|Zhenchen Liu, Under Construction, 2007|
I had never heard of Neuflize Vie, and I had never heard of any of the artists whose works were selected from the Neuflize Vie collection for what was the pick of the current exhibitions at the Musée Européene de la Photographie: Vidéos à la croisées des chemins. I went to the MEP to see the Paolo Pellegrin exhibition of apocalyptic nightmares in Kosovo, Palestine, Afghanistan, and so on. But as often happens when I see photojournalism in art galleries, I was disappointed. I promptly surveyed the all four floors of the museum and it was only when I reached the contemporary video works from the Neuflize Vie collection that I felt I was on familiar ground. Just having finished teaching the avant-garde cinema, and as the lone voice among my colleagues to show any dismay at the university’s blithe decision to do away with all 35mm projection on campus because it is apparently “out of date”, I was, all at once, relieved and affirmed to see that someone else in this world believes in the necessity of experimental photographic based art. And moreover, that it matters to exhibit experimental art in the medium in which it was made. There was a total of seven videos from the Neuflize Vie collection, loosely grouped to include images, all of which were displayed in the format of production.
|Hugues Reip, Dots, 2004|
The first piece I saw, Hugues Reip’s Dots (2004) reminded me of Hans Richter’s Rythmus films with its articulation of the space of the screen, differentiating foreground and background, left and right, through the movement of abstract shapes around the screen. When it morphed into dancing shapes, cartoons and optical illusions the piece reminded me of Norman McLaren’s works. Like McLaren’s, Reip’s images take up the questions that are at the heart of moving image media: the parameters of the filmed image, the deception and persistence of vision, for example. Were the dots doing anything that we have not seen before? Probably not, but in a cultural climate where abstract images have so few channels of distribution, I am happy to be able to see Reip’s video in the flesh.
A handful of other pieces caught my attention: Under Construction, a 2007 video work by Zhenchen Liu. A camera moves through what feels like spaces of destruction, all the buildings having been demolished, as opposed to being in the process of being built as the title would suggest. The sky is completely grey, and the sheer size of the image together with the fact that the camera is placed so that we are sitting in the cockpit of a plane, flying through this ruinous space, I began to feel nauseous. And as we fly, the ghosts of former inhabitants appear superimposed on what resembles a bombed out landscape. Washing appears on the line, a wall, a woman still in her bed, chanting that she was not allowed to leave when they came and emptied out the city. The video tells of the destruction of old Shanghai and the lives cut short by the development of the city, the river, the skyscrapers reaching high into the sky, proud as the city boasts its move towards the centre of the Asian capitalist world. The nausea I experienced as the camera led me through the destruction thus took on a political value when I recognized where I was.
|Ali Kazma, Clerk, 2011|
The soundtrack for Ali Kazma’s unsettling Clerk (2011) filled the exhibition, as a clerk routinely stamped a series of documents at lightening speed such that the rhythmical sounds became music. The piece both echoed the mechanization of the human workers that we first met in Modern Times, and at the same time, it embraced a major difference: unlike Charlie Chaplin, the worker never falters in Clerk. The focus of his fingers, as well as his mental focus is challenging though as we are never allowed to romanticize him, despite his perfect completion of his task. The rhythm of the clerk’s motions, the ever-quickening pace of the stamp was translated to the soundtrack and induced (in me at least), once again, a nausea that ensured my disgust at the institution that makes machine-like men so perfect and so efficient. The harshness of the digitally manipulated image also serves to underline the confrontation of the world that makes him.
|David Claerbout, Untitled (Single Channel View), 199-2000|
David Claerbout’s Untitled (Single Channel View), 1998-2000 took me back to the 1970s with its focus on the single element of an image, in this case, movement. The photographic image of children in a classroom remains static while the misshapen shadow cast on the back wall by two trees that interrupt the sun’s stream through the window of their classroom draws our attention. Even though the leaves in shadow are a small part of the image, the are the focus and the fascination of the piece. The shadows of the trees’ leaves gently move, scarcely, but just enough to fix our attention as we wonder: how are they moving when everything else is static? Claerbout works at the interstice of movement and stasis, photography and film. And what is so interesting in Untitled is that we constantly shifting aspects between the two media, never seeing both at the same time. The fact that the piece is on a loop also contributes to the sense of stasis – like a photograph, there is no clear indication of when to begin and when to stop looking.
|Emily Richardson, Aspect, 2009, 16mm|
All of the videos in A la croisée des images are in the tradition of experimental film at its most essential: they all explore the fundamental properties of the moving image: the relationship between light and dark, between seeing and how we see, what we see, what we do and don’t look at – drawing our attention to things we otherwise might not notice. The persistence and deception of vision, the properties of the filmed image and its difference from, or overlap with the photographic. Because the opportunity to see such works is rare today, these glimpses into the Neuflize Vie collection are a must.