Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film 2011

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Saturday, July 30, 8:30pm
The Baseball Diamonds

by Sarah Robayo Sheridan
This program of international shorts explores the continuous thread of magic play within artists’ films, underlining a form of trickery invented with the medium itself.

George Méliès first film experiments in the late 19th century introduced innovative visual tricks, making use of the gap between images to make both objects and bodies disappear. Because of his ability to seemingly manipulate and transform reality through cinematography, Méliès is sometimes referred to as the first “Cinemagician.” The original audiences for these works were spellbound, amused or even horrified by the illusions represented. While the popular understanding of the technology of motion picture film dramatically increased in the 20th century, it is within the tradition of artists making films that magic is allowed its greatest play.

Boar Attack
George Meliès , The Man with the Rubber Head

Working half a century after Méliès, poet, choreographer and filmmaker Maya Deren was also very much invested in the magic of cinema. The seminal work Meshes of the Afternoon features several object tricks - a spinning record, a house key, a phone off the hook - that align with the illusionism pioneered in early silent cinema. The objects in her films are given explicit attention, serving as symbolic cues for a larger set of ideas. Her use of vanishing serves less of an entertainment function so much as a poetic purpose. In contrast to Méliès’s jarring substitutions through jump cuts, Deren’s figures transmute more gracefully, allowing a meshing of actual and perceived reality.

Jack Goldstein’s films explore two objects of the magician’s trade - a knife and a white dove. Shot very sparsely and with fixed framing, these films were originally designed as loops, offering eternal life and assigning talismanic powers to the knife and the dove beyond the physical limit of their form. Goldstein’s singular attention to the objects renders them into icons and solicits devotion to the image.

John Baldessari’s compilation Four Short Films were made contemporaneously with Goldstein’s films. Firmly routed in a conceptual art tradition, Baldessari is noted for his very dry sense of humour. Shot on Super-8 and later transferred to video, these shorts each offer a different case studies of objects ranging from powdered pigment to a thermometer, all shot on an intimate scale framed by the artist’s hands. In one example, the miraculous is underpinned by ridiculousness in the low-tech attempt at the conversion of water to wine.

Like Deren, Stuart Sherman’s art was also interdisciplinary. A performance artist, playwright, filmmaker, poet, essayist, sculptor and collagist, Sherman is best known for his one-man “spectacles” in venues ranging from theatres to public parks. Performed for the camera, his actions and gestures mix the gestures of vaudeville and magic, but push into the absurd, troubling what is being communicated. Sherman was strongly invested in the creative potential of word play, and for him the “spectacle” is meant to refer both the corrective lens and to theatre. Critic Jonathan Hoberman writes “All psychodrama ultimately derives from Maya Deren, but Sherman is Deren’s heir in even more specific ways. His films make especially clever use of the montage ‘creative geography’ that she pioneered in At Land - although Sherman does so not in the service of creating a dreamlike space so much as a means of supplying visual jolts and formal analogies.” These formal analogies constitute a provocative visual language unique to Sherman.

João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva are two contemporary Portuguese artists who work collaboratively in sculpture and film. Their numerous titles - primarily on 16mm but with some recent work in 35mm—recall the illogical narratives and nonsensical characters of early silent movies. They take the lessons both of 70s land art and conceptual art but reinvest more ancient philosophical queries into their own involved enigmas, proving that illusion is alive and well in the art of today.

 

The Magician
(France, 1898, 1:15 min)
George Meliès

The Man with the
Rubber Head

(France, 1901, 2:00 min)
George Meliès

Meshes of the Afternoon
(USA, 1943, 14 min)
Maya Deren

Andrew McPherson of Eccodek
Meshes of the Afternoon

The Knife
(USA, 1975, 5:19 min)
Jack Goldstein

White Dove
(USA, 1975, 0:50 min)
Jack Goldstein

Four Short Films,
1972-1973
(USA, 1972-1973, 5:42 min)
John Baldessari

Ten Films by
Stuart Sherman

(USA, 1987, 33:00 min)
Stuart Sherman

Cinematics (or the
log enchanter)

(Portugal, 2006, 1:50 min)
João Maria Gusmão &
Pedro Paiva

The Glaciologist
(Portugal, 2007, 2:10 min)
João Maria Gusmão &
Pedro Paiva

The Glaciologist
The Galciologist

Colombo’s Column
(Portugal, 2006, 3:02 min)
João Maria Gusmão &
Pedro Paiva