Feb 26, 2013

New from Old: Practices of Appropriation

On Wednesday, February 20th, 2013, at 7 pm, the Millennium Film Workshop held the first event in a three part Personal Cinema Series at the New School under the banner New From Old: Practices of Appropriation. The venue was Wollman Hall, in the Eugene Lang Building on the outskirts of the West Village.

A copy of the event poster

After brief prefatory remarks by event organizers, the viewing began, projected digitally on a retractable screen. Nine short cinematic works by three artists—Martha Colburn, Coleen Fitzgibbon, and Bradley Eros—were presented in succession over the course of an hour, with almost no interruptions of any sort.

Martha Colburn’s four animated shorts jolted with their garish colors, disjointed movement, unsettling repetition, and discomfiting compositions. Her antic parades of crude expressive images and sound from pop-culture are created with meticulously crafted cut-out puppets and mixed-media collages. As with Colburn, Fitzgibbon presented repetitive displays of media imagery. Where Colburn shouts in your face with an emotive pop-culture vernacular, Fitzgibbon whispers through the quiet traces of typically more subdued original media objects, such as scrolling newspapers. Apparently, her whispers were too quiet for some: a third of the audience shuffled out during the screening of her works. The final part of the screening comprised two works by Bradley Eros. First was TransTrans (or Transformers Transformed), a 2009 remix by Eros of the first movie in the Transformers series, blending manipulated HD video, textual selections from Marinetti’s Futurist manifestos, and a soundtrack culled from the experimental fringes of rock and avant-garde music. The audience was raptly attentive; a security guard against the back wall was watching with a wide grin. Aurora Borealis, the final viewing of the event, is a reworking of found footage from scientific films. Snippets of film from various science labs were cut and spliced together to create a sequence of sublime visual tableaux. The soundtrack contained a live element: Eros sat at a table near the projector, and over the course of the screening he "played" various objects through a nearby microphone to augment the recorded sound: bouncing ping-pong balls, paper tearing, a plate crashing against the floor.

Aurora Borealis (Bradley Eros, 2002)

The screening was followed by a casual discussion with the three artists. Bradley Eros spoke of his use of found film, positing that his selection of the most fascinating bits of footage from otherwise abandoned films is the practical way to keep these films in circulation and expose them to a wider public: “I kind of thought this is the way to keep them alive. I know archivists and purists and everybody is upset about this. I know everybody says there’s no film anymore, but there’s more than anybody can possibly see. I feel that I’m saving this footage because nobody has the time to watch these, even for the most committed person it is too boring to watch these for thirty minutes.”

While billing itself as a Personal Cinema Series, there was a surprising absence of context to deepen audience appreciation of each artist as an individual creator. Spare opening and concluding remarks omitted mention of thematic interests and evolving artistic practices. While each artist screened works that involved appropriation and reuse of pre-existing imagery, sounds and/or symbols, the event could have benefited by exploring the central event theme of appropriation—new from old—within each artist’s oeuvre.

A sampling of the exhibited works:

Anti-Fracking, by Martha Colburn

Daily News [clip], by Coleen Fitzgibbon

TransTrans, by Bradley Eros and Tim Geraghty

-Jared Eisenstat

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