DAVID GATTEN FILM SCREENING AND DISCUSSION
N.C. State University
Caldwell Hall G107, 2221 Hillsborough St.
Fri., Feb. 15, 5-7:30 p.m.
This is the true story of how the ocean made a movie.
To be more precise, filmmaker David Gatten collaborated on a movie with the Atlantic Ocean, where the Edisto River empties its freshwater into the ocean’s salt along the South Carolina coast. Gatten put unexposed 16mm film stock into a crab trap, tied the ends of a 50-foot rope to the trap and his ankle, and dropped it into the water.
“The ocean made the movie,” Gatten says. “The exposure, the processing, the chemistry, the physical interaction—everything—was entirely the ocean. I didn’t do anything other than decide how long it should be in the water, at high tide, ebb tide, low tide. And how much film I was going to put in. The ocean and crabs decided how much film I was going to get back. They did the editing. They did the sound. I was the producer.”
Gatten made three such films in 1998, returning to the South Carolina coast in 2007 to make three more. This more recent set, along with five other 16-mm films from his acclaimed career, will be screened in a mini-retrospective on Friday evening at N.C. State.
It’s a rare chance to see the work of one of the country’s foremost experimental filmmakers with Gatten at the projector’s controls. In his omnipresent overalls, he’ll introduce the films, something he doesn’t often get to do but considers an integral part of the screening. Neither dramatic nor scripted nor off-the-cuff, he nonetheless sets the films up with a precise, evocative monologue before bringing the screen to life an exact beat after he stops talking. A screening is a performance, to his mind.
Self-consciousness is exhausting. It’s such a drain to have to maintain one’s personality or to display a situationally appropriate persona as one moves from place to place over the course of a day. This is why we cherish those private places where we can let our guard down and especially those rare public places in which we feel comfortable enough to do so. Iris Gottlieb’s earnest pen-and-ink drawings of everyday objects, currently on view at Durham’s Carrack Modern Art Gallery through Feb. 9, provide just such an art experience.
Gottlieb’s hand possesses a couple of Edward Gorey’s digits next to a pair of fingers from a scientific draftsman. One of the three notebooks on display (which you’re thankfully allowed to flip through) contains page after page of carefully labeled protozoa. Gottlieb’s work could just as easily be found on pages of a biology textbook as in a gallery.
And there’s sleight of hand, too. Textbooks aren’t allowed to have Gottlieb’s sense of humor, which lacks even the slightest shade of Gorey’s gothic darkness. Even in “Windowsill Death,” a drawing of an expired fly on its back, tragedy is absent.
When it comes to good art, sometimes late is better than never. In August of last year I wrote about Volume I of Project 35, Independent Curators International (ICI)’s collection of new video works, 35 artists chosen by 35 curators from all over the globe, housed in a small dark room at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. The series offers the chance to witness the great equalizing medium of video and its myriad expressive possibilities as taken up by a spectrum of artists from around the world, all within the confines of a single venue. Last Saturday, I returned to the small dark room at the NCMA just in time to catch the end of Volume II, which closes on Jan. 13. I came away invigorated but challenged, with the distinct sense that I’d been exposed to an array of new modalities of expression.
Daniela Paes Leäs is a Portuguese artist who lives and works in Amsterdam. Her video, "The Freedom to Question" (2008) is a meditation on the politics of hospitality in the relationship between sponsor and sponsored in the arts. It centers on Igor Dobricic, a programming administrator for the European Cultural Foundation and Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk who swapped offices every Wednesday for six months in 2007.
With the exception of a very brief glimpse of them at the start of the piece, the video’s protagonists are represented solely by their words, scrolling texts of their email correspondence. The piece includes occasional voiceover narration by Dobricic and van Heeswijk and by Canadian performer Tabitha Kane, who serves as a surrogate for Leäs, musing on her role as witness/observer. Leäs’s first-person commentaries blur the boundaries between artist and camera (“I” and “eye”) as it wanders through empty sterile office interiors past desks piled high with boxes and papers, gliding over books imprinted with salient words such as “gift,” “guide,” and “dialogues.”
The scrolling texts make it difficult to process the heady terms that are tossed back and forth by the two arts professionals. Phrases such as “Positive disposition of a negative condition (difference)” are challenging enough to parse in the relative stasis of the printed page or computer screen. Trying to manage them as they scroll past, often competing with voiceovers and other soundtrack elements, is close to impossible. The cumulative experience of "The Freedom to Question" becomes by necessity a kind of sonic/ visual abstraction, seeding our psyches with shards of word clusters and concepts that might subtly get us thinking about the dynamics between funder and funded in the arts.
Eschewing the standard video aspect ratio, "Man with Cockerell II" (2004) by New Delhi-based Ranbir Kaleka is framed vertically against a ground of black and comes off as an ink painting of the ocean that has come alive. From the video’s first moment, its stained, distressed surface is activated with rippling waters as a bare-armed man glides into frame grasping a large rooster to his chest. He raises his head just in time to stare directly into the camera as he fades swiftly into the mist. A bell clamors as gulls flap energetically across the top of the frame. Amid further sounds of clanking and crashing, the man reappears in the center of the frame clutching the rooster, which now begins to writhe, destabilizing the man, who stumbles out of frame as the bird escapes. Thus begins the set of binary actions that repeat throughout "Man with Cockerell II," establishing a philosophical construct: sometimes you keep the bird, sometimes you don’t.
The video’s absurdly cacophonous soundtrack, with its uproarious clanking, cranking, creaking and all manner of other madcap sonorities could have been lifted from a Laurel and Hardy film, a somehow perfect foil to the peaceful through-line of Kaleka’s video, which is the continual flow of the waters, eventually brought into welcome sync with actual water sounds toward the end, followed by blissful silence.
In its premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Compliance proved one of the most controversial films there, prompting multiple walkouts in its initial screening. And last month, INDY Week's Neil Morris called it the best film of the year.
The film chronicles a day at a fictional fast-food franchise where the manager (Ann Dowd, who recently received Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review for her role) is called by a police officer (Pat Healy) informing her that a young employee (Dreama Walker from TV’s Don’t Trust the B—— in Apt. 23) has stolen money from a customer and needs to be detained until the cops arrive. Even though audience members are clued in early that the “cop” on the phone is a fake, those on the other end of the line follow through with his demands—which include a strip search and increasingly degrading acts being perpetrated on the hapless cashier.
It sounds far-fetched—until you find out this scenario really did play out more than 70 times in the United States.
“My reaction to hearing the story of the events it’s based on was one of, ‘I’m not one of those people! I would never do that!’” says Zobel in a call to his apartment in New York City.
“But then you start realizing there are times when you just don’t know what you’d do in a situation. There are things that are built into us that in some ways I’m curious about. I don’t think that this is a matter of education or intelligence level, but the relationship to authority that some people have, and how that relationship comes out in people.”
Despite the grim subject matter of Compliance, Zobel says that his cast and crew had a better time making the film than some people have had watching it. “We were certainly not comfortable on set some times, but as creators, we had a different relation to what was going on onscreen — people who make horror movies aren’t scared all day,” Zobel says with a laugh. “We were aiming for an effect, so it wasn’t so much of a situation that was like that of watching the film.
“This was a movie that was really being made by virtue of the fact that all the people involved were interested. We weren’t interested in competing with The Avengers—it was just a group of people who were really interested in this idea. So we wanted to be faithful to the ideas that got us there, and making sure those ideas came across.”
Zobel’s eclectic background includes co-founding the popular Flash animation site Homestarrunner.com, home of such cartoon characters as Strong Bad and Trogdor. After college, he attended UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem with David Gordon Green, and went on to work with him on his films George Washington, filmed in Wilmington, and All the Real Girls, filmed in Asheville (Green, in turn, executive-produced Compliance).
His first feature, The Great World of Sound, was released in 2007 and received warm reviews. Filmed in North Carolina, it told an offbeat story about two hucksters who recruit amateur singers to make demo recordings.
CHAPEL HILL—The word “ambivalence” is usually used to express an emotionless, uncaring state or a kind of personal isolationism. But the term really describes the conflicted state of holding two contrary points of view. Not only can ambivalence be highly expressive, but it’s also the impulse behind any thorough critique.
“Elegance and Extravagance: Japanese Posters from the Merrill C. Berman Collection” comprises 86 posters by 22 artists and spans the 40 years after World War II. You’ll be stunned by the show’s visual variety, which is balanced by its pristine presentation. Though subjects range from advertising to politics to personal expression, and styles recapitulate the entirety of European and American Modernism while drawing on Japanese traditional forms, the immaculate framing makes it all cohere.
One thing that differentiates posters from paintings, or other media more commonly called fine art, is that posters are usually made for a commercial reason. Therefore they’re made on deadline, which might lessen their legitimacy as art objects to some minds. “Elegance and Extravagance,” however, shows several accomplished poster artists using the work pace and formal conventions of their medium to develop a keen sensibility comparable to any master artist.
Steampunk, for those not in the know, is a branch of science fiction that postulates what would have happened if modern or futuristic technology had been created in the past, using the technology and materials available at that time, e.g. steam engines, zeppelins and the like. It’s become a particularly popular subset of science fiction fandom, with many fans creating steampunk-themed outfits and crafts sold online and at shows.
Priest has become one of the most popular authors of steampunk in her “Clockwork Century” series, which began in her award-winning bestseller Boneshaker, about how a massive steam-powered drill unleashes a zombie plague in Civil War-era Seattle.
Priest says that steampunk’s appeal comes from a “perfect storm of pop culture” where people embrace the sense of design and functionality in the old-fashioned technology, as opposed to the sleek, compact style found in Apple-style products. “In that school of design, everything is this sort of pristine, inscrutable box where if you don’t know where to touch it or how to react to it, it might as well be a brick,” Priest says.
“The Victorians, God bless ‘em, thought their technology should be beautiful as well as functional. And we seem to have lost that in the streamlining efforts to make everything look futuristic. I think in one regard, Steampunk is a reaction to that, a way of saying, ‘No, we don’t want something that looks like what everybody else has, that’s flat and inscrutable.’"
So are the fans wearing homemade goggles and railroad pocket watches giving the finger to the iPad?
“I’ll put it this way: If the Victorians made a giant death-ray killing machine, it would look like a giant death-ray killing machine,” Priest says. “It would fill an entire room and have gears and brass and engraving, and would be this enormous, powerful, beautiful-looking thing. If Apple made a giant death ray killing machine, it would look like a button. And I think there’s a sense that something has been lost, and steampunk’s trying to reclaim that a bit.”
The circle and the square. This phrase recalls Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man notebook drawing, in which he exemplifies the proportional relationship that the Roman architect Vitruvius asserted as optimally connecting man to the structures around him.
It would be difficult to find a young artist more sincere and intentional than goetz. She works in many different media—this show includes 16mm film, watercolor paintings, a sculptural installation and performance. Playing the art field like this is common for student artists, of course. goetz, however, differentiates herself in that the media are all put at the service of her ideas, rather than the other way around.
Artists are a resourceful lot. In their hands, common materials become artifacts charged with new significance. Often this transformation is powered by an artist’s imagination or vision of metaphorical possibility. Other times it comes from sheer necessity—one uses what is at hand, almost regardless of the material itself.
Western artists typically use found or discarded materials to revel in their materiality or to implicate the wasteful systems and habits that caused the materials to be discarded. There’s a whole disorganized era of “recycle/reuse” art. But this term is a luxury of the First World, a place where an infinite amount of stuff is made infinitely available, while dropping a plastic water bottle into a bin is still held as some kind of noble act.
The title of this exhibition is apt. Anatsui isn’t recycling stuff into other stuff. He’s taking whatever materials are available to him to carry the content that he wants to express. Themes of traditions and folktales, protest against violence, the strength of community, and, most of all, the optimism inherent in the communicative act, all persist throughout each decade of his career and in each medium he chooses. And he encodes meaning most frequently in a writerly way.
Say the word “click” out loud. It’s only one syllable, but its sound has a beginning, middle and end. There’s a duration, albeit brief, before its harsh, terminal consonants. Despite that fact, photographs are commonly thought of as moments of frozen time. The camera’s click doesn’t elapse, it just occurs.
That said, many of Sharp’s images look like regular photographs. Blurred outlines, light discrepancies, or other long-exposure clues are rarely present. In some, odd luminosities and hyperreal details could give the sense that the image isn’t in the simple “click” family of exposures, but never demonstratively so. They aren’t about their process. Instead, they speak to Sharp’s curiosity about seeing in a way that the human eye simply can’t. And they represent, for Sharp, how time might be experienced similarly.
UPDATED: 10:48pm Monday, Nov. 21.
The Durham City Council passed a resolution Monday night to devote up to one percent of the proposed General Capital Improvement Project (CIP) annual budget to the installation of public art at CIP sites and other locations around the city, including a priority area downtown and along "gateways" to the city. And it's been a long time coming.
The percent-for-art program was flagged as a high-priority section of Durham's Cultural Master Plan (CMP) as early as 2004. Once the city created a board to oversee moving forward with the plan, the program took second-tier status. The board designated a task force to create a temporary public art policy for the city to use in the meantime, and a consultant developed a plan after examining what other community percent-for-art programs looked like. Things were moving right along toward City Council consideration when the economy tanked.
"In talking with the CMP board and the Public Art Task Force, and internally with the City," explains Josh Parker of the Cultural Advisory Board, as well as the TBL Group, a diversified community development and invest firm, "We just felt like trying to bring forward a program that looked like it was asking to spend money—which in fact it wasn't necessarily doing that—but even had the appearance of that was probably not a good idea when we were dealing with massive budget shortfalls. So we sort of put it on ice for about eighteen months."
While on ice, the resolution was further vetted and crafted. Which was time well spent, according to Parker.
"We’re ending up with a pretty strong document that we know we can execute on. And that’s why I think it’s felt like it’s moving a bit slow through the City but there has been this piece by piece progress, just to have assurances that the policy makes its way to the Council agenda."
Kim Rorschach, director of the Nasher Museum of Art, has served on the task force. She's thrilled the resolution is now in place.
"The policy sends a message very broadly that art is valued in this community," Rorschach says. Whether someone is going to Full Frame, or to something at Duke, or to DPAC (the Durham Performing Arts Center), we care about the experience that they have, and we want to welcome them in terms of visiting the city and its atmosphere and ambiance. And I think public art has a role to play in that."
"We’re trying to think about public art as broadly as possible. It might be a sculpture on a plaza, or outdoor mural paintings. Just as an example, we saw a preliminary project proposal in which sewer grates all around the city could be painted according to a certain theme by a certain group of artists. And then there could be a map to find the sites."
After waiting patiently for years, the Cultural Advisory Board will waste no time, meeting the morning after the vote to talk about next steps, the first of which is to determine the scope and selection process for a Public Art Committee that would be the first body to see public art project proposals.
The approval process, however, is fairly set. The Public Art Committee would flag proposals to pass along to the Cultural Advisory Board, and an internal city process would weigh in as well. In addition to considering any project's educational possibilities, the Cultural Advisory Board would seek public input, particularly from neighborhoods and businesses close to a proposed site. The final decision on a proposal would rest with the City Council, which would vote on it at a public meeting.
Small-scale or temporary projects, or maintenance of existing public art, could be fast-tracked, however. "It could be that if it’s under a certain amount and there’s not public money and it’s just the lease of some space, the City Manager might be authorized to make those decisions on his own. But any meaningful public art is definitely something that the Council would have the final say on," Parker explains.
Locations for temporary art exhibitions specified in the resolution include CCB Plaza, Central Park, Five Points, the Civic Center Plaza, the grounds of the Durham Performing Arts Center, City Hall, the Hayti Heritage Center, the Durham Arts Council, the Carolina Theatre, and Durham Athletic Park.
The CIP, which runs the fiscal decade 2012-21, covers everything from large-scale projects like the Human Services Complex and the new County Courthouse, to public schools, refurbishments to the Museum of Life and Science, and IT infrastructure. After hovering in the mid-$30 million range for several years running, the CIP line in the 2011-12 budget is $46,962,324.
The percent-for-art program won't kick in until fiscal year 2012-13, but that doesn't necessarily mean citizens should anticipate $470,000 for public art. The "up to" in "up to one percent" gives the Council leeway in determining the annual allocation.
"The percentage really just asks the manager not so much to consider a number each year relative to the CIP, but to make sure that public art has a budgeted number," Parker notes. "It’s to make it a part of the budgeting process. And I think that’s really where it provides transparency to citizens. It’s not arbitrarily tied to some budget line item. It’s something that citizens can really advocate for to be funded."