The International Festival for Arts and
Media Yokohama 2009, titled CREAM and directed by AIT colleague Fumihiko
Sumitomo opened last week and is now on across several venues in Yokohama. With
a focus on reproduced images, spanning film, video, digital, new media and
internet based art works and projects, CREAM attempts to explore the quality
and possible futures of a world awash in moving images.
I went along with the thought of how the exhibition would alter or re-formulate my experience of moving images, which is primarily and unconsciously rooted to television. One of the critical keys for me was how a collection of works using video, film and other medias could re-propose the spectacle of the tele-visual? After some three hours watching and wondering I can say that for me the exhibition component of CREAM at least, seriously engaged with these questions, offering a complex and layered experience and re-negotiation of how it is that we can watch today – extending the questions to who it is that can watch, how and with what kinds of faculties and into areas of the social, political and psychological consequences of the moving image.
The most memorable works were sited in the
BankART Studio NYK galleries.
One is greeted by an impressive and immensely fun four screen film montage by master sampler Christian Marclay. Composed of dozens of films, many well known, the film amounts to a jam session between sound-makers across time and across the films. Moments of extreme dissonance shift to passages of partial familiarity as another cinematic narrative and history is woven together before us.
Pablo Valbuena’s simple projection of
slowly morphing geometric shapes onto a corner of the gallery architecture led
me into Chantal Akerman’s quietly monumental installation comprising multiple
monitors showing scenes from daily life taken in former Eastern Europe. What
really struck me walking through the monoliths was being exposed to the back of
the television monitors which began to look like parts of the housing blocks
and city architectures conveyed in the images themselves.
On the uppermost floor one is greeted by Alfredo Jaar’s black box presenting a powerful film of mostly text. It tells the story of a South African photojournalist called Kevin Carter who took a Pulitzer prize winning image of a starving girl in Sudan, watched over by a vulture. The interior of the box where one watches the film is set up ominously with four flash-bulb lights either side of the screen. This un-nerves you. Why are they there? They must go off sometime. When they do flash, I physically jumped off the bench. It flashes simultaneously with the single and only visual image of the entire piece, which is the above-mentioned photograph taken by the cameraman. It very literally captures the jump from reading text to the physicality of the image, and its effect/affect on/in the world. As with many of Jaar’s works this experience stays with you for some time.
The most engaging work for me was Aernout
Mik’s film titled ‘Schoolyard’ (2009). Running for what seemed like a long
time, it is a film shot in Mik’s signature style – silent, painting-like scenes
that are played out by ordinary people with simple props and actions. The film
is projected on two screens side by side, showing similar scenes or scenes
delayed slightly in time. We see groups of young people, some hooded, some in
veils, people in suits and ties who may be teachers and large men in blue
shirts who try to police the situation. There is no definite story or
narrative. Sometimes the mass of people engage in a single act like carrying a
body aloft or climbing into and out of a car. Most of the time the mass reverts
to clusters of individuals sitting, chatting, staring. The yard becomes a
metaphor for a potent state of eruption, which never fully happens. The guard
men try to impose some order, but it is short-lived, and things revert to a
state of what can perhaps be described as a community of spectators which
pushes and pulls in on itself. The situation seemed like an allegory of the
world we live in today – a networked ‘Empire’ where relations sustain
everything, but in which it is difficult to propose or enact different scales
of time or space. There were moments when the film looked like a scene painted
by Breugel, a teething landscape of bodies and desires, and moments of quiet
beauty as when flayed bodies were carried high by group so people, reminiscent
of Christ carried from the cross. Mik often references mass drills for
emergencies, and this film also incorporated stuffed dummies, placards and
masks, that seemed to stand for a theatrical recreation of protest or riot.
Shiga Leiko showed a ten minute photo/slide film composed of images she had taken. The fast-paced, jerky editing and monotone noise soundtrack created a mood of uncanny horror. Her photographs of people floating in the air, in slightly odd poses and brightly flash-lit scenes at night reminded me of the Black paintings of Goya crossed with the Blair-Witch video. I suppose in some senses Shiga’s photographic oeuvre touches that of the early Mike Kelley in its obvious formal references to spiritualist photography, but she also leans on recent Japanese horror cinema and the practice of artists like Nan Goldin and their coupling of photography with slide sequences and sound.
I came away from the exhibition with a peculiar paradox in my mind: that these works which use moving images, sound and time-based methods through elaborate editing, sampling and selection procedures, somehow produce effects which are closer to what John Berger in his seminal 'Ways of Seeing' series characterised painting by - as being 'silent and still'. This thought occurred to me as I walked home to the station. The effects of television or much cinema is largely one of immediate satisfaction, a kind of dullness that one nevertheless quite likes. Experiencing the works at CREAM today changes the rules. It is as if movement is recycled back into its constituent singular elements, and it is this that we experience. What Alfred North Whitehead called 'occasions of experience' - the basic aspects of reality that, in combinations and complexes form human experience and perception. It was as if the art works used motion and images to reveal the still and silent codes of the very fabric of experience itself.
In addition to the exhibition, CREAM happens through a series of ongoing events, performances, talks and online archives.
I strongly recommend going to see it, for its well selected works and general investigation into image and media now.