Enter the Void

August 11, 2010

I have agreed elsewhere with James Quandt’s assertion that much of the New French Extremism which has come along in recent decades has replaced the politically challenging and artistically complex films that came before with “an aggressiveness that is really a grandiose form of passivity.” After seeing Gasper Noé’s latest, Enter the Void (2009) I stand by what I said.

Noé is truly a modern-day enfant terrible if ever there was one: his films more an annoying exercise in challenging traditional modes of viewing than engaging or entertaining viewing in and of themselves. Though personally not averse to such a premise (heck, I love experimental cinema probably even a little more than the next person) there is an arrogance that goes along with Noé’s version of experimenta that ventures beyond slight abrasion and arrives at raw irritation. But personal feelings aside, Enter the Void is indeed an interesting film (albeit at least an hour overlong) for what it says about the way in which we are accustomed to receiving cinematic visuals.

Starting with the most incredible title sequence I’ve ever seen, Enter the Void is high-octane at the outset but, as its protagonists descend into a drug-fuelled liminality between life and death, so too is the viewer induced into a trance like state, receiving a lengthy and repetitive succession of seedy images that straddle a strange space between stimulating and sedating. Without any access to the usual outlets of spectatorial identification and devoid of the type of affect that encourages an active engagement in a narrative, Enter the Void never asks its audience to disavow and constantly reminds them that they are at the mercy of a (somewhat sadistic) filmmaker (for two long hours and thirty-four even longer minutes, I might add.) This does however produce a poignant line of questioning, particularly as it pertains to the idea of feature-length film within the realm of counter-cinema (most experimental film is short in duration, one of the many usual ways in which it counters the mainstream cinema it is necessarily situated against.)

But even after being coerced by Noé into contemplating the merits of identification and considering the artifice of cinema as highlighted through cinematic excess (see Kristen Thompson’s “The Concept of Cinematic Excess” and then Jeffrey Sconce’s “Trashing the Academy: Taste, Excess and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style”), I couldn’t help but feel as though he were sat right behind me, laughing at my gullibility whilst counting his bulging pay packet. I’d like to say that Enter the Void deserves the appreciation and attention it will undoubtedly get, but in reality all I really hope for is to see an editor take a pair of scissors to it like a dog in heat.


Experimental Shorts

August 3, 2010

It is important when discussing experimenta and avant-garde modes of cinema to remember that one of its most significant and defining qualities is that it necessarily situates itself outside of, though still in conversation with, its “mainstream” counterpart. This year’s MIFF selection of Experimental Shorts was in many ways a typical, “balanced” program of its kind. What I mean by that is not necessarily negative, rather that the programming team clearly took into account that a relative portion of its audience might well be approaching experimenta from a “first time” perspective and, as such, the program includes a carefully considered breadth of experimental filmmaking.

Flyscreen (2010) / Richard Tuohy / Australia /8 min.

Working with 16mm film using the rayogram technique and optical sound, Richard Tuohy (part of the Artist Film Workshop) creates a successfully claustrophobic and atmospheric work. The flyscreens themselves simile the individual frames that make up the moving image and the optical sound of the screens emulate both the buzzing of an actual fly and the low drone of a film projector. It’s refreshing and exciting to see that there are still filmmakers out there who care about and are interested in experimenting with actual film.

Friedl vom Groller  (2009) / Austria / 8 min.

Passage Briare: A silent, black and white document of a middle-aged heterosexual couple reveals the simplistic beauty behind the human experience of (an)other.

Hen Night: A group of six women staring at the camera represent the reflected artifice and construction that appear in cinema and everyday life alike.

Wedding: A naked couple sit by one another facing the camera in what is shown to be a moment of “honesty”, transcending “seemlessness”. Simple yet beautiful.

Kitchen Horror (2009) / David Short / Australia / 4 min.

Using science and mathematics to inform its representation of the horrors hidden within a typically domestic space, Kitchen Horror is most interesting for its use of sound in illuminating the extraction of spacial ideological anomalies.

Palm D’Or (2009) / Siegfried A Fruhauf / Austria / 9 min.

The blurring of a fractured, fragmented crowd of people and places set to a sort of “white noise” soundtrack disorient and remove the viewer from a process of identification with the subject in this well executed black and white short.

Parallax (2009) / Inger Lise Hansen / Austria & Norway / 5 min.

A simply yet cleverly inverted image shows how the earth struggles to achieve its “natural movement”; suffering under the unnatural weight of human industry.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (2009) / Johann Lurf / Austria / 3 min.

Through framing film frame and showing sound, Lurf confronts his viewer with the very nature of the object they are viewing.

Long Live the New Flesh (2009) / Nicolas Provost / Belgium / 14 min.

Using CGI (computer generated imaging) to alter and enhance visceral sequences from famous horror films, Provost creates a new texture – or “flesh” – for the image. From conventional suspense horrors such as The Shining (1980) and Drag Me to Hell (2009) to Cronenberg body-horrors like Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986), Provost takes an experimental art form and makes it both contemporary and accessible to wider audiences. Although some of the images are quite beautiful the medium itself is disappointng; pixelation and computerised sound ultimately render it more like to a computer game than “film”.

Flag Mountain (2010) / John Smith / UK / 8 min.

Presenting a strong image of a liminal border space, Flag Mountain looks at a literal and ideological imprinting of nationhood upon the physical landscape.

Strips (2010) / Felix Dufour / Canada / 6 min.

Segmenting the image into “strips” we watch a woman “strip”. The cutting up of the woman and the image hark back to Laura Mulvey’s seminal article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Nothing new, but effective nonetheless.

Still in Cosmos (2009) / Makino Takashi / Japan / 19 min.

Matched to a soundtrack by Jim O’Rourke, Still in Cosmos shows scratched and deteriorating images that reflect the universe. Distorting the original photography it slowly reveals glimpses of nature and straddles the boundary between a Kantian understanding of beauty and the sublime.

Finally, whilst the program could be described as Austrian-heavy (hardly surprising when Austria is where pretty much most of the most interesting and cutting edge experimenta comes from), what was (pleasantly) surprising for me was to see Australian experimenta not only feature but contend in such an established program.

To Be Consumed.

January 17, 2010

“Contemporary art exists in a state of continual flux and evolution. For this very reason, personal interpretations of artwork vary considerably from one viewer to another. In bringing together an extremely varied collection of artists, this exhibition reflects the richness and diversity of contemporary art and the multiple emotions and personal interpretations it elicits. There are after all no right and wrong interpretations, only matters of opinion, judgment and aesthetic preference. Ultimately the meanings of these artworks are “to be confirmed” by you, the viewer.”

This statement accompanies the notes for The Bristol Gallery’s newest exhibition, To Be Confirmed. What is most striking about this particular gallery space however is not its presentation of the artworks themselves; rather, it is its all too obvious need to make a sale.

Ranging from £15 (for a small desk calendar) to £6150 (for a large bronze statue) just about everything in the gallery is for sale (including the selection of art reference books on the coffee table). Perhaps the emphasis on selling the artwork is reflected in the quotation abovementioned; perhaps the exhibition is suggesting that the process of commodification that art undergoes gives it (or perhaps the artist) some variant of confirmation (status, wealth, acceptance, and possibly even on some level, meaning).

Of the artworks themselves, as exhibited at The Bristol Gallery, they are made up of eleven individual artists whose works are as varied as their abilities to engage or elicit response.

Alison Black who, “deliberately rejects assigning narrative titles to her work in order to free the viewer to explore their own imagination and individually interpret her vividly coloured abstractions” creates mixed media images on canvas paper and whose use of colour and materials is attractive and something of a highlight in the room.

Alison Black

Alison Black

Mark Boyce’s hand carved ceramics are intricate and undoubtedly the most skilled works in the room. Similarly, Julien Masson’s work is evidently time-consuming for its application of paint onto canvas via syringes and pipettes and its three dimensional use of ordinary materials such as masking tape, though the images themselves fall somewhat tonally flat. Hywel Livingstone is another artist concerned with process rather than product and I daren’t argue with him for I am sure the creative process was far more intriguing than the end result. Bob Gale’s acrylic coastlines are rigid for their jarring geometric shapes and Nick Davis’ bronze sculptures claim to comment upon Americana and Graphic Novels. Luke Mitchell’s photographs are possibly the least interesting visuals in the gallery giving the expensive modernist sofas something of a fighting chance in their wake.

MAF Räderscheidt’s work, A Painting a Day Keeps the Doctor Away, was provocative for the boundaries it blurred bringing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter into the gallery space. The nine-month project itself was intent upon conveying through social networks across the cyber plain “a midget insight in an artist’s reality, a painted diary”. The body of work certainly communicated the urgency and immediacy that is at the heart of Internet social networking sites such as those aforementioned. The only reservation I hold is that the works themselves become inherently problematised through the process of renegotiation that their terms of reception have thus endured. Having now become items for sale, the good-natured sharing that social networking sites promote, and indeed intrinsically encourage, is obliterated.

Jimmy Galvin’s works stood out in the exhibition; bold abstract paintings capturing one’s eye from across the room, though I found the comparison to Rothko reductive on many levels. But it was his series of photographs, Electric Chair, Series of 3, that was most striking; with reference to Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even or The Large Glass as it is also known, Galvin highlights and reiterates the suffering that is brought about by the hand of man.

Jimmy Galvin

Jimmy Galvin

The most troubling piece in the exhibition is Chantal Powell’s Wonderland, Age 4. Encased in a beautiful antique wooden chest we find glass, acrylic, paperweights, feathers, fairy lights. Though these items do reflect her personal statement, explicating “romantic obsession…simplicity…often focusing on the small insignificant moments of life”, one wonders at the price point: £850 quid for what is essentially a child’s treasure chest.

The skepticism that I put forward is intrinsically linked to the issue of liminality in terms of the space which this particular gallery, and many more like it, occupy; something between exhibition and retail. The view I attended was private but yesterday the space was opened to the public. Perhaps this view is too cynical, but surely it is valid, for it is both private and confirmed.