Screening: Experimental moving image works at IMMA

‘Unlikely Correspondence’ – IMMA Screening & Talk / Irish Artist Experimental Film – Saturday 16 September 2017 / IMMA

‘In conjunction with the exhibition Vivienne Dick, 93% STARDUST at IMMA, Alice Butler, film programmer and co-curator of AEMI, presents a talk and screening of artist and experimental moving image works by contemporary Irish artists who are foregrounding new ways to work independently, redefining the limits and potentials of cinema across a range of formats. Butler’s talk will refer to and explore the history and development of artist moving image practice in Ireland.’

I thought I would jot down my thoughts around an epiphany I had recently about my direction as a moving image maker. I have been voraciously reading books and watching films by and about many experimental filmmakers and video artists (most notably Jonas Mekas, Vivienne Dick & Doug Aitken). It has been wonderful to discover so much amazing work by so many moving image practitioners from around the world, none of whom I had heard about before starting this course. Over the summer, for instance, reading through Michael Rush’s Video Art (2003) I discovered a whole world of moving image practice that was so powerful and stimulating I still can’t stop looking back at the book for another fix of art.

Last month my wife and I went to a screening and talk about contemporary Irish experimental film artists. Fractured, confused and non-the-wiser; frustrated; disappointed; in free-fall…all of the above. I just couldn’t connect with the films. They weren’t easy, nor were they particularly enjoyable. And perhaps that’s the point. Art isn’t meant to be easy. Nor does it have to be likeable in order to get something out of it that’s of value in your own life and work. Anyway, I’ve had time to think and let the dust settle for a while, so here are a few thoughts on where I think I may be heading in my own work as a moving image practitioner.

It was strange and unexpected, but the strongest feeling that came over me that evening as I came away from the event at the Irish Museum for Modern Art was knowing that my own calling as a moving image practitioner was very clearly heading towards that of making narrative films. What form these narrative films will take is unknown. But one thing is for sure, they will capture a story. I love people. And I love the way in which the stories we tell can bring people to life. Whatever the narrative form. Fact or fiction. I simply love experiencing a story unfold on screen. Not those simple, poorly thought out stories masquerading as narrative films. But the well wrought works of art that feed the imagination and mind with images and ideas that resonate in some way long after the film has finished. The type of films that engage me; that demand I contribute something of myself in return. If you know what I mean.

I like the ideas Alice Butler talked about – the correspondences between historical reality and fiction, and between art and nature, and the notion of ‘the talk’ and the ‘role of the expert’ in artistic expression. But, even now, a few weeks on from the screening, I still feel frustrated and disappointed in the works I saw that evening. Even at an abstract level, I couldn’t connect with them in the same way I could a painting by Rothko or Klee, for example. For In which the artist ‘speaks’; the viewer ‘replies’.

That disappointment has nothing to do with the works themselves. They were works of video art; well made. The frustration and disappointment was very much within myself, in my own personal response to those works; or, more accurately, my surprising lack of response to them. But that’s not the point here. What really fascinated (and surprised!) me during the event was the clarity, the absolute clarity, with which I saw myself as a moving image maker, wide awake and craving; moving towards narrative form.


Michael Rush (2007) Video Art London: Thames & Hudson

Exhibition: ‘Vivienne Dick, 93% Stardust’ – Irish Museum of Modern Art, 16 June – 15 October 2017

Vivienne Dick, Augenblick, 2017, Production still, HDV, 14 mins. © Vivienne Dick.

‘For Dick, the title of the exhibition 93% STARDUST, suggests that we are moving into a new age, following the age of Enlightenment, where man is no longer the centre of the universe’ (Exhibition Guide, IMMA).

Yesterday I went to the ‘Vivienne Dick, 93% Stardust’ exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Vivienne Dick is an Irish artist and filmmaker, who was a key figure within the ‘No Wave’ movement, a short-lived avant-garde scene in the late 1970s in New York, led by a collective of musicians, artists and filmmakers including Nan Goldin, Lydia Lunch, Arto Lindsay, James Chance and others.

The exhibition at IMMA presents some of Vivienne Dick’s early Super-8 film works from late 1970s New York, including Guérillère Talks (1978), Staten Island (1978), She Had Her Gun Ready (1978), Beauty Becomes The Beast (1979) and Liberty’s Booty (1980), alongside her recent film works The Irreducible Difference of the Other (2013), Red Moon Rising (2015) and Felis Catus (2016) and the world premier of her latest film Augenblick (2017), which was made while on IMMA’s Residency Programme earlier this year.

Having never heard of Vivienne Dick until now, this exhibition was a wonderful discovery. Her New York films focus on female sensibilities. Guérillère Talks, for example, presents a series of portraits of women associated with the ‘No Wave’ music and art scene. In Liberty’s Booty, Dick makes use of real-life footage, personal testimonies and acted-out scenarios in a film which examines the commodification of the female body through the perspective of prostitutes. Filmed in Super-8, these early films have the look of home movies, with the grainy picture, rough sound and handheld photography we associate with home movies.

Images of exhibition courtesy of Irish Museum of Modern Art

In her latest film, Augenblick, ‘different realities, seemingly disconnected, flash by, from an imaginary virtual world to a frozen landscape’ (Exhibition Guide, IMMA). From Jean Jacques Rousseau ranting about society, to three female actors recounting the story of human beliefs in animism, God and the digital world through quotes from Rumi, Harari, Gramsci and Hildegard Von Bingen, to the same three women chatting spontaneously around a table.

There were a number of things I particularly liked about this moving image. Such as the way in which she blends acted-out scenarios, unscripted conversations and landscape images together in the film; her use of lines quoted from older texts; and the moments of silence interspersed with 18th century music. All of which helped to give the film an organic, spontaneous feel. Techniques which I shall explore in my own moving image making.