I am a sucker for experimental cinema. It changes the way we look at the world – at documentation and story, at time and frame and medium. The most beautiful experimental cinema I’ve seen questions perception, how we look, what we see, and whether we are seeing independently, through our own eyes, or letting the artist guide us, catch and hold our point of view. Janet Cardiff’s stereophonic cinema springs to mind (Paradise Institute), and Stan Douglas’ multi-projector images (Der Sandmann). I think also of “expanded cinema,” that movement in the 60s and 70s exploring “the relationship between reality and apparatus and the reconceptualisation of film’s inherent illusionism and the material of film,” (Leighton 14). There are those who speak about the passing of analog film technology into redundancy, and the freedom this “obsolescence” grants the artist, (Leighton 31). With video an era of cheap and effective immediacy began, but the physicality of film remains a tactile treat, especially for those interested in the origins of the moving image.
Within my own memory, this has been a good year for live cinema manipulations: Amanda Dawn Christie, a Sackville based artist, performed at this January’s $100 Film Festival, using crystals, prisms, mirrors and disco balls to manipulate multiple 16mm film loops. In March, Mia Makela, a Finnish live cinema artist taught workshops and performed at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD, using digital programs and sounds to affect video. Locally, there are constantly projects with live soundtracks in the works, (Calgary Cinematheque has the Alloy Orchestra accompanying 1927 silent science fiction film Metropolis in November), and I am a salivating idiot for all of these things. And so, when I heard Joe Kelly was going to be performing at M:ST with live 16mm animations and an improvised soundtrack by Jay Crocker, I was there like a hot streak, excited and ready to watch.
Manjello was performed by Joe and Jay last night at Truck Gallery, and we the audience were not disappointed. Jay’s ambient, reverberating, at times wet, and growingly frantic soundscape was delicious to listen to. Joe Kelly was fascinating. I’ve seen similar works by Joe in theatre spaces, but the gallery space, sans rows or seats, served as a disclaimer inviting the audience to explore, to shift their attention from front to back, to roam if they want to. We watched the images transform on the wall; we observed Joe dipping cylindrical stamps in acrylic ink and rolling it onto sections of 16mm; we listened to Jay Crocker fill the gallery with sound.
For me, projects like Manjello re-invigorate a lust towards the medium of film. At several points during the performance, the film caught in the projector, smearing the image across the wall: a testament to the mechanics of projected movement. Delivered with an animators respect towards the physicality of the moving image, the simplicity of this performance recalled the origins of cinema: and I, for one, certainly enjoy a good bit of celluloid.
Citation: Leighton, Tanya. Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader. London: Tate Publishing, 2008.