through eyes, we wander / through hands, perhaps speak and sing
Brief travel/study notes after visiting the Experimental Film & Video Festival in Seoul (EXiS 2018) with some dear friends (Kinchoi, Jess, and Andy)
“6pm at Space CELL. 5pm at the bus stop. A quick meal before that. Must not get too full otherwise we might nod off.” J said. “6-11pm.”, written on the schedule, as if it’s not already underneath our palms, “Stan Brakhage, The Art of Vision”. Recalling the days, if my bloodshot eyes during freshman years were ever caused by watching films, one or two strands would have belonged to the countless encounters with either Brakhage’s Mothlight or Ito’s Spacy, both oft screened without a word before or afterwards.
Crying baby. Swinging awe. Elongating female body. Nipples. Flakes. Fluids. Flickers. Brakhage’s The Art of Vision never ceases to push and pull the wobbling presence, scratch and stretch recklessly the imaginary in the 250-minutes timeline across five sections. Besides a couple of dozes in the prelude (awfully sorry), everything that follows strikes like lightning, despite how much the fragments reappear, superimpose and interweave, deconstruct and reconstruct the work’s ever evolving paradigm. The film is as lucid as a pulse, yet also by virtue of such demanding (on-screen and off-screen) presence it makes any descriptive attempts ambiguous or null. Is it possible to make notes, literally or pictorially, about experimental films? I wonder.
These days I have been chancing through a broad range of works and chewing them over and over with friends. Beyond embracing the materiality of celluloid film, viewing analogue film always invokes in me an almost reflexive inquisitiveness for the image-making process or the material source, somehow. Film reveals multiple pathways and distances between filmmakers/cameras and their subject matters over time; it shows bodily movements; it leaves traces of the maker’s hands in the acts of producing, editing or film processing, most of which could now be replaced with clicks and singular buttons in digital filmmaking. The state of anticipation, whether in working and reviewing (as a filmmaker), or in screening (as audience), also changes significantly. I am not sure if such changes hint at the vanishing of our intrinsic curiosity. It is, however, rather obvious that in celluloid or digital film, the demand on practical knowledge of the interior workings of the black-boxed processes and aesthetic command are compatible – software packages or mechanics of the camera with its chemical processes alike. There are, though, obvious differences. Unlike the anxiety of facing unfamiliar algorithms or the unforeseeable crashes in the computing process, the analogue film’s tactility and transparency and its accompanying devices seem to give a more dependable safety net. Rather than being left high and dry, “even the worst case scenario is still manageable by simply opening the machine, fixing it bit by bit then trying again,” A said, as if the mistakes are also some tempting invitations to further alter, augment, and challenge the existing mechanics.
Analogue films’ hands-on mode restores to us a kind of boldness and vitality in image-making. This is particularly distinct when we had the great pleasure to look at a series of animated works from avant-garde filmmaker Robert Breer during the festival. I first learnt about his legacy of direct cinema from his eccentric documentary short Homage to Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New-York, where his sometimes shaky camera movements and repeated sequences seems to suggest an active way of seeing. Little did I know that aside from his collaborations with the E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), he has created such a dynamic body of animated experimentations. I was stunned, barely capable of pulling myself together. In the screenings, it was as if I just had a quick glance of someone’s life, which otherwise could be described as some animated visual “letters” or “diaries” that record the humorous thoughts and wildest experimentations at an earlier stage of his artistic practice. Staying on, I started to immerse into his intimate documents as well, a rich blend of personal videos and self-portraits. Every now and then, certain image fragments appear like time capsules that withhold a mumble, perhaps also a metaphor, or a touch of melancholy reminding us of the transience of life, invoking particularly Breer’s having another little daughter in his advanced years. Breer’s animations do not solely ignite life as figures or forms, but they also point towards a prominent presence of a living mind confronting everyday situations as unique temporal and spatial entities, through the act of shooting and drawing.
A strong sense of liberation and honesty in Breer’s works is utterly courageous. There are often doubts among friends as we discuss if experimentation ever ages, and if we should not repeat our predecessors’ experimentation, or, particularly with the handy digital tools available nowadays, how we, as a generation so distant from the analogue mechanics could ever critically engage in film and deliver a thoughtful work without the smoked coating of nostalgia.
It hasn’t been very long ago since I first held a Bolex and shot. I wasn’t quite comfortable with it then, but I still recalled, vaguely, the numbers and steps that got my fingers clumsy. The rolling and flickering sound felt familiar, just like a metronome, the rewinding of film, the slight swinging when holding camera are solid sensations. And the very act of shooting was so weighty, like when I was playing a musical instrument. Composer Claude Debussy once suggested that “music is the space between the notes, or the dividing of the tones,” which animator Norman McLaren echoed with a similar claim, “Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn; what happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame; animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between the frames.” And Stan Brakhage makes the linkage for me, “Of all the arts, music is closest to film.”
I must confess I am still completely clueless of what film (or frankly anything) is, but I am luckily still enjoying every moment of the ride in my study of film and animation.
Special Thanks to Richard Tuohy and Dianna Barrie for their warm encouragement and support to the Floating Projects Collective, and to Lee Hang-jun for curating such a mind-boggling festival.
(Originally written in English, Chinese version translated by Kel LOK.)
「下午6時要到達Space CELL。 下午5時要到達巴士站。 在那之前來點速吃的餐。 千萬別吃全餐，否則可能會打瞌睡。」J 如是說。「6-11pm…」把它寫在時間表上，「…斯坦·布拉哈格（Stan Brakhage），The Art of Vision」，把它寫在手板之上。 想當年，若然我在大學時期的那滿佈血絲的雙眼是由觀看影片所引起，那麼當中的一兩絲大概會是基於無數次與布拉哈格的《蛾火》（Mothlight）或伊藤高志（Takashi Ito）的 Spacy 之相遇莫屬，儘管看片的前後，大都沒有引子或註腳。
哭泣的嬰兒。 擺蕩的驚嘆。 拉長了的女性身體。乳頭。雪花。液體。閃爍。 布拉哈格的 The Art of Vision 從未憩息於搖晃的推推拉拉，在橫跨250分鐘分五節的時間線中，肆無忌憚的把影象刮劃、拉扯。除了在前奏中打了幾個瞌睡（非常抱歉）外，隨後的一切都如閃電落下，任憑碎片重新出現、疊加與交織，瓦解和重塑使作品不斷演化。這部電影像脈搏般一樣清晰，但也憑藉如此嚴謹的（銀幕上和銀幕外）存在，使得任何敘述性的試圖變得模糊或無力。 為實驗電影寫下文字或圖像式的筆記可能嗎？ 我如此思考。
這些日子，我遍覽了各式各樣的作品，並與朋友一遍又一遍的討論著。 除了菲林電影(celluloid film)本身的物質性外，觀看類比影片 (analog film)（或前數碼影片） 總會在某種程度上，近乎條件反射般喚起我對圖像製作過程或物料來源的求知慾。隨著時間的推移，影片揭示了影片製作人/攝影機、以及他們的選材之間在多種路線上遊走的距離; 它顯示了製作影片時身體與機器的動態 (bodily movements); 在製作、編輯或影片處理過程中，負片留下製作人雙手的痕跡，其中大部分現在或許已被數碼影片製作中的「點擊(click)」和某個按鍵所取代。無論是在(作為影片製作人)製作或複習期間，又或(作為觀眾)在放映期間，那種期盼的狀態都帶著明顯的變化。我不確定這些變化，是否暗示著我們內在的好奇心已水逝雲卷。然而，不管是在菲林或數碼影片中，對黑盒內部運作和美學指導上那些技術性知識上的需求，是顯而易見地相容 – 軟件的組合與相機的機械結構，有著相似的化學過程，但兩者也有著明顯的差異，不同於面對陌生演算方法或使用電腦時無法預見的死機情況的焦慮，負片的觸感和透明度，以及其附帶設備，似乎有著更加可靠的安全網。對比面對著電腦發呆和孤立無援，「即便最差的情況，仍然能透過簡單地打開機器、一步步修復，一步步摸索。」A這樣說，錯誤彷彿變成誘人的邀請，讓人進一步嘗試修整，優化和挑戰現有的機制。
類比影片的手動模式，讓我們在圖像處理中恢復了一種大膽和活力。這點在我們觀賞前衛錄像家羅伯特·布瑞爾 （Robert Breer）的一系列動畫作品中尤其明顯。初接觸布瑞爾是基於直接電影（direct cinema與他其中一個簡短古怪的紀錄片Jean Tinguely’s“Homage to New-York），那時而活潑的鏡頭動作與重覆的連續鏡頭，仿佛提出了一種積極的觀察模式。我不知道原來他除了與E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology)的合作外，還創造了不少充滿生氣的動畫實驗，看得人目瞪口呆，好不容易才回過氣。我就像貪婪地瀏覽了某人的生命、或可以被描述為一些記錄著他藝術實踐早期階段的幽默思想和最瘋狂的實驗、一些動畫視覺的「信件」或「日記」。那些豐富的個人視頻、那些自畫像… 我逐漸沉浸在他的私密文件之中。某些形象碎片看起來就像時間膠囊，隱藏著一句註腳，也許是一種隱喻，或是一種滲透憂鬱的提醒，提醒著生命的短暫性，這在他面對著新生小女兒的晚年時期尤其明顯。他的動畫並不僅僅將生命視為姿態或形狀，它們亦指向一個活生生的頭腦如何面對日常情境，並通過拍攝和繪畫行為把這些獨特的時空再現。
回想起來，第一次拿著Bolex 攝錄機，也不過只是約一年前左右。那時，我對它並沒多在意，但還是能模糊地憶起那些負片的數字格，與讓我感覺手指拙劣的拍攝步驟。上鏈和齒輪轉動的聲音倒是很熟悉，就像一部拍子機、負片的倒帶、攝錄機在手中微微晃動，種種手動的過程都有種實實在在的感覺。Bolex 非常沉重，拍攝就像提著樂器演奏。作曲家克勞德·德彪西曾經提出：『音樂是音符之間的空間，或音調的劃分』，動畫師諾曼·麥克拉倫（Norman McLaren）亦回應了類似的說法，「動畫不是會動的圖畫，而是以繪畫方式表達出來的動作；每幀之間發生的事情比每幀上的事情重要；因此，動畫是操縱框架之間隱形空隙的藝術。」而Stan Brakhage為我提供了它們之間的聯繫：「在所有藝術中，音樂最接近電影。」
我必須承認我仍然對影像（或坦白說是對任何東西）感到陌生，但很幸運地我依然享受著在電影和動畫研究中的每一刻。(英文原文：忻慧妍 | 中文翻譯：駱敏聰)