Blogs Crosscuts Walker Film

Alive From Off Center: Video Art in the 1980s

In the mid-1980s, television became a new frontier for independent and experimental video artists. In a unique collaboration between Walker Art Center and Twin Cities Public Television (KTCA), Alive From Off Center was born. This ground-breaking series first aired on PBS in the summer of 1984 and featured an assortment of performances ranging in discipline […]

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In the mid-1980s, television became a new frontier for independent and experimental video artists. In a unique collaboration between Walker Art Center and Twin Cities Public Television (KTCA), Alive From Off Center was born. This ground-breaking series first aired on PBS in the summer of 1984 and featured an assortment of performances ranging in discipline from dance to theater to comedy. Though the series was not quite a variety show, the producers brought in different artists every week to create and execute their own episode. To tie Alive From Off Center together, Susan Stamberg—a journalist who was the first woman to anchor a nightly news program— and later renowned musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, hosted the show.

Over the last six months, the Walker has featured eleven episodes spanning the first three seasons of the series. The episodes are available for viewing on the Best Buy Video Bay through February 7, 2015. In the summer of 2013, Film/Video intern Anna Swanson sat down with two former executive producers, Melinda Ward (the first producer of Alive From Off Center) and John Schott, to discuss the series’ conception and legacy.

As Ward and Schott both noted, the 1980s were a golden age in television. Network giants like MTV and ESPN first gained their footing at the start of the decade and reached hundreds of thousands of Americans every day. According to Schott, offbeat, avant-garde shows like Alive From Off Center were also “right there at the moment that this larger cultural change was taking place, across a wide range of mediums.” For the first time, less well-known artists not only had new opportunities to work in video, but “a big new awareness of a mass audience.” Alive From Off Center offered a unique platform that tapped into PBS’s pre-existing viewers while still pushing the boundaries of network television.

The show first got its name as a riff on “Live from Lincoln Center,” the PBS series that broadcasts live music, theater, and dance performances. Alive was its alter-ego that featured experimental episodes from artists like director Jonathan Demme, storyteller Spalding Gray, photographer William Wegman, and dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown. Schott believes Alive came to fruition at an important cultural moment, when “a lot of people came forward who were kind of rooting for PBS to do something unusual.” Though Alive From Off Center never reached mainstream audiences, Schott asserts that “there was kind of a secret audience out there…for whom that show was something really amazing and important to them.”

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In the first two seasons of Alive, funding was limited so about half of the episodes were produced by KCTA-TV in the Twin Cities and the other half were preexisting segments that Ward acquired. But after three seasons and a grant from the Ford Foundation, the series was able to produce nearly 70% of the episodes at KCTA. The series was funded entirely through public organizations: National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, and Ford Foundation made up the majority of the contributions. The structure of the show varied from episode to episode: some included multiple short pieces by a variety of artists while others featured the work of only one person.

As both producers noted, Alive From Off Center pioneered an era of video art in the 1980s. Ward suggests that artists were attracted to the series due to “love of television, as television” because “suddenly anybody could do it for not very much money, and you didn’t have to worry [about cost]…with video you just play.” The show brought integrity and excitement to the medium (the New York Times gave it rave reviews). According to Ward, Alive “validated this idea that you could work seriously in television in some way, or television as a medium, as an art form.”

Alive From Off Center will screen at the Walker through February 7, 2015. Be sure to swing by the Best Buy Video Bay to view this innovative television programming.

Construction Zone as Pinball Game: Ericka Beckman on Frame UP (2005)

Speaking with the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap, New York–based artist Ericka Beckman revisits the making of Frame UP, a double-channel video work from 2005. Commissioned by the Walker during construction of its new Herzog & de Meuron–designed expansion, Frame UP uses chance elements of the construction landscape and its workers to conceive of the Walker as a vast pinball […]

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Still from Ericka Beckman’s Frame-UP, 2005

Speaking with the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap, New York–based artist Ericka Beckman revisits the making of Frame UP, a double-channel video work from 2005. Commissioned by the Walker during construction of its new Herzog & de Meuron–designed expansion, Frame UP uses chance elements of the construction landscape and its workers to conceive of the Walker as a vast pinball machine. Frame UP is on view in the Walker Lecture Room through March 29 and in New York on High Line Channel 14 through March 11.

Isla Leaver-Yap: How did your double-channel video installation Frame UP (2005) come to be? The key “figure” in Frame UP is the construction site where the Walker’s Herzog and de Meuron–designed building was being made in 2005. Building sites seem to be particularly fecund spaces for the projections of desire – they’re microcosms of world-building, especially in relation to the construction of cultural value (in this case the Walker). Could you say a little about the commissioning process and how long it took to make the work? How did the shooting and editing work practically? Were you seeking specific shots, or was the primary work in the edit?

Ericka Beckman: When Sheryl Mousley [the Walker’s senior curator of Film/Video] commissioned me to do a piece involving play and the construction site, I thought I would learn from the process. Which I did! In 1999, after my film HIATUS, I decided that it was time for me to work outside the studio in real locations. Frame UP is the second project I filmed outside the studio. (The studio being a black box where I created everything from a set of rules, and where each film project proceeded directly on the back of the other one.)

I was attracted to architectural sites – particularly industrial sites – because they reveal the process of construction. So having access to a construction site was developmental to me; it allowed me to investigate and observe how things get made.

I met Sheryl when I was shooting Cinderella (1986) in Minneapolis in the mid 1980s. I have been intensely aware of the role the Walker plays in the support of performance, film, video, and in all forms of temporal art for many decades. The Dada works and Fluxus objects, plus the films and documentation in the Walker Collection were instrumental to my commitment as an artist. Once I was offered this commission I felt I should like to make a piece that is in dialogue with that collection.

I was invited to film at the Walker during the construction of the new facility. I was restricted in my vantage point to the outside of the construction site, so I set up many recording cameras in various places to capture the site through time-lapse photography. These varied in formats, from Super 8 and Hi-8 to very low-definition VHS cameras. I also was unable to be there for the length of this commission (2003–2004), so I hired interns from the Walker’s Film/Video department to manage my cameras and send me the materials. I edited throughout the shooting process. I was on site in June to set up the situation, I returned once in December to shoot 16mm film, and then I returned in 2005 for the opening.

Ericka Beckman films construction of the Walker expansion, December 2003

Ericka Beckman films construction of the Walker expansion, December 2003

Leaver-Yap: In a 2012 interview with Frieze you mentioned keeping a notebook of your shots for reference during the edit of your works. I’ve always been interested in the how shoot-for-edit filmmaking has this quality of looking both forward and back throughout – a kind of in-built anachronism that is a process unique to artists’s moving image work. What parameters did you set yourself in the making of the work?

Beckman: From my description you can see that this was a “film for edit” project. However, I went into the project with the plan to make a game and, in place of real planning, I embraced chance and experimentation in the gathering of materials as well as in the editing.

The construction site became the pinball “backglass” for the structure of this film. I looked at the workers as dancers. With my camera, I followed the movement of materials through this space and, specifically, how they were transported and handled by workers. I looked for various pinball references on the construction site – that meant looking for shafts, for paddles, inclines and sockets.

Leaver-Yap: The action on both of the screens is antagonistic, and this notion of competition of course resonates in your earlier works, like You the better (1983), where the narrative builds on competition and accumulation. Did this notion of a double-channel work come right at the start?

Beckman: The idea of using two screens came early on, when I visited arcade centers where multiple players play games side by side. The games may have various backglass themes but the core mechanics are the same. Two players in the pinball arcade actually behave very similarly, hitting paddles, knocking balls around and trying to get them into slots. It’s a solo game but players are in competition for the score.

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Still from Ericka Beckman’s Frame-UP, 2005

Leaver-Yap: For me, Frame UP probes the structural aspects of how one looks/reads/frames a space, and how that framing produces – even in its most minimal and least-ornamented form – a narrative quality. And games, of course, are totally committed to narrative in this way. In Frame UP, the balls lead the eye, and this double-channel form (perhaps a “binocular” presentation) produces a way of looking. How did you consider the sound in relation to this narrative-making, and were considerations of other formal qualities like color significant in determining what you were looking for in the shoot, as well as afterwards, in the editing of the digital overlays?

Beckman: The sound for the work came from actual recording on the location, plus many found sounds from department store recordings, where I recorded toys and games and of course an actual pinball machine.

Editing is where the chance or “play” aspect was featured. Since I had multiple cameras covering the same day’s labor, I assigned cameras and shots to each screen. Then I linked game sounds to all the shots I chose to work with. At this point there was no linear structure just a “bin” of shots and their sounds.

Then I turned “off” the video monitor and cut a soundtrack from the found sounds. I gave myself one rule: I would start in unison and then build a separate soundscape for each screen. This allowed me to let go of building a competitive relationship between the two screens. Then I opened the video monitor and took a look at my action cuts. This first edit governed everything that came after – the graphics, the length of the shots. My second rule was to heavily rework the first edit.

It was a joy for me to take a very important architectural site and turn it into a simple pinball game, and to make the workers of a remarkable structure turn into handlers for the game. And why not? Isn’t that a joy itself to turn work into play?

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Still from Ericka Beckman’s Frame-UP, 2005

Leaver-Yap: I’m not sure if this resonates with you, but I was reminded of some formal similarities in this work to Hilary Lloyd’s videos and Rosalind Nashashibi’s films (specifically Lloyd’s Untitled multi-channel projection piece of a Glasgow building site from 2009 and Nashashibi’s Bachelor Machines Part 1 from 2007) – where these works are shot and edited by a female artist occupying a usually masculine environment or behaviors. This occupation of specific genders has often been true in video gaming, too (and recently problematic). Did you think of the camera eye or the viewer in a gendered state?

Beckman: I do not want to diminish your question about gender viewpoints. I am often asked the question if I understand what I’m doing from a gendered camera. But what struck me about the materials my camera shot was how varied in age these men where on this Mortenson construction site. They defied my stereotype of construction workers. For the most part, the workers multitasked. One day they would be building scaffolds, next laying rebar, then doing the wiring or steel welding. They seemed very well trained and very secure, and there was no stress visible on site. I did ask questions about the M.A. Mortenson Company – their hiring process, their loyalty to their workers, and their reputation in the Midwest. I learned that they are a union company and only hire a union workforce.

Leaver-Yap: Re-presenting Frame UP now at the Walker, ten years on since you made it, I’m conscious not only of how the institution looks back on its own biography, but also how Frame UP migrates to other contexts, namely where it is concurrently being shown on The High Line in New York, a Chelsea location with its own diverse cultural history, but also one of construction, accelerating skylines, high-speed capital and its own competitive rules of engagement. I was wondering if you find the resulting work significantly different from how you wanted to respond to the commission invitation more than a decade ago?

Beckman: This Minneapolis worksite now stands in sharp contrast with what I see going on all around me in lower Manhattan, where much of my immediate community is in a state of renewal or, better said, expansion. The buildings are going rapidly up by the hands of subcontracted non-union workers. When I look at these buildings I don’t see craft but capital, with no regard for the community, the workers, or even the inhabitants who will have to face management that does not care about the building.

Speaking specifically about the Minneapolis work site, I did see and follow a few young female workers on site. They were athletic, strong, and exceedingly involved in various work tasks, like their male counterparts. This reinforced what I saw as a very young female child growing up on the military base. I am not proud of this background, but it did form a strong viewpoint. My father was not an officer so, at his level in the military service, there were many women sharing the tasks of running the base operations. They both wore the same drab uniforms, and marched alongside their male counterparts in full display at military functions. This cut through many of the stereotypes of gendered bias in labor and probably gave me a utopian view of labor politics at a very young age.

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The Walker terrace provided Beckman a clear view of the construction site

2014: The Year According to Sam Green

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from animator Miwa Matreyek and artist Alejandro Cesarco to designer Eric Hu and the Office of Culture and Design in the Philippines—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from animator Miwa Matreyek and artist Alejandro Cesarco to designer Eric Hu and the Office of Culture and Design in the Philippines—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

 

Sam Green is a documentary filmmaker best known for his Academy Award–nominated 2003 film The Weather Underground, which was featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. His most recent works include The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller (2012) , a live cinematic collaboration with the indie rock band Yo La Tengo (which came to the Walker in October 2013) and the new live musical documentary The Measure of All Things, a meditation on time, fate, and overall human experience, coming to the Walker stage on February 6, 2015.

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Jackie Goss and Jenny Perlin, The Measures

My favorite film of the year. It’s an experimental documentary that retraces the 18th-century journey of two astronomers tasked with determining the true length of a meter. The story is wonderfully weird, but the form is what really makes the film so smart and sophisticated. Both Goss and Perlin filmed the same landscapes across Europe, each with their own Bolex, and the finished film includes the two images side by side. The two filmmakers perform a live version of this film where they read the voiceover in person. I loved it.

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Yo La Tengo, “Nowhere Near”

I went and saw my pals and collaborators Yo La Tengo play a 30th-anniversary gig at Town Hall in NYC in December. They recently re-released one of their brilliant early records Painful and at the Town Hall show played many songs from that disc. This one just slayed me. I’ve listened to it over and over again since and think it’s pretty much a perfect pop song.

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Miguel Gutierrez, Age & Beauty Part 1: Mid-Career Artist/Suicide Note or &:-/ at the Whitney

Was knocked out by this dance piece and what a powerful performer Miguel Gutierrez can be. The piece, which was in one of the small galleries at the museum, was funny, disturbing, mesmerizing, poignant and both Miguel and Mickey Mahar danced fantastically. I left feeling wonderful and exhilarated.

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Venice, Italy

I did a six-week residency in Venice through the Emily Harvey Foundation and fell deeply in love with the city. My girlfriend, the choreographer Catherine Galasso, grew up in Venice and knows the city well. We had a magic, productive, and very inspiring time there.

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Heddy Honigman

Sometimes I go back and watch old films that especially resonated with me for one reason or another. The Dutch-Peruvian filmmaker Heddy Honigmann is probably my favorite documentarian. While I was in Venice, I re-watched her films Metal and Melancholy and Forever. I don’t have the space here to describe either of the films, but they are both gems. She has a way with people—is one of the most interesting interviewers working today—and both of these films are deeply, deeply human.

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Instagram

I got on Instagram to impress my 12-year-old niece. She’s a teen from central casting these days, and her phone, friends, and Instagram are pretty much the only things that matter to her. Initially, I thought that I would hold my nose and do a little bit of Instagramming just to show her that I’m cool, too (or at least I’m not totally lame). But to my great surprise, I ended up loving it. It’s playful, visual, kinda dorky, and because you cant post links, it’s free of much of the article-posting and event-promoting that often bores me with Facebook and Twitter. It’s coming up on my one-year anniversary on Instagram and I’m still high on it. (If you want to follow me, I’m sam_b_green).

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Particle Fever

I saw this documentary about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland at the Film Forum in NYC where it had a smash-hit run over the summer. The Hadron Collider is a huge underground tunnel (17 miles in diameter) and is designed to allow physicists to make important discoveries by smashing particles at very high speeds. Sounds kinda snoozy, I’m sure, but the film is fantastic and inspiring and dramatic. Much of the credit for this goes to the fact that it was edited by the great Walter Murch.

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Duncan Campbell

My friend, the film programmer Chi-hui Yang, shared some of the Scottish filmmaker Duncan Campbell’s documentaries with me: Make it New John, and Bernadette. I was very taken with his creative and sophisticated approach to history and odd historical footnotes. Both films lingered with me for some time after (which is my measure of a strong work). I saw recently that Duncan Campbell recently won the Turner Prize.

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Valerie Solanas by Breanne Fahs

Bill Horrigan, the curator at the Wexner Art Center, recommended this, and it turned out to be my favorite book of the year. I’d always been fascinated by Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol—probably part of my general interest in that time—and I’d also always been struck by the fact that she was a fantastic  writer (take a look at her SCUM Manifesto to see what I mean). This biography goes very deep into her history—lots of things I hadn’t known about her—and the effect is that for the first time one can see Valerie as a complex and very human person. The book was also fantastically written I couldn’t put it down.

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Xylouris White at Union Pool

I saw this duo made up of the Greek lute player George Xylouris and the Australian drummer Jim White (Dirty Three) at a small bar in Brooklyn, where they did an ongoing residency over the summer. An enormous, hypnotic, and roiling sound! I could watch Jim White drum for hours.

Filmmaker Portrait: Joan Jonas

Born and based in New York City, Joan Jonas pioneered the use of video in feminist performance art during the 1960s and 1970s. Originally educated in sculpture and art history, Jonas found that performance art was a better medium for addressing her concerns about female bodies and space. Her work frequently involves the use of […]

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Born and based in New York City, Joan Jonas pioneered the use of video in feminist performance art during the 1960s and 1970s. Originally educated in sculpture and art history, Jonas found that performance art was a better medium for addressing her concerns about female bodies and space. Her work frequently involves the use of mirrors, masks, and other props, sometimes using these objects to incorporate her audience into the performance. Jonas always places herself at the center of her art, whether it’s taking on the persona of Organic Honey—a mystical symbolic figure of femininity—or utilizing mirrors to examine her naked body. Jonas also explored these themes of female disembodiment through short experimental videos.

Jonas visited the Walker Art Center in 1974 for a multidisciplinary performance of Funnel, in which she incorporated film as performance. This piece involved images of seaside landscapes projected onto three separate screens. Throughout Funnel, she fluctuated between drawing images on a chalkboard and interacting with the film. Using a round mirror on the end of a stick, she interrupted the projection and reflected the images back at the audience while creating a void on the screen. Jonas’s video work also screened at the Walker in April of 1994 as part of a series called “Videocassettes” that featured work from Richard Landry and Keith Sonnier. Her two iconic videos, Vertical Roll and Left Side Right Side (the films included in the series) explore and challenge the mechanical qualities of video. Vertical Roll is a meditation on analog television glitches that cause the image to seizure across the screen. Jonas’s own body is fractured by the moving frame as she appears in masks, feathers, and other costumes. The video is also on view as part of the Art Expanded exhibition at the Walker that documents the expanded arts scene of the 1960s and 1970s. In Left Side Right Side, Jonas translates her performance art onto video. As the sole figure on screen, she challenges the voyeurism of the camera through use of mirrors, video monitor, and split screen editing.

Jonas continues her prolific career in the 21st Century. She is a Professor Emeritus at MIT where she teaches visual art. In 2015, she will be representing the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale.

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Waiting for a Film to Thaw: The Exchanges of Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon, Part 1

Looking through the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson study collection recently, a short note caught my attention. It read: reel may have been compiled by Stan Brakhage work in progress The reel in question was Crystal Clips, a 16mm film that was gifted to the Walker in 2005 by Sally Dixon, one of the most significant curators of artists’ film […]

Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon in Carnegie Museum of Art projection booth photo by Robert Haller, circa 1975

Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s projection booth. Photo: Robert Haller, circa 1975

Looking through the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson study collection recently, a short note caught my attention. It read:

reel may have been compiled by Stan Brakhage

work in progress

The reel in question was Crystal Clips, a 16mm film that was gifted to the Walker in 2005 by Sally Dixon, one of the most significant curators of artists’ film from the 1970s. The reel’s status as a work by Stan Brakhage, one of America’s foremost experimental filmmakers, was as yet unconfirmed. I requested that it be brought up from the archive’s preservation freezer for closer inspection.

It takes about a day for a celluloid film reel to thaw and, on the cautious side, another day for the film to acclimatize to room temperature so one can safely handle and examine the material up close. So, while I was waiting, I set about sorting through other information that was more readily available, identifying the following questions: What was the relationship between its unconfirmed source (Stan Brakhage) and its eventual owner (Sally Dixon), and how might that inform the provenance of the reel? How and when was this film made and displayed? And, most crucially, was this indeed a Brakhage “work in progress”?

Answering the first question didn’t immediately demand a viewing of the film, and so below I attempt to answer it with historical context and some facts I do know for certain. (The other two questions required patience, a projectionist, and bookable time to run the print in the Walker Cinema; I’ll come to that in Part 2.) Here are some things I do know: Crystal Clips first came into the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson collection among 30 rare films in Dixon’s possession, most of which are works by Brakhage.

The curator and the artist first worked together in 1970, when Dixon had just established the Carnegie Museum of Art’s dedicated film section (later named the film department), which was only the second of its kind after MoMA’s film department in New York. At the Carnegie, Dixon hoped to develop greater museological context around artists’ film, a medium she considered as “the 21st-century art form.” She invited Brakhage to premiere a number of his recent films and, as he recalled, to bring him on as a lecturer in Pittsburgh.

It was through invitations such as this that Dixon began her career as a film curator. Her work went on to uniquely broaden the field of artists’ moving image, not simply because she was one of the only female curators working with moving image at the time, but because Dixon brought the work of an incipient generation of avant-garde filmmakers to new audiences throughout the Midwest. She cultivated a new appreciation and scholarship of these emerging artists’ film practices as they unfolded and grew.

She screened and discussed the work of artists including Kenneth Anger, Bruce Baillie, Robert Breer, Hollis Frampton, Ernie Gehr, Storm de Hirsch, Chick Strand, Carolee Schneeman, and many others—in addition to organizing tours for shows at other galleries and cinemas, working with Film in the Cities in St. Paul, and, later, founding Filmmakers Filming in 1979. At the Carnegie, Dixon was one of the first advocates for paying artists working with moving image (MoMA did not initially pay artist-filmmakers for the presentation of their work), a fundamental source of income to artists who were often struggling to afford to produce their own work. In an illuminating letter Schneeman wrote to James Tenney on August 9, 1973, she noted her own encounter with Dixon:

“Very hard to come by jobs lately. Only one thing for fall (Nov.) workshop & film retrospective at Carnegie Tech—which is great—no, Brakhage had nothing to do with it! Program run by a woman which means delight, curiosity, emotional generosity in all the dealings/arrangings.”

But it was primarily Dixon’s work in organizing the production of artists’ films—securing access to facilities, providing equipment, hosting her artists, as well as occasionally starring in a number of roles in front of the camera—for which she is perhaps better known, and it was this work as a commissioner that established her friendship with Brakhage.

In a letter in the Walker’s Sally Dixon Archive, Brakhage wrote to Dixon on September 8, 1970, to confirm his artist fee and travel arrangements to the Carnegie, adding:

“Thank you: Looking forward to the world premiere of these three new films—to get them happily out of my hair and into the eyes and knowing of the world… via this mysterious city Pittsburgh I’ve heard/seen so much about but never been able to visit.”

While picking up Brakhage from the Pittsburgh airport, Dixon and the photographer Mike Chikiris listened to the artist describe an unmade work he hoped to shoot in the back of a police car. In his hometown he hadn’t been successful in securing permission to ride with the Boulder Police Department. Dixon and Chikiris took on Brakhage’s project and arranged access for the artist to shoot in a number of Pittsburgh locations, including a police car. And so a year later, in the fall of 1971, Brakhage returned to shoot what was to become his Pittsburgh Trilogy (1971), also known as the Pittsburgh Documents. The Trilogy darkly documents the civic spaces of the police, a hospital, and a morgue; and respectively comprises eyesDeus Ex, and, one of Brakhage’s most famous films, The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes.

Stan Brakhage shooting "Eye" in Pittsburgh, 1975. Photo: Mike Chikiris

Stan Brakhage shooting eyes in Pittsburgh, 1975. Photo: Mike Chikiris

Although Dixon left the Carnegie in 1975, she kept in close contact with Brakhage, exchanging a huge volume of letters, notes, films, programs, essays and newspaper clippings. Along with the voluminous number of letters she received from Brakhage, she also collected and was gifted a large number of his films, both on 8mm and 16mm. (While working my way through both collection and ephemera, I also found a hand-painted, 70mm trim among their correspondence, possibly from the period Brakhage worked with the format for Night Music (1986) and, a year later, for The Dante Quartet.)

Brakhage sent many of these films as gifts, in acknowledgement of Dixon’s relentless championing of his work. And when the Walker received Dixon’s film collection in 2005, the original cans, reels, and packaging were removed, and the films were transferred to archival plastic containers and placed in the archive’s freezer to keep the films stable.

Stan Brakhage's original reels and packaging. Sally Dixon collection, Walker Art Center. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

Stan Brakhage’s original reels and packaging. Sally Dixon collection, Walker Art Center. Photo: Isla Leaver-Yap

Brakhage’s original packaging was kept together, and it was among these boxes that I located the original can for Crystal Clips—the most likely rationale behind the assignation of the reel to Brakhage. The grouping of the packing materials at the Walker mirrored Dixon’s own storage sequence for the films themselves but, even so, provenance of Crystal Clips was far from confirmed through its proximal location to other Brakhage works. That said, this did explain the “may have been” description that caught my eye in the first place. The question would have to be answered in relation to the content of the film itself.

The Exchanges of Stan Brakhage and Sally Dixon, Part 2 will be posted next week.

 

 

Filmmaker Portrait: Marlon Riggs

The early 1990s found America in the throes of a culture war. Publically funded art was the site of controversy, especially for Marlon Riggs. Riggs was a black, gay documentary filmmaker who challenged America’s preconceived notions about race and sexuality through his films. He received funding from various government grants such as the National Endowment […]

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The early 1990s found America in the throes of a culture war. Publically funded art was the site of controversy, especially for Marlon Riggs. Riggs was a black, gay documentary filmmaker who challenged America’s preconceived notions about race and sexuality through his films. He received funding from various government grants such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and San Francisco’s public television station, KQED.  He taught at UC Berkeley and distributed many of his films through California Newsreel, a nonprofit distribution company with an emphasis on social justice.  A vocal group of politicians and right-wing pundits felt that his work was pornographic propaganda. The Christian Coalition edited his 55-minute film, Tongues Untied, into a provocative seven-minute clip in an attempt to place limitations on public art funding. They distributed a VHS of this footage to every member of the House of Representatives as “proof.” Pat Buchanan also utilized unauthorized clips from Tongues Untied in the 1992 Presidential campaign to try to discredit George Bush as a candidate who was supporting illicit art.

The Walker was far from immune to this type of political mudslinging. The art center screened Riggs’ work multiple times, starting in 1989 with Ethnic Notions—a documentary that explores America’s complicated relationship with racial stereotypes. Tongues Untied screened twice, including once in 1991 with Riggs in attendance to introduce and discuss the film. This film blends personal footage with documentary as Riggs confronts the difficulties of expressing Black gay sexuality. The film ends with the exclamation “Black men loving black men is the revolutionary act!” The following year, the Walker screened Color Adjustment, which addressed the dangerous racial narratives engrained in prime time television programming.

Riggs died in 1994 at the age of 37 from AIDS. He shot parts of his final film, Black Is…Black Ain’t while he was hospitalized. The film was edited and released after his death by his co-producer Nicole Atkinson and co-editor Christiane Badgely.

Filmmaker Portrait: Hany Abu-Assad

“This movie is not screaming…I will not force people to change their minds.” —Hany Abu-Assad   Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 film Paradise Now portrays the complex psychology behind Palestinian suicide bombers. The filmmaker traveled to the Walker in October of the same year to introduce his film and field questions after the screening. Though born in […]

fv2005po_abuassad_01.tif Portrait taken of Hany Abu-Assad on Oct. 2 A part of Premieres: First Look Abu-Assad introduces Paradise Now (Al-Jenna-An)

“This movie is not screaming…I will not force people to change their minds.”

—Hany Abu-Assad

 

Hany Abu-Assad’s 2005 film Paradise Now portrays the complex psychology behind Palestinian suicide bombers. The filmmaker traveled to the Walker in October of the same year to introduce his film and field questions after the screening. Though born in Israel, Abu-Assad identifies as a Palestinian director. He shoots his films on site—frequently risking physical danger—and employs a Palestinian cast and crew. Aside from the subject matter, controversy played out when the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film as an entry from Palestine. After complaints from Israelis and defense from Abu-Assad, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to list the film under “Palestinian territories.”

Though Abu-Assad comes from a distinctly Palestinian perspective, Paradise Now eschews a clear moral agenda. The film offers no commentary on its protagonists’ motivations to become suicide bombers and does not prescribe a specific emotional reaction. The narrative ends on a bit of a cliff hanger, denying viewers any spectacle. Audience members had many questions for Abu-Assad at the post-screening discussion. There was lively debate about what constitutes a political film and what role cinema plays in changing the collective conscious. A full recording of the discussion is housed on the Walker’s website.

Abu-Assad’s latest work is 2013’s Omar: the story of a young Palestinian freedom fighter who must scale a wall to visit his girlfriend. This film was also nominated for Best Foreign Language film (this time listed under Palestine) at the 86th Academy Awards.

 

Filmmaker Portrait: Arthur Dong

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arthur Dong interviewed seven men. He sat with them, talked […]

Arthur Dong

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Arthur Dong interviewed seven men. He sat with them, talked with them, looked them in their eyes. He gave them his full attention and complete respect. Not one for twisting stories, he filmed them in a way that told their truth. These men were also Dong’s worst fear.

In his 1997 documentary Licensed to Kill, Arthur Dong begins by telling viewers about his own narrow escape from a homophobic attack which left him fearful and wary when walking alone. Dong confronted his fear through his film. He wanted to understand the people making these attacks, so he went into prisons to interview seven men, each one convicted of a homophobic murder.  While this itself is remarkable—to sit across from someone who decided to murder someone just for being who they are—what is even more extraordinary is how he approached each story. Dong tries to understand each man and his background. He doesn’t demonize them; he helps us to see them as human. Each convicted murderer has their own troubled past, their own story to tell. Licensed to Kill allows both Dong and the viewer to understand the full story on why these men committed the crimes.

Not many visiting filmmakers at the Walker created as much political and community impact as Arthur Dong’s artist residency in April 1998. His visit was centered on the Twin Cities premiere of Licensed to Kill, but also involved screenings of his other documentaries and community events to support the Twin Cities LGBTQ community. As Licensed to Kill focuses in part on a crime that took place in Minneapolis, his visit ultimately became a way for the public to discuss their fears and hopes about transforming this area into a safer, more accepting community.

The Twin Cities case featured in Licensed to Kill involved a young man named Jay Johnson who shot two men on separate evenings in areas of the city notorious for gay cruising. During Dong’s residency he was able to go back to the prison in St Cloud and tape an interview with Johnson after he viewed the film. Johnson discussed his thoughts on the film and the other murderers featured alongside his story. As he spoke with the director, he seemed to be considering the gravity of his actions for the first time. His conversation with Dong was the first interview Johnson allowed to be conducted. Johnson explained that he’d witnessed too many of his fellow inmates become traumatized after allowing interviews with local news programs who sensationalize their stories. Johnson trusted Dong because he researched Dong’s career.

Dong aims to make unbiased documentaries. “As a filmmaker, part of what I struggle with and try to do in the editing room is to allow the space for the viewer to participate in the interpretation of what I’m doing,” Dong told the Gay and Lesbian Review in 2005. “Certainly I have a point of view, but you in the audience can also delve into your own personal experiences and your own interpretation of what is being transmitted on that two-dimensional, flat screen.” This generosity—allowing viewers their own opinion—is what makes his work so remarkable.

Dong’s weeklong Walker residency ran from April 14 to 18, but was jam-packed with community events and discussions: a workshop at MCAD, a screening of Licensed to Kill with a discussion at South High School, multiple screenings of his films at the Walker, panel discussions with Minneapolis residents and members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), along with a follow-up interview with one of the convicted killers featured in the documentary Licensed to Kill.

Panels held by PFLAG  allowed community members to discuss lingering feelings about Jay Johnson’s crime along with how to make the Twin Cities a safer place. The panel members were open to discussing their own experiences—from having LGBTQ children, the impact of religion, and the influence that the community plays in this kind of violence. One panel member emphasized the importance of listening to and understanding the perpetrators in order to stop hate crimes. Dong ended the discussion with a motto, which is crucial to many community issues: “Think globally, act locally.”

Arthur Dong’s visit emphasized the importance of discussing local events and crimes with other community members. Licensed to Kill resonates with current issues facing Minnesota such as anti-bullying policies and the safety of the Minneapolis LGBTQ community. The Walker recently hosted Joshua Oppenheimer, a visiting filmmaker whose film dealt with similar topics. His documentary The Act of Killing, focuses on interviewing Indonesian men who killed thousands of people in an anti-communist purge and their reasoning behind these killings.

Arthur Dong’s visit 16 years ago created a discourse between the arts community and the Twin Cities at large that remains relevant today. His residency not only featured screenings of award-winning documentaries, but also inspired community and political action around the Twin Cities.

Palme d’Or Winning Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan visits Minneapolis

Acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan visited the Walker earlier this month to introduce his Palme d’Or Winning film Winter Sleep to a sold out theater. He was accompanied by his friend and actor, Mehmet Eryilmaz. Ceylan’s film takes place in the otherworldly landscape of Anatolia at a hotel run by a former actor, his […]

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Actor Mehmet Eryilmaz and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan during their November 2014 visit to the Walker.

Acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan visited the Walker earlier this month to introduce his Palme d’Or Winning film Winter Sleep to a sold out theater. He was accompanied by his friend and actor, Mehmet Eryilmaz. Ceylan’s film takes place in the otherworldly landscape of Anatolia at a hotel run by a former actor, his younger wife, and his distraught sister. The expansive, three hour long feature film questions the importance of family, love, charity, and forgiveness.  The film kicked off a retrospective that included screenings of Climates, Distant, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.

Ceylan’s career as a filmmaker grew out of a passion for photography. During his trip to Minneapolis, he made an excursion around the city to take photographs of the Mississippi River. Accompanied by Minneapolis artist David Goldes and Eryilmaz, the director visited the Stone Arch Bridge, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and Goldes’ photography studio.

Ceyland with Senior Curator Sheryl Mousley in the Cargill Lobby of the Walker Art Center

Ceylan with Senior Curator Sheryl Mousley in the Walker Art Center

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Ceylan in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

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Photographer David Goldes with Ceylan at the Mississippi River.

The artists’ portrait (top) was taken by Gene Pittman in the Walker studio. All other photos were taken by Mehmet Eryilmaz.

Filmmaker Portrait: Michael Powell

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors. Imagine that it’s the late 1940s and you’re about to go to the cinema. The majority of […]

Michael Powell

Fully formed in 1973, the Walker Art Center’s Film/Video department has hosted a range of filmmakers, actors, and critics through its extensive programs of screenings, artist talks, and residencies. This blog series showcases some of our favorite visitors.

Imagine that it’s the late 1940s and you’re about to go to the cinema. The majority of films coming out at that time are in black and white. You walk into Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes and you are ushered into a new world. A ballerina spinning out of control, fantastical plotlines, and color, lots of color. So much of the film is focused on the color red, and you start to understand the danger that comes with this ferocious shade. You find yourself mesmerized. Never before have you come across such a captivating film. The audience claps and your feet are still stuck to the floor next to nibbles of popcorn. Thank you, Mr. Powell and Mr. Pressburger.

Fast forward to the ’80s: the Walker Art Center is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their new building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in the summer of 1981. There is also a visit by one of Britain’s most innovative directors. Michael Powell was brought to the Walker during a retrospective of his films organized by the Film/Video department. He visited the museum for two days to introduce two of his most celebrated films, The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, both films written, produced, and directed with his filmmaking partner Pressburger. He was joined during his visit by William K. Everson, British film historian, who taught at NYU at the time. As the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Michael Powell showed up at Walker Art Center last week looking like an advertisement for one of his films, films whose use of color brightened the cinematic landscape in the 1940s and ’50s…red socks of a color so loud they almost shouted from under the cuffs of his blue wool suit. His shirt and tie were more modest, but not much. One was lavender, the other a reddish orange.”

His visit initiated a splash of headlines on newspapers across the Twin Cities. The previous year, he had a retrospective at MOMA and this rippled into a resurgence of excitement for his films. While Powell was perhaps not a very familiar name, his connections with Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola certainly brought him well deserved attention.  Fourteen of his films were shown at the Walker throughout June and early July of 1980. They included: The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, I Know Where I’m Going, The Spy in Black, The Thief of Baghdad, and Peeping Tom.

Peeping Tom was the only film that brought bad press and this was because of its disturbing subject matter. Because of the film’s blatantly violent scenarios, the Women Against Violence Against Women group chose to picket the screening. The film temporarily banished Powell from the British film world. Peeping Tom tells the story of a man who murders women in front of a camera in order to capture their last looks before death. When the film opened in theaters in 1960, audience members and critics alike were horrified by the storyline. Despite the initial reaction, Martin Scorsese rereleased the film 20 years later and it is now hailed as a British masterpiece. According to Twin Cities Reader, around 20 people showed up outside of The Walker to protest the screening.

Powell’s visit to the Twin Cities was short but jam-packed. He conducted numerous interviews and attended many dinners, one being at an old Minneapolis favorite: New French Café. The Walker’s Film/Video curator at the time, Richard Peterson, was eager to bring Powell to theater performances at The Guthrie. Powell especially wanted to see The Tempest (directed by Liviu Ciulei); a play that he had always intended to translate to the screen but never gained enough funding. Powell had lunch with Ciulei the next day to discuss the piece.

Powell was able to introduce two films at the walker, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, which were both filmed in Technicolor and involve dramatic plotlines centered on escapism. The harmony of color and music energize scenes and make it almost impossible for viewers to look away. When the films were made, World War II had recently ended and Powell and Pressburger were sick of making war films. As Powell explained to the Minneapolis Star, they decided to “explode in color in a big way.”  These films generated excitement across audiences worldwide.

Michael Powell’s visit was a milestone for the Walker and represents the incredibly diverse range of artists the Walker has been lucky enough to host. Powell’s work not only celebrates the excitement and joy films can bring but also the ability that a film has to transport one into a new (and colorful!) world.

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