even more obvious, then the detailed examination of the building in the frame seems to chip the speaker's authority as he realizes his own (rather mundane) mis-perceptions, though when he begins to describe the field from which he's speaking and the camera shifts to said field, things unravel in such a way that is literally neither here nor there. I wish that instead the act had been kept up, that the camera had stayed trained on the busy street and the booming voice "directing" traffic. I don't think you need to go all the way in disassembling the concept to make a point about art, control, reality, and perception.
I would say I was less than a minute into the film program Hard Edge, Hard Work, which explores the abstract film and video works of women artists, when all of my preconceived notions were unceremoniously shattered by the tastefully high-heel clad foot of Kate Gilmore, kicking the shit out of a Sheetrock wall.
Some thoughts after the Jump. (Though I still haven't figured out why I had built those preconceived notions to begin with. I'm still working on that, and probably will be for a while, thank-you-very-much.)
When I found out that I'd be writing about Yemenwed, the New York-based collective made up of artists, animators, dancers, architects, and designers, I immediately went to PICA's TBA:10 programming guide to see what they'd be presenting. I discovered that Yemenwed was slated to show two videos. The first, Episode 3, is described as "a surreal sci-fi journey that melds animation, live action, painting, and sculpture." The second, Bedroom w TV and Woman Lays w Aide, follows "several characters within an abstract interior, based on a bedroom in a New York City public housing project." A little confused, I went to Google, dialed in "Yemenwed," and lo and behold, Episode 3 popped up in the top search results:
After watching this video, I found myself intrigued by the visuals, but disappointed intellectually. While the psychedelic landscapes and architectures were populated almost entirely by the never-before-seen, creating a fresh mixed-media experience (the main shtick), I was largely unaffected by the technical and narrative content of the film: several characters traveling through a flatly-rendered CGI world; their destination, an obelisk with a metronome for a shadow; their bizarre costumes and fantasy objects rarely informed by a function; their actions performed without clear motivation or consequence; the dramatic soundtrack coupled with a story that couldn't quite deliver the matching emotions.
Regardless of personal disappointment, I made like a good critic and went down to Washington High School to spend some time with the entirety of Yemenwed's exhibit— hoping to find something that would fulfill my intellectual curiosities.
Director Jennifer Reeves' film When It Was Blue presented in collaboration with the Cinema Project, is a kind of ecological film mourning both nature and 16mm film. Last night's performance of it with Icelandic composer Skúli Sverrison was a rare chance to see the project in its entirety of concept. Though Sverrison's moody treatment was beautiful and evocative, the entire experience veered into dangerously sleepy territory, especially for weary festival goers propped up by little more than caffeine force. In other words: My companion fell asleep.
I've always been riveted by images of wildlife; nature films and shows have been a favorite genre for as long as I can remember. It's counter-intuitive to my interest in appreciating the diverse details of species to have them distorted by being painted over on doubly projected film—the visual annihilation follows the mournful theme, though if the intention is to demonstrate a blotting out of untouched wilderness, it's more than a tad literal. The painted frames often evoke vintage footage from parties at the Fillmore, abstract psychedelia that frustrates the details of the owls, snakes and other creatures, from Iceland to New Zealand. It seems best observed as a mood piece, a melancholy sketch that allows the mind to phase in and out of its images—top-of-the-line, crystal clear camerawork remains my favorite way to emblazon the memory with fading forms of life—even if you find that its escapism leads you into sleep.
Ninety-five bucks and 51 cents can by you a lot of movie. That's the amount Zachary Oberzan claims he spent to make Flooding with Love for the Kid, his one-man adaptation of David Morrell's 1972 novel First Blood. Unless you have a lifetime subscription to Soldier of Fortune, chances are slim you've read First Blood, but chances are pretty good you've at least heard of another movie it inspired: 1982's First Blood, AKA Rambo, AKA this:
But while First Blood cost around $15 million and starred Sylvester Stallone as a bugnuts crazy Vietnam vet fighting a one-man war against a small-town sheriff (Brian Dennehy), Flooding with Love cost only $95.51, stars Oberzan in all of the roles, and was shot entirely in Oberzan's Manhattan apartment. With rudimentary special effects, a slew of sound effects, accents, and costume changes, and more enthusiasm and creativity than can be found in most films costing $95 million, Flooding with Love is a surprisingly epic, impressively entertaining experience. Here's a clip:
Sitting in the darkened Whitsell Auditorium, watching the Hanson's short films flicker past with all of their dancey, frenetic verve, it became clear to me what an impressively talented multi-disciplinary artist she is.
With works spanning from her time with Seattle-based performance group 33 Fainting Spells, to her newest work Improvement Club, a companion piece to her TBA debuted work-in-progress Gloria's Cause, the films worked well to splash a spotlight on Hanson's artistic ideals.
I'll tell you why, After the Jump!
In Shirin Neshat's beautiful debut Women without Men, the year is 1953, and four Iranian women are living very different lives in Tehran. Some of them wear veils; some of them do not; one is political and engaged, one is the westernized wife of a powerful general, and another is a prostitute who, in the film's most disturbing scene, goes alone to the communal showers and scrubs the skin on her emaciated arms and legs until it bleeds. Meanwhile, Iranian citizens agitate in the streets, resisting as American and British interests conspire to overthrow Iran's relatively progressive, democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. (Mossadegh made the mistake of nationalizing the oil industry—hello, British Petroleum.) It is a resistance organized by men, against men; the dreamy nature of this film and its recurring symbols—an underground stream; a long road—contextualize a female experience that's at once subversive and strangled.
It's possible I'm reading too much "magical realism" into a script that I simply didn't fully understand, but the events of the film unfold with the illogical certainty of a dream, rather than any narrative imperative. (One woman, kept prisoner by a brother who insists that she entertain suitors and find a husband, jumps to her death from the roof of her house. Her brother buries her in the yard; later, a friend hears her whispering from the dirt and digs her up—she goes to clean herself in a fountain and emerges reborn, to join the resistance movement.) What firmly underpin the intersecting stories of these four women, however, are the historical circumstances in which the characters find themselves—caught between nationalism, imperialism, and the remnants of a social and religious tradition that insists that an unmarried woman might as well be a dead one.
A Persepolis comparison is inevitable here—Iran is a country that has been through "westernization" and back again, and one has to imagine it's the country's women who suffer the most from the schizophrenic value shifts entailed therein. Like Persepolis, Women without Men offers a chance to see that world through the eyes of a smart, accomplished female artist. Take it. Buy tickets here.
(Also, check out this Guardian article about Neshat, in which Neshat "praises the ingenuity" of DVD pirates who have made copies of her film available in Iran: "[Pirated] DVDs are likely to be the only way anyone in the country will see her film. Neshat is confident it will never get past the censors. 'Every Iranian artist dreams of the black market,' she laughs.")
Douglas Gordon ranks among the preeminent artists of our generation to take the malleable idea of time as a central object of inquiry. The Scottish artist, who garnered both the prestigious Turner Prize and a mid-career retrospective at MoMA before his 40th birthday, is best known for his film work, which deconstructs cinematic conventions via fragmentation and recontextualization, (intensely) slow motion, and image doubling. His signature piece, 24 Hour Psycho, slowed the Hitchcock classic to a day's length; Through a Looking Glass draws from Robert DeNiro's famous quick-draw mirror scene in Taxi Driver. Gordon isolated the menacing clip, and projected it on opposite walls of the gallery, so that Travis Bickle found himself in an endless loop of paranoid showdowns with himself. Gordon's new film, made in collaboration with Philippe Parreno, is a challenging and provocative work of cinematic minimalism--a magnificent fit for a festival of time-based art.
"I really dislike popular culture in most cases," Mike Kelley told a PBS camera crew in 2001. "I think it's garbage, but that's the culture I live in and that's the culture people speak. I'm an avant-gardist. We're living in the postmodern age, the death of the avant-garde. So all I can really do now is work with this dominant culture and flay it, rip it apart, reconfigure it, expose it."
It's the reconfiguration component of this strategy that makes Kelley so compelling, and it lays at the heart of Day is Done, Kelley's nearly three-hour, non-narrative re-imagination of vernacular American theater. Kelley combed high school yearbooks for photographs of assemblies, dress-up days, talent shows, pep rallies, skits, and assorted performances. He then wrote dialogue and musical numbers for each, cast adults in the teen roles, and edited the results into this colossal carnival of pathological, folksy drama.
With chicken dances that teeter on the Brechtian, teen Nazis rapping about their fat fetishes, Satan performing borscht-belt standup, R. Kelly fans fighting with a hillbilly about the exposed tit in her painting of Garth Brooks, a Wiccan zjazzercize routine, and a tween boy overcome with sexual anxiety about a bearded man's "pussymouth," Day is Done is a wickedly outrageous send-up of banal masquerade compulsions and social dramas. It is also, despite the partial cast of outrageous characters listed above, dull at times, and more than a few audience members had split before the "Horse Dance of the False Virgin" even commenced. But in the 48 hours since I watched every last credit roll, the stretches of fidgety tedium are mostly forgotten, and the film's countless wonderful and perverse moments shine through. (This is one of the many ways in which art outperforms both childhood and past romances, where happy memories are always eradicated by the traumatic and/or supremely annoying.)
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