Last night I attended a screening of nine experimental films from 1943 to the present day at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. Curated by Irish artist and filmmaker Susan MacWilliam in response to the exhibition As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics currently showing at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Out of Body presented a selection of films that explore the psychic and physical spaces of body and landscape.
The theme of ‘physical spaces of body and landscape’ is of interest to my own practice as a filmmaker, particularly in light of my first two assignment films ‘Blue Jacket’ and ‘Ataraxis’, in which I was exploring ideas of person and place, though not as effectively.
The nine films screened, of which only Maya Deren and John Smith were names with which I was familiar, were:
Psychic Edit, Susan MacWilliam, 2008, Ireland, DCP, 14 second looped
Witch’s Cradle Outtakes, Maya Deren, 1943, USA, Digibeta, 10 minutes
State of Mind, remix #4, Mairéad McClean, 2005, Ireland, DVD, 10 minutes
Faint, Susan MacWilliam, 1999, Ireland, DCP, 4 minutes
The Black Sea, Jordan Baseman, 2010, USA/UK, Blu-ray, 3 minutes
Mountain Mist, Susan MacWilliam, 2002, Ireland, DCP, 8 minutes
Om, John Smith, 1988, UK, 16mm, 4 minutes
Ray Gun Virus, Paul Sharits, 1966, USA, 16mm, 14 minutes
The Last Person, Susan MacWilliam, 1998, Ireland, DCP, 11 minutes
Although the ‘psychic’ aspect of the theme of last night’s screening doesn’t resonate with me as a filmmaker, the nine films were excellent examples of experimental moving image practice between the 1940s and today. Using a variety of techniques, the films challenge our perception of the physical body and physical place/landscape.
One particularly interesting technique that figures in many of the films is the use of repetition and pattern. For example, the 14 second looped Psychic Edit (MacWilliams, 2008) establishes a pattern of images that repeats over time, building into a repeated extended sequence of family footage and a woman’s smile; a female figure repeatedly fainting beneath a tree in Faint (MacWilliams, 1999) establishes a pattern of movement and action that builds into a mesmeric, trance-like sequence; the single-shot of moving waves in The Black Sea (Baseman, 2010) generates its own graphic repetitions and patterns which, over time, appear to take on the appearance of a living, breathing form; and, by contrast, the highly charged sense of pattern and repetition that is established in Ray Gun Virus (Sharitts, 1966) exerts a strange hold over the viewer in a trance-like retinal experience that seems to engage with your own body in a way that none of the other films do.
In Mountain Mist (MacWilliams, 2002) the use of time and space plays a key role in the film’s structure and form. In a single-shot, in which the camera is locked down on a view of a mountain side covered in trees, space remains constant throughout, while time is manipulated through the use of time-lapse. We see birds flying, mists dispersing and rain storms passing in real-time, intercut with changes in the landscape such as clouds passing, fluctuations in light, and a sunset, in time-lapse.
Some of the films have no sound attached to them at all, such as Witch’s Cradle Outtakes (Deren, 1943) and The Last Person (MacWilliam, 1998). As a result, the absence of sound places all the emphasis on the visual experience of watching the movement and action within these two films. Even to the point that you become more acutely aware of the sound of your own body in the silence of the room.
To see these nine films in their original formats as they were intended to be viewed on the cinema screen was a real treat. Particularly, the 16mm prints of John Smith’s Om (1988) and Paul Sharits’ Ray Gun Virus (1966), which I now realise is a rare privilege.
This screening has left me with plenty of food for thought. Once again, as with my discovery of Vivienne Dick’s work a couple of weeks ago, a whole world of moving image practice has opened up for me.
As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics, Exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, 13 April – 27 August 2017
Faint (1999) MacWilliam, S. http://www.susanmacwilliam.com/faint (Accessed on 26 July 2017)
Psychic Edit (2008) MacWilliam, S. http://www.susanmacwilliam.com/psychic-edit (Accessed on 26 July 2017)
The Black Sea (2010) Baseman, J. http://www.jordanbaseman.co.uk/the-black-sea (Accessed on 26 July 2017)
Ray Gun Virus (1966) Sharits, P. https://vimeo.com/17173209 (Accessed on 26 July 2017)