Three Essential Film Makers: Bo Choy, Sasha Litvintseva, and Stuart Croft

Created with GIMP

#Bo Choy

It can be a hard profession or even reality if you call yourself an artist. There is so much self directed pressure to succeed to show the value of what you create. In my case, such pressure to fulfill such an expectation gradually grew to unbearable and so like the following artist I also had to navigate a difficult period where due to my own inability to communicate ideas and also deal with both the tedious difficulties of bringing a project to fruition and then coping with the immediate sense of disappointment (often following completely irrational expectations). Such things still draw my considerations because there is a connection between feelings and economies. Such things may be initially freely associated with a concept such as alienation. But, this term and other related notions need a visualization and so Ms. Choy did just that. When Bo Choy makes new work these days it will be after leaving behind and resolving unhelpful feelings of being inauthentic as she explained in the recent Y.A.C interview (watch her film ‘Unfolding’)  I conducted with her a couple of months ago. This artist has shown recent work in a festival in Greece and when I met her for the first time she expressed a deep satisfaction with the country and a love of the Greek locals including the environment of the the 6th Thessaloniki Biennale.

Bo, has obviously overcome the feeling that initially was a little problematic for her, and one of the signs that she has indeed surpassed the difficulties is her film “Anat’s Party”. A beautifully crafted film that uses the very issue we have started discussing to lay open an inviting narrative. The film features the artist Anat who has organised a party in which the camera is representative of her perspective the narrator’s gaze. The party has guests including Richard: a gallerist, Francois: a painter, Franziska: ex professor now marine biologist, Eulya: who is Anat’s cousin, Cecil: a recent graduate and assistant to Anat, and Amelia: the creative director of an advertising house. The characters are ready and the stage is set; we the viewer are situated ready for a peek into creative people celebrating in a great gathering.

It is actually a birthday party; the celebration for Anat’s birth is kickstarted with white lilies then a sequence of sorts: Haitus + Patronage + Pay Off + Critical Acclaim… in Anat’s own questioning words, “Is my career riding me, or am I riding it?” An active disavowal (by active disavowal I simply mean the state or condition of knowing and not knowing something…) can be seen; such a process is very real and many artists go through such a process. Yet what is so fascinating about this work (there are many things totally fascinating about this piece of work) is that as a viewer you are completely aware that it is scripted, it is staged but this only adds to the power of the eulogy because as we progress through the party everything seems to be rather pleasant; a reunion of very good and close friends. Eventually though this is shattered  by a confession and admission by Anat. I wont relay it here, in writing, because it should be watched by many people. The way the film incorporates this narrative tactic shows a mastery of the manipulation of storytelling. The way the characters are so rich and allow for a deep questioning of what an artist actually is? How an artist has to navigate the “huge beast of capitalism”. The film really naturally invites those consuming it to join in its fictional speculations. Including expressing gratitude (immensity and wholeness) in the face of mortality + reflection, the measuring of success (inertia and the stretching of the imagination). At one point Nietzsche, a philosopher always chilling in his own relevance is quoted by Anat. But these words are from his thoughts on good and evil.

‘Actually, why do we even assume that “true” and “false” are intrinsically opposed? Isn’t it enough to assume that there are levels of appearance and, as it were, lighter and darker shades and tones of appearance – different valuers to use the language of painters? Why shouldn’t the world that is relevant to us – be a fiction? And if someone asks: “But doesn’t fiction belong with an author? “ – couldn’t we shoot back: “Why? Doesn’t this ‘belonging’ belong, perhaps, to fiction as well? Aren’t we allowed to be a bit ironic with the subject, as we are with the predicate and object? Shouldn’t philosophers rise above the belief in Grammar? “(1)

‘Quidquid luce fuit, tenebris agit (What happened in the light goes on in the dark.): but vice versa too. What we experience in dreams, as long as we experience it often enough, ends up belonging to the total economy of our soul just as much as anything we have “really” experienced. Such experiences make us richer or poorer, we have one need more or less, and finally, in the bright light of day and even in the clearest moments when minds are wide awake, we are coddled a little by the habits of our dreams.’ (2)

Nietzsche’s words support all artists and support art as a realm in which processes of all kinds can exist without a naff sense of morality but with an ethos that is self sustaining; even without the living breathing members of reality being aware of this special distinction. Things that are both real and unreal can contribute to the soul. Moreover Nietzsche’s suspicion of philosophical grammar moves us towards special spectrum[s] of reality. They are observable in Choy’s film as it makes us think about many customs and arts and how we experience them between Versuch (attempt or experiment) and Versuchung (temptation). Is this between-ness a desire for a feeling to last forever? After, the turn of feeling within this party what other thoughts could this work of art incubate? There are so many but a strange thought that entered my head is how art can immediately challenge the idea that the body is always a site a location for consumption or communication. Lastly, how language may be a dead material that generates a necessity to invest more life into it, and the most interesting thought this film forced upon me was, ‘how the very concept of communication as a spectrum between inner and outer is deeply related to the movements of our breath? A wholly natural economy full of drama, full of mechanical and organic periods of acceleration and deceleration.

It is a pleasant perspective to see from; that in the near future art will potentially  help us build a new economy, or rebuild one which we have perhaps forgotten in these times of heady reputations, instant identifications, and many a selfish self. Such an economy will be or should be all inclusive and in this sense it is strictly in tandem and identical to art. I was for a long time immature and arrogant, I over valued the scope of my talent and so I abused it and let it be abused. Bo Choy’s capacity to create has gifted us moments in moving image that indirectly exhibits something very important for those of us who strongly embody creativity. We struggle to build relations (Not only between humans), we are fundamentally bound by this struggle to relate. Or, instead this film involves how the figure of the artist resides outside the understanding of others even those who are the closest to us. This is indeed a deep burden for those attempting to bring difference itself into existence. Such a process may be something extremely existential and that is what one is getting at with the idea that art may have something to help alter the stagnant and turgid realm of the financial and knowledge based economy. Furthermore the fictional relations of this film softly suggests the vast unknowable scope of what can be contained in a special three letter word called art. If one thinks about these topics and if we follow language freely a person may arrive at a thought such as this: everyday is someone’s birthday, and a person’s birthday is not always a day of celebration. But, in some sense it is because everyday is a day of birth, both for the day and for people?

Before you watch this small but great artist’s film, perhaps a paragraph I found in Spyros Papapetros’s discussion on the animation of the inanimate. In a section of the book under the subheading, ‘Two External Worlds’ will serve as a nice step into the drama of Choy’s film. Will these words be most suitable in promoting this work as an example of what can be achieved by the honest artist whose labour is the most valuable of all? A Sentiment that I think is shared in this paragraph. Below this collection of words, ‘Anat’s Party’ can and must be watched.

‘Far, then, from being disengaged from context, Worringer’s “ethnopsychological” abstraction is largely determined by it. Following contemporary biological and aesthetic theories, Worringer claims that the main factor distinguishing the different types of art-producing-humanity is the “shifting juxtaposition [Auseinandersetzung] between man and the external world.” The polarity between abstraction and empathy is in fact the product of two different external worlds, both of which appear to be equallytreacherous. The first is “the world of phenomenal appearances [Erscheinungswelt]” - the world of the “Pure Greek” who lives in emphatic plenitude with his comfortable surroundings and its “evershifting play” of perceptions. The second is the hostile world of the Northerner, who maintains a contested relationship with the in “inharmonious nature” he lives in, but never comfortably inhabits. This second external world has a Haunting permanence in contrast with the transience of the first. Both worlds have a problematic relation to the visible.”(3)

#Sasha Litvintseva

Born in Russia, I met Sasha in London after I had selected her film …. for a touring screening The Lumiere Screening curated with my good friends Catriona J. Mackie, and Leon Read. Sasha is a very interesting film maker she is currently completing her phd at Goldsmiths proposing the concept of ‘Geological film making’ and I find this interesting in terms of the vast scale of film making it reminds me of the writings of one of the great contributors to political aesthetics. In professor Esther Leslie’s book Synthetic Worlds we see a history of how electronic chemical and technological developments culminate, a long a side the progression of the cinema, as a commercial site of escapism. Here Leslie builds upon the great Frankfurt school’s critical investigation of supposed rational progress. Leslie in a wonderful waltz through the essential German Gang of: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Benjamin, Goethe, Adorno, and many others; retraces the very fabric of synthesis both in our thought and in material, historical, and cultural events. I feel like this book at least helps me to understand the Geological in a much wider sense than what the word entails…such an understanding is also surely what Sasha is also wrestling with and because she is Russian via way of birth I can not help but offer up an historical dismissal of my homeland. The country is described in this way, ‘England is just as unkind and inimical to Art as the Arctic zone is to life. This is the Siberia of the mind.’(4) Of course I do not agree, this is quoted only as a passing note establishing a relation between the countries, but I also feel that it is very fitting when we think about geological film making. Leslie references this dismissal in relation to a group of artists based in the North of England. These artists, the Vorticists published a journal called ‘Blast’ designed to resist in healthy competition to whatever the south could muster. The title was chosen to embody a hygienic gale but on the cover this took the form of a ‘storm cone’ a signal used by coast guards. Here I am not sure that the Vorticists choice of title is fitting surely ‘Blast’ better commentates on the heat of a furnace or the production of new metals? Yet, this reference to the coast is interesting: it forces the figure of nature in all it’s powerful liquidity and madness into our considerations of the geological. Then, Theodore Adorno makes a small relation between society and landscape.

‘Adorno perceived in the American landscape of lightness, brightness and substitution a kind of madness. Adorno’s description of a bookcase in a villa he visited in Maine in 1959 conveyed his terrors in the phoney society. The great titles of literature faced him and he reached out to take one. The whole display collapsed. It was all fake. The world as a simulation of itself is a crazy thought, but a true one too. In Adorno’s story there is something else at play. It concerns the death of learning, the death of culture and the victory of the ‘culture industry’. But the phoniness is present everywhere. Adorno mentions wily restaurants that sell bottles of ‘counterfeit’ red wine coated by a layer of synthetic dust. Time itself is synthesized.’(5)

If I were Sasha a part of my thesis would have to wrestle with competing and chaotic ideas. Ideas such as those found in the texts of the scientist James Lovelock, Philosopher Nick Land, and Edward W. Soja. Lovelock is the author of the Gia Hypothesis the notion that the earth with humanity included constitutes a self regulating system akin to that of other living organisms. In Soja’s book ‘Postmodern Geographies’ (1989) the notion of space is explored in critical social theory. The relevancy of this for Litvintseva is that the text explores the spatio-temporality of being (something which film is explicitly also engaged in), and Soja does this by commentating on how philosopher Jean P. Satre’s movement towards Marxism contains a praxis that Martin Heidegger’s insistence on “place” concealed within history does not. Satre, is described by Soja, ‘he links to a movement whose fundamental direction is determined by ‘scarcity’ and which provokes the formation of groups to struggle collectively for such scarce necessities, such ‘worked matter’. Satre describes this horizontal vertical movement as a spiral’.(6) This description then reminds us of the Vorticists ‘storm cone’ and makes us question this spiral and cone. In one of Litvintseva’s recent film works ‘Salarium’ the artist explores the appearance of sinkholes on a boarder between Isreal and Palastine. In combination with her text ‘Sinkholes In Signification’ we are presented with a real opportunity to grasp the artist’s recent research. The essay ends, after referencing the Zionist Archives and their technique of punching holes into images, and uses this to draw a link between a lack of an archive and the puncturing or suturing of a historical narrative.

still-3-salarium_main

‘Salarium’ 

So, we have these routes through history these holes in the ground and these empty spaces that swallow human things; this sinking may be read in line with Gia Theory and this is the total organism decaying it’s skin being breached by the entropic activity of the energy traversing and underlining its very existence (Adorno and Horkheimer also have a form of Gia in The Dialectic of Enlightenment). Next to this is an interesting development in terms of thinking about geological thinking, and this musing about the earth comes in a description of Trauma from the contemporary philosopher Nick Land. In a series of texts the notion of ‘Geotraumatics’ is made; a notion that when the earth was born 4.5 billion years ago the psychological echo of the earths violent birth when it’s molten core was formed as it’s volcanic activity burnt its own terrestrial skin. Land see’s this as an unconscious pain that reverberates throughout current matter both living and non-living (Cthell).(7) However rupturing and interesting in terms of being empathetic towards the earth Land’s Arche (first principle) may not be that useful to Sasha’s research but it does offer another Geographic perspective. It is the other project which one prefers and finds most dramatic. Universal Syntax attempts to unravel how we experience the world as a text. For this project Land also has something to say about language and its way out of a body (not necessarily human), in ‘KataςoniX’.(8)

Speaking in terms of the interests of such a Syntax I feel like Leslie’s mining of modernism in the spirit of so many great European thinkers offers more to a filmic perspective on language. In particular Leslie cites a universal language. Literally, a pamphlet under an identical title, Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter sent this Universal Language to the director Einstein. The language focused on a system utilizing analogies and polarities derived from an abstraction of nature. Resulting in geometrical forms that express the German Schopenhaur’s sentiment of looking at the world from the perspective of a blessed star.(9) A perspective that Schopenhaur’s countryman the poet Geothe may have appreciated as both men had developed advanced theories of colour and what can be seen within the eye that spies is of utmost importance (against the Newtonian and Leibniz inspired picture of a mechanical existence). Sasha’s work of course makes one consider other concepts such as the Anthropocene, terra-forming, and the like, but is it not true that it will be your eye another spherical object that constitutes the ground which you walk on? Perhaps, these great projects will succeed in generating a correlation between spaces, places, and faces but it is comforting that Sasha Litvintseva is pushing film and moving image closer and closer or further and further into this world.

‘The holes punctured in the representation are slowly migrating to the object of reference: the landscape itself. That is, ‘killed Images’ become ‘killed landscapes’, with holes and lacks puncturing their surface. The sinkhole is that lack: not merely a lack of matter or soil, but an archival lack that punches holes into the stability of the historical narrative. If history – as the Zionist Archives demonstrate – leans on a representational regime that aims to signify the landscape and the humans that dwell within, the sinkhole defies clear signification and threatens linear history with a discrepancy, an interruption, or a plot hole.’(10)

#Stuart Croft

Stuart sadly died in March 2015, and I was recently reminded of this… it made me very very sad for one important reason. I met Stuart Croft in 2011, he had selected my animation ‘Away From The Unknown’ for a touring screening of Artist Film and video supported by Outpost Gallery in Norwich. When you begin on doing something  anything, by yourself for the first time, it can be difficult. And, even if you had done such a thing many times before when seeking to take it to the next level you need encouragement. Meeting Croft and having work shown next to such great creators was such an encouragement in those early years. Stuart’s use of actual film set him apart from others and in this way perhaps the only other male film maker who operates within the same unbelievable realm of finesse is Ben Rivers. Stuart made a decision whilst still a student that could be said to have defined and determined his entire body of work; this is the deep interest in the relation between film as a material medium and the concept of cinema itself; including all the unique culture that comes with it. Then, a question, ‘how to take this and put it into a contemporary art gallery?’ His work easily answered this question.

Stuart Croft The Stag Without a Heart still 2 2010

A Stag Without a Heart

My personal favourites from Croft’s filmography are ‘A Stag Without a Heart’ (2011), and Drive In (2007). Both of these films show Croft’s genius at its very best. In the former the title represents a character next to a fox and a lion. The narrator’s voice draws us through the ensuing drama, trauma, and re-animation. The film reminds me to actually watch and re-watch such films as Der Himmel über Berlin (the Heaven Over Berlin), and Last Year in Marienbad (films that I once edited under the force of Gravity). Croft’s film features a narrative that grows the soundtrack feels as if it is sneaking up on you and the narrator. The dialogue of ‘A Stag Without a Heart’ fluctuates within a trinity of two predators and one prey. The phenomena of ‘fear’ is felt by the stag as the predators are perhaps expressing regret or remorse after they made their fellow animal shiver. These events of fearing and shivering of intuition and effect fit nicely within a larger and fundamentally more powerful effect the film carries. After watching it I felt that although all I saw on screen was human this human was now closer to the animals carried within his speech. Drive in features a car journey with a lady describing a story in which a paradise is lost. The film is beautiful both for the story and its believable utopia; one in which we are reminded by way of a mistaken object, “It’s not coconut juice it’s a Piña-fuckin-colada” that all paradises are paradises lost most forcibly put in the world of literature by Marcel Proust.(11)

Loosing one’s way in another person (in being with…), or as another person (becoming someone different)? There is a novel that is birthed within the passenger lady’s narration. The plot twists within this reading of human desires and human empires and “doing some [fucking] thinking in the middle of the ocean”. In terms of the male author he has a dreamy encounter with a dreamy female painter washed up on a dreamy beach. Dreaming he continues to be driven by his drives inwards and onward. Stuart’s fantastic films carry us into the psyched up philanthropic psychology we all share, sell, and partake in. Stuart Croft’s work makes me want to become a film maker, and his life serves as a timeless reminder that our achievements will remain long after we have left this world, and if you were Stuart Croft your achievements where many, so many. What more could be more inspiring, more encouraging, and more vital than a human being’s capacity to create?

 

words by a Paul Harrison.


(1)  Friedrich Nietzche, (2002). ‘Beyond Good & Evil: Prelude to the Philosophy of the Future’ (Cambridge University Press), 34.

(2)  Ibid, Nietzsche, 193.

(3)  Spyros Papapetros, ‘On the Animation of the Inorganic: Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life’, (University of Chicago Press, 2012), 143.

(4)  Esther Leslie. (2005). Synthetic Worlds:Nature, Art, and The Chemical Industry, (Reaktion Books, Great Britian).123

(5)  Ibid, Leslie, 239.

(6)  Edward W. Soja, ‘Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory’, (Verso, London/New York, 1989), 136.    

(7)  Nick Land, (2012). Fanged Noumena: Selected Writings 1987-2007 (Urbanomic/Sequence Press, London, Berlin)

(8)  Ibid, 481

(9)  Esther Leslie. (2002) Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical theory and the Avant-Garde, (Verso, London/New York). 56

(10) Sasha Litventseva, Daniel Mann, ‘Sinkholes in Signification’, (SONIC ACTS Academy 2018) 66.

(11) Marcel Proust, (1992) ‘In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way’,(The Modern Library, New York). Sorry for the lack of pagination; I promise Proust does say this {https://www.readingproust.com/finding.html}

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s