Tracy German

Impeded Streams and Stains

film installation
August 12 - September 19
Durham Art Gallery
251 George Street East, Durham


Tony Massett

“Love is a stain that obstinately lingers” - Baudelaire

This new work by Toronto based filmmaker Tracy German draws parallels between the gesture of body language and nostalgic notions of time having lapsed.

The installation at the Durham Art Gallery consists of five 16mm film projectors which display their images over various wall and floor surfaces strewn with sand, water and fabric, reflecting the imagery within the film. The small lengths of film endlessly looping through each projector are intended to be individual sentences which, viewed in context with each other, provide the larger picture that is the narrative. The viewer negotiates the physical space of the gallery while aware of the multiple imagery and clacking projectors with the shadows and presence of other viewers also, a lively interference to the installation. The accompanying soundscape by sound designer Alex Bullick, comprised of resonant bass vibrations on the didgeridoo, is integral to this work.

Working in black and white, German processes her own film after it has been through the camera, allowing for a whole other area of creative manipulation that is generally unavailable with film developed in a commercial processing lab. This technique of hand processing film involves taking the exposed film into a darkroom and working with different chemicals in the development process. Messing with the chemical compositions, temperatures etc. allows the unpredictable to take place where accident and the unanticipated become an implicit part of the evolution involved in bringing to life a visual experience.

The physical property of the celluloid film surface records its own history with accumulated marks, scratches and stains, revealing its own journey of process. This stressing and pushing of the film stock enables the exploration into other possibilities of light and form as an abstract form of expression. Herein lies the possibility for magic and alchemy to be transformative for other realms of the viewers experience.

‘ The imagery explores the rituals and sacred spaces created in small gestures between women and children revealed through body language,’ says German. Gestures, those small extensions of hand or foot, the shake of the head, the twist of the neck, the soft subtle signs which we make everyday, can be loaded with meaning or none at all, depending on the context. German utilizes these gentle motifs of body language as a vehicle reflecting the nostalgic moment of time passed. Time is that elusive quantity, the ephemeral, reflecting the here and now, then and gone, the uncertainty of what has transpired, the editing of what we remember and what we forget. The romantic intent through which we reminisce and filter our emotions.

Using the self and family as subject matter to explore these notions of time, her images appear as nostalgic glimpses of days at the beach, in that most fleeting of all northern seasons. The use of high contrast black and white film and other manipulations, both chemical and alchemical project the imagery into an elusive state of the unfamiliar engaged in with some level of archetypal familiarity.

The stain as literal and metaphoric refers to those human gestures as historical deposits recording, time and events passed. Stain implies spillage, the accidental, the summation of process, the unintentional as visible reminder of a life lived, stained by experiences, indelible puddles of pain and longing. The imagery contained in the celluloid surface itself also exposes its marks, flaws and stains as evidence of rite and transformation, emphasizing the messiness and unavoidable mistakes of exploring the full life. The primal sounds supply a sympathetic reverberation to the visceral world, a counterpoint to the apparent façade of the film surface.

Remembrances of things past, the stain as a history of time lost and regained.