Mar 20, 2012 7:00 PM
Erotica and Abstraction
Film Club. Czech and Other: Experimental Films Then and Now. Free admission.
Other: Experimental Films Then and Now
Curated by Jaroslav Andel
Q&A Jaroslav Andel and Michael Joaquin Grey
dir. Otakar Vavra, 1934, 20 min
dir. Isaac Julien, 1993, 10 min., color film, sound
The Play of Bubbles (Hra bublinek)
dir. Karel Dodal and Irena Dodalova, 1936, also released as Fantasie erotique (Erotic Fantasy), 1937, 2 min
Sam Slime Stress Cycle
dir. Michael Joaquin Grey, 2005, 2 min
Seeking Light (Myšlenka hledající světlo)
dir. Karel Dodal and Irena Dodalova, 1938, 10 min
dir. Michale Joaquin Grey, 2006, 10 min
Light Penetrates the Darkness (Světlo proniká tmou)
dir. Otakar Vavra, Frantisek Pilat, 1930, 8 min
Illusion of Motion
dir. Krystof Pesek, 2011, 3:40 min
Czech and Other Experimental Films Now and Then
Yesterday’s experiments have often turned into today’s canons. Avant-garde cinema of the 1920s and 1930s is a case in point. What was once an exciting discovery became part of everyday visual language. And yet watching some historical experimental films, one can somehow feel their originality and freshness even today. Will today’s experiments also turn canonical?
To ponder this question it is intriguing to see today’s experimental films next to historical films of the same or similar genres. For this purpose, the program of three film evenings comprises several experimental shorts in three different genres: abstract films, big city life films and narrative films. The program presents historical pictures by Czech filmmakers Alexander Hackenschmied, Otakar Vávra, František Pilát, Svatopluka Innemanna, Karel and Irena Dodals, while contemporary examples include shorts by Americans Amos Poe, Michael Joaquin Grey, Bill Morrison, British Isaac Julien, and two young Czechs Kryštof Pešek and Hana Železná.
The key Modernist concept of abstraction had a major impact on avant-garde filmmakers in Europe. As the films The Light Penetrates the Darkness by Vávra and Pilát and The Idea Seeking Light by Karel and Irena Dodals demonstrate, abstraction was often associated with technology and progress or with spiritual issues. This heritage can still be detected in the work of contemporary authors, though these interests have branched out into various directions. Here the issue of materiality of the film medium and its dramatic transformation through digital technology represents a major subject and concern.
Big city life was another key theme that attracted avant-garde artists and filmmakers.
Aimless Walk by Alexander Hackenschmied reconnects this genre to its origins by invoking the trope of flaneur. Hackenschmied’s Prague Castle provides a striking complement to Amos Poe’s Empire II, an impressive variation on Andy Warhol’s classic. The dominant architectural icons of Prague and New York emerge here as historical symbols of the European and the American city.
In narrative films, avant-garde
filmmakers have come closest to the mainstream commercial cinema. Characteristically,
erotic desire and fantasy occupy a major theme in this genre. Hence a
juxtaposition of historical and contemporary examples reveals telling insights
into changing mores and conventions of contemporary society.
Michael Joaquin Grey, an artist whose work has bridged the boundaries between art, science, media, and the imagination for the last twenty years. His interdisciplinary practice revolves around the development and origins of life and language, as well as morphology. The self organizing principles of living and nonliving things, from muscle cells up to cultural phenomena, are among the diverse concerns that Grey's work examines. Featuring wall vinyl, computational videos, sculptures, and prints, the exhibition investigates critical moments in natural phenomena and culture with a nearly scientific eye, all the while testing the very limits and boundaries of the tools required in such study.
“The Attendant” (1993) is actually set in a museum:
Wilberforce House in Hull, England, which is devoted to the history of slavery. It’s a
real place, though in Mr. Julien’s
hands it looks surreal.
The plot revolves around sexual fantasies aroused in a middle-aged black male museum guard — or attendant — by a young white male visitor. Much of the action takes place after closing time. As the guard paces the galleries, a huge 19th-century painting titled “Slaves on the West Coast of Africa”, by the French artist François-Auguste Biard, comes to life, its melodramatic scene of a white master bending over a dying black slave transformed into an up-to-date, leather clad sadomasochistic grouping.
Next, there’s an erotic scene between a guard and a young man in a gallery hung with soft-core drawings by Tom of Finland, one of many references to the contemporary art in the film. Their cries are overheard by a third character, a black woman called the conservator, who approvingly listens through the wall as she cleans the museum’s picture frames.
The film is only 10 minutes long, but it packs in a rich variety of images and moods. They include some funky camp humour (gold-lamé bar-boy; mosquito-size Cupids), a complex sexual and racial dynamic of dominance and submission and a poignant sense of loss, which serves as a reminder that the piece was made at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Holland Cotter, The New York Times
Ph.D. Jaroslav Anděl received his Ph.D. in Art History from Charles University and his M.F.A. in Photography from the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of the Performing Arts in Prague. As a visual artist in the1970s he had several one-person exhibitions and participated in group exhibitions of photo-based and conceptual art in Europe, Asia and the United States. In 1982 he moved from Prague to New York City, and has since has produced numerous exhibitions and publications on modern and contemporary art both in the Czech Republic and abroad. He is the co-author of Czech Modernism 1900-1945 (Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, Texas, U.S.A. 1990) and co-editor of Cinema All the Time: An Anthology of Czech Film Theory and Criticism, 1908-1939 (Czech National Film Archive: 2008). He is the artistic director of the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague. www.dox.cz
Czech and Other: Experimental Films Then and Now
March 13, 7pm, Spark of Being & 657 Second
Organized in collaboration with the National Film Archive in Prague and FAMU Center for Audiovisual Studies
321 East 73rd Street
NY 10021 New York
Mar 20, 2012 7:00 PM