Lightplay: Experiments in Paracinema at Apartment Talks

| October 25th, 2012, 6:55 PM

Kosugi piece 4

Apartment Talk #10: Brett Kashmere, Melissa Ragona, Nico Zevallos, and Jonathan Walley

On October 2nd, we hosted an event programmed by INCITE Journal of Experimental Media’s Brett Kashmere for VIA Music and New Media Festival 2012. With collaborators Melissa Ragona and Nico Zevallos of CMU and Jonathan Walley of Denison University, Brett treated us to recreations of two “non-films” of the 1960s: Hollis Frampton’s audio/projection performance A Lecture, first performed at Hunter College in NYC in 1968, and Takehisa Kosugi’s little known performance Film and Film #4 of 1966. The Kosugi piece is referenced in A Lecture, so Frampton saw or knew of the piece, though it has rarely—if ever—been performed since.

The term “paracinema,” according to Brett “delineates a body of artworks identified by their makers as films, but that lack one or more material/mechanical elements of the film medium. Such works began to appear in the 1960s in the wake of Conceptual art’s rejection of standard artistic media like painting and embrace of much more ephemeral, transient materials and forms (including concepts themselves, independent of realization in any concrete material form). In exploring the fundamental nature and purpose of their medium, experimental filmmakers in the 60s and 70s began to question the necessity of film technology for the creation of cinema, and began making works without film that were nonetheless still considered part of the avant-garde film tradition.”

Frampton’s A Lecture is a characteristically witty demonstration of these ideas. The audio narration, which originally featured Michael Snow’s voice but was in this case expertly recorded by Melissa, dictated first that the lights be turned out, the projector turned on, a red filter be placed before the lens, then a hand, then a pipe cleaner. Each of these actions constituted, according to Frampton’s script, a film, a form which is in its essence about subtracting “one thing and another, more or less” from the white rectangle.

Midway through his script, Frampton alludes to a (now) more obscure projector performance, setting the stage for the second half of our event: “The art of making films consists in devising things to put into our projector. The simplest thing to devise, although perhaps not the easiest, is nothing at all, which fits conveniently into the machine. Such is the film we are now watching. It was devised several years ago by the Japanese filmmaker Takehisa Kosugi. Such films offer certain economic advantages to the filmmaker. But aside from that, we must agree that this one is, from an aesthetic point of view, incomparably superior to a large proportion of all films that have ever been made.”

Surprisingly little has been written about this Kosugi performance that was apparently so influential in its time. An article Jonathan wrote for October describes the work as follows: “In [Film and Film #4], Kosugi made rectangular cuts of increasing size from a paper screen lit by the beam of an empty 16mm projector (starting with a small cut at the center of the screen and working his way out until there was, in effect, no screen left, and the projector’s beam hit the rear wall of the space). Though it employed no celluloid, Film and Film #4 makes very clear references to the material conditions of filmmaking. Its alternations of white (the screen, the beam of light) and black (the darkened space, the growing hole in the screen), which Kosugi extended to the clothing he wore during the performance, invoke black-and-white photography, and positive and negative imagery. The alterations made to the screen suggest such filmic elements as framing, zooming, cutting (of course), and change over time.” *

For their rendition, our paracinema team recruited Nico Zevallos, an art and robotics student at CMU, to perform the piece based only on two black and white photos from the original event.  Pacing, the size of the strips removed, where to position his body: the photos left a lot of room for interpretation, but with an economy of means and motions the overall effect was rhythmic and zen-like—more beautiful and transfixing than you might expect.

*From “Identity Crisis: Experimental Film and Artistic Expansion,” October, Summer 2011, No. 137, pp. 23–50.

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