From her brand new album, Dead Magic, released earlier this month on City Slang records.
‘Cinema was born in 1895. In 2015, the original device has disappeared – such is the world, techniques vanish and others emerge: “There is no doubt that death is the youth of the world” [said Georges Bataille, in L’Histoire de l’érotisme]. I initiated my cinematic research at a transitional moment, in 1990, and started to present it in 1992. In 1993 in Washington (USA), I started a series of photographs figuring photograms of films corroded by the passing of time and storage condition, which was exhibited in New York two years later at MoMA. Since then, I have been watching films in Western film libraries and private collections, harvesting “decomposed” images affected by the passing of time. Without retouching them, I select the improbable and rare ones, those on which the marks of time enter in dialogue with the image to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the actual image and its destruction process. Jean Cocteau claimed that cinema filmed “death at work”. It seemed interesting to identify death at work at the core of the medium, within the material and invisible layer allowing us access to the film: the reel. So I ventured through cinema, with great patience – it takes fifteen days, eight hours a day, to watch a feature film frame-by-frame –, reflecting upon the instability of film archives, their support, the conditions of their appearance and disappearance (I was far from imagining that the proper reel could vanish!). I fancy the idea that figures and locations filmed a century ago resurface differently at other times and that I was able to capture this hazardous encounter with the ills affecting the medium. Furthemore, the fact that these images exhale beauty, strangeness and intensity is a nice complement: grace befalls anywhere.’
– Eric Rondepierre, The Mark of Time.
That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.
Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.
In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».
Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychic photographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archaeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.
“Succumb to the crumb…”
Mermaid Avenue is a 1998 album of previously unheard lyrics written by Woody Guthrie, put to music written and performed by Billy Bragg and Wilco. The project was organized by Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie. Mermaid Avenue was released on June 23, 1998. The project is named after a song “Mermaid’s Avenue” written by Guthrie. This was also the street in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York on which Guthrie lived. According to American Songwriter Magazine, “The Mermaid Avenue project is essential for showing that Woody Guthrie could illuminate what was going on inside of him as well as he could detail the plight of his fellow man.”
During the spring of 1992, Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora contacted Billy Bragg about writing music for a selection of completed Guthrie lyrics after Bragg played a Guthrie tribute concert in New York City’s Central Park. Her father had left behind over a thousand sets of complete lyrics written between 1939 and 1967; none of these lyrics had any music other than a vague stylistic notation. Nora Guthrie’s liner notes in Mermaid Avenue indicate that it was her intention that the songs be given to a new generation of musicians who would be able to make the songs relevant to a younger generation. Nora Guthrie contacted Bragg, who in turn approached Wilco and asked them to participate in the project as well. Wilco agreed, and in addition to recording with Bragg in Ireland, they were given their own share of songs to finish.
Rather than recreating tunes in Guthrie’s style, Bragg and Wilco created new, contemporary music for the lyrics. What seemed like a risky enterprise surprised everyone; released in 1998 as Mermaid Avenue, the results were met with universal acclaim. The album received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and went on to place fourth on the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1998. In 2008, Jonatha Brooke released The Works, a project that similarly drew on the trove of unpublished Guthrie material. According to Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles, Woody Guthrie offered his unpublished songs to Dylan but was unable to enter the house to obtain them as Arlo Guthrie would not let him in. Man in the Sand, a documentary about the collaboration between Billy Bragg and Wilco, was released in 1999.
“The entire album is an exorcism of an dead universe. Nothing can stay together here. It’s hauntology as a pasture of incidental tones and half-ripped photographs. The video footage is unable to focus. The lens’s view is eternally obstructed. The wild blurs of compounded biographies come off like a fever dream of a memory play.” – Timothy Gabriele (12 November 2009). Broadcast and the Focus Group: Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age – PopMatters.