|Presentation - Vanguards And Neo-Vanguards|
Vanguard/Neovanguard - Sensitive Revolution
"Cinema will only be born when the film industry dies", Jean-Marie Straub would say, in 1970. He was echoing the time's spirit, the driving force of the cinematography collectives that appeared in May 1968, their idea expressed in the "Third Cinema" manifesto (Solanas and Getino, 1969), almost a bible for the guerrilla cinema: against the bourgeois film industry specialists, a cinema of revolutionary collectives, made by cells in which everyone is involved in the whole process of the filmic production. In a way, this collective utopia (that even Godard embraced) had already gained more realistic and pragmatic shape on the other side of the Atlantic: after years organizing precarious societies, Jonas Mekas and company (Ken Jacobs, Ron Rice, Jack Smith, Robert Breer, Gregory Markopoulos...) were founding, in the 1960s, the New American Cinema Group, and, two years later, the New York Film-Makers Cooperative. After this, the cooperatives became more than means of production, distribution and preservation of the vanguard cinema, they became an apparatus of cultural resistance, real enclaves like Film-Makers Coop., rising in a country where cinema has always been a synonym of film industry. The NY Film-Makers’Coop. (it's from their collection that most of the films in this exhibition came from) has been an inspiration for every other cooperative emerging all over the world since then - from the Japan Film-Makers Coop. to the french Collectif Jeune Cinéma, from the Austrian Film-Makers’Coop. to the London Filmakers’Coop.
A dissident force, for many years condemned to the sidelines, the vanguard cinema, also called the underground cinema, seems to be stepping out of the ghetto it has been confined to. It's too soon to make a deeper analyses: on one hand, new critics and historians (a new cinephilia) have taken upon themselves to take the vanguard cinema off the footnotes on the history of cinema; on the other hand, the vanguard films are gaining, on the internet, a public never before imagined. More than that, the vanguard cinema seems to be adapting to the spirit of our time: adapt to the "do it yourself" spirit of the YouTube videos and to a time marked by the growing overlapping between cinema and contemporary art (the attachment of cinema to the museum of contemporary art pointed by Jacques Aumont) – to the point where vanguard filmmakers, like Peter Kubelka, can witness their own films being exhibited in museums, as they wished for, for a long time, presenting them as art works.
Peter Weibel would, perhaps, take this analysis a little bit further: for him the new (neuro)cinema of the digital era is being setup under one of the original principals of cinema that the film industry renounced, but the vanguard has always safeguarded: the conception of the cinematograph as a machine of perception capable of reinventing the world. At some point, by the end of the 19th century, the inchoate filmmaking techniques, product of a number of research and inventions of the time, became hostage of the industry and ministries of war interests (scope in which Marey and Muybrigde's research took place), and started to inscribe itself in the context of tayloristic work, to rationalize the movement and discipline the body. The cinema would thus be diminished to a machine of simulation and perception of movement. "What is called cinema today", Weibel says, "is in fact already a reduction of the principle of the 19th century, which began to investigate machines of vision, but finally reduced them into machines of motion - We have this industry named the moving image with their motion pictures. Only the avant-garde cinema of the 1920's, 50's and 60's has maintained the original intention of creating machines of vision.”
The vanguard cinema is defined, therefore, by the restitution of a technique, corrupted from the start by the interest of the industry, to its original principle. Born as a domestication instrument, the cinema comes back, in its avant-guard, with the double scientific-artistic potential present in its origin. "Every technique, every logic can be subverted and used against its own determinations" Nicole Brenez writes in her booklet about the avant-garde cinema: "The avant-garde cinema isn't defined by its economic origin, nor by its doctrines, or set aesthetics: it subverts a technology born from military and industrial needs to inscribe it in an emancipation dynamic."
The vanguard won’t miss its place in cinema as a self-criticizer of art, going always against the flow of filmmaking as a machine of aesthetic-ideological domination/domestication. Maybe it was their lack of affiliation to any power, not mentioning the revolutionary powers, which gave the vanguard artist the easiness to always regard the cinema as an instrument to reinvent the world, in a movement both aesthetic and political. They would have intuited since the beginning, in the cinematograph, the richness of possibilities in its symbolic relationship with reality. It was through the powers of the cinematographic apparatus that they were able to glimpse another world ("almost a philosophy of the universe" Maiakóvski would say), a world made possible by the camera-eye - not forgetting Vertov's euphoria when he became the man with the camera: "I am the kino-eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see. My road is towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I decipher in a new way the world unknown to you." The change that the avant-garde cinema encouraged has always been a transformation in the realm of sensations - from the historical vanguards to the vanguard of today (beginning with the American vanguard of the 50s), what was left is this historic statement: the cinema, machine of perception, was destined to revolutionize our perception of the world.
Let's take the term "revolution" as it is defined in the dictionary, its first meaning: revolution as "the act of revolving (that which was peaceful)". The vanguard film, as this exhibition understands it, would be the film capable of revolving, in its way, the spectator’s sensibility, the one that produces a change in perception, an optic and sound revolution. Without intending to be an exhibition with a curatorial outline too dense (to not get in the way of the public’s perceptive experience with set interpretive hypothesis), nor intending an exhaustive overlook of the vanguard of different time and subsets (which will be sketched in the essay following this introduction), the exhibition is divided in four programs that barely disguises the impure taste of its curator (more accurate would be to say: organizer), four general ideas.
The third program "Encyclopedia of the World", updates the ideal lost in the first cinema, the ideal that moves the so called exploration cinema, the one to discover and reveal, through the camera, every cover and mysteries of this world. In this vanguardian update, this idea is made real in heterotopic experiences, films that reinvent the world. The program begins with the intensity of Unsere Afrikareise, Peter Kubelka masterpiece, film in which he submits, ironically, the record of an African trip of a group of Austrian neo-colonists hunters to the relentless logic of his metric cinema. Edited in five years, the film is a musical reconstruction of the world in a series of optic and sound counterpoints, one of the most condensed montage of the story – “a object-film with the complexity and polymorphism of nature", the Italian critic Stefano Masi would say. Now, in Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, what started as a simple land-art work record resulted in one of the most beautiful art films ever made. The story of the creation of an immense spiral made of earth (inspired by a native-american monument) on an obscure place of the American west coast - an "abstract geology" work based on the Smithsonian principle that the Earth "is not nature, but a great museum". Sculpted on top of the Great Salt Lake, in 1970, the enormous Smithson's spiral spent thirty years submersed under water until it appeared, in 2004, during a drought season - Smithson, who died in 73, in a plane accident, did not witness this resurrection that, in a way, summed up all his artistic precepts. Completing this program are the films Valentin de las Sierras (mexican incursion of Bruce Baillie, one of the most lyric works the American vanguard has given us) and the comic and surprising “A portrait of the lady in the yellow hat” (de Stephen Lovi).The last program of this exhibition is dedicated to the film-poems from consecrated names of the vanguard cinema. Its title, "A Headless World, A Wordless Head" is taken from the chapters of Elias Canetti's book Auto-de-Fé. It's best not to try to establish a unity among these films. Let's restrain ourselves to see them as "perceptions of the world": worlds without a head - "dances of the world" like Song Delay (Joan Joans' video-performance), Desistfilm (Stan Brakhage's beatnik lullaby) and Ghost before Breakfast (Dadaism à la Hans Richter) - or heads without a world - Meshes of Afternoon and Maya Deren inside experience, The End and the apocalyptic dark humor of the American poet-filmmaker Christopher MacLaine.
Curator: Tiago Mata Machado