Category Archives: Opinion

Cinema as Ritual in Transfigured Time

Maya_Deren_Symposium

This was a somewhat spontaneous one-day symposium in Basel on the 20th May 2017, organised by Prof. Dr. Ute Holl, with and for students of the ‘Seminar Medienwissenschaften’ (Media Research Seminar) at the University of Basel, CH.

Convened in order to celebrate 100 years since the birth of Maya Deren, it aimed to explore the relation between dance and trance and cinema. Guest speakers included: Ling Ji Hon (who started the day of with a Tai Chi session), Christine Noll Brinckmann, Mathilde Rosier, Claudia Kappenberg, Moira Sullivan, Florence Freitag. The setting was suitably magical, hosted by Neues Kino Basel, a community-led romantic old building complete with Berlin-style ‘Hinterhof’, screening room, large kitchen diner and ample hang-out spaces.

Ute Hall invited everyone to fully immerse themselves in discussions, and to be flexible around timings and programming. This – and the delicious food – led to a lovely, relaxed and conversational atmosphere. Presenters had also been invited to mix academic discussions with more creative approaches and to screen personal work if suitable, which allowed for new connections to emerge between then and now and between different practices. My favourite was a presentation / screening by Mathilde Rosier, whose work has both visual rigour and a magical, playful character.

And guess what, Maya Deren’s footage and sound recordings from Haiti will feature in this year’s DOCUMENTA in Kassel, together with photos by Deren biographer Martina Kudlacek, work by the Haitian artist Andre Pierre and paintings by Amrita Sher-Gil. The exhibition is curated by Natasha Ginwala. See you there?!

Deren’s work clearly continues to fascinate and entrance people, and is perhaps more relevant than ever.

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Report from Panorama British Screendance

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I am following up on my last post about this event/ panorama in Bordeaux 11th May 2017: to make this happen, Camille Auburtin worked with three partners, the Cinéma Jean Eustache de Pessac in Bordeaux, who hosted the screening and lecture, the Université Populaire du Cinéma of Bordeaux (UNIPOP), and the independent association Cinéréseaux. It was an interesting forum as it brought together several different audiences of all ages, from young and mature filmmakers who work with dancers and screendance to those who had never heard of screendance/ video dance, but have a general interest in cinema and experimental work.

The films looked great on a massive screen in this 400 seater cinema, and were discussed in the context of experimental cinema’s rich history.

For a blog post on the event see: https://www.facebook.com/milleAub/posts/10155222269177246?match=Y2FtaWxsYXU%3D

 

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Panorama British Screendance

On the 11th May I will be presenting two film programmes in Bordeaux as part of an International Panorama of Screendance organised by L’UNIPOP, Université Populaire Cinéma in association with the Cinéma Jean Eustache Pressac.

Screendance is still relatively unknown in France, both as art practice and as a term (despite the Festival in Bourgogne that is run by Marisa Hayes and Franck Boulègue). French artists tend to speak of Videodance, Vidéodanse, which is not a very useful term and can send out the wrong signals. But apart from that, to an audience who does not know what this practice consist of, what kind of historical, British narrative would you propose and what works would you select for a screening?

I decided to start with the wonderful and groundbreaking structuralist filmmaking and artist’ moving image we have in Britain, to make a link with how movement was explored in these works and how it has developed more recently within screendance. Of course one could build many different programmes with this premise and thereby highlight different approaches and areas of choreographic and editorial interest. Below are the two programmes I will be screening in Bordeaux.

Programme 1 (Historical Perspective): Berlin Horse (1970) Malcolm Le Grice and The Whirlpool (1997) Jayne Parker, followed by Tattoo (2001) Miranda Pennell; Boy (1996) Rosemary Lee and Peter Anderson; Snow (2003) David Hinton and Rosemary Lee; Stand in (2009) Becky Edmunds; El Fuego (2007) Becky Edmunds; Snoplog (2014) Chien-Ming Chang and Katy Pendlebury; Edits (2013) Marisa Zanotti and Lea Anderson.

Programme 2 (Choreocinematic Sensibilities):  You made me Love you (2005) 4 minutes, video, Miranda Pennell; Human Radio (2002) 9 minutes, Super 16mm to video, Miranda Pennell; All This Can Happen (2012) 50 min, video, Siobhan Davies and David Hinton.

I look forward to seeing this body of work and to the ‘conversations’ that will emerge between the films.

Claudia Kappenberg

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Email and ipads in ancient Rome?

I spent a day with IT4Arts, the London City-based Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (a Guild) which provides free advice and training for non-for-profit Arts organisations such as the Screendance Journal, but also big established institutions such as, the Roundhouse, the Royal Albert Hall, Tate, and BBC etc.

A most fascinating talk was given by Tom Standage from The Economist, author of Writing on the Wall (2013). Applying current, social media vocabulary to the means of communication amongst the Romans and in the Middle Ages, he argued basically that they had networks of communication that functioned much like our social media, with messages and news that were sent from person to person, and with news that were trending across networks and others that faded away quickly.

According to Standage there are three phases of media development, with Really Old Media from 60BC through to 1833, Old Media until 2000, and New Media since then. The Really Old Media included paintings as a form of selfies, letters on papyrus delivered by slaves and copied to others as a sort of email equivalent, a whole system of messengers (tabelari) as broadband, and a culture of copying books and adding books to personal libraries as an equivalent to person to person distribution. An example of a social media savvy person as suggested by Standage is the Evangelist Paul, who wrote letters to key churches, such as his letter to the Colossians, knowing that they would be copied time and again until eventually every church would hold a copy and hear about his ideas. Strategic blogging and tweeting, in other words, is not exactly a new idea.

No doubt there were significant changes with the invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press with movable types in around 1450, but the changes were gradual. Initially any printing was small scale and served mainly to amplify the person to person distribution. For example, when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest against the Pope’s selling off of indulgences – which supposedly saved people from going to purgatory and which Luther saw as a complete con – he discovered the power of printed distribution. His first theses were written in Latin, addressing the more learned people and thereby limiting the readership. Noting the considerable interest in his theses Luther then translated them into a form of German, and it took a mere two weeks for the theses to be distributed around the whole of Germany. (A little side effect was that this nationwide distribution established a common German language.) According to Standage, Luther’s thesis can count as an excellent example of peer-to-peer distribution.

As Standage proposed, later historical social media phenomena were, for example, the coffee houses of the 1600s, which acted as debating chambers and thrived on the buzz created by the newly imported coffee. The Tudors had a thing called the commonplace books, which were personal diaries of sorts and used for noting poems and ideas. The commonplace books were shown to friends for the purpose of sharing inspiration and for copying. Occasionally, Standage added, they were circulated amongst several authors as in the court of Anne Boleyn and served to speculate and to ‘gossip’ on who was whose lover etc.

Only in 1833, Standard argued, did the press achieve the kind of mass distribution we know today, which established a radically different, controlling, and top-down circulation of the news. While in Luther’s time small printers would print, for example, a 1000 copies and remunerate the author by handing him 100 of those, from the 1800s the press was owned by the very wealthy who impose their own version of the news, temporarily overriding social media circuits.

Standage concluded that the social networks of the Really Old Media had essentially allowed for the same kind of synchronisation of opinions we experience today with twitter, blogging and Facebook, and which underpin events like the Arab Spring. Hence, the ‘new social media’ must be considered as a revival of ancient horizontal distribution systems. Current social media have amplified the reach and speed of communication  through new technologies, but they are not a new phenomenon as such. The old coffee houses – hotbeds of ideas and centres of innovation – meanwhile morphed, over time, into new kinds of businesses like insurance brokers, and fuelled collaborations and scientific discoveries.

All of this reminds me that getting together, talking and sharing ideas is absolutely vital for any culture. That was precisely the situation at the beginning of the screendance venture, when Doug Rosenberg, Katrina McPherson and I secured the funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for an international Network in Screendance. The Network fund allowed us to gather a set of key people and to meet twice a year, either in the US or the UK, and to spend a few days together talking. Most crucially the Network fund had not required us to predetermine what exactly we were going to do together! Out of these intensive encounters then came the idea, that we needed a dedicated platform for the publication of debates in the field of Screendance, and that led, a mere six months later, to the launch of the Screendance Journal. It is a great shame that nowadays days most funding proposals require a fully formed plan of action and a whole set of outcomes before one has even started meeting. This disregards how ideas are formed, and how people become productive. Three cheers for the AHRC for keeping up the Network Grant.

For videos of the IT4Arts talks see Information Technologists

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2nd Edition of Light Moves Festival

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Some thoughts on the Light Moves Festival, by Claudia Kappenberg

Last week I spend three days at Light Moves, in Limerick (Ireland). The festival offered a rich combination of screenings, symposium, installed works and talks by seasoned artists whose practices ask profound questions as to who we are and how we relate to the world around us.

Performance artist Nigel Rolfe shared images of an extensive body of work, including a couple of works on video, in which a lone figure exposes itself to the elements. Nigel Rolfe at a screendance festival? This might seem like a stretch to some, but I think it is only a sign of our times and of what there is to come. The screen is becoming ever more ubiquitous, and more and more artists are embracing it as a means to make work and to visit/ revisit their material and ideas.

Rolfe undertakes durational, often daylong interventions and condenses these into 2min long videos, giving as much as glimpses of the work through one slow pan. As a member of Black Market International he is one of a group of artists who have been challenging the cultural and cultivated self by asserting their physical material presence, through durational performances in both urban environments and in the landscape. It is a practice of surrender it seems, to time, weight, and whatever conditions one might find oneself in. Sometimes an audience witnesses this work, sometimes Rolfe has no one for company.

In the everyday our bodies tend to be a kind of background at the service of the mind, and inversions of this constellation tend to be painful and unwelcomed. Watching a performance which challenges this order of things, and even witnessing the process on film can be quite unsettling. So why does Nigel Rolfe go to such extremes, expose himself, at times even endangering his life? The work makes me think of ancient sacrificial rites and lone wolf adventures, of existential feats and extreme sports. However, the work also has a strong aesthetic and performances give rise to striking and beautiful images. Performances can look like paintings made from body, earth and sky, not unlike the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and his contemporaries. Surrender of Self in the search of the sublime perhaps? This work is as much part of our cultural traditions as it is on its margins, and perhaps this paradox is what makes it so intriguing.

As part of an exchange with the Australian multi-arts centre Carriageworks, the festival also included an exhibition of several works that form part of 24 Frames Per Second, a set of 24 new commisions for screen-based work at the intersection of film, dance and the visual arts. One of the works presented at Light Moves was Running Tongue (2015), the latest cinematic collaboration between choreographer Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton. The work and its creative process was discussed at a conversation between the curators Mary Wycherley and Jürgen Simpson with Sue Davies. Peeling back the layers that led to this composition, Davies described the brief for the 22 independent dance artists who were invited to make a few seconds each. Key to the composition was a selection of 250 proverbs that Davies and Hinton selected from across the world and which delineate and define woman in one way or another. The invited artists were also given a folder with the visual material and painting references, and they were asked to make a composition within a still image that included a freeze frame of a female, naked runner in profile. This female runner was also the link between the different scenes, running through psychedelic cut-out forests and pausing briefly in each of the scenes. The individual scenarios had to be composed as a photographic collage, all the imagery had to be set in London, and movement was considered a luxury. The resulting work is a highly surface-conscious, digital tapestry of textures, colours and shapes, a series of tableaus with strange and unpredictable constellations. Furthermore the whole thing is not a fixed sequence but digitally randomised. No two screenings will ever be the same.

While the tableaus tend to have a narrative feel, there is little actual story telling and the fragmented nature of the work is somewhat unsettling. Yes there is the lone runner travellling from scene to scene but her solitude is not mitigated. Things happen to her she does not react or interact. Her big stride is beautiful and energetic, but the ongoing, neverending cycle turns it into a relentless and somewhat exhausting activity. One could read the work as a portrait of a generation, in which thoughtfulness and tenderness alternate with sudden spouts of violence. Against the backdrop of the recent, seemingly random attacks in Paris, Germany and Tunesia, and the sudden flare-up between Russia and Turkey, this seems all too real.

The choreographed randomness was already present in All This Can Happen, the previous collaboration between Davies and Hinton and another kaleidoscopic composition of cultural life forms and their multiples. All this can happen, say the films, and all this takes place on screen. Maya Deren argued that film was the defining medium of the 20th century. In the 21st century any differences between the screen and the everyday are melting away.

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Embrace your foolishness

“By avoiding dancing, Shakespeare’s Jacques refuses the embrace of his own foolishness,” writes  in the Guardian in a review on dance on the big screen. And I would add that this aspect of dancing is gaining a new currency at a time when life is increasingly measured, standardised and accounted for. Read the full article;

The glorious folly of dance on film

From Singin’ in the Rain to The Full Monty and Strictly Ballroom, dance films celebrate our human capacity for improvised, limitless joy.
Michael Newton, The Guardian, Saturday 28 June 2014
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Chirstinn Whyte and the new era of screendance

The era of screendance commissioning for television is long over, and within a wider contemporary landscape of sweeping funding cuts, specialist niche festivals – Dance on Screen at The Place, South East Dance Agency’s Dance for Camera Festival in Brighton, and Moves in Manchester and Liverpool – read as a roll call of the fallen.

It is arguably now easier than has ever been the case to create screen-based work using materials found close to hand and home and to access screening opportunities across a variety of technological platforms as part of a rapidly evolving global screen culture – a culture which includes six-second uploadable loops, myriad mobile phone apps and increasingly lightweight recording devices.

– Chirstinn Whyte

http://bellyflopmag.com/blog/open-week-chirstinn-whyte-motion-studies-teaching-21st-century-screendance

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French blog Digidanse

Nicolas Villodre (Collections, La Cinémathèque de la Danse, Paris) reviews After Deren, the new issue of the International Journal of Screendance, and comments on a recent discussion and presentation on Screendance at the Figures du geste dansé;  Digidanse

 

 

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Curating Constellations

Screendance makers and scholars often lament the lack of exhibition possibilities outside the common dance film festival format, that is annual competitive screenings that rarely diverge from a discipline-based curatorial approach and focus exclusively on new works of screendance. What might an alternative model look like? Papers and events have continued to revisit the question with varying degrees of success, exploring the setting and duration of screenings, as well as thematic programming, among others. On a recent visit to Liverpool’s Tate Modern, I was inspired by the exhibition ‘Constellations’, a show that organizes works of art into nine different ‘star clusters’, distinct sections arranged conceptually around one influential work designated as the ‘trigger’ :

…the displays offer a fresh way of viewing and understanding artworks through correspondences rather than chronological narrative.

 Acting as the originating ‘trigger’ of each constellation is one artwork that has been chosen for its revolutionary effect on modern and contemporary art. Each of these trigger works is displayed among artworks that relate to it, and to each other, across time and location of origin. Chosen for their similarity to, apparent difference from or transformation of the trigger work, each grouping creates an accumulation of relationships and meaning that extends the themes and concerns of the originating work. (http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-liverpool/display/dla-piper-series-constellations).

Imagine the exciting possibilities of experiencing screendance ‘constellations’ that engage in dialogue with one another across diverse eras, styles and formats. What would your first cluster of ‘stars’ look like? The ‘Constellations’ exhibition has certainly inspired me to reflect on alternative curatorial approaches that might allow my own work in screendance programming to provide audiences with a deeper and alternative exploration of the medium and its rich ongoing histories. For anyone interested in brainstorming further on the relationship between screendance and curatorial practices, the electronic journal OnCurating is an interesting resource: http://www.oncurating-journal.org. 

–Marisa C. Hayes

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Report on 24hr Dance Hack

 

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If one has 24hrs it doesn’t matter if technology fails at some point, as there is plenty of time to fix it. With 24hrs there is  little pressure to ‘perform’, because there enough time for ideas to emerge and things to happen. There is also a chance to get to know the people who have come together, and one can begin a conversation, continue a few hrs later and resumer the next morning over a cup of coffee. There is even enough time to take a nap, and to come back and see where things are at.

It is not surprising that the the digital community has taken a linking to this sort of working; it is communal, fun, enterprising, supportive, and low pressure.

We started at 7pm on Saturday eve and by Sunday morning there were new hacks to explore, responsive systems that could be interacted with and tested through movement, to find the strange edges where it would kick in, or drop out. It was interesting to see that the hacks would initially encourage movement and lots of it, while over time the same hacks could also be explored as to their potential to slow down and to minimise activity. The different possibilities lead to  specific and precise dialogues between technology and body(ies).

This encounter between technologists and movers seems very timely, as otherwise how will we comprehend,  explore and advance was has already become an ubiquitous feature of the everyday, the interactive screens on which we are represented.  Highly recommended.

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