Not Sorry #2: Vessels – May 11, 2019
Anthology Film Archives
New York, New York
How does the body, as physical form, tell a story and whose story is it? Is it meant to please itself or give pleasure to others? Who or what controls the body and what must it endure? Meditating on the general theme of the body as vessel, this second program includes a number of works that transform analog film into a metaphor for the body itself through direct manipulation of the celluloid surface, as in Turkish-born filmmaker Nazli Dinçel’s HER SILENT SEAMING, which uses hand-scratched text to examine conflicted intimate experiences; Naomi Uman’s found footage porno REMOVED, in which just the female figure is painstakingly removed in each frame with nail polishremover (?); and Divna Jovanović’s METAMORPHOSIS, produced almost thirty years earlier, but utilizing a similar method of scratched-out figures. Two works that, by contrast, use digital technologies are Peggy Ahwesh’s SHE PUPPET, which repurposes footage of video game character Lara Croft, and Sondra Perry’s single-channel version of her GRAFT AND ASH, in which she makes a direct address via computer avatar.
Peggy Ahwesh SHE PUPPET (U.S., 2001, 17 min, digital)
SHE PUPPET is created from footage of the video game Tomb Raider. Ahwesh transforms the voluptuous character of Lara Croft—a “she puppet,” whose large chest and curvaceous rear-end often occupy the frame, while the only noises she makes are sexualized groans and grunts—into an exploration of mortality, futility, and alienation. Croft’s character is made to wander aimlessly in spaces devoid of purpose, shooting at brick walls or dying over and over and over again in various meaningless scenarios. Voiceover narration is taken from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Joanna Russ’ feminist science fiction novel The Female Man, and the musician Sun Ra. That the depth of the character suggested by the narration is often coincident with imagery emphasizing Croft’s buttocks and chest or eroticizing her death only further highlights the dehumanization of the female figure in the game. The overall effect is one of alienation and sadness, transforming a sexualized video game character into a rumination on existence and exile.
Divna Jovanović METAMORPHOSIS (Yugoslavia, 1972, 3 min, 16mm-to-digital)
METAMORPHOIS was produced in the early 1970s, a time of social unrest in Yugoslavia, including the emergence and suppression of the Croatian Spring, student protests, and other movements that attempted to create a true federation of sovereign republics and provinces in the Socialist country. The solo guitar soundtrack evokes a sense of both longing and romance as figures, landscapes, and objects are scratched or filled in using direct animation techniques; sometimes highlighting a pair of floating lips or a red flag. In the collage of found-footage images turned magenta with age, a love story emerges.
Nazli Dinçel HER SILENT SEAMING (Turkey/U.S., 2014, 10 min, 16mm)
Her Silent Seaming offers a catalogue of statements made to Dinçel in moments of sexual intimacy, exploring the semiotics of these exchanges by recontextualizing them through her experimental use of sound and image. The working over of the image is also a working through of the original experience and making public of private imperatives shaped by larger gender constructs. Dinçel prefers celluloid as her medium and tends to heavily work the surface of her 16mm films, including scratching text directly onto the surface of her film.
Vika Kirchenbauer PLEASE RELAX NOW (Germany, 2012, 12 min, digital)
PLEASE RELAX NOW uses the screen as a source of light and darkness drawing attention to the issue of art consumption as individual vs. collective experience and extending the video piece into physical space. Motivational language is interwoven with metaphysical gestures of salvation characteristic of economics as well as of what is considered “Political Art.” —Vika Kirchenbauer
Gunvor Nelson TAKE OFF (U.S./Sweden, 1972, 10 min, 16mm)
Swedish filmmaker Gunvor Nelson, whose early work was part of the emerging underground film scene in the 1960s Bay Area (now synonymous with Canyon Cinema), often examines intimate subjects such as childhood, aging, memory, and women’s roles. In her 16mm short Take Off, her subject transcends the strip-tease, both in the performance itself and also with the use of basic animation techniques, leading toward a pointed and humorous end that (literally) deconstructs the male gaze. Despite Nelson’s statement “I don’t like the word “feminist.” I never have… I’m very glad for those who are fighting in a more political way because I don’t want to do that. I’m coming from an artist’s point of view not from a political point of view” this and many of her other films are recognized for their expressions of female empowerment.
Sondra Perry GRAFT AND ASH (U.S., 2016, 9 min, digital)
A single-channel version of interdisciplinary artist Sondra Perry’s installation Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation. In it, “Perry engages in the discourse around racial uplift through a clever manipulation of technology, while providing incisive commentary on the hidden labor black bodies are constantly asked to perform” (Elodie A. Saint-Louis, The Harvard Crimson).
Naomi Uman REMOVED (U.S., 1999, 6 min, 16mm)
In Removed, Uman takes Softcore porn from the 1970s and meticulously removes the images of naked women from the celluloid frame using bleach and nail polish remover. Besides refusing the status of the woman as “to-be-looked-at-ness” through this act, Uman also makes visible the extent to which the entire frame relies on the female body and its erotic display. The removal of the naked woman (and in some scenes of the many images of naked women that are plastered on the wall) effectively removes the focus of the gaze in every scene, leaving instead a ghostly absence that suggests the absence (or “removal”) of actual female desire and agency in the construction of the film. The film ends with scratched leader (essentially an imageless screen) over which we hear the original film’s soundtrack, emphasizing acoustically what we’ve seen visually—the soundtrack is dominated not by women’s speech but by her simulated pleasure. Uman’s use of bleach and nail polish remover as tools also situates her art practice as a gendered act of interrogation—using tools associated with cleaning and beauty regimens suggests women’s reality outside the fantasy space of the pornographic text.
Ximena Cuevas DEVIL IN THE FLESH (Mexico, 1998, 5 min, digital)
The palms of Lana Turner’s hands were full of scars; the technique she used in order to achieve melodrama was to tighten her fists, digging her fingernails into them until she began to cry. Day after day, soap opera actresses smear Vick’s Vaporub into their eyes in order to cry. The effect of these false tears are the tears of the public. In DEVIL IN THE FLESH we see the camera’s tricks, and even so the action seems dramatic. This piece once again exemplifies my fascination with the artificial: the fabricated emotions; the Christian looking for pain in order to live out Passion; the discomfort of the everyday melodrama; the emptiness that defeats everything. So, as in all my work, I am obsessed with lying’s various disguises. It doesn’t interest me to watch that which is not hidden. Formally, my camera documents—looking directly without shame. The possibility of the narrative levels intrigues me in the montage. My camera work is cinema verité, and my montage work cinema mentira. My intent is an emotionally borderless language.
In DEVIL IN THE FLESH, I look at myself in the mirror, but through the desolate hole of a mask, the circle is broken by the sharp biting angle of a telephone that keeps ringing. I take up the spoon again. There is no form of escape from everyday boredom. Every grammatical punctuation constitutes a search for a break in reality or an intensified state. — Ximena Cuevas, 1999