While several of the Images installations are still installed in galleries around the city, we are already planning for next yearâ€™s festival: setting dates, sending out calls for submissions, writing grants, and looking for exciting new work both at home and abroad.
So now I am in Germany, where I just attended the 24th European Media Art Festival (EMAF). Created the same year as Images, EMAF is also characterized by a mix of film and video work exhibited over a range of venues including in cinemas, in galleries and other non-theatrical venues, as live audio-visual performances, and feature programming such as artistsâ€™ spotlights and retrospectives.
EMAF takes place in OsnabrÃ¼ck, a small city with a well preserved downtown of winding cobblestone streets and buildings dating back many centuries. The scale and bourgeois elegance of the place makes one feel they are walking through a set from a Max Ophuls film, and especially at night, it is easy to imagine his characters there, confined in varying degrees by politics, geography, labour, marriage and class. But the streets are no longer home to horses and carriages. Instead, cars, buses and bicycles speed past cafes, sports bars and a seemingly disproportionate number of ice cream shops whose sidewalk tables are always full despite the cool spring air. All in all, a nice atmosphere to watch and discuss work, and to meet visiting artists, curators and film and video fans from Germany and beyond.
The tagline of the festival this year is the definitive THIS IS MEDIA ART. Indeed, the festival offers a cross section of media works from moving opâ€“art with eurobeat electronic soundtracks, to fiction films and documentaries with more or less formally experimental characteristics. The welcome note in the catalogue states that, â€œin the area of cinema, the trend is moving away from formal experiments toward narrative and documentary contents where history and stories are told and portrayed in a new exciting way.â€ Iâ€™m not convinced that the statement is particularly timely, but the festival was not without compelling work.Â Overlapping programs made it impossible to see everything so the following are highlights from what I was able to catch.
Low-Tech by Hui-Ching Tseng and Chen-Chun-Yu Wang is simple funny stop motion animation that uses classic techniques to mimic new technology in an engagingly cute way.
Triumph of the Wild shows animator Martha Colburn at the top of her game in a densely layered illustration of the epic and bloody history of mans relationship to nature.
Piotr Zlotorowiczâ€™s Smolarze depicts a day in the life of charcoal burners and their dog in the mountains of Poland. Zlotorowiczâ€™s sympathetic eye and attention to detail assure that the images from this film will stay with the viewer long after it is over.
In Lilong, Valentina Fernandes depicts what at first appears to be lush paradise, and then gradually reveals the true nature of her subject. A quiet but powerful portrait of a place and the people who frequent it.
Bettinaâ€™s Job, by Patrick Richter follows Bettina through her workday in a kitchen cooking for the impoverished aged and then setting up a modest used clothing store. As she works she describes the difficulties and disappointments in her life but is also careful to point out the significance of her work to the people she serves.
Vrolok by Peter Miller depicts the trajectory of a bat through the dark streets of a Transylvanian town. The simplicity of the film and the density of the 16mm print, add much to its power. PÃ¼lnoc (Midnight) by Klara Tasovska, was part of the same program as Millerâ€™s film, but deals less obliquely with the subject of darkness. Tasovska records the accounts of several subjects who discuss their relationship with darknessâ€“or the lack of itâ€“in our contemporary surroundings. One man has gone so far in his quest for darkness that he resorts to industrial sabotage, short-circuiting huge power networks for his own amusement.
EMAF favourite Kevin Jerome Everson was represented with two films at the festival. House in the North Country, is an elliptical interpretation of a play by Talaya Delaney about the death of a young soldier and the grief and mourning of his mother and sister. Abrupt shifts between intimate black and white performances shot in the studio and colour footage shot outdoors contrast presence with absence, dreams and reality.Â Fifteen an Hour shows night workers cleaning the beaches of Pensacola, Florida in the wake of the deepwater horizon oil spill last year.
Camilo Restrepoâ€™s Tropic Pocket serves as a poetic critique of colonialism in his home country of Columbia. Layered, mysterious and troubling, this first work by the painter turned filmmaker makes him someone to watch.
The Sower Arepo as Works a Wheel by Marcy Saude, is a three-part exploration of rural American existence. The most affecting is the second chapter, a silent look at the landscape with subtitles providing a first person account of a woman who grew up the daughter of subsistence farmers in rural Georgia.
Perhaps my favourite film at EMAF, Sidewalk Stories by Rizki R. Utama, consists of a list of small objects found on the streets of Munich and beyond. The list is used to illustrate the bittersweet experience of immigration, and the mix of alienation and wonder that goes along with it.
Along with mixed programs, the festival was rounded out by a number of feature length works: Enter the Void, Gaspar NoÃ©â€™s pathetic and tedious attempt to depict the search of a lost soul looking for a place to land; Wasteland Utopias, David Shermanâ€™s sometimes overworked but consistently compelling essay on Wilhelm Reich, Del Webb and desert development in Arizona; Branded to Kill, Seijun Suzukiâ€™s stylish gangster classic; and Under Control, Volker Sattelâ€™s study of European nuclear power plants. The best of the bunch, Sattelâ€™s film lets the audience read between the lines as he trains his camera on the industrial aesthetics and architecture that we have come to accept as symbols of wisdom and expertise. The unease we feel when he shows us the proximity of the plants to nearby towns and recreation centers is by no means allayed by the impassive confidence of the people behind the controls. Under Control is a unique portrait of a questionable industry, and an unfortunately timely one at that.
Of the installations, there were two stand-outs: The Character by Candice Breitz and The Tenth Sentiment by Ryoto Kuwakubo. In the former, Breitz has a group of children describe the characters in three different popular Bollywood films. Their answers are then edited together to maintain the flow of the description while exploring the communal and individual experience of film watching. The articulate and passionate performances by the children Breitz cast are a fascinating foundation for this engaging work. Kuwakuboâ€™s The Tenth Sentiment was the best of all the installations, where a model train creates a film noir shadow play as it makes its tour along the tracks.
EMAFâ€™s artist spotlight this year was on Standish Lawder whose canonical works from the 1960s are rarely shown today. The best of the bunch are Necrology, Corridor, Raindance, and 60 Suicide Notes. Revisiting these films together revealed the dark side of works that had once just seemed amusing. Lawder shrugged of questions of ethics around works like 60 Suicide Notes saying things like, â€œSure maybe it was mean but that was a long time agoâ€¦â€ or, â€œWell, it seemed like a good idea at the time.â€ That being said, Lawder also provided the most radical, disturbing and creepy image of the festival (quite an accomplishment given the inclusion of the NoÃ© and Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersbyâ€™s sing-songy appreciation of beastiality The Lesser Apes) with Regeneration. Lawder explained that he was looking for the most impossible subject to imagine happening in reverse, and indeed his un-birth movie is difficult not just to imagine but to watch, this ultimate reversal somehow becoming the most violent denial of life itself.