(Un)Fixed Terra Firma: Analog Films from Artist-Run Labs

October 27 + 28, 2014
Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium
Portland, Oregon

For Cinema Project in collaboration with the Northwest Film Center.

Celluloid-based filmmaking is alive and well in Europe, thanks to a network of film labs dedicated to both the preservation of technology and cinematic experimentation. Piecing together equipment discarded by industry labs moving to digital, these artist-run spaces have become a haven for moving-image artists wanting to experiment with or continue to use celluloid as part of their practice. This two-night program features work from three of these cooperatives: L’Abominable in La Courneuve, France; Labor Berlin in Berlin, Germany; and Labo Bruxelles in Brussels, Belgium. While the artists associated with these labs produce work in a variety of styles, the films selected for these two evenings are similar in that they demonstrate extremes of the photographic process. In Mahine Rouhi and Olivier Fouchard’s Tahousse, and Emmanuel Lefrant’s Parties visible et invisible d’un ensemble sous tension, filmed landscapes are manipulated in color and texture toward otherworldliness and abstraction respectively. In Els van Riel’s Gradual Speed, the image in each vignette appears through time much like a photograph developing while the hum and crackle of vibrating dust erupts on the optical track.

The first night of the program began with a short lecture about these artist-run film labs.

— Mia Ferm

Part One:
Parties visible et invisible d’un ensemble sous tension 
by Emmanuel Lefrant 
(France, 2009, 35mm, color, sound, 7 min.)
Tahousse 
by Olivier Fouchard & Mahine Rouhi 
(France, 2009, 16mm, b&w, silent, 6 min.)
H(i)J 
by Guillaume Cailleau 
(Germany, 2009, 16mm, b&w, silent, 6 min.)
Didam 
by Mahine Rouhi & Olivier Fouchard 
(France, 2000, 16mm, b&w, sound, 11 min.)

 

Parties visible et invisible d’un ensemble sous tension by Emmanuel Lefrant
Africa, 2003: the mechanisms of memory.

I shot the image of a landscape and buried simultaneously a film strip in the same place where the sequence was shot: the emulsion, the victim of erosion is thus subjected to biochemical degradation. The result of these natural processes of decay are then conserved in the state of their dissolution. Those two images, and their negative versions, are then entangled together thanks to double exposure and bi-packing techniques.

These landscapes in fusion, it’s the logic of a world that reveals itself. A bipolar world, where invisible takes shape with the visible, where the first dissolves itself into the second and vice versa. –Emmanuel Lefrant.

Emmanuel Lefrant’s film work is based on abstraction being apprehended as landscape. A landscape that is actor or producer of emotions and subjective experiences. The films lie on the idea of representing, of revealing an invisible world (the secret forms of emulsion), a nature that one does not see. They are contemplative movies, which are presented under the shape of a physical experience, an experience of the body. The time of the screening is a great ordeal (the educated eye and ear suffer) because they are films that work on the hallucinatory mode: they are pure visual and kinaesthetic experiences. –Light Cone.

Born in 1975, Lefrant studied cinema at the University of La Sorbonne Nouvelle where he engaged in academic research on abstract films. He then spent several years in Montreal, Canada where he founded the kinaesthetic research collective PHYLM with audio artist Philippe Pasquier. In 2004 he began working in Paris with Nominoë, a performance collective he founded in 2000. Since 2007 he has been the director of Light Cone, a experimental film distributor in Paris.

Tahousse by Olivier Fouchard and Mahine Rouhi
Tahousse is a wonderful and necessary work. It all begins with a blue tree – BLACK – Then, clouds raking the earth of a lost valley – swirling clouds at the speed of terror – BLACK – images returning from beyond the war volcanoes. – M. Rousset

Olivier Fouchard and Mahine Rouhi are based in Grenoble, France and have been co-directing films since 1999 in addition to making their own unique works.

H(i)J by Guillaume Cailleau
H(i)J is a hand-processed film that is extremely rich in contrast. More than with standard black-and-white material, the black and white here seem to lead their own lives, conquering the entire film frame in turns. A visualisation of solitary silence, a figure at sea, change and conception. Guillaume’s works range from 16mm film and HD video to multimedia installations and performance. He researches common everyday processes and occurrences with the intent to expose details that tend to be overlooked but can be very revealing if isolated and transposed into another context, that of a gallery, a museum or a theatre. He is a member of the collective LaborBerlin, devoted to preserving and developing the creative possibilities of the
celluloid film format and DIY processing, as well as Hanna’s Atelier for Sonorous Arts Ljubljana (Slovenia), an institution promoting and researching sound based art forms. He also cooperates with several choreographers and performers, creating video for the stage.

Didam by Olivier Fouchard and Mahine Rouhi
In Didam and Tahousse, two films that can be seen as a diptych, Mahine Rouhi and Olivier Fouchard set their cameras in grandiose virgin landscapes and edit their film to the rolling of thunder or the shadow of a cloud passing. The intense work on the film medium (colors, contrasts, negatives) reinstates nature as piercingly primeval, the origin of the world so distressing for mankind (who appears from time to time as a fragile silhouette wandering in the open space)… –Emeric de Lastens, worldcinema.org

Part Two
Gradual Speed by Els van Riel (Belgium, 2013, 16mm, b&w, sound, 52 min.)

Belgian filmmaker Els van Riel writes: “A few years ago I started collecting images with the idea to pay homage to the slowly vanishing techniques of analog filmmaking…” And from this came Gradual Speed “a work on and for black-and-white 16mm film seen as matter, and at the same time as a metaphor for everything we cannot grasp.”

For a film whose title describes the relatively simple mechanism used to create it, Els van Riel’s 16mm film ushers a series of startling transfigurations which brilliantly engage the form in the extended time spent with people, animals, events and objects in whose company the filmmaker sketches larger philosophical concerns to do with love, fixity, representation and loss. Carefully positioned, the camera begins on a single frame, the shutter held open, and then is imperceptibly increased in speed, quickening the frame rate and thus changing the exposure time for each successive frame, which eventually produces a visible moving image whose Keystone-Cops styled speed in turn changes, at length falling into step with real time. van Riel was inspired to make the film in part by happening upon the account of Vladimir Shevchenko, one of the first photographers to witness the immediate and appalling consequences of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and to record them on a sensitive plate. The actual degree of that sensitivity was evident in the film he used, which, when processed, showed the characteristic effects of heavy radiation in the emulsion. He himself later succumbed to radiation poisoning.

van Riel notes, “It is this inextricable relationship that casts its long shadow across this musing film—sculpture, like an afterthought that reminds us that film is primarily a body that carries within it the light traces of other bodies, always balancing between appearing and disappearing.” These observations are manifested in the precision of her subject’s endlessly renewed temporal adjustment, so that the imminent haste, for example, of her dozing mother, whose fidgeting over the long duration signifies much in its change of speed alone, becomes all we have ever needed to know about exposure tables and time’s abstract passage. It is this inward epiphany, rather than any dazzle on the screen that holds the greatest power to sway.

– Julie Murray, artist, filmmaker, professor.