To me, this year’s festival has seemed to have a more polished edge than previous years. Not polished in a seamless, disappearance of experimentation and labour kind of way, but polished in the coherent and connected programming of related screenings and performances and in the way that each day seems to have a sub-theme, or leitmotif, all its own. While I’m reluctant to ascribe the festival planners powers of astrological manipulation, it did seem particularly fitting that yesterday, in tandem with the full moon, I got to speak with curator Brett Kashmere about his program “Saturn Returns” and the launch of the new journal INCITE!
Ben Russell, Black and White Trypps Number Three, 2007, still
Gabby Moser: Your notes in the Images program explain that the title of your program, “Saturn Returns,” refers to an astrological event that happens every 27-30 years in a person’s life and that you, and your generation of peers who are represented by the artists in the screening, are currently undergoing their first return of Saturn. How do you think your program relates to the theme of this year’s festival, “Print Generation”?
Brett Kashmere: I didn’t know the Images Festival had a theme until now (i.e. the time of this writing). It seems they’re keeping it under wraps pretty well! I’m not so sure the work in “Saturn Returns” relates to that theme, though. As someone who has worked in both analog video and emulsion-based cinema, I take the phrase “print generation” quite literally. It also sounds like a pre-digital term, which is somewhat out of sync with my program, as it’s fairly heavy on digital video. I don’t associate the words “print generation” with my generation, either, which is also the focus of “Saturn Returns.” “Print generation” makes me think of newspapers, which are all moving online, or out of business.
GM: Did the idea of the quarter-life crisis inform the program in any way?
BK: In addition, I just learned about the quarter-life crisis, via the cover story in this week’s Eye Weekly. So much late-breaking news. I wouldn’t call the first Saturn Return a crisis, exactly, although the second Saturn Return is commonly referred to as the mid-life crisis. I see the first Saturn Return as something more positive than that, as a threshold of self-discovery and self-definition. Thank God for the Saturn Return! I was pretty lost before it.
GM: Many of the artists in the program appropriate, remix and re-contextualize music, television and pop culture from the 80s and 90s, using everything from Michael Jackson and Sinead O’Connor music videos, to early video games and action movies. Why do you think this generation of film and video artists has returned to this era as source material? What do you make of their approach to the footage (which seems to me like a mixture of sincere nostalgia and ironic interest in deconstruction)?
BK: I currently teach at a liberal arts college in the States, and most of my students are all over the 80s, in terms of music, style, etc. I see their appropriation of the 80s as totally ironic (even if they don’t know it) and devoid of nostalgia. But I feel very emotionally connected to the 80s, for good and for bad. That was when my sense of who I was started to form, when my identity was starting to take shape, but those were also agonizing experiences. I think a lot of the artists around my age (I’m 31) have complex feelings about the 80s, and that’s manifested in the work in “Saturn Returns.” There’s a pain in returning to that era, as it reminds us of how confusing adolescence can be, as well as how embarrassing our childhood pleasures were. The music and television of the 80s was really not very special. That said, I spent a lot of time in front of the TV during that decade, and that’s when I started to buy and mix my own cassette tapes. Those are my memories, and it seems natural to go back and explore that period. YouTube has made it pretty easy to re-visit the past. Too easy, maybe.
GM: What can you tell me about INCITE!, the journal that is being launched in tandem with your screening?
BK: INCITE! Journal of Experimental Media & Radical Aesthetics is a new publication dedicated to the discourse, culture, and community of experimental film, video, and new media. The journal has two formats, printed and online. Besides providing a forum for formal and informal scholarship on contemporary experimental media and radical aesthetics, our intention is to reflect upon the development of North AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s film and video vanguards, acknowledging the contributions of many prescient, though still under-appreciated, practitioners. And, to extend a bridge between that history and the current moment.
GM: How does the work you’ve curated relate to its ethos and goals as a publication?
BK: The primary goal of INCITE! is to address the lack of critical attention afforded film and media artists working today. The first print issue, which we’re launching at Images Festival, is only partially successful at addressing that void. I wish we had more essays on, and interviews with, the artists that we purport to cover. So “Saturn Returns” was designed to help fill out the picture, by bringing together some of the most interesting media artists of this/my generation into a single screening, and to offer a glimpse into the journal’s future. I’m interested in the idea of INCITE! being a platform for many different types of publishing endeavors, as well as events, rather than an annual, or semi-annual journal. I don’t think it will ever have a fixed format, size, look, etc, which seems appropriate in this current environment, where media changes pretty quickly.
GM: You mention the impact of YouTube on viewers’ attention spans in your program notes. Do you think the popularity of those kinds of user generated content have changed what we expect to see from experimental film and video? Are we entering an era where we’ve lost interest in sitting through longer structural films, like those made by J.J. Murphy or Michael Snow?
BK: We’ve definitely lost our interest in sitting through long structural films. I mean, I haven’t. But people, generally, have. Now, a 12 minute piece feels really long in the context of a program of short-format works. I don’t think YouTube has changed what we expect to see from experimental film and video, but it has changed how we experience them. But I also believe these developments are cyclical. Pretty soon the radically condensed videos of today will seem boring and trite, and there will be a swing back to longer forms. 24-Hour Wavelength: coming soon.
“Saturn Returns” screens tonight, Friday, April 10, at 9 pm at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) Project Space.