Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” (1967)

Week 6 – Screening and discussion of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 black comedy, “Weekend”

We started by considering how to analyse a film.

We must consider:

  • form and content, the script, the genre, the acting, the soundtrack,
  • the narrative, the voice, the perspective, the structure
  • meta-text and meta-narrative – is the text or story part of something bigger? does it relate to other films/ stories?
  • interpretation – how can we interpret it? what school of criticism do we use to do so? Freudian? feminist? queer theory? marxist?
  • context – what was going on at the time of the film that would influence a) how the film was written and b) how the first audiences would interpret it
  • technique: the lighting, composition, sets, performance, editing, camera movement, external information.

Film is a visual, time-based medium so we must keep an eye on what camera position and composition are trying to tell us.

French film magazine “Du Cinéma” was founded in 1951, and it reset the basic tenets of film criticism and theory. Writers included Truffaut and Godard himself; the magazine was centred on analysis. Truffaut wrote the ‘les politiques des Autuer’ manifesto in 1954, resulting in the re-evaluation of Hollywood films and directors, including Hawks, Ray, Aldrich, Hitchcock, Lang. By centring on mise-en-scene, directors could be compared and contrasted thus film dialogue develops. The magazine was essential to creation of Nouvelle Vague.

Jean-Luc Godard:

He had 3 films in the top 50 BFI list: 13 – Breathless (1960), 21 – Le Mepris (1963), 42 Pierrot Le fou (1965).

He revolutionised socialism in cinema, played with form and genre, and was quoted as saying “all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.”

“Weekend”:

Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Cinematographer: Raoul Coutard. Edit: Agnès Guillemot. Music: Antoine Duhamel. Sound: René Levert.

Multiple cross-cultural references, remarkable camera work (camera movement as meaning), highly influential, ‘apocalyptic’, satire, anarchy, cinema, hollywood, revolution, location, socialism, style, ‘narrative’, polemic, Brecht’s theory of alienation

The film itself struck me immediately as extremely clever. One of the main things that struck me was the constant occurrence of terrible things, so frequent they become normal, which is reflected in the characters’ apathetic reactions to them.

The focus on the two main characters throughout gave an interesting perspective on the many weird and wonderful characters they meet on their journey, including the clan of anarchic hippies they both join at the end of the film.

Use of camera technique is extremely important. A scene where this is particularly important is one where we hear the cultural backgrounds/struggles of two working class young men. We hear their stories in one at a time, and each time the camera focuses on the first while the second recites the first’s story. Another is the scene where the pair reach the mother, hoping to secure her inheritance – there is a close-up of a rabbit carcass with the mother’s blood being spilled on it, accompanied by a monologue; extremely jarring to see.

 

 

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Letter Press Workshop

The letter press was one of the most important inventions possibly of all time. It was the first means of producing many identical copies of the same text, thereby enabling books to be mass printed for the first time.

It was invented in the mid 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer and publisher. He introduced printing to Europe, and was the first person to use movable type. His letterpress method was the primary method of distributing information from its invention until the the 20th century, so a good 500 years. Gutenberg’s Bible was the first book to be printed this way – around 180 copies were printed – at 1,282 pages it took Gutenberg and his staff around 3 years to complete.

The original wooden letterpress machine was based on a wine press, which was used to crush grapes. Printing is done by rolling ink onto the type, which is made of raised letters (which you arrange and carefully double-check) and use a huge screwing mechanism (much like the wine press) to clamp the paper down on the type.

The workshop took place in the University’s graphics department. It helped us understand the history of the machine, its historical significance, and how it works. We divided into groups. each group had a set of block letters, a different colour ink, and a press. we had to ink the letters, arrange them how we wished, place a piece of paper gently on top of them and use a roller to press it down. In our groups we created images and swapped them around so we could collaborate on pieces. We were given the theme of “fireworks” – having a theme really helped because it got the proverbial creative ball rolling.

Before the workshop I had never used a letterpress nor really appreciated their significance in literature. I left the workshop with a basic understanding of how to use one and some ideas of how to incorporate the letterpress into my artistic practice.

 

 

Frank Wasser

Artist Talk 15.11.17

Frank Wasser was born in Dublin in 1988.

He studied Fine Art at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland and graduated with an MFA in 2012.

Wasser has exhibited and lectured internationally, recently at the Venice Biennale where he debuted his performative lecture ‘Tendencies in Contemporary Art: A history of fabricated history’ for the European Cultural Academy (August 2017).

Lately, Wasser has supported his own practice by working with artists such as Tino Sehgal and Dan Graham and working as a educator, art historian and researcher across multiple institutions, including Tate, London.

Wasser’s practice includes work with writing, performance, conversations and rumours.

Many of the visual attributes of the practice are deployed strategically to act as decoys that can unravel, scrutinise and dismiss established forms of representation.

Wasser is currently working on an exhibition that will take the form of a book (published by Ma Bibliotheque an imprint of Dr.Sharon Kivland). The book will take as it’s starting point Irelands failed relationship with Modernism through an interweaving of metafictional autobiographical fragments and collected contemporary fables. Wasser will next show work at hmm no. 11 at Somerset House, November 27th, curated and selected by Anne Tallentire and Chris Fite-Wassilak.

 

 

Wasser’s artist talk began like many others, with what seemed like a powerpoint presentation on his practice, a few biographical details, and how he was inspired. Early on in his hour-long presentation we became aware he was not in fact showing us a powerpoint but a video, which was odd but we just thought this was a way to automatically change the slides for him. Later on in the video, a bright blue image of Theresa May popped up for merely a split-second, accompanied by a cough played extremely loudly through the speakers. This surprised us quite a bit but Wasser ignored it and carried on so we thought nothing of it. This then happened a few more times, punctuating what was otherwise a very normal artist talk. Each time it happened it scared the life out of us and created an overwhelming sense of tension, as though it was building up to something. That something manifested during the last ten minutes of the artist talk when his powerpoint once again turned into footage of Theresa May, this time constant footage rather than just a split-second, accompanied again by her coughing. This carried on for about a minute, in which time we realised Wasser was now completely doubled over, arms dangling listlessly, where before he had been standing up normally. He remained in this zombie-like position as his video changed to footage of himself in various white rooms, in a blood-red filter, accompanied with emphatic, harsh, deafening white noise. The video continued for ten minutes and then finished, at which point Wasser returned to standing upright and thanked us for watching.

This work was a bizarre and quite terrifying thing to watch. To me it seemed as if him and the powerpoint were connected, and when the video, like a virus, took over everything, he too ceased to live. The work was inherently political because of Theresa May appearing. It was interesting that he should focus on her coughing – what does this say about what Wasser thinks of her? Maybe it discusses how we see politicians in general – the focus on her performance of a normal bodily function draws attention to her role as someone who is expected to be extremely composed all the time; perhaps the coughing is an attempt to humanise her. Despite this, the association of her with such a deliberately horrific film challenges this interpretation – surely the intent cannot be to praise her when she is presented in such a loud, gaudy manner.

I do not want to suggest that I did not enjoy this performance; on the contrary; I found it extremely creative. I love subversion of the norm, and his subversion of the archetypal artist talk was fascinating and thought-provoking. The aesthetic of his film, both visually and audibly, resonated with me because of its unstoppable sensory impact.

This has, later in the term, been a great source of inspiration for my film work; the sheer depth of the visuals and sound affected me greatly and gave me ideas to incorporate in my practice.

 

 

Rackstraw Downes

Rackstraw Downes is an English painter, who is often described as a realist painter but has an aversion to this description – he has some very particular and fascinating ideas about painting.

He has studied what he calls the “endlessness” of the deserts of Texas. He studied an area which he happened upon full of sparse, straw-coloured plains with pinkish mountains in the background. He notes these structures made of corrugated metal for shade, and realised the area was a racetrack. His work here seems to be centred around the idea of flatness.

He has also deliberately painted mountains that he deems “not magnificent” – it is interesting that he explores the opposite of the artistic norm; choosing to study something mediocre as opposed to something amazing perhaps gives it a new sense of excitement.

Instead of seeing a landscape as something in front of him, he thinks of it as his “surroundings.” When painting a small mountain range, for example, he likes to paint from within the mountains and see how the light changes the landscape as the day progresses.

Although he is evidently passionate about painting and landscape, he likes to keep emotion out of it, believing that to make his painting emotional would take away from his respect for the landscape.

He talked about his shameless possessiveness over the landscape. He seems to want the landscape to himself and doesn’t want any other artists going the places he does, showing his deep connection with these places.

Capturing the character of every aspect of a view is imperative to him, and he states he could work on a painting indefinitely.

One key result of these specific thought processes is that curves that we do not ordinarily see are clearly visible in the painting, much like when you take a panorama picture on an iPhone, because you don’t see a landscape all at once.

Perhaps paradoxically, although perspective is a key part of his work, he does not let the rules of perspective (including one-point, two-point, etc. perspective) sway him, because he feels they are untrue to his eyes. He says the transferring of 3-D to 2-D is always the creation of metaphor; there is no standardised way of depicting it. Any rules that are followed by painters distract from the very thing that drew you to the landscape in the first place.

Rackstraw Downes on Art21

Cast-Iron

My 2nd Poem, “Cast-Iron”:

…and here we are. Look around at the cast-iron, the crumbling brick walls, the acid rain, the black voodoo.

Life in black.

1000 kilograms.

Your lungs fill with treacle.

Your seven billion compatriots have seemingly vanished.

You’ve forgotten what the light looks like.

The crystal ball can barely contain its laughter.

But it is only in the blackest of holes we are reminded of what a nebula is.

Nuclear fusion.

Glitter.

The disco ball.

Sound that washes over you.

Stings your eyes.

Makes you shiver.

It washes into your mouth. You feel it, you taste it, you see it.

In your darkest winter, it’s the first daffodil.

In your hangover, it’s the shower.

In your gruesome nightmares, it’s waking up.

In your weakest times, it’s the power.

And it’s all that you need, and all that you know.

In our sunburnt drowning world it goes to show

There are some who see red; the wolves; the lion.

But it’s worth it for those who bring down the cast-iron.

 

This poem was written like a stream of consciousness; the process involved writing down any images that came to mind, and then refining the resulting mess into a poem. The poem is about the ability to bounce back, the reasons to not give up, the realisation that although there is a great deal of terror and suffering in the world, there are some things that are so wonderful that they are capable of restoring one’s faith in life and humanity.

I needed a way to perform the poem in an imaginative format. The subject matter is extremely visual, it conjured up images of destruction, despair, the sublime, glory, and life. It is presented as a cloud of multiple separate images with little description, because the idea was to mirror the way the human mind works: ideas are summoned with little detail but we think of them immediately, simultaneously and continuously.

I found some suitable imagery on YouTube, which was a good way to do it because it guaranteed relevant footage to be found, as the things I can realistically film are greatly limited. I found some short videos of nuclear explosions, meteorites, lightning, time-lapses of plants growing, and instead of downloading the videos I filmed my screen when watching them. This way the footage is two removes away from reality because it’s a film of a film of an event. I think the poor quality that results gives the footage a dreamlike, ‘imagined’ quality.

To add to the overall effect of the film, I used garageband to create an ambient, yet cinematic instrumental song to act as part of the soundtrack. The piece is quite simple, it consists of a few variations of a D Major chord played on various different synth voices. To incorporate the poem into the piece, I recorded myself reciting the poem on my phone using voice memos.

I then had all the footage and the soundtrack, so it was now a matter of editing the footage to fit the soundtrack. I think using the soundtrack as a starting point was an effective way to proceed because I could then select the footage that fit best to certain points in the poem, or indeed points in the music.

To edit and render the film, I used Adobe Premiere Pro, which is available in the Art Department.

GROUP CRIT

In the group feedback session, my studio group picked up on the soundtrack and described it as “cinematic” and “large”, which I was pleased with. Although people saw the effect of the found footage, it was suggested that I should perhaps include more of my own footage. The main thing people commented on was that the poem was difficult to understand, partly because the recording of it was drowned out somewhat by the music, and partly because most were concentrating much more on the video. Some suggested that I could incorporate the text itself as part of the video, so the audience could read the poem as they watched.

Tate Modern 31.10.17

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Maria Helena Viera da Silva, 1908-1992, born Portugal, worked France – The Tiled Room, 1935, Oil paint on canvas

Hans Bellmer, 1902-1975, born Poland, worked Poland, Germany, France – Peg-Top, c.1937-52, Oil paint on canvas

Wilfredo Lam, 1902-1982, born Cuba, worked Spain, France, Cuba – Ibaye, 1950, Oil paint on canvas

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Jack Whitten, 1939, born and works USA – Epsilon Group II, 1977, Oil paint on canvas

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Jesus Rafael Soto 1923-2005, born Venezuela, worked Venezuela, France – Cardinal, 1965, wood on chipboard, metal rods and nylon threads

György Kepes 1906-2001, born Hungary, worked Hungary, Germany, Britain, USA

Gauze and Funnel Photogram, c.1939, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

Blobs and Circles, c.1939-40, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

György Kepes, 1906-2001, born Hungary, worked Hungary, Germany, Britain, USA

Black and White Stripes, c.1939-40, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

Circles and Dots, c.1939-40, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

Feathery Light, c.1939-40, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

Propeller, c.1939-40, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

Spiral, c.1939-40, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper

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Colin Self 1941, born and works Britain – Leopardskin Nuclear Bomber No.2, 1963, wood, aluminium, steel and fabric

Nam June Paik, 1932-2006, born South Korea, worked South Korea, Japan, Germany, USA

Nixon, 1965-2002, video, 2 monitors, black and white and colour, sound and magnetic coils

Nam June Paik, 1932-2006, born South Korea, worked South Korea, Japan, Germany, USA

Three Eggs, 1975-1982, video, video camera, 2 colour television receivers, 2 eggs

Also see: Hito Steyerl, 1966, born and works Germany – How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, video, running time: 14 min

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Above and below:

Sheela Gowda, Behold, 2009, steel car bumpers, knotted human hair

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Lenore Tawney, 1907-2007, born and Worked USA – ink on paper, 1964-5

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Gustav Metzger, 1926-2017, born Germany, worked Britain – Liquid Crystal Environment, automated version 2005, original performance 1965-6, 5 glass slides, liquid crystals, polarising gel, 5 slide projectors, 5 custom-built controls, software, rotating polarising filter

Running time: 22 min, looped

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Julie Mehretu, 1970, born Ethiopia, works USA – Mogamma, A Painting in Four Parts: Part 3, 2012, ink and acrylic paint on canvas

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Above and below:

Monika Sosnowska, 1972, born and works Poland – Pavilion, 2016, painted steel

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Bruce Nauman, 1941, born and works USA – No, 1981, lithograph on paper

Bruce Nauman, 1941, born and works USA – Run From Fear, Fun From Rear, 1972, neon signs

 


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​Carlos Cruz-Diez, 1923, born Venezuela, works Venezuela, France – Physichromie No.113, 1963, reconstructed 1976, painted aluminium and stainless steel

 

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​​Bruce Nauman, 1941, born and works USA

 

 

 

Heinz Mack, 1931, born Germany, works Germany, USA – Light Dynamo, 1963, aluminium, glass, wood and motor

 

​ Yayoi Kusuma, 1929, born Japan, works Japan, USA – The Passing Winter, 2005, mirror and glass

Ann Hamilton

Ann Hamilton is a visual artist internationally recognized for the sensory surrounds of her large-scale multi-media installations. Using time as process and material, her methods of making serve as an invocation of place, of collective voice, of communities past and of labor present. Noted for a dense accumulation of materials, her ephemeral environments create immersive experiences that poetically respond to the architectural presence and social history of their sites. Whether inhabiting a building four stories high or confined to the surface of a thimble, the genesis of Hamilton’s art extends outwards from the primary projections of the hand and mouth. Her attention to the uttering of a sound or the shaping of a word with the hand places language and text at the tactile and metaphoric center of her installations. To enter their liminality is to be drawn equally into the sensory and linguistic capacities of comprehension that construct our faculties of memory, reason and imagination.

Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1956, Ann Hamilton received a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas in 1979 and an MFA in sculpture from the Yale School of Art in 1985. From 1985 to 1991, she taught on the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hamilton has served on the faculty of The Ohio State University since 2001, where she is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Art.

Ann Hamilton – Films

Most relevant to my practice are Hamilton’s films. They have an extremely eerie and uncomfortable quality, which informed my performance of “Ode to Autocorrect” a great deal. The one that perhaps informed my performance the most was “The Picture is Still” (2001). The video begins with just a few almost indiscernible grey shapes, and we wonder what is being shown. As the camera moves, we realise it is looking extremely closely at a black-and-white photograph. The simplicity and ‘graininess’ of the footage was a big inspiration for my electronic soundtrack; even though it is a soundtrack rather than a video, it almost ‘sounds’ greyscale to me.