Living Film at No.w.here

Living Film comprised an evening of single and double screen films, a film and food happening by Victoria Schmidt  and a peep show performance by Birgitta Hosea. The evening, held at No.w.here in Bethnal Green on October 16th, was curated by Karel Doing and Vicky Smith, and the title has at least two meanings; the first pertaining to the fact that film is still with us, and the second because the work comprised either live elements, or, as in the case of most of the single screen films, imagery created with body fluids. Animal-mineral film –gelatin, silver and celluloid- mingled with blood, hair, fire and saliva. The forensic nature of the film image, a tiny patch of matter magnified hundreds of times, clashes with film’s kinesis to produce unique, unexpected, medium-specific hybrid forms. In the case of Thorsten Fleisch’s Blutrauch (1999), swirls of blood periodically coalesce into explosive, crab-like forms, while Patti Gaal-Holmes’ Blutrauch: die ende der Geschichte, remakes Fleisch’s film in menstrual blood, resulting in a more globular, sticky image, so much so that the projector jammed a few times, testifying to the fact that we were watching original material, not a print, in the manner exemplified by Emma Hart’s Skin Film (2005-7), a work that no longer exists because microbes in the skin flakes that form the image have eaten that image into invisibility. Vicky Smith’s 16mm film Noisy Licking and Spitting (2013) was particularly alive with eruptive living material, ending with dramatically bubbling saliva forms. Cathy Rogers’ Rosemary Again and Again (unsplit Standard 8 presented as 16mm, 2013) is a deceptively simple work made by wrapping film around a rosemary bush and exposing it to light. This crude process generates complex layers of depth and shallowness. A knowledge of how the work was made in no way reduces it to an illustration of the process. On the contrary, it offers a way into what at first appears to be a chaotic jumble of lines, streaks and patches of light, but which on careful viewing can be seen to capture a complex of variable interactions between bush and filmstrip. At the end of the evening a dry reprise was provided by James Holcombe and Asnan Adams’ Hair in the Gate (2013), in which the hairs pushed into the gate briefly caught fire before being extinguished.

In between these single screen works was a variety of other highlights, including George Saxon’s rediscovered early work: Blissfully Gunned Down (1980), a fragmentary, two screen film loop of his late partner falling to the ground as if shot by an imaginary gun, and in which more bangs are added the soundtrack during projection by the artist’s scratching the loops as they pass through the projector. Saxon has a body of wonderful, performance based, twin screen films that deserve a retrospective screening. A contrast to this noisy work was provided by two installed loop projections by Louisa Fairclough: Drawn up by some Breathing (2013). Both loops have no perceptible image and only a barely audible soundtrack, the exact content of which is more or less impossible to discern against the noise of the projector and other sounds. In leaning close in to the projector to hear the sound, one experiences in a very physical way the machine’s functioning, such that the work becomes about this as much as anything else. By reducing content to a minimum, Fairclough’s pair of films achieve a novel balance between projector beam and image, and projector noise and sound.

The statement by the organisers / programmers (should they be called curators?) amounts to a manifesto, in which film is reclaimed (again) as an artistic, above all experimental medium:

“We refer to Living Film with respect to the reversibility of the terms: film as object that is activated through physical contact and film as an ongoing mode of material practice… This program…focuses on the use of film as a living material. In mainstream cinema every trace of physical contact is removed from the film material, but with the disappearance of film from the industry, the medium is liberated from this armour…At stake here is not just an artistic concept or method but the formation of a strategy towards an alternative filmmaking ecology: working with cheap or out of date film stocks; bartering knowledge for materials; finding cooperative forms for using resources and equipment”.

Fleisch

Thorsten Fleisch: Blutrausch (16mm, 1999)

P Gaal Holmes

Patti Gaal-Holmes: Blutrauch die Ende der Geschichte (16mm, 2013).

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Vicky Smith: Noisy Licking and Spitting (16mm, 2013)

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Cathy

Two frames from Cathy Rogers’ Rosemary Again and Again (unsplit Standard 8, 2012)

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James Holcombe and Asnan Adams: Hair in the Gate (16mm, 2013).

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George Saxon: Blisfully Gunned Down (2 x 16mm, 1980).

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Two views of Louisa Fairclough’s Drawn up by some Breathing (16mm, 2013)

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Emitters of Light weekend at No.w.here

This year Art Licks, an organization founded in 2010 to promote the work of younger artists, curators and non-profit galleries working in various locations between Bermondsey and Hackney Wick in London, put on a three-day event to showcase the work of over 250 artists. As part of these events, the artist-run film space and laboratory, No.w.here, is running Emitters of Light, a weekend of installed film projections and displays in the lab and workshop part of their two-floor space in Bethnal Green. The event has been curated by Karen Mirza, James Holcombe and Sally Golding, all of whom work at No.w.here in various capacities.

The lab was turned into a uniquely hybrid workshop cum gallery and screening room, with films displayed on projectors, Steenbeck tables and rostrums. Visitors could look at the work, inspect equipment and talk to the organisers about No.w.here and what it has to offer, which is black and white 16mm film developing and printing facilities, cameras and editing equipment. No.w.here’s focus is on film production, though they also offer some digital facilities, but, as James Holcombe, who runs the lab and many of the courses that take place therein, points out, most people nowadays have a laptop running FCP or Premiere, rendering their offering of such facilities unnecessary. What follows is a brief review of some of the work, not a complete or systematic account of everything on display.

A variety of films were projected on the opening night, including new and old work by Karel Doing, Peter Gidal, Maria Anastassiou, Bea Haut, Jenny Baines, Vicky Smith, Oliver Bancroft and Patrick Beveridge. Vicky Smith showed a selection of films and loops that form part of her PhD project, which is concerned with the body and film, and how bodily traces evidence performative, often reductive or negative actions, including the partial removal by hand of the film’s surface. Smith’s work has become increasingly performance-based, and in her most recent phase she has been combining actual performance, using a bicycle, with film projection. Maria Anastassiou showed Dropped Frames, a black and white film of a hand dropping an object. The work is strongly reminiscent of Richard Serra’s 1968 film Hand Catching Lead, except that here the hand drops rather than catches, and the jittery, reiterative process is complicated by the jumpy frame-line, which a-rhythmically appears and disappears in the frame. Whereas in Hand Catching Lead the idea of film as a succession of frames is figured in the pieces of lead dropping repeatedly through the frame, in Anasstasiou’s film the frame line appears literally as an essential and disruptive-constructive part of the work. The film was back projected onto a rostrum table, evoking the idea of work in progress. The viewer has to stare into the rectangle of direct, as opposed to reflected light, and this complicates the sense of the image, which looks silhouetted, even though there is detail in its front side –texture in the forearm and so on.

Coloured loops by James Holcombe, and two beautiful high contrast hand-processed films, by Bea Haut and Jenny Baines, also featured. Haut’s film, Formatting and Filmwash, showed a woman washing 16mm film in a bucket, while Baines showed Stairs, Hackney Town Hall, made in un-split Standard 8 (which, contrary to Tacita Dean’s pronouncements, is still commercially available), of the stairs outside Hackney Town Hall. The steps are orientated vertically in the frame, so that we see continuous stripes in all four of the visible Standard 8 frames, through which an object periodically rolls across the frame, a small event in an otherwise static image.

The growth in the desire of younger (and not so younger) artists to work with film is fascinating and personally gratifying for a teacher working in the context of an increased domination of video production technologies. Over the last twenty five years, more and more students have turned to video, but in the last five there has been a remarkable growth in the number wanting to work with film. A visit to No.w.here will reassure those wanting to use 16mm or Super 8, but who are worried about costs, facilities and the availability of film stocks, that film is still very much around, not as a nostalgic or fetish object, but as a viable artistic medium. The experience of seeing works in which the medium, and the technology by which it is made visible, form an integrated and coherent whole, is utterly different from watching projected video, or even video on monitors. The noise and heat also become part of the experience, to say nothing of the variety of textural qualities, which are, again, very different from the frictionless surfaces of the video image.

Vicky Smith Loop no.3, opening night

Vicky Smith’s Loop no.3, opening night

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Bea Haut’s Formatting and Filmwash, opening night.

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General view, opening night, with projector and Steenbeck table in the background.

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Back of the Calder 16mm processing machine, showing chemical store in the background.

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The venerable Debrie 16mm contact printer.

The JK optical printer, immortalised on phone cam.

The JK optical printer, immortalised on phone cam.

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Equipment shelf.

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Vicky Smith: Loop no.3

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Maria Anastassiou: Dropped Frames.