Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Picks

Well, it's that time of the year again, when once asks, "Where did it go?"

Whitstable Biennale opening day. I do like to be beside the seaside.

Hit So Hard, P. David Ebersole's doc on the life and near death of Patty Schemel. Grunge, lesbians, Courtney Love's one-liners. What more could you ask for? 

Little Battles album launch, which found She Makes War and the Olympians in excellent form.

Pussy Riot. Who else?

Best wishes to them and everyone for a swell 2013!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On show

This week was meant to be about viewing art shows I've missed, but I only made it to the South London Gallery to view two. Both are by European women artists making long-overdue UK debuts.

Downstairs is Sanja Ivekovic's Unknown Heroine (one-half of a retrospective, with the other as-yet unviewed at Calvert 22), while upstairs is Toxic Play in Two Acts, by the duo Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz. Having met all of these artists at various times in Berlin, I was intrigued.

Both exhibits have explicitly feminist concerns, though coming from separate generations. Ivekovic, a Croat, grew up under the Yugoslav regime, and this section of her retrospective offers her gender commentary over the years, from videos that satirise standards of beauty, to an ongoing series of parallel constructions of magazines juxtaposed with her personal photos, as if contrasting her reality with the supposed ideal portrayed in mass media. The space is quite bright and open, leaving the exhibits looking a bit stranded.

Upstairs the more confined space presses in on Toxic Play in Two Acts, with the film Salomania offering a queered version of Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils presented by veteran filmmaker/choreographer Yvonne Rainer and Wu Tsang, shot in Los Angeles. In the next room is the new film, Toxic, featuring drag artist Werner Hirsch (the creation of Antonia Baehr) quoting Jean Genet, while Ginger Brooks Takahashi (late of MEN) hoovers up glitter. An abundance of cultural references and various forms of queerness and gender play abound in both works, though to what end I am not quite clear.

Having interviewed Boudry and Lorenz separately, I know they share interests in sexuality, labour, and such queer filmmakers as Jack Smith, and that these inform their work. They like to create alternative histories, to recuperate lost figures (here Alla Nazimova and Genet) and to "queer" whatever space in which they work. Toxic, in particular, is self-referential, as Baehr-as Hirsch-as Genet, turns on the filmmakers, questioning why they crew is not in front of the camera in his place. An off-camera voice asks, "Does it interest you to break the order?", followed by a pan that shows the crew and other cast in the audience."Of course," responds Baehr/Hirsch/Genet. The audience outside this filmic space is invited to draw its own conclusions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jonas Mekas in London

I have not been publishing much lately, although I have been busily attending events. Is it my Twitter dalliance? My studies? I shall have to evaluate at the end of the year. But, I do retain a fondness for blogging.

So, back to the topic at hand. Filmmaker/archivist Jonas Mekas has two London celebrations at present. One is a retrospective of his films, as well as some Anthology Film Archives selections, which is on at the BFI.

The other is an exhibit of films and installations at the Serpentine, which is where I met him yesterday. I had a good look around the week before at the press preview, but as the exhibits were lacking captions, I wanted to have another viewing before our interview, and I am glad I did, because some of the captions contained his own explanations for the works on show. My eye was particularly taken by a quote stating something to the effect that he has a happy knack of forgetting all that is unpleasant and retaining only that which is beautiful. A funny thing to say, considering one of his new works, Reminiszenzen aus Deutschland, is a recollection of his time in forced labour camps during the Second World War.

But, there is no doubt he prefers to dwell on the delights of nature, the familial and the pleasing on the eye, with a sprinkling of New York Beautiful People thrown in. His newest work, finished two days before the Serpentine opening, Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man, is a compilation of beautiful images, "with no purpose", as his characteristic voiceover repeatedly intones. It is a curious work, quite nostalgic and sentimental in tone, perhaps the summing up of a life on film, which he gave up shooting in preference to video in 1989. This explains the considerable youth of his angel-haired daughter Oona.

Nevertheless, the present and future were also under discussion when we met in a back room at the gallery for a 30-minute chat, for a forthcoming piece in The Quietus. It was not the easiest conversation, as the filmmaker, about to turn 90, was not in the most ebullient of moods and didn't appear especially interested in my line of questioning. But, he did offer some insights into Reminiszenzen and his fondness for Lithuanian folk art. And I didn't miss the opportunity to ask about his disagreements over form with Maya Deren, who turns up as a passing mention in one of the AFA films at the Serpentine. Apparently, she kept her unfinished films in coffee cans. Gives a new meaning to "film grain".

Here is an excerpt from Walden-Diaries, Notes and Sketches.

Walden - Diaries, Notes and Sketches by Jonas... by microcinema