Collage slides by Bradley Eros.
Jonas Mekas Presents Flux Party, Rio Cinema, 17 October 2008
Reverberations: Bradley Eros, Camden Arts Centre, 18 October,2008.
Friday's Flux Party at the Rio Cinema was a curious experience. As well as being a great chance to see the Flux Anthology in its projected entirety, it also revealed the still volatile, provocative status of the work. A sold out crowd enjoyed Jonas Mekas' introduction or Ben Vautier's high speed live narration to a film documenting performances in Nice, but quickly became restless at work that offered less obvious pleasures: the scratched, dust accumulating white screen of Nam June Paik's Zen for Film (1964) sent the man behind me from enthusiastic applause to shouting out "rubbish" in about thirty seconds.
Was it always like this with fluxus events? Certainly, it was reassuring to see that the work had maintained a potent ability to irritate, entertain and provoke in equal measure, something this event - with live performances of Fluxus scores inbetween reels and distribution of large numbers of paper airoplanes throughout the audience - succeeded in capturing. It also resolved for me one of the points of discussion in the recent Fluxus Scores and Instructions catalogue (for a show at the Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde, Denmark Jun 6-Sep 21 2008), namely the similarity or not of fluxus scores and later text-based conceptual work.
Fluxus Anthology title by George Macunias.
Flux Party - the films and the event - reassured me that the two are radically different, that fluxus does embody a standpoint that still asserts its difference to most other experimental art movements with its emphasis on.... I'm not sure what word to use. Rough? Unaestheticised? Art-conscious-Manhattan-Nice- Primitive? Something to do with its relationship to the everyday or its conditions of production?
It's a somewhat elusive difference. Dick Higgins, for example, recognised that Fluxus required a new critical and theoretical frame in order to be understood - or even to be seen - and over his career published three volumes of essays that in different ways sought to clarify what the frame might be. On the evidence of Friday night, Fluxus still eludes and challenges a lot of art historical or theoretical frameworks that might be used to grapple with it.
Whatever it is, it definitely prompts a response. In Jen e vois rien Je n'entends rien Jen e dis rien (1965) Ben Vautier stands staring at the camera, eyes, ears and mouths covered in bandages and with BEN emblazoned on his t-shirt. This triggered several critical commentaries in the seats around me. They were drunken and sarcastic commentaries to be sure - and largely of the "ooh look. A hair in the projector! That's the most exciting thing that's happened" variety - but if you're after volatile audience reaction I guess you can't be fussy.
Fluxfilm No.16: Four (Yoko Ono, 1967).
There was a different kind of restless energy at the Camden Arts Centre on Saturday for Bradley Eros presentation of his work. No.w.here's Reverberations series is an opportunity for six artists to take an afternoon to present and discuss their work in depth. Eros showed an hour of his own work, followed by a collage of readings and more films - his own alongside work by Wallace Berman and Bruce Conner. A fascinating afternoon concluded with a lively discussion with Rachel Moore.
Before Saturday I'd only known Eros work from a wonderful essay in Millenium Film Journal ("There Will Be Projections In All Dimensions" MFJ No.43-44, 2005) so it was great to see a wide range of work, focussed around themes of collage, found footage, and arte povera, partly in relation to the Camden Arts Centre's Berman show.
From top: Fluxfilm No.22: Shout (Jeff Perkins, 1966); Fluxfilm No.26: Sears Catalogue 1-3 (Paul Sharits, 1965).
Like the Flux Party, Eros set up a particular space, albeit one with very different dynamics. Here the audience remained seated - and silent! - in rows whilst the image itself carried out a range of activities. So individual images might be a collage of images, or slides and film and video might be projected on top of each other. Eros might create a shadow play on the walls, or hold a mirror up to the projector, splitting and doubling the image, freeing it to wander over walls and ceilings. One part of his presentation concluded by opening the blinds and allowing daylight to white out a lot of the image, and he deliberately began the discussion high above the audience at the top of a spiral staircase in the back corner of the room.
As Rachel Moore observed, a lot of this activity was united by a desire to be in the present as, too, it incorporated into the present a vast array of prepared materials, images, and other contexts and situations. Often, perhaps paradoxically, a quality of presence was obtained through decay and degredation. Eros himself spoke of "contracted cinema" as an alternative to "expanded cinema." Or was it compacted? A text read during his performance spoke of a cinema of spiders, an atomic cinema, and a cinema of Octopuses.
In all this there was a starting point or attitude that was similar to fluxus, but this, it seemed, was prelude to a very definite series of transformations, in which the fluxus elements and much besides become pulled into the vortex of the image itself as part of an image-event. Asked about the baroque qualities of his work, Eros smiled and said he persisted in seeing himself as a kind of minimalist - another way of understanding these contradictory tensions that animated many of the films.
The space of these two screenings, then, had been completely different and I've been wondering since how to explain it. I found one explanation in the opening pages of the Millenium Film Journal essay where Eros establishes his working principles for paracinema:
The primary motivation for an artists' paracinema is the profound desire to investigate the properties of the medium - by that I mean, the materials, the apparatus and its operation, the technology and its infrastructure - as fully as possible, without taking anything for granted. This urge may come from a need to know the way things work, the chemistry, the optics, and the mechanics. It may come from a deep respect for the physical materials, their source and their transformation: the flexibility of plastic, the reflectivity of silver, or the spectrum of color dyes. It may come from wanting to dismantle or deconstruct the devices of illusion. It may come from a mystical belief or a metaphysical conception of the matte involved, and its effect on human consciousness, from the vibrancy of sound waves, the charge of magnetic fields and the transmission of light and shadow...
These private investigations, a kind of philosophical detective work, often originate from questions of being, basic inquiries, of intuitive curiosity, into the function of objects and what they reveal to us. In the field of film , and its truly experimental branch, or rhizome perhaps, of paracinema, or expanded cinema, this artisanal exploration of materials and machines ,and the challenge to the fixed assumptions of their proper function, opens the parameters of what can be done with, and what can be known about, film. (63)
Bradley Eros, Arcane Project:'Chinese Nightingale' No.1, 2008.
What is particularly relevant here is how this necessitates a new concept of the cinema itself or, more broadly, the space in which the paracinema event occurs. But of course, events can't always construct new cinemas especially, so, as at the Camden Arts Centre, the event defines itself out of the tension between a fixed, conventional gallery architecture and the multi-dimensional, consciousness expanding, octopus-cinema ambitions of the work itself. Or, as Eros puts it:
Since the architectural limitations from which its physical parameters derive were often not sufficient to match the new perceptual paradigms of this radical conception of cinema, not engendered from a traditional theatrical model, experiments with other screening environments were demanded. Pioneers of paracinema, with varying degrees of complexity, subtlety, and effectiveness, created imaginative alternatives to the rigid standard of the popular moviehouse. These reconfigurations were often utopian projects meant to revolutionize, through concentration or immersion, our mind-body relation to the projected image. Temporary autonomous zones, from Peter Kubelka's intensely focused, 'distraction-proof' Invisible Cinema, now vanished, to Milton Cohen's multi-directional Space Theater that attempted "to free film from its flat and frontal orientation and to prevent it within an ambience of total space," and Stan VanDerBeek's multi-media Movie-Drome are historical examples.
Most paracinema practitioners today create even more temporary zones, rather than actualized realizations of visionary blueprints, that is, ephemeral events of film installation or performance in restricted spaces, rather than (semi-)permanent structures. Where are the prototypes and epiphanies of subterranean science and future cinema that link the lighthouse of film to the exploded cave of radical theater? (65)
The fluxus relationship to space, it seems reading this, is very different. Films like Paik's which so infuriated much of the Rio audience, refused any transcendental experience, refused anything at all, and instead just threw everyone back on their own expectations and reality. Whilst there's a certain mindset - mine! - that loves white screens and the variations that occur upon them, I think Paik's film was less about this and more about refusing to give anything to the expectation of the audience looking at the screen. Hence the frustrated cry of "The projectors broken down!" becomes the beginning statement of film theory.