Structural Materialist Film

In our second Constellation lecture we began the morning with an introduction to structural and materialist film i.e. films which celebrate the materiality of the process of filmmaking and are anti Hollywood, standing against mainstream narrative ideology. These films are difficult to watch because of their disjointed nature and emphasise creating mood over a clear storyline and dialogue. They explore the possibilities of physical film in many ways such as changes in speed, looping, layering and reversal of images and use of negative and change of tonal colour. These films require us to be active in decoding and interpreting them, not just passive watchers. They remind me of a book of photos I have by Dutch artist Paul Bogaers called ‘Upset Down’. The picture book has no clear storyline, beginning, middle or end and can be read turned upside down and back to front. It explores the juxtaposition of photos in unexpected sequences with the graininess of the material film visible and celebrated. Out of focus, underexposed and overexposed shots only add to the overall aesthetic.

Outer Space by Peter Tscherkassky is more contemporary example of this film genre. The narrative is unclear, more like a dream sequence full of unexpected, jarring scenes building up tension and fear. In the faster, more abstract sections, the film sprocket holes are clearly visible, emphasising that this is a film about film more than anything else. These non-linear narratives are of interest to me because one of my favourite film directors Quentin Tarantino uses this technique in many of his movies.

An early example of this kind of filmmaking is Malcolm le Grice’s Berlin Horse (1970), a mesmerising experimental film with music composed by Brian Eno (check out Music for an airport). Just as the looping of the horse in motion becomes layered and more complex over time, so does the music, the two tracks played at different speeds becoming more and more out of sync echoes of one another. It also alludes back to the history of cinema and Eadweard Muybridge’s zoetrope with the horse theme.

My favourite example we were shown is John Smith’s Girl Chewing on Gum from 1976. We start by believing a director is controlling the actors and camera, but as the ‘voice of God’ becomes more and more unbelievable (controlling the pigeons) we realise this is just a street scene which has been narrated over afterwards. With humour, it subverts the illusion Hollywood creates that the director isn’t present, creating the illusion that the world moves for the camera. It raises questions about in what ways the camera and film are extensions of someone’s body.

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Week 4 Constellation: Self Reflection

Having discussed how materials and environment hide from view in everyday life I realise that I’m very lucky to be studying ceramics. Unlike other subjects the material is central to our practice. Although with more industrial techniques like press moulding and slip-casting it’s possible to ‘intellectualise’ away the material, when working directly on the potter’s wheel, the clay immediately commands respect and you learn very quickly that you can’t impose yourself on it.

I have also developed my understanding of the arguments surrounding phenomenology (how the body experiences itself in the world) and the idea of the body schema: the ability of the body to feel in relation to space. Lately I’ve been doing lots of throwing and I feel in some ways the potter’s wheel is incorporated into the body schema, like when you drive a car. I forget about the fact that I’m using pressure from my foot to turn the wheel and the changing of speed is done almost subconsciously in relation to my hand movements. As a next step I want to try throwing on a kick wheel to see how taking out that automatic element changes the sensation of the process.

Additionally in the session we read what has been written about the action of ‘from-giving’. According to the artist Paul Klee ‘Form is set by the processes of giving form, which is more important than form itself…Form is the end, death’ whereas ‘Form-giving is life’. This understanding could be important to me as a practitioner because it might influence what kind of work I decide to make. Production throwing seems to be concerned with final form and the repetition of accurate ones. Performance art on the other hand is about the ‘in the moment’ action and not any final outcome or creation of ‘form’.

Another way I might think about form-giving is considering how what I make shows traces of how it was made and the way this brings and object to life. I’ve started thinking about the way potters remove their work from the wheel, some wiring off when the wheel is stopped while others prefer to cut while the wheel is moving to get a series of grooves on the base revealing the direction of movement. Klee’s quote reminded me of something Lucien Freud said: ‘A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation, but disappears towards the completion of the work. For it is then that the painter realises that it is only a picture he is painting. Until then he had almost dared to hope that the picture might spring to life’.