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”.
Thorsten Fleisch: Blutrausch (16mm, 1999)
Patti Gaal-Holmes: Blutrauch die Ende der Geschichte (16mm, 2013).
Vicky Smith: Noisy Licking and Spitting (16mm, 2013)
Two frames from Cathy Rogers’ Rosemary Again and Again (unsplit Standard 8, 2012)
James Holcombe and Asnan Adams: Hair in the Gate (16mm, 2013).
George Saxon: Blisfully Gunned Down (2 x 16mm, 1980).
Two views of Louisa Fairclough’s Drawn up by some Breathing (16mm, 2013)