Artists’ Film: Landscape
Focal Point Gallery, Southend on Sea
Kenneth Anger | Stan van der Beek | Marcel Broodthaers | Maya Deren | Ger van Elk Simon FaithFull | Hollis Frampton | General Idea | Alexandra Leykauf | Marie Menke | Toshio Matsumoto | William Raban | Margaret Tait | Pieter Vanderbeck | Bill Viola| Joyce Wieland
As part of her Fellowship research Alexandra Leykauf presents a collection of films focusing on her interest in the representation of landscape and how we come to understand, remember and articulate our relationship to the land. This collection of films will be presented over four screens as part of the Maximum Overdrive exhibition at Focal Point Gallery in Southend. Leykauf has devised a screening schedule which will feature films playing alongside each other creating a unique collage of image and sound resonating with her conception that the very idea of a landscape is something conjured from layers and fragments of the past filtered through combined notions of culture, history and society.
18 – 20 August 207
Introductory Talk: Friday 18 August, 6pm
Focal Point Gallery, Southend on Sea
The Forum, Elmer Square
Essex, SS1 1NB
Some lines from Leykauf, reflecting on the films, and her reasons for selecting them.
I would like to start with the way in which Marcel Broodthaer’s film Voyage en Mer du Nord and Gary Hill’s Bits pick out the condition of projection and painting as a central theme., Both works interogate the screens that allow the images to come into being. The curtain in Garry Hill’s Bits responds to air movements, partially functioning as a screen for electronically manipulated colour play, partially becoming a transparent veil through which trees are discernable. Taking this further, the canvas of the Marcel Broodthaers, on which the lense zooms in to a point where the threads of the weave become visible, isn’t only the carrier of the seascape in question, it is also the fabric the ship’s sails are made of – equally bound up between action and image.
In Glimpse of the Garden Marie Menken gives us a view through a magnifying glass filming her movement through the lush flowers and foliage; as if it were a birds eye view, which becomes almost as frantic as the chirping of the birdsong on the soundtrack. The film highlights the effect of looking through a camera lens on our own vision. When Glimpse of the Garden was shown at the Cinemathèque Française in 1963, Jonas Mekas reported that the French audience laughed at it, embarrassed by the film’s benign simplicity. Neither the close up perspective; the rapid movements of the birds, enhanced awareness of how the camera guides and restricts, suggest such a simplicity. The works in this program are equally concerned with the act of looking, be it through an eye or the camera’s lens, as with the representation of their subjects.
Simon Faithful’s video 30km is another example of the juxtaposition of observer and observed, of the eye and the view. He writes: ‘30km presents a journey from a face to the edge of space.’ In the beginning of the video we see him looking into the camera held up above his head. He releases the camera (which is attached to a weather balloon) and as it drifts upwards the landscape below gradually resembles a map rather than the landscape of our experience. The video provokes a strange shift from identification with the human face looking up into the sky towards an abstracted image of the earth. I can best describe this shift as the feeling that I am leaving myself behind and am further and further pulled away to a suspended place where my vision exists in separation from my body.
How different a view William Raban presents: a misty river scene, some autumn coloured reeds and trees in the background, everything filmed from a point of view lower than eye level. There are voices chatting in a casual manner, it sounds like they are recorded inside a small space, probably a car sheltering everybody from the weather and it is this cosy feeling of being sheltered inside that reminds me of the audience’s position: sheltered from exposure, comfortably observing.
Perhaps the similarity between the spectator in the dark auditorium and the sleeper makes film an especially apt medium with which to visualise dreams. Body-less observations with no agency to interfere with the plot.
Maya Deren’s On Land starts with her being washed up on the shore as if she was a creature of the sea thrown into an alien habitat. She seems to be estranged with life on land, wondering, probing, not quite able to make sense of her surroundings.
She climbs over rocks, driftwood, through trees and onto a dinner table surrounded by people who seem to be unaware of her presence. As in a dream she is part of a surreal scenario she cannot interact with, but whereas she remains invisible to all the other characters she has our full attention. The way she acts out her persona makes her desirable and real, even when illogical point-of-view-shots multiply her character. For example we see alternating shots of her looking at something at the beach and her running in the distance, as if her dream-self would observe another version, a double, of herself.
In its surrealism Stan van der Beek’s See Saw Seams matches At Land. But where Deren’s film meanders through a dreamscape, Stan van der Beek’s film resembles a quest. In movement mostly perpendicular to the picture plane, male and female bodies are transforming into landscapes and back into bodies. There is a clear direction deeper and deeper into the images as opposed to travelling along and surveying surface and skin. The shots seem to cut through the features and topographies of body and landscapes towards changing vanishing points which, as we come closer, reveal the raster points of the filmed prints and new pathways beyond the surface. The landscape reflected in a bird’s eye opens into a human eye transforming into a black sun, transforming into a path leading finally towards a naked female body transforming back into landscape.
While any film program is about travelling without moving, as I write about my choices, I find it striking that within the films presented there is a whole array of movements, not only provoked by their smallest common denominator “landscape”, which in itself isn’t thinkable without at least the idea of trajectory. One of the central questions seems to be how we are drawn to self oblivion yet cannot or do not want to do without self reflection. How those two poles are made visible by camera movements and filmic decisions that parallel states of mind. The dream state of Maya Deren is strangely countered by her attractiveness and self-exposure. The desire pulling Stan van der Beek through the images he uses and manipulates is self denying in comparison: its clear direction towards the other isn’t concerned with self-presentation.
Within that line of thought Margaret Tait’s title Where I am is Here is puzzling. The images she shows are beautifully elegiac, I am torn between enjoying the moment of the screening and mourning the loss of a time and place that affects me so strongly that I am ready to believe in a miraculous transfer of memory. As if my memory had been seized by Tait and I can’t tell her filmic reality apart from my own past. So where I am is there, at least for the time being. Tait’s “here” though suggests a unity of observer and observed that I can’t quite believe in. What I do believe in is the “I am” because film is probably the only way to step twice into the same river or, with Bill Viola, to fall twice into the same pond. The Reflecting Pool and its allure inevitably bring Narcissus to mind: self-obsession and self-annihilation.
In Hollis Frampton’s Not the First Time essential capacity to repeat time spans is pinpointed by superimposing small sequences of beach scenes in such a way that “before” and “after” fall into one.
In Double Mirror: A Borderline Case General Idea create an optical feedback by positioning two mirrors face to face parallel to the water line of a lake- or sea-shore. In this way the seascape surrounding one of the mirrors contains the reflection of the land, which, surrounding the other mirror contains the reflection of the sea. The mirrors are gradually tilted and reveal filmmakers, camera, waves and sky in a kaleidoscopic effect. Finally a way to include the non-diegetic into the diegetic field?
Maybe waiting for potatoes and mushrooms to move after they have already fallen and found their position on the table at 5 O’Clock in the Morning is Peter Vanderbeck’s way to achieve the same effect. The non-diegetic might be included in any filmic image if only because of our expectations.