Blogs Crosscuts Sheryl Mousley

Sheryl Mousley is senior curator of Film/Video at the Walker Art Center.

Close-Up: The Walker Remembers Abbas Kiarostami

Martin Scorsese once praised Abbas Kiarostami as representing “the highest level of artistry in the cinema.” Responding to those words several years ago, the Iranian director replied, “This admiration is perhaps more appropriate after I am dead.” Sadly, it now is: Kiarostami passed away in Paris on July 4, 2016 at the age of 76. In celebration […]

Abbas Kiarostami, 1998. Photo: Walker Art Center Archives

Abbas Kiarostami, 1998. Photo: Walker Art Center Archives

Martin Scorsese once praised Abbas Kiarostami as representing “the highest level of artistry in the cinema.” Responding to those words several years ago, the Iranian director replied, “This admiration is perhaps more appropriate after I am dead.” Sadly, it now is: Kiarostami passed away in Paris on July 4, 2016 at the age of 76.

In celebration of his legacy and commemoration of his passing, the Walker presents a memorial screening of Kiarostami’s 1990 film Close-Up tonight, July 28. The film was screened at the Walker in 1998, as part of  the Walker Dialogue and Retrospective series. Occurring shortly after the director won the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for his feature Taste of CherryAbbas Kiarostami: In Retrospect welcomed the director as the series’ 25th guest.

But Kiarostami’s visit almost didn’t happen, as Bruce Jenkins, Walker film curator at the time (now a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), recalled to me in an email:

One of the distinctive aspects of the Dialogues series involves the financial wherewithal to support visits by major international artists. Wim Wenders had come to the Walker from Germany; Jane Campion flew in from Australia; Chen Kaige traveled from China; and the Quay Brothers—Timothy and Stephen—made a rare trip from London to the Twin Cities. But no visit seemed to involve more planning or more problem-solving than one that brought the extraordinary Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in February 1998 to the Walker.

The invitation had been made a year earlier and while it was received positively, the arrangements for his travel to the US were to prove both complicated (because of governmental restrictions) and costly. Since there was no official US presence in Tehran, travel visas could only be obtained abroad. Kiarostami had been able to do this in the past at the American Embassy in Paris, but a recent negative experience convinced the filmmaker that this was no longer a viable route, and he proposed canceling the trip.

That’s when we contacted Joan Mondale, who having recently returned from Japan had rejoined the Walker board, and asked her advice and help. Mrs. Mondale quickly got her husband Walter, the former ambassador to Japan (and vice president), involved. While neither Kiarostami nor the Walker ever learned the exact nature of his intervention, Kiarostami was given his visa in Paris without incident and flew from there to the Twin Cities, a bit baffled perhaps by the VIP treatment he had received en route to his Dialogue at the Walker.

At the Walker, Kiarostami discussed the entirety of his career—including Close-Up—with Richard Peña, then program director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chair of the selection committee for the New York Film Festival. A blend of documentary and fiction, Close-Up depicted the sensational real life event of Hossein Sabzian fraudulently impersonating the famous Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and lying his way into the life of a Tehran family. Speaking to the Guardian about Kiarostami, Makhalmabaf observed: “He changed the world’s cinema; he freshened it and humanized it in contrast with Hollywood’s rough version.”

Initially panned by Iranian critics, Close-Up—which was notable for its destabilizing use of realism, puncturing of the fourth wall and curiosity about small moments and secondary characters—eventually brought the director to international acclaim and is now widely celebrated as a cinematic masterpiece and ranked by BFI as one of the greatest films of all time.

Telling Peña about his first film, Bread and Alley (1970), Kiarostami noted that he opted to work with a non-professional boy and dog after unsuccessfully trying to find a seven year-old professional actor. The film was the first of eight shorts produced for the Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (Kanun) and aptly anticipated a career-long interest in portraying the seemingly mundane texture of daily life with humor, sensitivity and an eye for detail.

New Frontier at Sundance Film Festival: 10 Years of Changing Boundaries

To commemorate ten years of innovation and experimentation at the New Frontier at Sundance Film Festival Program, the Walker’s Sheryl Mousley and Shari Frilot, New Frontier chief curator, offer this illustrated survey. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier program has provided the highest level of curation in this emerging field since 2007. Virtual […]

Blast Theory, A Machine to See With, documentary, 2011. (© Walker Art Center)

Blast Theory, A Machine to See With, documentary, 2011. Photo: © Walker Art Center

To commemorate ten years of innovation and experimentation at the New Frontier at Sundance Film Festival Program, the Walker’s Sheryl Mousley and Shari Frilot, New Frontier chief curator, offer this illustrated survey. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier program has provided the highest level of curation in this emerging field since 2007. Virtual Reality: The New Frontier runs at the Walker Art Center on Sunday, June 12 through Thursday, June 16 and is presented in collaboration with the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier program and Northern Lights.mn.

As I walked around Park City, Utah, in January 2011, I listened to directions over my cell phone from a calm voice with a slight British accent: “Stand nearer the curb as you are in a close-up”; “Look for the Union Bank on the right side of the street”; “Cross over toward the entrance, look at the teller window but go past to the lobby.” I did what I was told, but was I acting or actually being asked to rob a bank? Was I in a movie or about to be arrested?

I was participating in a work titled A Machine to See With by Blast Theory, an artist collective from England, presented in the New Frontier section of the Sundance Film Festival. It was a ticketed event, yet—unlike going to the cinema—once you handed over your cell phone number you were placed in the artists’ hands. While you were never actually being filmed, as you learned later, so much of what we believe about cinema came into play vividly, as if it were a real movie. We trust cinema until we are pushed past our own boundaries, to a new frontier. As we go into uncharted territories, we ask, Can we trust our vision, our understanding of the cinematic experience?

A broadly realized project, New Frontier is curated by Shari Frilot as a convergence of film, performance, new media and technology. Showing artists from around the world, it has become recognized widely for its cinematic innovation.

New Frontier, now celebrating its 10th year, transformed an existing programming section at Sundance that had been called simply “Frontier.” Always known for pushing forward more experimental work, Sundance was formed in 1985 by Robert Redford, who has been the steadfast champion of independent filmmakers. Focusing mainly on narrative features made outside the Hollywood system and documentaries that define the complexity of our social and political world, Frontier became the category meant to expand these traditional forms of cinematic storytelling. The name also served as a code for the audience to readily identify a film that experimented with nontraditional narrative, boldly radical styles or challenging storylines. The programmers had a place for films that did not fit easily within the evolving the idea that this category actually became a corral of sorts for renegade artists.

By 2007 the Sundance programmers found filmmakers and moving image artists expanding the boundaries even further as they worked within the ideas of the cinematic but did not play by filmmaking rules.

That year, Sundance announced the New Frontier initiative. Shari Frilot explained it as follows:

“New Frontier on Main was a hybrid space drawing from the art gallery scene, microcinema culture and the seductiveness of the DJ lounge atmosphere and then designed to look and feel very distinctive from the rest of the Festival. We wanted to cultivate an artistic and social environment to disarm people when they entered the space. It was a way of unlocking inhibitions and encouraging audiences to think about opening themselves up to the new rules and cinematic suggestions which the New Frontier artists are inviting you to consider.”

Quickly recognized for bringing the art world and the film festival world together, New Frontier tracked the developing performative cinema movement, the fast-paced tech advances and visual artists who used moving images as part of their work. It became a festival inside a festival.

Miwa Matreyek, This World Made Itself, live performance, 2014. Photo: Gayle Laird © Miwa Matreyek

Miwa Matreyek, This World Made Itself, live performance, 2014. Photo: Gayle Laird © Miwa Matreyek

In the area of performative cinema, we might ask: Is film inherently performative? Blast Theory used our belief in what an actor does on screen to get the audience to participate. Live performance’s long history onstage as well as staged happenings opened the door for Sam Green (January 2010) to make a live documentary film, Utopia in 4 Parts. Using the stylistic form of documentary film (although the work is actually more like early educational television with an authoritative voice-over, images created or culled from history, and a soundtrack to build emotional connection to the topic), Green shook up the system by never actually making a film but instead performing his text live. The audience watched him edit the images pulled from his laptop onto the screen, all to a live musical score by Dave Cerf.

In This World Made Itself, Miwa Matreyek used rear projection to create a stage space (2014). The projector, sitting about 20 feet behind the screen, provided the audience a large-screen cinema feel. This space also gave Matreyek room to move between the projector and screen to form larger- than-life silhouettes made by her body movements interacting with the filmic images.

To further reshape the concept of performative cinema, choreographer Bill T. Jones took on 3D cinema to interpret After Ghostcatching for the 2011 New Frontier, and performance artist Jacolby Satterwhite perched himself above the 2014 festival scene, watching us even more than we were watching him at the New Frontier opening event. The past 10 years have seen exhilarating changes in technology. Some film projects become an interactive experience via technology. As an example, Eve Sussman’s whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir is both a feature film and a nonending story that edits itself in front of your eyes via an algorithmic program and multiplied tagged clips. A word in one scene will trigger what is chosen for the next scene; a movement across the screen will trigger another. The film is based on a tale set in mid-century Eastern Europe but is never the same sequence of events and so never the same story.

Still from whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, 2009-2011, Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation Collection Richard J. Massey, New York

Still from whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, 2009-2011, Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation. Collection Richard J. Massey, New York

Another example of how technology morphs film and performance is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord.org, an evolved film production company that assembles an independent social media community that comes together to crowdsource the making of films under Gordon-Levitt’s direction. These films are exhibited in various ways, almost always incorporating Gordon-Levitt’s performance, as well as activating and incorporating crowdsource-produced elements generated during the exhibition. hitRECord.org is a unique cinematic expression that is at once social media discussion, crowdsourced production and performance. It completely ruptures conventional narrative traditions.

New Frontier looks as much at artistic practice as at final projects when following the struggles, love, fun and risks artists use to create work that opens up the boundaries. So we ask: Do we need a frontier? Many artists consider themselves sans frontières, without disciplines, without boundaries to push. The more definition, the more there is to resist. I have been in Park City for all 10 years of New Frontier. In fact, I started to go to Sundance in 1992 and have only missed a few years. Having seen this evolution, I know that it is more comfortable for some artists to stay within the frame of film. After all, this is a film festival. But just as I recently changed the name of the Film/Video department at Walker Art Center to Moving Image, it is time that the format-driven names film and video give up their ghosts. Film once equaled cinematic experience, and video was for artist installations; but those terms have grown tired and out of date. Now we have per- formative cinema, whether filmed or live; versions of 3D that go beyond watching projections while wearing glasses in the dark; the Oculus Rift sense of virtual reality where you turn your head and body to see a full 360 degrees and know the action might be behind you; or the reshaping of on-screen strategies by the video-game-playing generation of artists.

I asked Shari Frilot her thoughts about her 10 years with this exciting program:

“We brought the worlds of film, performance, visual art and technology under one roof in a social setting to reinvigorate the conversation about the potential for the cinematic image, and we had hoped that something larger than the sum of its parts would emerge. And emerge it did—gestural forms of editing film, audiences authoring the film itself through active participation, video games that are documentaries, performances that double as simply the act of living in an immersive digital environment, and a powerful reincarnation of Virtual Reality, a fully immersive medium that hybridizes video and theater to deliver a deeply convincing sense of liberty and presence in the moment.”

For 10 years, New Frontier has been on the forefront of visual awareness. At its very foundation it is about learning new ways of seeing and giving artists space and time to hone their work and change the way we see Moving Image.

Story is how we understand ourselves, our society and the world around us. But story doesn’t exist until it is shared through the mediums we use to communicate—our communication architecture. Today that architecture, which affects the form and practice of storytelling as much as the content itself, stands on the verge of a massive paradigm shift, one that will impact storytelling at a scope and scale that is breathtaking.

—Sheryl Mousley

• • • •

2007

The inaugural year of New Frontier was presented in 2007 in the basement of the Main Street Mall (Park City, Utah), directly across the street from the signature Egyptian Theater, so that art, film and technology would converge in Park City for the first time. This experiment in festival exhibition generated palpable excitement and not only blossomed to become one of the major points of interest at the Sundance Film Festival but also inspired the creation of an Institute-wide initiative. In 2011, the Sundance Institute established artist development programs for New Frontier artists that include the Story Lab, Artist Residency, granting, alumni support and Day Labs.

A view inside New Frontier at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. (© 2008 Sundance Institute. Photo by Rachel Thurston.

A view inside New Frontier at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. © 2008 Sundance Institute. Photo: Rachel Thurston

 

Media artists R. Luke DuBois and Shu Lea Cheang were featured in the 2007 festival as two examples of art-world figures who were innovating technology in their studios in ways that would resonate powerfully with the changes in communication architecture to come. Lynn Hershman Leeson was a returning film- maker and media artist pushing the boundaries of form and content.

DuBois worked on the vanguard, developing algorithmic compression technologies to explore ideas of canon and historical progress in popular culture. His work, Play, melds every Playboy magazine centerfold since 1953 into a dynamic collective portrait of idealized feminine beauty as it has changed over the last half century, and his film, Academy, melds every Best Picture winner, in its entirety, into a single 70-minute film.

Cheang led the cutting edge of crowdsourcing narrative filmmaking with her interactive multimedia installation MobiOpera, which invited festival-goers to check out mobile phones in order to jointly script and shoot a narrative “soap-travaganza.” Soapisodes were uploaded into a timeline and presented at a MobiSlam party to bring the authors together to jam their footage.

Shu Lea Cheang, MobiOpera, collective public cinema, 2007. (© Shu Lea Cheang)

Shu Lea Cheang, MobiOpera, collective public cinema, 2007. Photo: © Shu Lea Cheang

That same year, Lynn Hershman Leeson would present the first feature film offered to the denizens of the cybersociety Second Life. Her film, Strange Culture, played to both Park City and Second Life audiences and was discussed collectively in a Q&A organized across the live/virtual divide.

2008

Traditional boundaries between artistic forms continued to be challenged by the artists in the 2008 edition of New Frontier. Cinematic images engaged architecture in Jennifer Steinkamp’s Mike Kelley Trees, which transformed the basement lounge into a magical forest of digitally generated trees that twisted and turned in a toroidal electronic wind.

In an adjacent gallery, experimental game developer Eddo Stern gave Sundance audiences the chance to consider storytelling as they engaged with a work that integrated gaming and haptic feedback. Darkgame was a two-player game that worked with various forms of sensory deprivation to advance character development.

The same year, Cory Arcangel in collaboration with Paper Rad blew up pop art in a one-night-only film and live music performance that broke down consumer- sized ideas and colors with lucid, OCD-tripping, Nintendo-like worlds and “The Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Glockenspiel Addendum.” It would be the first time an artist presented work at the festival via Skype.

2009

The power of computing started to manifest changes in how stories were told in the 2009 edition of New Frontier. Renowned MIT Media Lab scientist John Underkoffler was responsible for the computing visualized by Tom Cruise in the film Minority Report. Underkoffler’s new company, Oblong Industries, created the first operating system based on a gestural interface, called gspeak, and unveiled the video editing app Tamper, which allowed filmmakers not only to edit clips with hand gestures but also to take apart and reassemble visual elements of the clips into an entirely new composition, reintroducing the act of production into the post- production process.

Sundance filmmaker Cory McAbee was experimenting with creating a narrative that could show on cellphones and proposed the episodic series Stingray Sam, meant to be exhibited on small screens. This musically inspired project recounted the adventures of two space convicts as they earn their freedom in exchange for rescuing a young girl held captive by a genetically designed figurehead from a very wealthy planet. The project was accepted on script alone and was an unqualified hit at the festival.

Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar introduced Sundance audiences to the craft of creating narrative through data visualization with their work We Feel Fine, which explores human emotion on a global scale. Every few minutes, the program takes sentences that include the words “I feel” or “I am feeling” from all blogs that have just been published and visualizes them in ways that let viewers see what any part of the world is feeling at any given moment.

2010

By 2010, the festival had witnessed a massive collapse of the independent film business as indie shingles in the studio system shuttered and financing for independent film dried up. Before this juncture, New Frontier had been regarded as a kind of marginal cool art experiment. Now festival audiences were entering the venue in an active search for alternative ways of moving forward with the art, craft and business of independent storytelling.

Documentarians Sam Green and Dave Cerf took cues from the music business, which had switched from selling albums to selling concert tickets, and created the live-performed documentary Utopia in Four Movements, in which Green and Cerf performed live narrative and soundtrack to accompany a PowerPoint presentation of images and footage to tell the story of the history of the utopian impulse.

Sam Green and Dave Cerf, Utopia in Four Movements, live documentary, 2010. (© Sundance Institute)

Sam Green and Dave Cerf, Utopia in Four Movements, live documentary, 2010. Phott: © Sundance Institute

The actor Joseph Gordon- Levitt presented a new brand of production company that was part crowdsourced media workshop, part social network and part live performance. hitRECord.org operated a production studio at the venue and invited audiences to collaborate with Levitt to create short films that would then be presented at the festival in an interactive revue hosted by the actor.

Arizona farmer Matthew Moore took cinematic storytelling out of the exhibition space and into the local grocery store. Lifecycles reconfigured the produce section of the Fresh Market grocery store in Park City by showing time-lapse films of crops growing alongside the bins of the very same crop being sold at the store, transforming audiences’ relationship to the produce they bought and consumed.

2011

The 2011 edition of New Frontier was presented at the historic Miners Hospital and featured 18 works—art installations, performances and transmedia projects. Filmmaker/creative technologist duo Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin presented two works at the festival: the HTML music video The Wilderness Downtown <www. thewildernessdowntown.com/> and The Johnny Cash Project, a participatory web-based project that invites audiences to create individual drawings that are woven into a collective, animated music-video tribute to Johnny Cash, set to his song “Ain’t No Grave.”

Filmmaker/transmedia storyteller Lance Weiler blurred the boundaries between R&D and festival exhibition with a multi-platformed story that tracks the spread of a mysterious zombie virus affecting adults as it spreads from its small rural town origins to Park City.

Pandemic 1.0, a continually evolving transmedia storytelling experience that unites film, mobile and online technologies, props, social gaming and data visualization, allowed audiences to step into the shoes of the pandemic protagonists anytime during the day.

Animator/performance artist Miwa Matreyek presented two cinematic performance works—Dreaming of Lucid Living and Myth and Infrastructure—integrating Matreyek’s original animation with the artist’s live shadow play to create breathtakingly beautiful images that told a penetrating tale of the relationship between the domestic realm and the larger surrounding environment.

2012

2012 marked a major shift in how technology would affect the moving image, but no one knew it just then. Former Newsweek correspondent Nonny de la Peña developed a groundbreaking brand of journalism that made news reporting a fully immersive experience (Hunger in Los Angeles). The head-mounted display that she developed with 18-year-old intern Palmer Lucky would be the first prototype for the reincarnation of virtual reality.

Collaborators Chris Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas, in collaboration with Bayete Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair, reimagined the social network with Question Bridge: Black Males, a work that allowed black men to speak for themselves and to one another from a safe, personal space. In this inspired exquisite corpse project, the interviews that the men recorded and uploaded in solitude were then edited together by the collective and installed to play as a forum discussion between the men.

The National Film Board of Canada’s Bear 71 would break ground, gaining worldwide attention to the art and craft of transmedia documentary storytelling. Audiences follow an emotional narrative of a bear trying to survive in the Canadian Rockies as online participants join the interactive forest com- munity in which the tagged Bear 71 roams.

2013

The desire to create fully immersive media forms was trending rapidly among artists, with various forms of expression emerging on the deeply networked media landscape. Klip Collective, who began projecting on tables in the 2007 edition of New Frontier, created What’s He Building in There?, a large-scale 3D projection–mapped film that transformed the entire frontal exterior of the New Frontier venue, which that year was a retired lumberyard.

Klip Collective, What’s He Building in There?, video projection, 2013. (© Sundance Institute)

Klip Collective, What’s He Building in There?, video projection, 2013. Photo: © Sundance Institute

Inspired by the international science collaboration of 1761, which observed the transit of Venus, Lynette Wallworth created the visually stunning Coral: Rekindling Venus, a networked, augmented-reality, full-dome film presentation that was presented in planetariums worldwide. This epic project featured original deep-sea photography and music by Antony and the Johnsons.

Blending augmented reality, social media satire, IRL (“in real life”) performance and hip hop music video, Yung Jake was himself net art incarnate. Crafting a fluid and elusive identity that mainly lived as a conversation between himself and the various screens in his environment, Yung Jake’s work Augmented Real posed questions about identity in an age when most people were looking at their digital screens as much as at each other.

2014

In 2014, New Frontier moved back to the Main Street area (sharing a building with the festival box office) and debuted Oculus Rift’s first development kit, offering festival audiences a showcase of four VR works, including the multiplayer game EVE: Valkyrie by CCP games; the music video Sound and Vision by Chris Milk; the app VR Cinema, where the 3D New Frontier shorts screened; and Clouds, a VR version of the interactive documentary about the world of creative code by James George and Jonathan Minard.

Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, The Johnny Cash Project, animated music video, 2011. (© Sundance Institute)

Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, The Johnny Cash Project, animated music video, 2011. Photo: © Sundance Institute

Media artist Doug Aitken presented a 2,000-square-foot pavilion installation designed in collaboration with architect David Adjaye that was installed in the Main Street area. The Source is an immersive, multi-platformed, generative documentary exploring the nature and source of creativity. The work was presented as a rhythmic, six-channel projection installation, a living archive website and short films presented in various screens throughout the festival.

The media performance art of Jacolby Satterwhite defies categorization, incorporating live vogue dancing, sculpture and various original CG animations depicting hallucinogenic and outlandishly sexual landscapes and storylines. His bold and hallucinogenic work burns with originality, desire and conceptual density. Satterwhite evokes a universe where sexuality runs hungry and wild through the psychobioelectric matrix in search of transformation and liberation.

2015

In March of 2014, Facebook would buy Oculus for $2 billion and by June, Samsung would develop Gear VR, Google would release Cardboard, Sony would prototype their Morpheus headset and a veritable gold rush to develop a commercial VR camera would ensue. The technology seemed on the precipice of transforming cinematic storytelling, so we made a decision to focus on VR for the 2015 edition and show the diversity of approaches and artistic practices that were engaging the new medium. Works included Vincent Morisset’s groundbreaking Way to Go; Rose Troche and Morris May’s Perspective; Chapter 1:The Party; and Chris Milk’s stunning Evolution of Verse. Fox Searchlight had even produced its firstVR experience, Wild, with Directors Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael, also the first of its kind to feature widely recognized Hollywood stars.

Chris Milk, Evolution of Verse, VR, 2015. (© Chris Milk)

Chris Milk, Evolution of Verse, VR, 2015. Photo: © Chris Milk

VR would bring the world of the cinematic closer to the gaming industry than ever before, so we decided to showcase the hottest piece of game storytelling I had seen that year, 1979 Revolution, a groundbreaking documentary about the namesake event, the Iranian Revolution, told as a game designed for iPad and Oculus.

After the 2015 edition of New Frontier, the field of VR exploded and would begin to transform both the entertainment and publishing industries, as much as it was affecting the gaming and medical industries. Cinematic storytelling entered a bold new world.

The 2015 festival proved to be a watershed event that connected the world of cinema to the medium of VR. Billion-dollar projections were being forecast for the industry, and VR companies, who once saw their future in games, began to talk publicly about the importance of VR storytelling. World-class musician Björk was creating a new album to be presented entirely in VR, and The New York Times gave away 1 million Google Cardboard goggles to its subscriber base. The media landscape was undeniably changing.

2016

The 2016 edition of New Frontier, which marked the 10th anniversary of the exhibition, reflected how strongly storytellers were embracing VR. We featured a slate of 44 artists, 30 of which were VR experiences, ranging from documentaries to animation to live-action narrative. We developed an independent architecture within New Frontier at Sundance to showcase this burgeoning VR production and highlight its downloadable/mobile nature.

Following the form of the medium, we also created the Sundance VR app for Android so that audiences outside of Park City might access the work.

Amid the landing of the VR tidal wave, New Frontier still needed to do its job at the festival to showcase and provoke continued innovation realized at the crossroads of film, art and technology. The 2016 edition presented the work being done in several important media labs around the world, including the 5D World Building Media Lab who were integrating VR and haptic environments, as well as advancing new forms of Augmented Reality storytelling in their developing storyworld, Leviathan.

Staying true to continuing to bring together diverse forms under one roof, several immersive projection works were presented, including Kahlil Joseph and Kendrick Lamar’s stunning two-screen work, Double Conscience.

Kahlil Joseph and Kendrick Lamar, Double Conscience, installation, 2014. (© Kahlil Joseph, Kendrick Lamar. Photo © Chayse Irvin.)

Kahlil Joseph and Kendrick Lamar, Double Conscience, installation, 2014. © Kahlil Joseph, Kendrick Lamar. Photo © Chayse Irvin

Both the MoMA and Walker Art Center organized exhibitions saluting the achievement of New Frontier at Sundance that would run throughout the year. The success of the show prompted the relentless question from the press corp: “How has New Frontier changed?” But nothing had really changed. New Frontier was doing exactly what it had started to do in the basement of the Main Street Mall in 2007, which was find the artists who were working with cinematic language—regardless of whether they were working in the art world, or with technology, or in journalism or in performance—and bring them under one roof at the Sundance Film Festival and see how cinema culture could expand in ways we couldn’t have ever thought of before.

“New Frontier at Sundance Film Festival,” by Sheryl Mousley and Shari Frilot, was first published in Leonardo, 49:2 (April, 2016), pp. 109–112. © 2016 by the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (ISAST). Reprinted courtesy of The MIT Press. The original published article can be found here.

Working Terms: “Moving Image” In Practice

In the second installment of a new series on working terminology in contemporary art, three Walker staffers—Senior Curator of Cross-Disciplinary Platforms Fionn Meade, Senior Curator of Film/Video Sheryl Mousley, and Bentson Visiting Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap—discuss  how artists practically relate to “the moving image.” This conversation begins where our first installment, “Moving Image” History and Distribution, left off. […]

Steve McQueen, Drumroll, 1998

Steve McQueen, Drumroll, 1998

In the second installment of a new series on working terminology in contemporary art, three Walker staffers—Senior Curator of Cross-Disciplinary Platforms Fionn Meade, Senior Curator of Film/Video Sheryl Mousley, and Bentson Visiting Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap—discuss  how artists practically relate to “the moving image.” This conversation begins where our first installment, “Moving Image” History and Distribution, left off.

Fionn Meade: I thought we could bring in examples from artistic practice regarding making decisions to use formats in certain ways and with certain contexts and viewing conditions in mind. Sheryl, you recently brought artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen to Minneapolis for a Walker Dialogue. There are some interesting aspects to the way McQueen thinks and talks about his practice and the history of his practice, but also his identification with the moving image.

Sheryl Mousley: McQueen comes out of the artistic practice of painting and sculpture, and started by making films as short works specifically to be installed into gallery and museum settings. He is very assured about presentation. Yet the content of some of these works—and I am thinking about Drumroll (1998), for example—are really about how the frame works. He was always very conscious, cinematically, about the movement within the frame, how the activity happens, and he emerges from that sensibility rather than from an abstraction or a desire to manipulate the image. It’s very physical. It’s often about bodies. It’s about moving in space. In Illuminer (2001) the viewer sees the luminescence of a television screen over his body lying down in bed. The television reflects a documentary on French television of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan. These things come out of an interest and fascination, I think, with the cinema, with television, with moving image and how it affected him and how it affects the viewers.

Meade: Into an active spatial context.

Mousley: At the Walker McQueen talked about making the transition to feature films with Hunger (2008). He mentioned that Bobby Sands and the IRA was a story that he saw on television as a child, and recalled how the number of the days on hunger strike added up daily on the television screen. It called out to him and he knew it had to be a feature film. It was not a short film. It was not a sculpture. It had to be a feature film. He had never made one before, so it was interesting to hear him talk about figuring out how to do it, and of how the experience was different from making the earlier films. I use the word “film” very generically here, as McQueen often shot his art films on Super 8, 16mm or 35mm. He moved into the feature-length scenario by telling this story. Of course, he’d worked in three very distinct ways within this single film. The opening section is about resistance; the middle section or transition scene is a single shot of two people, Sands and the priest talking; and the third is the resolution and death. He used a different film language to frame the story than a traditional feature filmmaker would.

Steve McQueen, Hunger, 2008

Steve McQueen, Hunger, 2008

Meade: I think of McQueen’s earlier works shown in gallery contexts, and how much of an awareness and influence of work from the 1970s there appears to be—one could even talk about Derek Jarman here—but also evident is an engagement with Dada filmmaking. In particular, there is an emphasis on choreography, gesture, the performing body, and gestural emphasis. McQueen’s early works have such a particular resonance with avant-garde history. When you then you see this vocabulary then get translated into the feature-length film format, it’s still there. It really distinguishes his vision, his voice, and also challenges the feature-length format in an interesting way.

Isla Leaver-Yap: He’s also one of the few directors who produces films in an anti-narrative way or, rather, he produces very short narratives that nonetheless rely entirely on cinematic conventions. This non-narrative impulse, for instance, is evident in 12 Years a Slave (2013)—there we have the narrative in the title. Hunger, again, has the narrative in a condensed titular way. Each have the quality of a study. This quality, and this performative aspect you both refer to in terms of bodies, is a particular mode we think about in terms of artists moving image, as opposed to cinema. This is not to say short or non-narrative doesn’t exist in artists moving image work, but it’s presented as a pliable structure. Fionn, just recently you were talking about working with Laure Prouvost, for example, who presents a strong anti-narrative style within her moving image work, but completely outside of the vernacular of cinematic gesture.

Meade: There’s a great moment in 12 Years a Slave that was particular to seeing it in the cinema; it was a very powerful experience. In the audience, I could see a lot of people from different backgrounds or various levels of familiarity (or unfamiliarity) with Steve McQueen came to see that film, including kids. There was a moment where the main character Solomon Northup confronts the camera. He has this moment of address looking at the camera, holding his gaze for 15 to 20 seconds. A very powerful moment, I thought, and really well-timed. Behind me, after the movie, I heard someone saying, “That was a really great movie, but what was up with that part with ‘the pause’?” That person’s comment was a moment of questioning; it wasn’t dismissal. The audience was interpreting the film through that moment, or trying to go back and think about the film through this particular gesture and moment because it was unfamiliar to them. It wasn’t a familiar cinematic concept or approach. And I say that because it returns to the idea of avant-garde awareness and gestural emphasis deployed in McQueen’s feature-length work.

Laure Prouvost, It, Heat, Hit, 2010, video

Laure Prouvost, It, Heat, Hit, 2010, video

With Laure Prouvost what’s fascinating is that she’s bringing back to life the cinematic convention of the inter-title. While the voice-over narration is addressing directly the viewer (almost in a form of come-on or seduction), you have inter-titles giving you editorial commentary that deviates form what is being said. And, in some cases, subtitles appear, as well. So, you have subtitle, inter-title, voice-over—these are all different cinematic conventions of using language. It relates a lot to Alexander Kluge’s principles of montage in certain ways, but it’s also embracing the conditionality of, say, Snapchat, or how we send people a text with a video or GIF attachment. Laure’s work responds to a sea change in the moving image, where rapid-fire montage is now part of our daily lives. She takes that condition, accepts it and mixes it with past conventions into a tragicomic form of storytelling. She uses all kinds of things, from stand-up like comedy to performance art to music video, to make a unique form of storytelling that’s very much hers, and yet it accepts the fragmentary condition of the moving image. She’s one of the most interesting artists from a younger generation to create a very unique storytelling voice out of that condition, not about that condition. In other words, she’s telling her stories the way she wants to tell them, but through an acceptance of that condition, not through saying it’s about the status of the moving image (how boring). Instead, she’s giving us dynamic, vital stories in the tragicomic tradition,  but through the acceptance of our montage condition or symptom.

Leaver-Yap: Laure’s ingested the way the use of the contemporary image has morphed. It reminds me of the artist and critic John Kelsey who asks what the difference is between distribution and dispersion. Dispersion would be, in his words, something that is less concerned with the finished product. In that way, one might think of film distribution as sending out discreet objects into the world. Whereas when I think of Laure, there is a sense in which the video that she has shot is totally extruded from the language of appropriation. She appropriates from her own life, her techniques of seeing it, but also of other people’s techniques of seeing, and in this way she acknowledges that that is a collective way of viewing and collective way of interpreting. It is a situation in which everything “counts” as material.

Meade: That’s increasingly a part of contemporary viewing and contemporary thinking. Artists can have very acute presentation formats in one context where they really want it to be presented in a particular way, but then are willing to experiment in other situations with aspects of the same material. This sense of translation, of migrating formats is very prominent with the moving image, and perhaps increasingly with art in general.

Mousley: It also recalls the work of Meredith Monk, and the interest you have, Isla, in performance within the moving image.

Meredith Monk, 16mm Earrings, 1966, performance

Meredith Monk, 16 Millimeter Earrings, 1966, performance

Leaver-Yap: Yes, and particularly in relation to Fionn’s discussion of Laure. It’s perhaps useful to think of Laure’s recent performance in St. Mark’s in New York, in relation to an atomized legacy of Meredith Monk. Monk has a very expansive idea of appropriation, and continues to pursue a highly interdisciplinary practice. In 1966, when Monk was in her early 20s, she made a performance called 16 Millimeter Earrings. (I should also say that what we see when we look at 16 Millimeter Earrings on film now is the same performance re-staged in the 1970s for documentation, shot on 16mm film.) In the original performance, Monk had recently graduated and the piece was performed in the Judson Church. This performance was occurring in or perhaps just after a seminal minimalist period in dance, where Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton and Simone Forti were really emptying out and stripping down ideas of performance. But Monk’s performance was really about throwing all of this material back into the frame. 16 Millimeter Earrings has a lot of appropriated dialogue; the text she uses as a voiceover is extrapolated from Wilhelm Reich’s ‘The Function of Orgasm’, overheard conversations, and folk songs. In terms of physical material, Monk uses her own body as a screen space—not in an expanded cinematic context—but a canvas upon which to project pre-recorded 16mm images of her own body. There is this very strange feeling that when you’re watching it on the 1977 documentation, you’re seeing an expression of both a younger version of and a more mature performer. For Monk, anything could be material; it could be her hair, her own body, anatomical diagrams, her own crossed eyes. This is taken more as a given now, a contemporary condition. It’s interesting to look back on Monk’s long relationship with the Walker in terms of both her music and performance. It was Siri Engberg (Senior Curator in Visual Arts) who recently told me the Walker acquired the props and scenography from 16 Millimeter Earrings. There is something about Monk that feels very pertinent to contemporary forms of appropriation, materiality, not to mention the circulation of both of these strategies. But it’s important to remember that it was very unfashionable or, in any case, very rare then, at a point of high minimalism.

Meade: There’s also an awareness within the Walker’s history of the way in which moving images actually have been shown, and the different range of possibilities that we’re talking about here. There’s a really interesting cross-disciplinary history that resides in these practices and also in the archives—not just in terms of the knowledge of a given artistic practice, but also in terms of knowledge about the conditionality of the moving image and its moments of transition. There is an analogous moment happening right now with performance-based work, as it’s now being collected, editioned, and acquired.

Specific artistic practices are often the best examples in emphasizing instances that we can use to help define how these terms function in the present and future tense, rather than just some sort of abstract, theoretical kind of argument. In short, this amounts to thinking of these as “working terms” and the terms of production. Meredith Monk is a great example of that.

Mousley: Artists have worked in many different forms for a long time, often with the idea of crossing disciplines, if you will, or not even using the word “discipline.” With Meredith Monk, I first think of her with music and performance, and then moving images support that work. But been there’s so much crossover, that it’s hard to define these terms, then and now, as we go back and talk about history. It is time for looking forward, yet we struggle with this because the Walker is described as a multidisciplinary organization. We’re unique because we present distinct disciplines and artists can do one or all of them at the same time. But it doesn’t feel like we’ve yet defined it. We’re also reluctant to keep the word “discipline” at all, yet we haven’t found a replacement because it’s at the core of the way it’s been discussed. Discipline relates to format, presentation, or something that’s very clearly defined in an artistic practice, and that’s what we’re trying to get rid of. How do we shake off that consciousness and just move forward without this discipline-based integration. I think, these words and definitions are part of our struggle. What is the new word? What is the new way of talking that can help us step out of this and into something else? That’s what we’re working toward.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Points in Space, 1986, video

Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Points in Space, 1986, video

Meade: I think one thing is clear: artists think in formats and not necessarily in mediums or disciplines. For instance, it was 1964 when Merce Cunningham developed his “Event” and “MinEvent” frameworks as ways of excerpting from across his repertory to present more agility and site-responsive flexibility and possibility, from the ruins of Persepolis in Iran to a basketball gym here in Minneapolis. That’s a re-formatting invention and a significant one. And it’s no small matter that among the first dancers to perform “Events” in 1964 were Deborah Hay and Steve Paxton. That’s not to say that the histories of modernism and its disciplines aren’t relevant, of course they are. But I think the living aspect of working with collections is about pushing the intelligence embedded in the work itself, and that often immediately gets us into the discussion of crossing formats and using formats differently rather than strictly saying, “Here’s my new post-medium work.” Artists don’t talk that way.

There’s one more question I have. If we are in an “after” status of mediums and disciplines (a big “if,” I know), perhaps it’s important to notice that we’re not actually reliant upon a negation of terms that came before as a classic avant-garde strategy of defining “the new.” Rather, if we’re in an “after” status that has much more to do with circulation, dispersion, and formatting, then the condition of the moving image seems all the more important to thinking about visual culture more generally.

Leaver-Yap: Or just a more thoughtful space in which to use those terms. I think they still have functionality. I think the way we put these words together has created useful, sometimes contradictory composites, and we’ll presumably continue to do so.

Meade: You’ve organized some things explicitly with the term we started with.

Leaver-Yap: Yes. Last year I organized the second annual edition of the Artist’s Moving Image Festival, at Tramway, Glasgow. The terminology of the festival’s title operated as a way of being able to encompass different types of work. Practically, then, I used the idea of “artist’s” literally and possessively, in that the entire festival was programmed exclusively by artists. So, regardless of previous descriptions of the material screened, it necessarily became “artist’s moving image.” To briefly mention a couple of examples: the artist Sarah Forrest screened an interview of Kathy Acker and excerpts of Acker reading one of her own books. Forrest paired this documentary video with her own “interlude” text which she read aloud. Later on, the artist Kathryn Elkin presented Stuart Sherman’s videos (which are largely documentation pieces), and Elkin performed her own monologue about Sherman alongside his work as an embedded, direct dialogue. The AMIF screenings were about influence, but also about lived contact with those influences. The terminology of “artists’ moving image” (and my excessive and perhaps dogged literalness to interpreting that phrase) became a more malleable way to deal with moving image as both an art form and a medium at the same time. The fact that it is an umbrella term is useful; it presents an array of paradoxes and contradictions that one can nonetheless hold in the mind, and use productively.

Mousley: Similar to that, the entire listings of the Ruben Bentson Collection is held in the database under the title of “Moving Image.” I think of Hollis Frampton represented by text and image as a moving image, especially his work Critical Mass, and how Kerry Tribe takes the moving image and performs disjunctive text as if it were a live film. There’s a lot of synergy in past and present, projected and live moving images.

Working Terms: “Moving Image” History and Distribution

Launching a new series on working terminology in contemporary art, three Walker staffers—Senior Curator of Cross-Disciplinary Platforms Fionn Meade, Senior Curator of Film/Video Sheryl Mousley, and Bentson Visiting Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap—discuss “the moving image” and its relationship to frequent synonyms “film,” “video,” and “cinema.” For part two of this discussion, read “Moving Image” In Practice. […]

Eadward Muybridge, Baseball, Batting Plate #274 from Human and Animal Locomotion. Collotype on paper, 1887. Courtesy of the Walker Art Center.

Eadward Muybridge, Baseball, Batting Plate #274 from “Human and Animal Locomotion.” Collotype on paper, 1887

Launching a new series on working terminology in contemporary art, three Walker staffers—Senior Curator of Cross-Disciplinary Platforms Fionn Meade, Senior Curator of Film/Video Sheryl Mousley, and Bentson Visiting Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap—discuss “the moving image” and its relationship to frequent synonyms “film,” “video,” and “cinema.” For part two of this discussion, read “Moving Image” In Practice.

Isla Leaver-Yap: We’re here to discuss this term “moving image”—how the terminology has appeared, what we might mean by that phrase, and also our personal experiences of working with the moving image in recent years. So, let’s talk about some basic terminology.

To begin, we could say “moving image” is an image that moves by itself without some form of human interruption, for example: dynamic images, like an animated cat .GIF and MP3 visualizers from iTunes, as well as movies and YouTube clips. They encompass a vast array of image types. But “moving image” is also an umbrella term that we use within artist cinema, artist film, artist video, and also artist installation work.

One general distinction we could draw is how this differs from cinema. “Cinema” we typically understand as a situation in which we are seated and the projected image moves. But in moving image there’s no such specificity. This morning, I went on to Wikipedia and typed in “moving image,” and it’s not by accident that I was automatically redirected to the “film” page. So, moving image is clearly still a term that’s up-for-grabs. Film, meanwhile, is an interesting case as a moving image because it’s static images that appear to move at 24 frames per second. Movement is an illusion. This history emerges out of photography, namely Edward Muybridge who took sequential photographs of bodies in motion—the human body, of horses, of people wrestling, dancing, and so on—and animated them in his machine, the zoopraxiscope.

This is the early point of cinema. But by the 1960s, artists began to depart from those cinematic conventions, and move out from the cinema and into the space of the gallery, which is really where the moving image becomes a functional term. It’s the beginning of intermedia, it’s the beginning of expanded cinema. Essentially, it’s the spatialization of a temporal form.

Muybridge's horse photos were animated into this image.

Fionn Meade: I think “moving image” is a term that’s being revised and negotiated because it has more currency at the moment. Perhaps because of the ways in which everyday people use the moving image in a much more prominent way. We’re editing moving images ourselves, and the editorial thinking of the moving image is becoming a bigger part of daily life. One could say it’s approaching the status that the photographic image previously held as far as something we identify with in every facet of our life. I would say we identify with the moving image in personal and cultural terms in very different ways than, say, even 15 years ago.

Also key to this conversation is the availability of digital transfers, as well as the ability to bring things from different periods into a more consistent and (to some degree) stable, shared status, which is what we are currently doing with the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Collection. As opposed to a situation where you can say “film is film,” by its material definition, the moving image starts to become perhaps more accurate as a negotiable space for the different formats, conventions, and periods that we actually are working with in museological contexts, including exhibition and screening contexts.

So, we have a newly popular, cultural prominence of the moving image as editorial and familiar. And then we have the moving image within our field as a negotiable space for thinking through the relationships between cinema and film as an art form, video as an artist format, and installation art as something in-between.

Sheryl Mousley: If we go back and take a look at history—these terms and where some of them came from—it’s interesting to see flipbooks, the zoetrope, and how moving image was based on photography. It comes back to this idea of moving image because motion pictures were really a distinction from the still photograph. This was then shortened to “the pictures” before. And then, in the 1960s, filmmakers (I call them The Renegades) revolutionized the use of the moving image by taking it out of the motion picture world, which was then Hollywood and movie theatres, and asking where else can we show moving image art? Alternative spaces sprang up. Showing them in your house, in a gallery, in some kind of non-movie space, because there wasn’t yet a subset of cinematic experience for art films. They were never intended to be in a movie theater; they were outside. Film artists changed the rules completely. So then we had the motion picture industry and an independent film industry, which chose the word “film” because they were using celluloid at that point.

Ernie Gehr, Serene Velocity, 1970, 16mm

Ernie Gehr, Serene Velocity, 1970, 16mm

But when artists started using video, it was a different kind of form. Video was in the galleries, video was installation, another kind of moving image. Here at the Walker, a department was started 40 years ago that was called the Film Department. In the 1980s, with the acquisition of a lot of videotapes from artists, we added the “/video.” Over the last several years, we have been asking: “How outdated are these two words?” We keep going back and saying, “Well, film means celluloid, and video means a type of projection and presentation format. But at this point neither of them really exist anymore.” So, why would we use those two words? They have a historical reference back to these historical eras. But if we’re looking forward, “moving image” certainly moves us in that direction and encompasses, as you’re saying, so many other things, other than just the cinema or the gallery.

Meade: Exactly. It’s built into the term as a kind of translation between formats, but also between periods. But that’s also where it needs the expertise that you ably demonstrated. It’s not about leaving the conventions of film or the conventions of video art behind. Rather, it’s about bringing them into dialogue and in closer proximity with the way we historicize things. For example, you have the Portapak video format prominent in New York in the 1960s and 70s, and a lot of video art came out of a certain moment in gaining access to easy to use new technology. But that’s also when you have experimental film experiencing its New York heyday. The formats cross paths but with very different strategies, and yet they’re part of the same moment. In some ways, even then, the moving image might have been a helpful term.

Joan Jonas, I Want to Live in the Country (And Other Romances), 1976, video

Mousley: Yes, it would’ve solved a lot of problems and ended a lot of conflicts between organizations. In the Minneapolis community in the 1970s and 80s, there were two organizations: Film in the Cities, which was a film education and presentation program, and University Community Video—two  very separate entities because no one thought these two formats would unite. Film and video were so distinct in what the words meant; they were opposites and had to take different paths. Coming back together in a new way would have solved this concern if we could have used the term “moving images” right from the start, and let it develop and evolve. But it feels like it’s going there now. It’s certainly an evolutionary moment, a looking forward.

Leaver-Yap: I think some of these histories that you were referring to, Fionn, come up a lot just in even how organizations currently describe themselves—most notably, the distributors of moving image. Notably in a museum context, we have the Museum of Moving Image, which opened in 1988. But, in terms of how moving image distributes on an organizational as well as a commercial level, we’ve got a number of key distributors that all articulate their activities differently. This is very pertinent because the Walker has acquired collections from Electronic Arts Intermix in New York, which defines itself as “a resource for video and media art”; Video Data Bank Chicago, which describes itself as “the leading resource in the United States for videos by and about contemporary artists.” And then we have slightly slippery terms in Europe. We have Lux, which is very explicitly articulating itself as an “artist moving image distribution agency,” in contrast to Paris, where we have we have Light Cone, which talks about itself as being a center for the “distribution, exhibition, and conservation of experimental film.” One is constantly negotiating these terms within their collection, or within their circulation. Light Cone still distributes celluloid and U-matic tapes, whereas Electronic Arts Intermix can now provide clients with a download on their website. Moving image relates to the new networks of circulation as much as it does its own material support.

Mousley: Lux and Light Cone contain the words light, lumen, lumiere, as an idea of projected light. But this is also going to change. It used to be that images were projected and now they’re not. Handheld screens are luminous, as well, but the idea of light projected into our eyes is more a cinematic way of seeing.

David Lamelas, Limit of a Projection I, 1967, theater spotlight in darkened room

David Lamelas, Limit of a Projection I, 1967, theater spotlight in darkened room

“Working Terms” continues with “Moving Image” In Practice.

Cactus River: Apichatpong Weerasethakul Film Debuts on Walker Channel

Cactus River, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012
Courtesy Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Cactus River, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012
Courtesy the artist

Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s newest work, the Walker-commissioned short video Cactus River (Khong Lang Nam), makes its debut October 13, 2012, on the Walker Channel. The six-month exclusive run of the work marks the Channel’s first artist commission. A filmmaker with a long relationship with the Walker, Weerasethakul is the first filmmaker from Asia to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes since 1997; his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won won the honor for Best Feature in 2010.

With Cactus River, the work’s title provides the sense of mystery that we have come to know through all of Weerasethakul’s work: a desert plant with the name of a waterway. It doesn’t make geographic sense, but conjures an image of what will happen to the Mekong if anticipated dams are built — making a veritable cactus-filled river. But this is more than a film about last year’s floods in Thailand and the threat of drought.

In describing Cactus River, Weerasethkul tells the story of how actress Jenjira Pongpas changed her name to Nach, which means water. She has acted in his films since 2009, including Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee, both of which screened at the Walker in 2011. Convinced that her new name will bring good luck, Nach soon meets and marries Frank, a retired soldier from the small US town of Cuba, New Mexico. Cactus River opens with a scene of Nach and her husband in their new home on the Mekong River as they go about their daily life. She is cooking or knitting baby socks for sale while he gardens and watches a Thai television program with the sound turned off. We see the wind off the nearby river and the flowing of two waters, Nach and Mekong.

Cactus River, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012
Courtesy the artist

Cactus River is Weerasethakul’s diary of his visit with the couple. He explains, “The flow of the two rivers — Nach and the Mekong — activates my memories of the place where I shot several films. Over many years, this woman whose name was once Jenjira has introduced me to this river, her life, its history, and to her belief about its imminent future. She is certain that soon there will be no water in the river due to the upstream constructions of dams in China and Laos. I noticed, too, that Jenjira was no more.”

The 10-minute video has the look of early experimental film, black and white images with some fast paced editing, flicker, single frame, then lingering moments to give the sense of movement and the flow of the water. Weerasethakul first came to the Walker for a Regis Dialogue and Retrospective in 2004 and since then, we have shown all of his subsequent films and are proudly premiering Mekong Hotel on October 27, 2012. He was asked to inaugurate artist presence on the Walker Channel because he is truly a modern renegade, someone who moves freely across artistic practices.

Cactus River, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012
Courtesy the artist

Kiarostami: Despite Filmmaking Ban, Iran’s Jafar Panahi Has Completed Another Film

When we opened the remodeled Walker Cinema last June, we selected This Is Not a Film by Iranian Jafar Panahi as one our first screenings. His “film”–made during his house arrest in Tehran and reflecting on his pending six-year prison sentence and 20-year ban on making movies–was an in-the-moment diary tinged with humor but also […]

Jafar Panahi

When we opened the remodeled Walker Cinema last June, we selected This Is Not a Film by Iranian Jafar Panahi as one our first screenings. His “film”–made during his house arrest in Tehran and reflecting on his pending six-year prison sentence and 20-year ban on making movies–was an in-the-moment diary tinged with humor but also the very real urgency of a man condemned and an artist silenced.

Today fellow Iranian, Abbas Kiarostami, announced Panahi has made another film.

“He has happened to have made his second film since he received his sentence,” Kiarostami tells IndieWire. “After his sentencing he made the film that played at Cannes, and since then he has made another. I guess it will be shown at another festival. So he is making films in Iran. I don’t know why, but that’s a reality people cannot deal with.”

“Some people stay in Iran and undergo the censorship, working however they can. Others, like me, decided to work elsewhere,” he added.

The power of cinema cannot be stopped.

Blast Theory blasts off in Minneapolis

Blast Theory is a performance/trans-media artist group based in Brighton, UK, and has worked for the past ten years in the field of mobile experience art. Their project Ulrike and Eamon Compliant was at the 2009 Venice Biennial, and they have several of their works being played out around the world at any one time. […]

Blast Theory is a performance/trans-media artist group based in Brighton, UK, and has worked for the past ten years in the field of mobile experience art. Their project Ulrike and Eamon Compliant was at the 2009 Venice Biennial, and they have several of their works being played out around the world at any one time. A Machine to See With is a locative cinema project set for the streets of Minneapolis. Ju Row Farr and John Hunter arrived last week to perfect the project, originally set during the Zero1 festival in San Jose, CA, then in Park City, UT, as part of the New Frontiers Initiative of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

For the next five days they will be in the area around St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis where participants take part in Blast Theory’s ideas about economics and cinematic experience. Our eyes are the screens, and we are the actors. It mixes up documentary material, classic film noir, heist thriller clichés, questions once posed by Clinton -cabinet finance secretary Robert Reich, Made in the USA by Jean Luc Godard, and the words spoken by Jean Paul Belmondo’s character in Pierrot Le Fou “my eyes are a machine to see with.”

It is also about trust and the tyranny of choice and consumerism. The work uses open source call center software and employs automation to create your “personalized” experience. This is where the Reich questions come to play. It is also about financial crisis, not in the financial market but in your own mind as you determine how far your character will go. I hope you have signed up. I may be one of the only people who has done it in all three cities. It changes for each location. Here it is St. Anthony Main with grain elevators representing Minneapolis economic history along the Mississippi River in your sightline as you enter a world where your ideas of movies and money collide.

“Fire in My Belly” screening at the Walker

Last week, the Walker began screening three versions of the David Wojnarowicz film, A Fire in My Belly . These free screenings will be held in the Walker Lecture room at 11:30 am on days when the galleries are open, through the end of December. There will be an additional showing on Thursdays at 8:30 […]

Last week, the Walker began screening three versions of the David Wojnarowicz film, A Fire in My Belly . These free screenings will be held in the Walker Lecture room at 11:30 am on days when the galleries are open, through the end of December. There will be an additional showing on Thursdays at 8:30 pm.

There has been a lot in the press and online about the removal of A Fire in my Belly from Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. The Walker is joining many museums and galleries across the country in showing this film and defending artistic freedom (read the recent blog by Walker executive director Olga Viso). To put this work of art into context we are showing all three versions, including the official National Portrait Gallery version which was edited by curator Jonathan Katz and Bart Everly including audio from a 1989 ACT UP march in which David Wojnarowicz’ voice is audible. This will give our audiences a chance to see the work for themselves. Links to the film that can be found online are often to alternative versions, including one by Rosa Von Praunheim for a film called Silence=Death with a soundtrack by Diamanda Galas.

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was a prominent artist in New York in the 1980’s working easily across media, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, film, and performance art. He called his work “fragmented mirrors of what I perceive to be the world.” This aptly describes his style of filmmaking which incorporated quick, rough montage and recurring images to create a poetic meditation on man, life, death, faith, and suffering. A Fire In My Belly was made in part as a response to the AIDS-related death of his close friend, artist Peter Hujar. [Hujar’s photographs are currently on view in the Walker’s Event Horizon exhibition]. In the original 13-minute silent film, Wojnarowicz juxtaposes black and white footage from the streets of Mexico including wrestlers in masks, legless beggars, a cockfight, and police officers on their beat with iconic images such as Day of the Dead votives, sugar skulls, tarot cards, and puppet skeletons. Integrated into the film are images from the making of Wojnarowicz’s Ant Series, a body of photographic work that portrays ants on a crucifix, Mexican coins, and Day of the Dead votive candles. Many of these images in the film are set in Mexican cemeteries which are usually lavishly adorned, particularly around Day of the Dead celebrations when people leave food for their deceased loved ones. While the images of the ants were staged by Wojnarowicz, similar images may have also easily been found in this setting, especially on the day after a Day of the Dead night vigil when religious icons fall to the ground and left over food offerings attract bugs to the site.

After Wojnarowicz’s own untimely death from AIDS in 1992, a separate seven minute, silent, Super 8 version was found in his studio.

All three versions of the film are being screened at Walker as a 24-minute program. Made in 1986-87, primarily in Mexico, and, notably, in the era when AIDS was being feared as an epidemic, the film explores ideas of struggle and death. As health care for AIDS in the US was being debated at that time with those opposing government funds to be used for treatment calling it a “gay disease,” travel to Mexico became a common path to find affordable medical care.

Links for more information:

The two original versions of A Fire in My Belly are posted on P.P.O.W’s Vimeo channel

P.P.O.W News Page

Additional images of his other works, including Christ with Ants and Untitled (One Day This Kid…) can be found on his artist’s page

National Portrait Gallery Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition

Chronicle of responses to the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition and the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly

New York Times article by Holland Cotter “As Ants Crawl Over Crucifix, Dead Artist Is Assailed Again

Walker Director Olga Viso on Walker’s stand with national peers in support of artistic freedom

Treeless Mountain

Treeless Mountain, So Yong Kim’s second feature film is back in Minneapolis. The film screened this past March in the Walker Cinema as a part of the Women With Vision series and is now being released nationwide. The Landmark Cinema (Edina) will be screening Treeless Mountain beginning on Friday July 17th. I strongly encourage anyone who […]

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So Yong Kim at the Women with Vision Festival at Walker

Treeless Mountain, So Yong Kim’s second feature film is back in Minneapolis. The film screened this past March in the Walker Cinema as a part of the Women With Vision series and is now being released nationwide. The Landmark Cinema (Edina) will be screening Treeless Mountain beginning on Friday July 17th. I strongly encourage anyone who missed the March screening to attend the film or even those who attended to see it again.

The New York Times and critics alike have praised the movie since its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. From the unobtrusive camera , to the child-non-actors, Treeless Mountain is wistfully captivating, telling a story reflecting the director’s memories of growing up in Korea.

“Ms. Kim, her camera hovering gently and unobtrusively around the girls as they play, quarrel and daydream, turns their intimate moments into a quiet, poignant drama of abandonment and resilience.”—A.O. Scott, New York Times

“Rarely has a child’s POV been as evocatively emulated as it is in So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain, a work of tremendous poise and poignancy that assumes and articulates the perspective and emotional tenor of its two juvenile protagonists.”—Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

In March, So Yong was in attendance to introduce the film and answer a few questions from the audience post screening.  You can find the audio files from this conversation along with a previous blog post about the film on the Walker website.

For more information about So Yong Kim & the film, visit the Oscilliscope website and the Landmark website for screening times.

Photo: Ramin Bahrani at the Walker

We had a incredible couple days with Ramin Bahrani here at the Walker and managed to have a quick snapshot taken outside our Cinema. Thanks to all that were able to come out to the screenings and partake in the Master Class on Friday afternoon.

Walker Film Curator Sheryl Mousley, Ramin Bahrani, and Associate Film Curator Deant Otto

l-r: Walker Film Curator Sheryl Mousley, Ramin Bahrani, and Associate Film Curator Dean Otto

We had a incredible couple days with Ramin Bahrani here at the Walker and managed to have a quick snapshot taken outside our Cinema. Thanks to all that were able to come out to the screenings and partake in the Master Class on Friday afternoon.

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