Wednesday, 3 December 2008


From TOP: Bruce McClure, Unnamed Complement, photo: Robin Martin; Metamkine's Chris Auger, photo: Bryony McIntyre; Keith Pope, Light Trap at KYTN Dundee 2007, photo: Bryony McIntyre.

KILL YOUR TIMID NOTION, 29-30 November, BFI Southbank and the ICA. Curated by arika.

Kill Your Timid Notion, the Dundee festival of expanded cinema, is on tour. This weekend it reached BFI Southbank and the ICA in London, with two days of themed screenings, performances, and discussions. It was a fascinating weekend, and one that, both in its attitude and the range of work, was very different to anything else I've seen in London recently. This essay is less a review of all the individual works than an attempt to outline something of this distinctiveness. 

The festival had a distinct organisation and focus. Part of this was showing several films by a couple of film makers, whose concerns then ran through the festival as a whole. This time round it was Paul Sharits and John Smith - and what a fascinating single film-making hybrid organism that would make. So Smith's Associations (1985), with its humorous mock-scientific exploration of words and the images they prompt, was juxtaposed the following day with The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), which shows Smith presenting the busy movements of a street as the result of his own shouted directorial instructions.  


Sharits' films fed into what could be a recent mini-dispersed retrospective of his work, what with Ray Gun Virus at Tate last week and drawings in the current issue of Parkett. Shutter Interface (1976) involved two overlapping projections of rapid bursts of variously coloured fields, overlapping to create an array of colour relationships and visual equivalents of musical overtones. Intense, certainly, but curious how such intensity can seem at times somewhat academic. Which was why it was so powerful to also see Epileptic Seizure Comparison (1976), where the movements were rooted explicitly in those of an epileptic seizure, with the process of rhythmic terror enacted upon images of the fit sufferer himself.

Paul Sharits, Shutter Interface, 1975. Photo: David Allison.

The two Sharits films served as a summation of the weekends mix of the quietly contemplative, humorous and deafening. One other grounding for the festival was Hollis Frampton's (nostalgia) (1971). This was partly because individual programs focussed on issues of language and the portrait, which could be seen as expanding out of Frampton's work. But it was mainly due to the screening of the film itself, movingly paired with Michael Snow's reading of a text exploring his own relationship to the film and Frampton himself. 

Snow, of course, narrated the original film so the layers of image and text were quickly proliferating.  Most striking was Snow's sense of Frampton as not just a great conversationalist but also "a bard" and that this should be part of how we read his films. Snow noted the failings of his own memory and his talk also looked to printed interviews and writings to tell its story, in a curious demonstration of film history being actively used by its own subjects.

Actually, its somewhat odd to root the festival in these screenings, as its core was more a set of performances than the single screen film programmes in which Smith and Sharits featured. I want to briefly respond to each performance, seeing each as highlighting some possibilities and problems in a cinema that becomes a live event.

The first performance was Andrew Lambert. This sought to combine its range of projected images with a partly comic monologue, firstly about the mechanics of the show itself, but mostly about the produce in a supermarket and UK-US differences in produce and naming. Lambert himself appeared on the stage, looking in his bag for written instructions for the projectionists, or placing collapsible screens in front of the main one to split and layer the image.

Curiously, whilst some of this may or may not have been improvised, it was rather hampered by the device of pretending this was a rehearsal for the main event. The atmosphere of disorganised preparation felt very staged, and I wanted to watch a version of this show in which its diverse elements genuinely struggled to take shape.

Andrew Lambert, Varieties of Slow. Photo: unknown.

Two other performances on the first day offered contrasting models of relationship to space and audience. Bruce McClure's manipulated projectors turn loops of black and white frames into, say, throbbing suns. It was all accompanied by deafening metal-drone, ferocious in its desire to both fill the space and eradicate it. Its forty minute duration, however, meant the audience response seemed to split into two, either getting absorbed into the immensity or, as I was, become detached and having the curious experience of being attacked by a live cinema event. Historically, it fused a quiet cerebral formal organisation with the kind of consciousness-altering of the psychedelic concert or Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Bruce McClure in Rotterdam. Photo: Robin Martin.

Judging from conversations, Ken Jacobs and Eric La Casa's  performance functioned partly as a public service to get experimental film fans to visit the IMAX cinema for the first time. Jacobs' projections were perfectly suited to the huge screen, and the architecture that tilts you up and forwards towards a screen curving out towards you. 

Jacobs' images seemed to begin as, say, still images of paint, but were then transformed by flicker and movement into strange environments of undiscovered planets or the peregrinations of molecular forms. Different areas of the images shifted in and out of focus, through planes of surface and depth, movement and stillness, as La Casa's soundtrack similarly wove between field recordings and his own sonic manipulations. 

Ken Jacobs performance at KYTD Dundee, 2007. Photo: Bryony McIntyre

Jacobs and La Casa's performance was another anchor of the weekend. Many of its themes were unfolded on the final night at the ICA, when each of the three performances offered a different case study of the way film and sound and their manipulations could become an event in space. The first piece involved Kjell Bjørgeengen, Keith Rowe and Philipp Wacshmann sat around a table. One played a violin, the other day two improvised electronics, producing sound and image respectively. Video screens around the ICA theatre offered images of shifting fields of black and white electro-static. A quiet, meditative piece, which could have been Nam June Paik's own adaptation of Zen for Film for live video.

Metamkine had a broader palette of imagery, this time involving film that was projected and manipulated, also amongst an electro-acoustic soundtrack. I particularly liked how how the performance collapsed any division of hand made, magic lantern and digital. It was the work closest to Jacobs - although it was much darker in tone, often using sounds of explosions to create an atmosphere of fear, ominousness and apocalypse.

Some of its key moments were literally hand-made. Fingers moved in front of the projector, or a torchlight moved through the audience, projecting our own body shapes on the screen. These functioned not as ruptures, pointing out the film-makers manipulations, but as a continuous part of the emotional texture. Curiously the piece had a relatively conventional division of stage space and audience, partly to allow these powerful moments of turning inside out.

TOP: Keith Pope, Light Trap in Toronto. BELOW: Light Trap, KYTN Dundee 2007, photo: Bryony McIntyre.

Finally, there was Greg Pope's Light Trap. Projectors in four corners of the room projected blips and lines of white light that built into torrential linear floods, tunnels and shafts of white light. Imagine Anthony McCall's light projections in thunderous motion, or maybe an ICA re-creation of a particle accelerator.   

Light Trap was fascinating for the space it created. There was the choice of standing in the flow of light or standing in the dark, watching the people who were in the light. Standing within the light seemed to prompt various combinations of performance and introspection; tentatively sticking your head in the flow, or giving yourself fully up to sun-projector staring rapture. Indeed, the tumult was disjunctive - the sound suggesting a strong physical force, but to step inside it was to experience a place of calm light.

There's much, of course, about this festival that I haven't mentioned, including excellent films that unfolded the concerns in these performances, such as Jeanne Liotta's Observando el cielo (2007) and Pip Chodorov's Charlemagne 2: Piltzer (2002). In all these pieces, single screen and performances alike, there was a working out of diverse possibilities of live cinema. It made me wish at times that the KYTN was happening at a more informal, flexible space than BFI Southbank. 

Related to this, KYTN also felt like a sharp critique of certain experimental film cultures, histories and programming. It sought a fusion between an experimental film tradition and more music and club related forms of film culture, like those outlined in Duncan Reekie's book Subversion: The Definitive History of Underground Cinema. It was unfortunate, given the acrimony of this history, that KYTD clashed with Tate Modern's weekend of screenings and performances by Malcolm Le Grice.