bill morrison – decasia – trailer (2002)

A film by Bill Morrison / Music by Michael Gordon / Blu-Ray Trailer / An Icarus Films Release

Often compared to Stan Brakhage, Bill Morrison created DECASIA entirely with decaying, old found footage, melded to the music of Bang on a Can’s Michael Gordon, performed by the 55 piece basel sinfonietta. The result is a delirium of deteriorated film stock, a moving avant-garde masterpiece that leaves its meaning open to interpretation and, most importantly, your imagination.

“Bill Morrison’s DECASIA is that rare thing: a movie with avant-garde and universal appeal…. Morrison is not the first artist to take decomposing film stock as his raw material, but he plunges into this dark nitrate of the soul with contagious abandon. Few movies are so much fun to describe. Heralded by a spinning dervish, DECASIA’s first movement seems culled from century-old actualités: Kimono-clad women emerge from a veil of spotty mold, a caravan of camels is silhouetted against the warped desert horizon, a Greek dancer disintegrates into a blotch barrage, the cars for an ancient Luna Park ride repeatedly materialize out of seething chaos.

“DECASIA is founded on the tension between the hard fact of film’s stained, eroded, unstable surface and the fragile nature of that which was once photographically represented. Michael Snow contrived something similar in the chemical conflagration of his 1991 To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror-in which he purposefully distressed new footage. But Morrison is far more expressionistic. A second opposition arises between the lushly deteriorated images and composer Michael Gordon’s no less textured, increasingly ominous drone. (Unlike Philip Glass’s scores, Gordon’s never overpowers the visual accompaniment-even when it escalates to wall of sound.) A third opposition might be termed ideological.

“On one hand, DECASIA…can be taken as a cautionary advertisement for film preservation. [like] Morrison’s 1996 short THE FILM OF HER, an imaginary romance about the preservation of paper prints in the Library of Congress, celebrating what the archivist Paolo Cherchi Usai calls the “monumental necropolis of precious documents.” On the other hand, DECASIA is founded on a deep aesthetic appreciation for decay. (“Cinema is the art of destroying moving images,” per the gnomic Cherchi Uchai.) The solarization, the morphing, the lysergic strobe effects on which the movie thrives, are as natural as the photographic image itself.

“As DECASIA continues, the calligraphy of decay grows increasingly hallucinatory and catastrophic. The sea buckles. Flesh melts. A boxer struggles against the disintegration of the image. Wall Street is half consumed in flames. A dozen little parachutes dot the cracked sky. A group of nuns traverse a courtyard that frames an Italian landscape in severe perspective, evoking a Renaissance vision of the Last Judgment. DECASIA [seems] Hindu in its awesome spectacle of violent flux. The film is a fierce dance of destruction. Its flame-like, roiling black-and-white inspires trembling and gratitude.” —J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

“I popped Morrison’s video into my VCR and within a few further minutes I found myself completely absorbed, transfixed, a pillow of air lodged in my stilled, open mouth. Now, I’m no particular authority on film, but I do know one-Errol Morris. A short time later, when I happened to be visiting him, I popped the video into his VCR and proceeded to observe as Morrison’s film once again began casting its spell. Errol sat drop-jawed: at one point, about halfway through, he stammered, ”This may be the greatest movie ever made.” —Lawrence Weschler, The New York Times Magazine

“Compelling and disturbing! Swimming symphonies of baroque beauty emerge from corrosive nitrate disintegration as rockets of annihilation demolish cathedrals of reality.” —Kenneth Anger, filmmaker

“A stirring, haunting modern masterpiece…Bill Morrison has created a unique artifact, as enigmatically authoritative as Max Ernst’s collage novel “Une Semaine de Bonté.” It makes you think of Joseph Cornell’s memory boxes, Robert Rauschenberg’s time-stuffed assemblages, Anger, Hitchcock. It makes you feel that the art, as opposed to the business, of cinema does have a future – even if it has to be found deep in the past.” —Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

eric rondepierre – couple, passant (1996-1998)

Eric Rondepierre, “Couple, Passant” (1996-98)

‘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.

Read this whole essay by Philippe Dubois, and visit Eric Rondepierre’s website. And, if you can read French, there’s a piece which discusses Georges Bataille’s influence on the artist here.


fleurmach at a4 arts foundation, 13 september 2017

Fleurmach (Rosemary Lombard) playing at the opening of the A4 Arts Foundation, 23 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town. Photo: Thobani “Nqalastyle” Mbhele.

Last night at the opening of the new non-profit space, A4 Arts Foundation, I had the wonderful opportunity of playing music that responded to artworks in the wide-ranging exhibition curated by Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang Wa Lehulere.

Here’s the blurb, and I urge you to pay a visit if you’re in Cape Town.

The Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, the Dead Need Music, 2014. Film. 21 min. 15 sec.

You & I – A group exhibition curated by Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang Wa Lehulere

Please join us for the opening of our inaugural exhibition, “You & I”.

13 September 2017 at 6pm, at A4 Arts Foundation, 23 Buitenkant Street, District Six, Cape Town

About You & I

You & I is a group exhibition that looks at how people come together, asking after the conditions and dynamics of the collective.

Curators Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang Wa Lehulere pull back from any attempt to survey collective practice, opening instead with a series of lyrical articulations. Across the exhibition, instances of community are placed alongside searching questions of who ‘you’, ‘I’ or ‘we’ may indeed be?

The exhibition includes photographs, sculptural installations, films and an instruction piece – and extends for three months with public programme of live performances, screenings and discussions.

Participating artists include Yoko Ono, Zanele Muholi, Santu Mofokeng, Glenn Ligon, Moshekwa Langa, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Malick Sidibé, The Propeller Group, Eugene Paramoer, Goddy Leye, Molefe Pheto, Meshac Gaba, David Goldblatt, Mwangi Hutter, Adrian Melis, Haroon Gunn-Salie, James Matthews, Mushroom Hour Half Hour, Pierre Fouché, Billy Monk, Brett Seiler & Luvuyo Nyawose, Gugulective, Avant Car Guard, B4 Food, Dan Halter, and more.

Image: Goddy Leye, We Are the World, 2006. Video (detail). 4 min 52 sec

About A4

You & I is the first exhibition at the new premises of A4 Arts Foundation – opening to the public as an arts centre from 13 September 2017.

A4 Arts Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the arts in Southern Africa. A4 is grounded by an understanding of art as a reciprocal resource, a catalyst for innovation, and a medium of collectivity.

Configured within a three-storey warehouse on Buitenkant Street in Cape Town, the A4 Arts centre hosts a gallery and project space, as well as a multimedia library.

the hauntology of liz mitchell (a long way from home)

This video is one of the things I treasure most on Youtube – it gives me chills every time. It’s a recording of Liz Mitchell of Boney M performing “Motherless Child” live with the Les Humphries singers in the early 1970s. It’s incredible how Mitchell seems to be singing about her removal from herself via recording, its simulacral persistence beyond her existence in that moment… And the wavering picture also speaks of analog decay, arrested and mummified by its digitisation from analog video and (again lossy) upload to Youtube. And then, of course, the song’s origins in slavery and dispossession. So many degrees of loss, so many layers of noise.

louis moholo’s 4blokes, live at straight no chaser, cape town (15 january 2016)

It’s weird how the recording industry warps experience. We can sometimes forget that every recording is only one iteration that was captured and set in stone as “The” Definitive Performance, when really it just happened to be captured that particular time among many, many other possible times. Records, like photos, pluck moments out of time and concretise them… And they are the only thing we’re left with later to glimpse a whole era. That’s why densely detailed archives such as Ian Bruce Huntley‘s, where there were many recordings of the same bands made during the same era, are so interesting. I’ve posted here, and in the preceding post, recordings of the same band on two consecutive nights.

One of the lovely things about everyone having a camera in their pocket on their phone is that this is not something that is rare anymore, and the democratisation of shared experience is a very powerful and positive thing. One of the horrible things is that there is just such a volume of recorded stuff (much of questionable quality) being generated that the brightest nuggets of wonder can be drowned in the dross… Too much recording and we have a shaky, pixelated backup of every moment kept on hard drives, that no one ever has time to live through twice, to the extent that everything melts into undifferentiated, indigestible “big data” and can only be apprehended as statistics. I feel very ambivalent about it.

I think it’s really important that, whenever possible, we still have experienced photographers, videographers and sound recorders assigned to do this stuff, so that in years to come what we are left with are some beautiful and considered recordings, and not just a haunted avalanche of muddy glimpses.