NOTES ON IMPERFECT FIELD
:: Inside and Outside the field (of cinema)
What does it mean to propose an approximation between an excerpt of films and the context of the plastic arts? It means, first and foremost, to run the risk of giving specificity to the context at hand by means of this excerpt. And would there be any specificity? Maybe. In these notes, we flirt if this at all times, even though most of our efforts has been to always avoid it - avoid the common sense, in a way, that circumscribe the comfortable place where these works are found. Out of this strange expression coined to talk about the cinema in the plastic arts context - "artist films" - we would like to retain especially the term "films."
Before some of these works, someone could say: "When I see them, I have the impression that it's about a shot of a movie still to the filmed." Let's accept this provocation: works are created under an economy of means, frequently based on minute elements. They are constituted as a small totality, open and unstable, but through this a point is made, an action unravels, an experience is fulfilled. Yes, we are standing before a shot. With the exception that the film - conceived by the cinema in its most stable format - shouldn't be the measure nor the purpose of these works. That will happen only if they are thought as a brief constellation that would constitute something like a "minor cinema" (Deleuze and Guattari): films unfamiliar with film language, a cinema foreign to the cinema itself.
If the old movie theater - place we in fact are - stops us from advancing in the discussion on the various forms of installation exhibitions (so adored in the universe of the plastic arts), what is there left to think from these films? We could think, maybe, how they relate to the physical space - not as much in a museums or galleries - but with the frame itself.
:: The field and its surfaces
Field: "it's a piece of an imaginary space with three dimensions", Jacques Aumont definition. The beauty of this formula resides in its contradiction, it puts together qualities from both terms (piece and imaginary): the concreteness of the first - after all a piece of something is always something you can touch - e the unpredictability of the second. Between these two, the space of the film. Aumont carries on to say that: this notion, from technical origin, is bound together with a strong impression of reality that the image of the film brings, that makes us easily believe in the idea of the field as a space with depth". Frequently the cinema resorts to the idea of a field depth (Barzin will more appropriately say a "depth of field") to reinforce this bond that ties it together with the real world. One of the illusions that strengthen this exhibition (in films like Campo, Saint Emilion, Ilustration of Art I, How Thinks Work, Você, Buraco, Poema, Buraco Negro) is the possibility of passing from depth (reality) to the surface (of the screen). Treat it as a plastic matter, in which the marks, signs and traces of action are inscribed. Like "piece of imaginary space" susceptible to being hurt, manipulated, cut, divided.
In "Campo", Regina Silveira defines the limit of the frame with the tip of her fingers. In this simple gesture - a cinematographic gesture - she opens a plastic space where lines, surfaces, luminance, volumes and textures can intervene. This is, nevertheless, a habitable space, occupied: in it, body will meet up with objects, and with other bodies. The cinema throws us, constantly, from one to the other, from the "plastic space" to the "space" let us say "practical", from the experimental space to the experiencing space, from the surfaces to the body.
In Saint Emilion a line crosses the frame. For so time, it stays onscreen, introducing a plastic space: a minimalistic line that cuts the image. Little by little, however, the line gains the aspect of a rope that, soon after that, ties us to the repetitive gesture of the workers. From line to rope, we go from the plastic to the practical, from surface to the scene. The workers repeat the gesture of pulling the rope, which falls gradually over the bodies. This endless repetition throws us back from the practical to the plastic, from the thickness of the scene to the surface of the shade: pure gesture, pure "manner" disconnected from all purpose.
Another possibility: to make the surfaces of the objects touch and see how they react, how they bind or transform themselves (similar to a chemistry of spaces and objects). To coincide, for example, ember and tide, like in Proto-tide. Or even São Paulo with Helsinque (Buraco), the body with mercury (Elements), earth with sound (Luz Negra). Like experiences of a non-pragmatic science, keener to the tests than their results, this material comes together under different propositions to the senses. In here, the combinations that affects the property of the objects also transform the nature of the image, the way we feel and perceive it.
In Proto-tide, for instance, the sea slowly rises over a brazier inviting us to experiment a different dynamic of time, ruled only by the natural movement of the water, by its parsimonious effort to put out the flames, like a job carried out slowly and with pleasure. Each time, when in contact with the embers, the water evaporates, and the image rarefies. In Buraco, when stores from Sao Paulo insinuate themselves among the storefront of the Finland capital, the depth of the setting around it is stolen by this new drawing resulted by the combined forms. In theses works, to see means recognizing different densities and volumes, forms, weights and shapes. In the friction of a surface with another, the threat remains that the matter might evaporate or come apart (taking with it the image itself).
In the film "How Things Work" - the image is a place for the intervention, quite literally, of a surgical operation. We also have here alchemy: an object - a body? - constituted of different materials, something undefined and without shape. With the sound amplified, the friction noise of theses materials turns this operation even more strange and mysterious. From the incision of the scalpel, from the insides of the image, from its viscous flesh, metallic objects are removed, and we soon realize they are coins. The incision on the image-body reveals us a hybrid being: not only because, in it, the synthetic merges with the organic, but also because, in its metamorphosis, the plastic dimension of the objects gets, sensitively, a bias for discourse: as if the image is, ironically, amalgamated to the money.
:: Confrontations in time
Confrontation would be one of the methods that would allow us to find the experience of the 70s with the films of today. In A Situação or in Estômago Embrulhado, initially, the artist confronts the camera. Before it, he repeats, to exhaustion, a performance. In "Você", it's a confrontation of the senses and it causes a physical discomfort in the spectator. In every on of theses films, the clash between the artist's body before the camera and spectator before the image connects us to a more ample politic confrontation, since this works, directly or indirectly, criticize the socio-political context of their country.
In Cinthia Marcelle's "Confronto", the artist is no longer before the camera and the context is no longer the military dictatorship. If this is a political film, it's not in an engaged sense - ironic or not - in the area of the discourse, but as an intervention in the area of the senses (something that, in its own way, "Você" anticipates). The sill camera, on top of a building, shows us some form of geometry: the sketch of the streets, the outlines of architecture, the intermittence and trajectory of the cars. This geometric order that regulates the circulation of the city will be disrupted by a juggling performance. The increasing line of fire being formed in front of the cars disorganize the space, the usual route that takes us from home to work and from work to home. Facing this reconfiguration - which is unacceptable for an enclosed life inside cars - the machines advance, accelerate and honk. With the image interrupted, we are left with the sound residue of the conflict. The political dimension of this film won't be found in any articulate discourse relating to the world, it's the unarticulation of the scene that this discussion happens.
To bring the techniques of the 70s close to those of our decade is only interesting if we disregard the chronologic order of time, that restrains us to a false idea of a "comeback" (or, an even worst expression, of a "reinterpretation"). This approximation gains new meaning if thought from a view of repetition and differences, in a game played not by the mirroring but by the refracting (and, in some cases, by inverting).
The digestion of text and image is what brings together "Estomago Embrulhado" and "Minhocão". But, if in one film the mouth eats until the body is full, in the other, once the body is full, the mouth gives back everything it swallowed, image by image. What differs in theses works is the time, almost as if the second film is the temporal opposite of the first. The likeness of both films is what allows us to notice one as the opposite of the other. However, if both are political films (always thinking this in an ample, and even ironic, sense!) it's because they see the political context with the mouth: they do with the mouth what babies usually do with objects. They taste it, digest it and regurgitate it...
It's possible to revisit this film, "Oceano Possível", like you revisit an antique picture. A picture that doesn't grow old, we could say, because it was born old, it relives time in all it's extent. It is set in the past, but it keeps a straight relationship with the future, with the moment it will be revisited, with a certain nostalgia of anticipation. We could say the same for Watching Time, Estômago Embrulhado, A situação, Minhocão, Costura da Mão. They have an urgency to confront the present state, the world of the present. There is also a teasing of the future, as if they permanently reintegrated the need of a politic still to be made.
Taking another path, we could also take a look at the economy of means in some of these films, that would lead us back to the photography - a cinematographic writing degree zero (why not?) after all, what's important is already there: a body and a camera, together, in the same place. Without a doubt, that which the cinema holds more meaningful would be missing from this encounter: the duration. And it's exactly in the duration of the image that a body in the cinema can assert itself, endure in itself, for some time (it can also, on the other way, transform itself, become another body, ruled by different rules, different desires). In photography, this happens in a different set of orders - the body endures (or transforms) in the time of the world, and not in the duration of the image. In Watching Time, these different times run together, they mix, from one look to the other, from a face to another, between us and them.
A little digression: as intensive temporality, open to multifariousness, the duration imposes problems to the place of the spectator, such as the conventional cinema conceives itself. Not that these works present something new. Some of them only incorporate, radicalize, condense in one shot, strategies already used by other authors, from the modern cinema to the vanguards. To make the image persist in one long shot demands of the spectator a different relationship with the film, it creates for him another place, another spectatoriality. Works like Minhocão, Proto-tide, 1716 and Watching Time demand a look, both attentive and unattentive, that notices the subtle optic, sound and tactile incidents that accompanies the slow extensive movements.
In a sense, the movie theater gains something of an installation, not because it requires the physical displacement of the spectator through the space, but because it demands the trajectory of perception between the subtle incidents that keep multiplying and extending on a scene that lasts. It's about a look open to the "little perceptions" (José Gil), to the way they populate the duration, between pure intensity (the unawareness) and the recognition of something.
To find a Marcellvs L.'s "videorhizome" incites the impression that we unexpectedly stumbled upon a piece of the world (this is just the first impression since we known that the videos are extremely worked on, mediated). Each video appears like a fragment, a segment - distinct, heterogeneous, disconnected - pulled out of a multifariousness. But, what gives this segment a small totality - an open totality, it's worth saying - is the duration. Something lasts, something defaces. Something changes in the duration, something endures.
In "1716", again. Like a segment pulled out of the world, the video shows us an incident the moment it occurs, in the moment of its emergency. There's, maybe, a similarity with the live images of catastrophes - the storms, hurricanes, floods - that TV is always showing us. The same estrangement, the same emergency, the same unstable image. This similarity soon vanishes when, immerse in the duration, we find ourselves in a space of senses, a space that gradually stops being "representative" to become "intensive": in its insides, forces modulate, affect themselves, go through each other: the waves against the rocks, the wind against the camera, someone walks toward the camera, someone walks toward the sea. Faraway, the figure contemplates nature, confronts its hostility. The image is created from this confrontation. Overwrought by the intensity of what's happening, it is interrupted, as if the camera could not take - physically - any more distress.
:: The body, the objects and the narrative formats
It would be possible to contrast the two different ways of presenting the body from these works. This contrast would imply, at least for the time being, a risky distinction and a bit artificial between the cinema and the plastic arts domains, between the body that performs and the body that acts. Countless questions arise from this, for the "statute" of the body, the form its inserted in the film, the way it pretends to occupy it, it immediately correlates with the definition of the statute of the image itself. If at one time it works as a "document" - as a record of an action that attempts the real and from there feeds its power - at others it also promotes places, movements, discourses, situations. So, on one hand, there's the performance, the intervention, the encounter, each with a place in the world that the camera records and preserves. On the other hand, the places created by the image, the world of fiction of bodies and actions. In most of the films in this exhibition, in varying degrees, these two dimensions get mixed and confused all the time.
In films such as A situação, Minhocão and Estômago Embrulhado we are witness to a performance that happens in the world, but it is given deliberately "for" the camera. The camera not only registers the effort of the body and its fatigue, in the duration of the image, but it also makes the performance possible. The body standing there represents, in last instance, itself. It’s from the body, but also against it, that the film produces its impact. In other works, such as "O Mundo bate do outro lado da minha porta", this performance aspect combines itself, little by little, with something else. When it insinuates a sketch of a narrative construction, the film also points to the possibility of the construction of a character. And with him, maybe, a beginning, a path, a story. In the double movement of the body (which asserts itself, but also slides out of itself) and the image (that registers, but also recreates) we are invited to think of the different ways to compose and invent the space of the scene starting with these little narratives. In "Os peixes também morrem sem anzol, Homenagem a Steinberg, Filme de Foda and "Drive Thru #1", in the same form, we're before a performance gesture or posture that combines itself with a delicate narrative structure, an internal dynamic of causes and consequences that doesn't really reveals a purpose.
It's in this intermission, in passing, between the performance and the acting, that sometimes the plastic aspect of the image assert themselves: it can be from the start as in Homenagem a Steinberg, or they can appear when the meaning of the action is at an end, as in Drive Thru #1. In a film like "Buraco Negro", for instance, this idea is taken to the last consequences. The performance leaves the frame so that the trace of its action can be inscribed in the image. The scene, here, is nothing more than a game between the resulting forms of this other narrative formats.
In Deus não está morto", the trance that controls the characters bodies - and with them the scene itself - doesn't allow the reconstruction of any former narrative, of any origin. Maybe because the character have, in themselves, this origin - the birth of nature, belief, time and life. To reconstruct it or fabricate it implies, necessarily, to give bodies to absolute identities that clashed with the beginning of times: the angel, the native, the devil, the hunter. But it's in the impurity of this cosmogonist myth, contaminated before hand by decease and man's madness (like in Glauber or Rouch), that our world is founded. Because of that, maybe, the masks are always fitting to those who act it (fabulation of another in my body, after all, but in detriment of my own face). So instead of the performance or the acting, to these mythic figures from "Deus não está morto" all that is left is dance - this unpredictable and spontaneous form of being and not being outside oneself, to create movements and let them create themselves.
If the accepted definition of "narrative" is submitted to the sensitive appearance of objects, bodies and landscape in the story, here, the narrative exists, but only if we accept an inversion: it's the objects, bodies and landscapes that appear first, produce situations from which derives, in a sketched way, micronarratives. To narrate becomes, this way, something like to glimmer.
In O Mundo bate do outro lado da minha porta, the river. After that, on the background, someone approaches a group of objects in the water. A sheet in the wind (the sail from a boat?). A bed, a study desk, some books. There's a room immersed in the river. Over the bed someone reads, rests, thinks about life. There's a strange contamination between the openness and amplitude of the natural space of the river and the intimate feeling of a bedroom. First, the objects and the bodies, the displacement of their usual setting. Around them, the narratives just glimmer, like possibilities, like stories that peels off the objects, without actually extricating themselves completely (the fine dust that rises when we take an object off its place or when we run our fingers over its surface).
Another example: the vampire, in Lygia Pape is, more than anything, the pretext which will allow the camera to fixate on the bodies, always in search of a tension in two ways that implies, on one hand, the discovery of pleasure and, on the other, the exercise of violence. A sign of life most of all, and with it a hint of death. The importance is to coincide these two aspects in only one form, on the same element. To say in a different way: it's not the vampire that matters, but the blood - its texture, its taste, its color.
:: To inhabit life, to inhabit the image
Little by little, in the economy of its elements, the image is being inhabited. Not only as a double of the world, but as an intensive space - inside it, the objects, bodies, times and places are recombined, suggesting new arrangements, new alchemies. Universes of unchecked proportions and scales, hard to measure: no great changes, but minimum displacements, small perceptions. From the ethereal space to its inhabitance. From this, once more, back to ethereal: we go back to the open fields, to its potential. To the open field, sea, desert ... to the black board, house, room, where the space can once more be populated.
By André brasil, Eduardo de Jesus and João Dumans