HARDfilms: pixels and celluloid

HARDfilms: pixels and celluloid
Experimental Films and Videos
Kino Arsenal, Berlin 01.06-15.07.2007
curated by Maria Morata

The presence of digital technology in the art world has induced a change in esthetic paradigms as a consequence of the creation of certain works, whose form and content participate from the specificity of the new media, with and for which they have been conceive. A big part of experimental cinema has developed a number of works based on the basic elements which constitute cinema, thus creating an alternative to narrative structures and conventions.

Building on Lev Manovich’s assertion that cinematographic language paved the way for the digital age, the film and video cycle HARDfilms: pixels and celluloid, will illustrate the idea that it is particularly in experimental cinema where we can most clearly recognize some of the visual ideas and esthetic concepts which have been thereafter developed in media art. Seven thematic programmes, showing both historical and contemporary works, will establish analogies and contact points between some characteristics of new media and certain theoretical and esthetic ideas of experimental cinema.

Program 1, film and code: films 0/1 will show works that can be read as metaphors of the binary code and are based on the concept of visualized sound and audible image. Programmes 2 and 3, sampling: breaking time / sampling writing movement, establish the connection between the process of digitalization and some of the esential elements of cinematography: the frame as the smallest meaningful unit, the mechanism of film proyection, the vertical flow of images or retinal persistance. Programme 4, analog noise_digital noise, is built upon the technical concept of noise (interference, error), assembling a set of works in which materiality and fragility of the film emulsion and errors inherent to digital systems are used as esthetical elements. Programme 5, cut and paste: space-time collage, associates one of the most used commands in a computer (cut and paste), with the techniques of film collage. Programme 6, abstraction and generation flash, uses abstraction as a conductive thread to establish links between the first avant-garde films of  the 20’s and contemporary digital art. Finally, Programme 7, automatic films: random ready made, connects RAM processing (Random Access Memory) with hazard in art and unpredictability of the final result within a work of art.

Programme 1_Film and code: films 0/1
01.06 (21:00h) + 03.06.07 (19:30h)

The Whitney brothers were pioneers in using computers to produce abstract films and create their own visual aesthetics. Works by other filmmakers can be interpreted as metaphors of binary code 0/1 such as Arnulf Rainer by Peter Kubelka, which alternates two pairs of elements (light/no light, sound/no sound), or Black and Light by Pièrre Rovère, whose images are composed of holes perforated directly onto the film as in the punch cards used by the first computers. On the other hand Digital Media allows sound and image to share the same binary code for the first time, making their information interchangeable. Artists such as Oskar Fischinger, Norman Mc Laren, Kurt Kren and Guy Sherwin, among others, had already developed the concepts of visualized sound and audible images; their experiments with synthesized sound followed the motto: “What you see is what you hear”.

BLACK AND LIGHT, 1974/ Pièrre Rovère
CATALOG, 1961/ John Withney
ARNULF RAINER, 1958-60/ Peter Kubelka
VOCABULARY, 1973/ Woody Vasulka
DOTS/POINTS, 1949/ Norman Mc Laren
MUSICAL STAIRS, 1977/ Guy Sherwin
CYBERNETIK 5.3, 1961-65/ John Stehura
ZUSE STRIP, 2003/ Caspar Stracke
.-/, 2005 /Andres Ramirez Gaviria

Programme 2_ Sampling: breaking time
06.06 (19:00h) + 10.06.07 (19:30h)

Devices from the pre-cinematographic era, such as the phenakistiscope, zoetrope or praxinoscope, were based on a series of pictures with slight differences between them that, when viewed at the right speed, conveyed the sensation of movement. Cinema had not only split movement, but also time, into fragments. Lev Manovich considers cinema to be the predecessor of the digitalization process, which samples and quantifies information: “Cinema sampled time twenty-four times a second. (…) All that remained was to take this already discrete representation and to quantify it. But this is a simple mechanical step; what cinema accomplished was a much more difficult conceptual break –from the continuous to the discrete.” Filmmakers such as Robert Breer and Paul Sharits consider the frame as an independent unit of meaning, creating a stark visual contrast between the frames in their films. This idea is also taken by Pezzelia in Mia Zia and Peter Kubelka in Schwechater, the latter working with metrical structures to organize film images. On the contrary, Len Lye does away with the camera and paints onto the filmstrip as if it were a pictorial surface, without succumbing to the division of space and time of the frame. Stan Brahkage follows a similar process in his hand-painted films as well as Johanna Vaude, who films and then paints the resulting images. On the other hand, the fragmentation of time into 24 images per second dictated by the movie camera is transformed by several Fluxus works by using cameras which can capture 2000 images per second and thus create minimal differences between the frames (extreme slow-motion).

DISQUES STROSBOSCOPIQUES, 1999/ Dominique Willoughby
RECREATION, 1957/ Robert Breer
31/75 ASYL, 1975/ Kurt Kren
T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G, 1968 / Paul Sharits
FLUXFILM N° 1: ZEN FOR FILM, 1964/ Nam June Paik
FLUXFILM N° 14: NUMBER ONE, 1966/ Yoko Ono
FLUXFILM N° 18: SMOKING, 1966/ Joe Jones
BLACK ICE, 1994/ Stan Brakhage
MIA ZIA, 1989/ Nino Pezzelia
SCHWECHATER, 1957-58/ Peter Kubelka
A COLOUR BOX, 1935/ Len Lye

Programme 3_ Sampling: writing mouvement
13.06 (19:00h) + 17.06.07 (19:30)

The movie camera can be seeen not only as a movement reproducing device but also as a recording one. The scientific investigations conducted by Edweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey analized the movements of animals and human beings using chronophotography, which paved the way for the cinematograph. Both Muybridge and Marey photographed the phases of movement which they could then isolate for research or reconstruct in a projection creating the illusion of motion from which film emerged. Many avant-garde filmakers worked on drawing atttention to this aspect of cinema, such as Martin Arnold, who alters temporal order and seriality in the images of existing Hollywood films, thus breaking and deconstructing the narrative codes. Other filmmakers experimented with movement recording in a single frame to create virtual solids during projection, such as Alexandre Alexeieff, or photographing the paths of luminous objects in motion (Rekveld, Doing).

#3, 1994 / Joost Rekveld
WHIRLWIND, 1998/ Karel Doing
BANLIEUE DE VIDE, 2003/ Thomas Köner
ALONE. LIFE WASTES ANDY HARDY, 1997-98/ Martin Arnold

Programme 4_ Analog noise/ digital noise
20.06 (19:30h) + 23.06.07 (19:30h)

The materiality and fragility of the film have been the source of inspiration for numerous cinematographic works which manipulate the film material in various ways: from the successive copying of a single sequence to increase the contrast and alter the chromatic quality (Frühauf, Rimmer, Le Grice), to destroying the material using bleach (Reble), crumpling up the filmstrip (Fontaine) or scratching the film emulsion directly (Owen Land, Brahkage). In electronic image the distortion of the video signal is also viewed as an aesthetic element, such as in the works by Steina and Woody Vasulka, and Sabine Marte. More recently other artists have created works using the errors inherent to digital systems, such as the duo reMi in the video uta zet, whose images are generated by controlled computer crashes, or Van Koolwijk in Five, based on the analog/digital conversion of distorted signals that circulate around the computer-video equipment-television triangle.

LA SORTIE, 1998/ Sigfried Frühauf
DECAY 1, 1970/ Steina and Woody Vasulka
CHICAGO, 1966/ Jürgen Reble
AN AVANT-GARDE HOME MOVIE, 1961/ Stan Brakhage
UTA ZET, 2001/ ReMI
ROHFILM, 1968/ B & W Hein
OVEREATING, 1984/ Cecile Fontaine
STEWARDESSEN CLIP, 2003/ Sabine Marte
BERLIN HORSE, 1970/ Malcolm Le Grice
FIVE, 2002/ Bass von Koolwijk

Programme 5_ cut and paste: space/time collages
27.06 (19:30h) + 30.06.07 (19:30h)

The collage technique by which visual, audio, or textual fragments of different sources are reunited in a new context to produce new meanings, has become one of the most often used operations in today’s world of digital media under the cut and paste command, which is a new way to deal with cultural information. Many filmmakers work with collage in its most literal sense and process the film material directly either by gluing objects to it (foliage and insects in Mothlight by Brahkage, or adhesive tape in the film by Giovanni Martedi), separating the different film emulsion layers and transforming its visual content (décollage/récollage technique by Cecile Fontaine), painting over images to alter their meaning (Martha Colburn), or filming animation collages (Klahr, Vanderbeek). Electronic video technology allows the Vasulkas to experiment with inlays of images and Melhus to clone himself by repeating the cut and paste sequence over and over again. On the other hand, the temporal character of cinema gives rise to another type of collage which can be created directly on the retina by means of a rapid succession of different images which are then mixed in the brain due to the retininian persistency phenomena (Breer, Kren, Lowder).

MOTHLIGHT, 1963/Stan Brakhage
FILMS SANS CAMERA F. S. C. n° 1, 1974/Giovanni Martedi
CRUISES, 1989 /Cecile Fontaine
EVIL OF DRACULA, 1997 /Martha Colburn
AGAIN AND AGAIN, 1998-99/Bjørn Melhus
SPACES 2, 1972/ The Vasulkas
FIST FIGHT, 1964/ Robert Breer
SCIENCE FRICTION, 1959/ Stan Vanderbeek
BOUQUETS 1-10, 1994-95/ Rose Lawder
CROSSINGS, 2002 /HC Gilje

Programme 6_abstraction and flash generation
04.07 (19:00h) + 08.07.07 (19:00h)

Abstraction can be seen as a connection between the pioneers of avant-garde film and the new media artists. The animated painting from the 1920s (Richter, Eggeling, Ruttmann, Fischinger) opened up a field of experimentation based on abstract geometric elements and the idea of visual music, which would be further developed by later generations of filmmakers (Jordan Belson, the Whitney brothers, Harry Smith). The use of simple elements and the synaesthetic relationship between image and music is reapplied in new works in which the animation bank gives way to software and electronic sounds (Maia Gusberti, Billy Roisz, M.ash). From the first reduction of forms of the 1920s to the current complexity of compositions in constant motion, abstraction as a separation from the reference object and its representation continues to be a process appreciated by artists, either through their photographic manipulations of figurative images (Dulac, O’Neill) or their digital reinterpretation using algorithmic manipulations (Karø Goldt).

RYTHMUS 21, 1921/ Hans Richter
NYMPHAION (TWEELUIK 2), 2004/ José Vonk
SYMPHONIE DIAGONAL, 1921/ Viking Eggeling
.airE, 2001/ Maia Gusberti
DISQUE 957, 1928/ Germaine Dulac
7362, 1965-67/ Pat O’Neill
CUBICA, 2002/ M.ash
KREISE, 1933/ Oskar Fischinger
ALLURES, 1961/ Jordan Belson
BLINQ, 2002/ Billy Roisz
STRAIGHT AND NARROW, 1970/ B. und T, Conrad
ETE, 2006/ Karø Goldt
MOOD MONDRIAN, 1961/ Marie Menken

Programme 7_automatic films: random ready made
11.07 (19:00h) + 15.07.07 (19:00h)

Duchamp’s ready-mades posed the question, among others, about the extent to which the author intervenes in his work. This issue was taken up by several filmmakers letting external elements decide the final configuration of the film: the wind in Wind Vane by Welsby; the physical and chemical destruction of the material by the Schmelzdahin group, who submerged film for several months in a lake; or the random processes generated by computer software in various films by Marc Adrian. The unpredictability of the final result was also explored in several sequences of Le retour à la raison by Man Ray in which diverse objects (needles, tacks, salt) were randomly spread across the filmstrip before being exposed. On the other hand, the process of Random Access Memory (RAM) available in digital media brings the possibility to access data in a non-linear fashion and provides flexibility in reorganizing the visual material. This method can be associated to the break up of the narrative structure in The Doctor’s Dream by Ken Jacobs, a reinterpretation of a movie which alters its linear structure, or in the shortened version of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance from 1916, reduced to 10 minutes by Standish Lawder.

RANDOM, 1963/ Marc Adrian
INTOLERANCE (ABRIDGED), 1960/ Standish Lawder
WIND VANE, 1972/ Chris Welsby
AUS DEN ALGEN, 1986/ Schmelzdahin
FLUXFILM # 24: READYMADE, 1966/ Albert Fine
FLUXFILM # 29: WORD MOVIE, 1966/ Paul Sharits
THE DOCTOR’S DREAM, 1978/ Ken Jacobs

One Response to “HARDfilms: pixels and celluloid”


    […] the ever-reliable Arsenal Kino, “HARDfilms: pixels and celluloid”, a seven-part series of short film programmes curated by Maria Morata, presented an amazing […]

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