Feb 25, 2013

Art(Core) and the Celluloid Body

            Art(Core) and the Celluloid Body was presented on February twentieth by The Swiss Institute and MM Serra. The objective, as described by Serra in her introduction, was to screen a number of experimental films from the Filmmaker’s Cooperative (of which Serra acts as Executive Director) depicting male and female forms, ideas, and experiences relating to sexuality, the body, and desire through film. The word art(core) was suggested by Serra as a replacement for hardcore in order to stress that these works were not pornography, but studies in the corporeal through visual metaphors and aesthetic engagement. This point was likely emphasized because the majority of the selected films were created within prudish environments seen in the sixties and well into the nineties that were not particularly open to conversations surrounding sexuality, feminism, and the subversive.
            Serra is also a filmmaker, and her own film Turner (1987) was programmed for this event. She introduced herself first as an artist, then a curator, an author, and finally the Executive Director of the co-op. With all of these roles intersecting, it was apparent that Serra was in a position conducive to producing and presenting this program successfully. Additionally, she had already curated a program with a similar title, Art(Core): Avant-Garde and the Cinematic Body, that has been presented at a number of locations over the last five years, including Anthology Film Archives[1] and The Pleasure Dome[2] with a different line-up of films each time.
            Reported through its website, The Swiss Institute explains that its mission originally sought to provide space for Swedish artists to showcase their work to a Swedish audience, however this mission has expanded since it’s inception, and now promotes discourse between European countries and the United States by acting as an international venue[3]. The director, Gianni Jetzer, repeated similar sentiments regarding the purpose of the institute during his introduction, while also thanking MM Serra for producing the program, which had been a participation in the works for a number of years. He also provided a quick narrative describing how the Filmmaker’s Co-op was born out of Anthology Film Archives, which was founded by an emigrant (Jonas Mekas), and shares a similar interest in creating dialogue between international artists.
            In regards to the selection of films, a clear effort was made to introduce not only hetero-centered subjects, but also queer representations and female perspectives too. Close to all of the chosen pieces depicted a certain recognition of sexual otherness, whether it was through using outright homosexual subjects, or settings involving a number of participants partaking in varied sex acts. However, a noticeable lack of none-white voices, as well as a focus on pre-twenty-first century works created a disproportionate screening. All films were projected on 16mm, a rare and welcomed occurrence, but limiting when considering the number of contemporary works existing on other formats that would have fit well into the program. Luckily the timing was planned well in advance, and there did not appear to be any issues with the two projectors located in the back of the open space.
                                           (image from Filmmaker's Co-op Facebook page)

            Overall, the program displayed a wide range of techniques and visual forms used by the experimental film community (animation, emulsion scratching and painting, and structural processes). Peggy Ahwesh’s film The Color of Love (1994), provided an example of how found footage could be re-appropriated, and in this case used to examine gender relations in pornography. A similar process later used by Naomi Uman in Removed (1999), Ahwesh played with the film emulsion to re-create a scene between characters in a stag film to ultimately provide an entirely different message for the audience. Jim Hubbard’s Two Marches (1991) could even be read as found footage, as its candid shots of unedited marching footage are only contained by intertitles detailing time and place. 
            It will be interesting to see where Serra takes this program into the future, both in regards to location and works selected. The various iterations from the past have not incited any follow up critiques or responses to be found for review, but most likely Serra has an understanding of the various forms her programs have taken and how she will shape them for the next audience.

                              Image from Plumb Line (1972) by Carolee Schneemann

See a description and film list of one of Serra's past Art(Core) Screenings here:

[1] “Art(Core): Avant-Garde and the Cinematic Body – The Films of MM Serra,” Eventot, http://eventot.com/art-core-avant-garde-and-the-cinematic-body-the-films-of-mm-serra/296333.
[2] “Art(Core): The Avant Garde and the Cinematic Body,” Pleasure Dome, http://pdome.org/2008/artcore-the-avant-garde-and-the-cinematic-body.
[3] “History and Mission,” Swiss Institute Contemporary Art New York, www.swissinstitute.net/about/history-and-mission.php.

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