Nina Paley recently finished her second feature film, Seder-Masochism. Her first, of course, is the award-winning Sita Sings the Blues, a retelling of the Ramayana from a feminist point of view which Paley released in full in 2008. However, she had started posting segments to the internet several years before that and she has done the same with Seder-Masochism, in which she retells events from Book of Exodus. She began posting segments in 2012 and completed the film last year, when she began showing it at festivals. Paley placed the whole film in general release at the end of January this year.
In both cases Paley has worked outside the mainstream movie industry, perform the tasks writing, directing and animating the films herself.
I want to offer some brief comments about two segments of the film. This Land is Mine is the first segment she released, but it is the last one in the completed film. God-Mother is one of the last she released–I don’t know whether or not it is THE last–but will be the first one in the film, even before the credits. Jordan Peterson has interviewed her and, in that interview, Nina said that the process of making the making turned about to be a journey of discovery in which she, in effect, discovered God-Mother. Read more »
I don’t know what Damien Chazelle was thinking as he was crafting First Man, a film about Neil Armstrong and his moon landing in Apollo 11, but to create the film we saw he had to “cleanse” it of four decades of space-adventure films. “But why,” you might ask, “would he want to do that? What’s wrong with adventures in space?” Nothing, if that’s your cup of tea. But, on the evidence of the film itself, he had something else in mind.
“What, pray tell, was that?” you ask. Let’s take a look.
The film opens on Neil Armstrong in a test flight of an airplane. While we do have some shots of the plane from the outside and at a distance, most of the shots are of the plane’s cockpit, either from Armstrong’s point-of-view has he looks about the cockpit, often at his hands activating controls, or through the window at the sky. There’s trouble, the image vibrates, a reflection of the plane’s motions. We hear voices (I think). We know Armstrong’s going to pull out of it because, well, after all, he did go to the moon and that’s not yet happened. There’s a strong sense of being enclosed, being trapped, of being at the edge of desperation.
No sense of wide open spaces, no wild blue yonder. Just white knuckles holding on and deliberate self-mastery. Keep it together. Pull through. And then it’s over. Armstrong lands the plane and gets out.
The aerial adventure trope has been held at bay. We’ve been told, “this is not that kind of film.” And the film makes a quick shift to a different register. Read more »
David Krippendorff is a US/German interdisciplinary artist and experimental filmmaker. Based in Berlin, he grew up in Rome, Italy, and studied art at the University of Fine Arts in Berlin, Germany, where he graduated with an MFA. His paintings, drawings, prints, films, and videos have been shown internationally, including at the New Museum (New York), ICA (London), Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg), and the Museum on the Seam (Jerusalem). He has participated in three biennials (Prague, Poznan, Tel Aviv).
Krippendorff’s short film Nothing Escapes My Eyes is currently part of the group exhibition “The Women Behind” at the Museum on the Seam; it was also shown at the Belgrade City Museum for the 56th October Salon in 2016 and has been screened at numerous international film festivals, winning twice as Best Short Film. Kali, a short film based on Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, also features Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass; it premiered at the Braunschweig International Film Festival in 2017.
Andrea Scrima: David, I’d like to begin with a question about your previous work. For decades now, you’ve been incorporating imagery from popular culture; earlier works, particularly There’s No Place Like Home,Sleeping Beauty, and The Beautiful Island, drew on the hidden subtexts in well-known American movies, such as The Wizard of Oz and Gilda. What was the motivating force behind this line of inquiry?
David Krippendorff: I grew up on classic American movies. The Wizard of Oz was an intrinsic part of my childhood, so it felt very natural to work with these films, because I had a personal relationship to them. My interest was in uncovering the ideologies and desires present in these films, but hidden beneath a polished layer of glamour and storytelling. I’m also fascinated by how thin the boundaries have become between the personal and the mediated experience, and films—with their almost mythological function—are the perfect material for this inquiry. Read more »
From November 17, Patricia Thornley’s work The Western, part of her series THIS IS US, is on view as part of the group exhibition “Empathy” at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The project is the latest in a seven-year series of installation and single-channel video works consisting of interviews and performances. Previous videos of the series are An American in Bavaria (2011), Don’t Cry for Me(2013), and Sang Real (2015). As a whole, THIS IS US formulates multiple parallel inquiries into the collaborative fantasies Americans enact through popular media. In the current political climate, as the escalation of social and economic forces impacting millions of lives is cast into increasingly sharp relief, these fantasies take on new urgency and, in many cases, a new absurdity.
The Western’s cast of characters consists of these Civil War-era archetypes: Indian Scout, Beast of Burden, Frontiersman, Savage, Deserter, Justice, and Drifter. The work is conceived as a two-part installation in which the cinematic trope of the Western is used as a framework for inquiring into the American psyche. In the exhibition space, a projected “movie” is installed opposite a wall of screens playing a series of interviews with the seven participating characters.
Andrea Scrima: Patricia, a few years ago I conducted an interview with you about a previous work of yours, Sang Real (2015), for the online poetry magazine Lute & Drum. Now, with The Western, the overall structure of THIS IS US is coming more and more clearly into focus. The last time we spoke at length about your series was a year and a half before the last presidential election. How have recent changes on the political landscape affected your approach to the themes in your work?
Patricia Thornley: From the beginning in the THIS IS US series, one of the questions I asked in my interviews with the people who featured in the individual videos was “how do you feel about being an American?” Historically, there’s always been a certain political disconnect at play with Americans, due to less armed conflict on our own soil and a certain comfort level. Read more »
When I was a child back in the nuclear-anxiety-Cold-War 1950s I went to see a film called Godzilla, King of the Monsters. I probably noticed that the people on screen didn’t look like Americans. They looked – well, I don’t know what I would have called them then, but they were in fact Japanese, except for this reporter guy (Raymond Burr) who talked a lot. What I remember is being scared out of my wits by this HUGE monster that seemed determined to destroy the world.
What I didn’t know at the time – I suppose that almost no one in the American audience did – is that this was somewhat different from the Japanese original, which came out in Japan in 1954 as Gojira. The Japanese original has two interlinked storylines: the story about the monster from the sea and a story about love vs. arranged marriage, which grapples with tradition vs. change. That second one was dropped from the American re-edit; the idea of an arranged marriage was and is all but meaningless in America, though it remains alive in Japan and in other nations. With a sense of grave ritual that is missing from the Americanized version, the Japanese original is a richer film. Read more »
Zev Robinson, an Anglo-Canadian filmmaker and painter whose award-winning work in several media goes back to the 1980s, will present his documentary, Arribes: Everything Else is Noise, in Marbella, on October 5, 2013. If you are reading from Spain, join him — see link below. Arribes focuses on a traditonal way of life and its relationship to agriculture, food, and sustainability in the Arribes, Sayago and Abadengo regions in northwest Spain, along the Duero River. Natives to this region are about 80-90% self-sufficient. What have they to teach us?
All photos, including stills from Arribes: Everything Else Is Noise,
are used with permission of Zev Robinson and/or Albertina Torres. To make inquiries as to further use of these materials, write to the artists, contact info below.
Elatia Harris: Zev, you are one of the ultimate city boys. How likely a story is this? That you would come to live in a rural Spanish village, and then spend years creating an intimate portrait of an even more isolated and distant region of Spain?
Zev Robinson: It was a long process of discovery. The last place I thought I’d end up, after living in several large cities including New York and London, was a Spanish village of fewer than 800 people, where my wife is from, and where my father-in-law works and harvests his vineyards.
When we lived in London, I remember looking at a bottle of wine in a supermarket that originated from this region, and thinking how few people understood all that went into its making. After we moved here, I was taking a walk through the vineyards one day, and got the idea of making a short film about how the grape gets from the vines here to bottles in the UK.
EH: Are you a wine connoisseur — in a big way?
ZR: I knew nothing about wine at the beginning of all this, but am always interested in processes, the history that brings an object into being.
How do we remember? Before the invention of the camera most people never possessed a likeness of themselves or those they loved – a lock of hair, a letter, were the heart’s most treasured possessions, the artefacts that conjured the past. Photography democratised the ownership of images. A portrait need no longer be in watercolour or oils, it could be an informal snap taken on a box Brownie: a casual moment sealed in the proverbial amber of memory. With the technological advances of the 20thand 21st centuries, with film, video and digital technology and the predominance of surveillance equipment it might, theoretically, be possible to record a whole life from the moment of birth till the second of death. It was only a decade or so ago that the French Postmodernist social theorist Jean Baudrillard argued that the images which assault us – on our TVs, in film and advertising – are not copies of the real, but become truth in their own right: the hyperral. Where Plato had spoken of two kinds of image-making: the first a faithful reproduction of reality, the second intentionally distorted in order to make a copy appear correct to viewers (such as a in a painting) Baudrillard saw four: the basic reflection of reality; the perversion of reality; the pretence of reality, and the simulacrum, which “bears no relation to any reality whatsoever”. Baudrillard's simulacra were, basically, perceived as negative, but another modern French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, has described simulacra as the vehicle by which accepted ideals or a “privileged position” can be “challenged and overturned”. Reality has become a complex issue.
Jonas Mekas was 90 on Christmas Eve, which means that the film-maker, artist and poet, often referred to as the godfather of avant garde cinema, has lived through a lot of history. Born in Lithuania he spent part of the war in a forced labour camp, then after the hostilities ended, another four years in various displaced person’s camps such as Flensburg, Hamburg, Wiesbaden, Kassel – first in the British Zone, then in the American. With nothing much to do and a lot of time he read, he wrote and went to the movies, which were shown free in the camps by the Americans. So began his long relationship with film. Later, when he commuted to the French Zone to study at the University of Mainz, he met André Gide who told him to “work only for yourself,” and watched a lot of French cinema. After arriving in America he bought his first Bolex camera in 1950, which he used to film everyday scenes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the Lithuanian immigrants who lived there. Describing himself and his brother as “two shabby, naïve Lithuanian boys, just out of forced labour camp”, it was not until some 10 years later that he decided to assemble the footage into a film.
This morning I had what felt like a near-death experience. I also underwent something that possibly resembled a re-birthing. No I was not on LSD, nor have I joined a hippy-dippy cult. I was looking at or, rather, was totally immersed in the art of James Turrell. After walking up the steps to a spherical chamber in the Gagosian Gallery in Kings Cross, a young woman in a white coat invited me to I lie on a bed and put on a set of earphones. I was then trundled inside the machine like a patient about to have an MRT scan. As the door closed l felt like a mummy in sarcophagus. I tensed, my breathing became quick and shallow, and I experienced a wave of panic. Clasping the escape button close to my chest I had been told that on no account must I sit up. Although I had signed a disclaimer that I didn’t have epilepsy, the white coated young woman suggested that, as I suffer from migraines, I should opt for the soft, rather than the hard version, which had less intense flashing lights. As ambient sound played through the head phones I tried to relax despite the sense of claustrophobia. [Bindu Shards, James Turrell, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery.]
Then, opening my eyes I was surrounded by a heavenly blue light. No, not surrounded, enveloped; for I had no sense of space or scale. There was no horizon. The blue seemed infinite. As I lay there I felt as though I was floating – in space, in water, even in amniotic fluid. Then the lights changed, pulsing from a central nebula. I couldn’t watch as I couldn’t bear the intensity of the flashing – what, I wondered would the hard version have been like? – and had to shut my eyes, though I could still see the lights through my closed lids. I half opened my eyes and was bathed in a deep red. It was like being in the womb. Then things went dark and the bright lights pulsed again. Sometimes it felt as if I was hurtling through space or deep under the sea. Was this what it had felt like to be born? I knew that I was in the capsule for fifteen minutes so tried to estimate how much time had passed in order not to panic. Towards the end the light turned blue again, then slowly faded and darkened leaving me feeling strangely calm. So this, I thought, is what death will feel like.
Bindu Shards 2010, was developed from the Ganzfeld sphere entitled Gasworks built in 1993 at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. The phenomenon experienced will be familiar to any mountaineer who has ever been caught in a snowstorm whiteout unable to distinguish whether what they are seeing is real or in the mind. This, of course, poses huge questions about the nature of perception and, even, religious or spiritual experience. What does it mean to see something or to ‘know’ that you have seen something? Is this what a vision is?
In my last 3quarksdaily article I considered the ability of science-fiction – and the impossible objects it contains – to highlight the gap between us and ‘The Thing Itself’ (the fundamental reality underlying all phenomena). In this follow-up I ask whether the way these fictional ‘Things’ determine their continued existence – by copying, cloning or imitation – can teach us about our conception of nature.
Seth Brundle: What’s there to take? The disease has just revealed its purpose. We don’t have to worry about contagion anymore… I know what the disease wants.
Ronnie: What does the disease want?
Seth Brundle: It wants to… turn me into something else. That’s not too terrible is it? Most people would give anything to be turned into something else.
Ronnie: Turned into what?
Seth Brundle: Whaddaya think? A fly. Am I becoming a hundred-and-eighty-five-pound fly? No, I’m becoming something that never existed before. I’m becoming… Brundlefly. Don’t you think that’s worth a Nobel Prize or two?
In David Cronenberg’s movie The Fly (1986) we watch through slotted fingers as the body of Seth Brundle is horrifically transformed. Piece by piece Seth becomes Brundlefly: a genetic monster, fused together in a teleportation experiment gone awry. In one tele-pod steps Seth, accompanied by an unwelcome house-fly; from the other pod emerges a single Thing born of their two genetic identities. The computer algorithm designed to deconstruct and reconstruct biology as pure matter cannot distinguish between one entity and another. The parable, as Cronenberg draws it, is simple: if all the world is code then ‘all the world’ is all there is.
Science fiction is full of liminal beings. Creatures caught in the phase between animal and human, between alien and Earthly, between the material and the spirit. Flowing directly from the patterns of myth Brundlefly is a modern day Minotaur: a manifestation of our deep yearning to coalesce with natural forces we can’t understand. The searing passions of the bull, its towering stature, are fused in the figure of the Minotaur with those of man. The resultant creature is too fearsome for this world, too Earthly to exist in the other, and so is forced to wander through a labyrinth hovering impossibly between the two. Perhaps Brundlefly’s labyrinth is the computer algorithm winding its path through his genetic code. As a liminal being, Brundlefly is capable of understanding both worlds from a sacred position, between realities. His goal is reached, but at a cost too great for an Earthly being to understand. Seth the scientist sacrifices himself and there is no Ariadne’s thread to lead him back.
In her book on monsters, aliens and Others Elaine L. Graham reminds us of the thresholds these ‘Things’ linger on:
“[H]uman imagination, by giving birth to fantastic, monstrous and alien figures, has… always eschewed the fiction of fixed species. Hybrids and monsters are the vehicles through which it is possible to understand the fabricated character of all things, by virtue of the boundaries they cross and the limits they unsettle.”
The urban landscape is overrun with paths. Road-paths pulling transport, pavement-paths and architectural-paths guiding feet towards throbbing hubs of commerce, leisure and abode.Beyond the limits of urban paths, planned and set in tarmac or concrete, are perhaps the most timeless paths of all. Gaston Bachelard called them Desire Paths, physical etchings in our surroundings drawn by the thoughtless movement of human feet. In planning the layout of a city designers aim to limit the emergence of worn strips of earth that cut through the green grass. People skipping corners or connecting distinct spaces vote with their feet the paths they desire. Many of the pictures on the right (from this Flickr group) show typical design solutions to the desire path. A delimiting fence, wall or thoroughfare, a row of trees, carefully planted to ease the human flow back in line with the rigid, urban aesthetic. These control mechanisms have little effect – people merely walk around them – and the desire path continues to intend itself exactly where designers had feared it would.
The technical term for the surface of a planetary body, whether urbanised, earth covered or extra-terrestrial, is regolith. As well as the wear of feet, the regolith may be eroded by wind, rain, the path of running water or the tiny movement of a glacier down the coarse plane of a mountain. If one extends the meaning of the term regolith it becomes a valuable metaphor for the outer layer upon or through which any manner of paths may be inscribed.
The self-titled first Emperor of China, Qín Shǐhuáng, attempted, in his own extravagant way, to re-landscape the regolith of time. By building the Great Wall around his Kingdom and ordering the burning of all the books written before his birth Qín Shǐhuáng intended to isolate his Kingdom in its own mythic garden of innocence. Far from protecting his people from the marauding barbarians to the West or the corrupting knowledge of the past Qín Shǐhuáng's decision to enclose his Kingdom probably expanded his subject's capacity for desire beyond it. There is no better way to cause someone to read something than to tell them they cannot; no better way to cause someone to dream beyond some kingdom, or attempt to destroy it, than to erect a wall around it. As we demarcate paths we cause desire to erupt beyond them. The regolith, whether physical or ethereal, will never cease to degrade against our wishes.