by Jon Jost
In case of interest, a slightly belated report on the 1999 Osnabruck European Media Art Festival. I saw about half the films shown, having gotten there a day into the schedule, having some time in which I had to do things, and a more general need to not see too much.
Installations: Immediately forgettable, more or less as usual. How people can take the time and find the funding to make one-idea presentations of some technical complexity and almost no interest at all still puzzles me. Nothing remotely interesting to me and nothing not seen in some variant many times before.
Interactive CD-Romville, etc.: glances over some shoulders sent me heading another way. Most interactive stuff of this sort seems graphically lame, kind of dumbly didactic often with some ideological ax-grinding grinding away. I've yet to see an "interactive" thing that did one tenth of what genuinely good art does to you in the way of interaction. Seems mostly a gimmick for the talent-impaired, to use the kind of PC lingo one might find hanging around such stuff.
The films and videos:
Of what I saw, the general impression was people re-working (perhaps thinking they are discovering) what have become the avant garde signifiers/cliches of the 60's and early 70's: flickers, flare-outs, countdown leaders, scratches, sprocket holes, all the beloved cinematic foregrounding stuff long ago worked over by the likes of Conner, Brakhage, Landow and the usual cluster of known NYC backed underground sorts who seem to be the established canon. Here the same things were done, and done again, although with the seeming quirk that often the filmic things were then dumped to computer/video, worked on a bit, and presented, grainy flashes and funk on nice up-to-date video projection format. At the festival, projection actually ranged from super 8 to 16 to 35mm and video projection. In general the video projection looked best, except for a few 35mm films. Films wobbled from what seemed student-exercise level (one, Filter Beds, on glancing at the catalog, by a man born in 1948 and allegedly a filmmaker for some time, little would I have guessed from the mundane focus-shift screwing around of the film) on to some rather slick productions, one of which, Dust, was clearly from an advert maker, purporting to be a dance film. I kept trying to figure out what product was being plugged with the Boy Look At This technical razzle - was it perfume or a sporty car? The larger proportion fell in the student messing-around realm. One cluster - Roundscape Mix (nice sound track), Mind's Eye, and Rue Francis - all worked single-framed zooms into (and back from) this or that, some to a picture frame that then zooms into, ad inf, some just zooming back. More or less variants of Pasadena Freeway Stills of some decades back, but now done digitally. Of things that were really video/electronic, fingers tended (as expected) to be heavy on the EFX list with all kinds of solarizing, matting, transparencies, etc. on display, seldom with much sense of control or meaning. Kinda like the sank-like-a-rock standard output of the 60-70s underground. And of course there were the structuralist experimentalists, the MTV music videos, and worked over home movies and optical re-runs of classic silent stuff.
Overall impression--not only from my admittedly jaundiced viewpoint but shared by some others I met--was that there wasn't much to get excited about, that perhaps the old avant garde is getting rather derrierish, certainly on the celluloid side, with the oddity that a lot of the electronic side merely did digitally what had been done at 24fps some decades ago as if the shift in backing somehow made it all new, which it doesn't.
Exceptions among the films which I saw, or fitting said description, but done well or interestingly:
ROTATION, vet Aussie Paul Winkler's years of in-camera matting work arrives at a level of sophistication and awareness that makes a dazzling piece, mysterious even to those like myself who know more or less how it is done - a mesmerizing abstract work.
MOIRE, a 35mm abstraction by Joost Rekveld, a pure color screen with precise geometric patters flickering and forming Moire effects; dazzling again, if maybe a bit too long for itself.
FLANEUR III, Torben Jensens part three of his overly rich layering voice-over trilogy (so far) FLANEUR. Someday he might figure out that some respite from the onslaught of word-image-text-layering would enhance it be giving you some breathing space.
ZUPPA TARTARUGA, Karin Gemperle digitally done animation, a very sophisticated cartoon for non-vegetarians; some interesting and effective use of those EFX files.
FILM IST, Gustav Deutsch's somewhat structuralist compendium of scientific archival footage, played somewhat for laughs.
MEMORIE(S), Gerard Cairaschi's Beta flicker video, I think working at 50 frames a second, each frame non-interlaced, setting up a rich mix of textured images (leaves, water) with superimpositions either lying on top (hand) or imbedded into texture (eyelid, lashes), done very slickly, visibly to my sense "French" in aesthetics (not a compliment from me), and a bit too long, but still impressive.
FEELING MY WAY, witty walk to work taking video, then doing computer graphics animation in which the "live" video emerges, submerges, ranging from drawn to photographic, all spiced with mordant Brit wit by Jonathan Hodgson. Fun and very well done.
As I say, I missed half or a bit more, though only heard of a few things which anyone seemed to think especially interesting. General feel of was disappointment. Well ain't that film festivals?? In this case I was looking for, hoping for that surge of something new, a real turn, incurred by digitaldom. No go so far. Some other time maybe.
One person's opinion, nothing more.
Sidenote: In Osnabruck is the Felix Nussbaum museum, with paintings by interesting and sometimes powerful painter killed in Auschwitz. Housed in a strong new building by Daniel Liebeskind, this exhibition (permanent), struck me, as someone who has spent a good bit of time in Germany, as one of the more effective of the many places in which Germans are led by the nose to review their sad history. Almost silently it shows the work of a very talented painter, the grim slide into knowing acknowledgment of his probable fate seen in his work, and the closing reality noted somewhat quietly, without forcing, so that the force works into you subtly, making you think and ponder how such a culture (our culture, German or not) could arrive at such a point. With today's current "smart bombs" dropping nearby, driven by most unintelligent policies and worse CIA "spying" and "intelligence" the kinship is very close. But then a culture, the central icon of which is a man hanging on a cross, having been torture-murdered, to be seen in European landscapes all over, should not be surprised at itself for doing the same on a regular basis.
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