Preview: Avant-Garde Cinema and Video Art


Ian here—

The School of the Art Institute spring 2017 semester begins tomorrow, and I wanted to take a moment this week to introduce this term’s classes, as you will likely be seeing posts related to these classes in the near future. First up: the section I’m teaching for SAIC’s First-Year Seminar II course, “Avant-Garde Film and Video Art.”

Now, I’ve taught this course before, and in fact this blog is littered with previous lesson plans I’ve used for it. But I decided to shuffle my syllabus up considerably this time around.

There are two main reasons for the new directions I’m taking in this version of the course. First off, several students I had in my “Moving Images and Arguments” First-Year Seminar I course decided continue on with me, and take”Avant-Garde Film and Video Art” as the next step in their First-Year Seminar sequence. This put me in a bit of a bind, as I had pilfered some of my favorite lessons from the first time I taught this course for “Moving Images and Arguments.” I resolved that, in fairness to all, I should not repeat myself for these students. That meant no lesson on Bruce Conner’s A Movie (1958), no lesson on Matt McCormick’s The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (2001), and no lesson on Luis Buñuel‘s Land Without Bread (1933). It also meant no lesson on Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied (1989).

This forced omission of Tongues Untied hit me especially hard. Students in the past have connected very strongly with the video. Beyond its popularity, though, its excision also meant that I was removing the sole queer filmmaker of color from my original syllabus. Having no queer filmmakers of color on my syllabus wouldn’t do at all, so I added some new material in the form of videos by Cheryl Dunye and Ximena Cuevas.

In addition to forcing myself to abandon some previously-taught lessons, I also wanted the course to be able to comment directly on the political situation of the nation, which is very different from when I first taught this course in the spring of 2016. Courses on avant-garde cinema can too often feel staid and nostalgic, looking back to certain hallowed eras of creative genius, rather than connecting with the present. I wanted to make sure that the films and videos I was teaching had some resonance for students negotiating our world as it exists today.

This meant more films and videos organized around some pinpointed themes. Issues of immigration and national borders have emerged as one of this version of the course’s pet topics. Jackie Goss’s Stranger Comes to Town (2006) was the one thing from my “Moving Images and Arguments” course I allowed myself to keep in this version of the course, given its relevance to these topics. I didn’t re-assign Deborah Stratman’s O’er the Land (2009), but I did at least replace it with Energy Country (2003), which treads some similar ground. I added in The Other Side, Bill Brown’s 2006 essay film on surveillance and cultural tensions along the Mexican-American border. I also added some readings from T.J. Demos’ book The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (2013).

I also wanted to make sure that my first avant-garde cinema course taught in Trump’s America included Latino (Ximena Cuevas), Muslim (Shirin Neshat), and trans (Zackary Drucker) women filmmakers and video artists.

You’ll be seeing some student work for this class, as I have once again integrated blog posts into my assignment structure! Here’s the full lineup, barring any last-minute changes:

Week 1, 2017-01-26

Readings for week 1:
None. We’ll review the syllabus, and do a general course overview.

In-class screening on 2017-01-26, for discussion Week 2:
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren with Alexander Hackenshmied, USA, 1943)
Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1947)

Week 2, 2017-02-02
What is an argument? (No, really)

Readings for week 2:
Maya Deren, “Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality” (1960)
P. Adams Sitney, “Ritual and Nature,” from Visionary Film (1974)
Ara Osterweil, “America Year Zero” (2017)

In-class screening on 2017-02-02, for discussion Week 3:
The Wold-Shadow (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1972)
Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1963)
From: First Hymn to the Night—Novalis (Stan Brahkage, USA, 1994)
POPEYE SEES 3D (Ken Jacobs, USA, 2016)

Week 3, 2017-02-09
Learning to see anew … and figuring out what concepts to keep

Readings for week 3:
John Ruskin, “Letter I: On First Practice,” from The Elements of Drawing (1858)
Stan Brakhage, “Metaphors on Vision” and “The Camera Eye” from Metaphors on Vision (1963)
Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” (1965)
Jonas Mekas, “On George Landow and Film Loops” (1965)

Clips, viewed for immediate discussion:
Film in Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. (George Landow, USA, 1965)
Wavelength (Michael Snow, USA/Canada, 1967)
Back and Forth (Michael Snow, USA/Canada, 1969)

In-class screening on 2017-02-09, for discussion Week 4:
Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (Bruce Conner, USA, 1976)
The Exquisite Hour (Phil Solomon, USA, 1994)
Is This What You Were Born For?, pt 7: Mercy (Abigail Child, USA, 1989)

Week 4, 2017-02-16

Readings for Week 4:
Lev Kuleshov, “Montage as the Foundation of Cinematography,” from The Art of Cinema (1929)
Sergei Eisenstein, “The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram” (1929)
Abigail Child, “Locales Interview (with Michael Amnasan)” (1989)

In-class screening on 2017-02-16, for discussion Week 5:
Zorns Lemma (Hollis Frampton, USA, 1970)

Week 5, 2017-02-23
Contestable claims lead to productive arguments!

Readings for Week 5:
Adams Sitney, “Structural Film,” from Visionary Film (1974)
James Peterson, “Film That Insists on Its Shape: The Minimal Strain,” from Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order (1996)

In-class screening on 2017-02-23, for immediate discussion:
T/O/U/C/H/I/N/G (Paul Sharits, USA, 1968)
Film That Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (George Landow, USA, 1969)
Serene Velocity (Ernie Gehr, USA, 1970)

Week 6, 2017-03-02
Arguments and essays (film, and otherwise)

Readings for Week 6:
David Montero, “Introduction: The Thinking Form” (selections) and “Questions and Answers: Towards a Dialogical Understanding of the Essay Film” (selections), from Thinking Images: The Essay Film as Dialogic Form in European Cinema (2012)

In-class screening on 2017-03-02, for immediate discussion:
The Other Side (Bill Brown, USA, 2006)

Week 7, 2017-03-09
Methodological conundrums: Biographical grounds

Readings for Week 7:
Lauren Rabinovitz, “Joyce Wieland and the Ascendancy of Structural Film,” from Points of Resistance (1991)

In-class screening on 2017-03-09, for immediate discussion:
Patriotism (Joyce Weiland, Canada, 1964)
Rat Life and Diet in North America (Joyce Weiland, Canada, 1968)
Sink or Swim (Su Friedrich, USA, 1990)

Week 8, 2017-03-16
Beauty standards

Readings for Week 8:
Christopher Eamon, “An Art of Temporality,” from Film and Video Art (2009)

In-class screening on 2017-03-16, for immediate discussion:
Kustom Kar Kommandos (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1970)
operculum (Tran T. Kim-Trang, USA, 1993)
Natural Instincts (Ximena Cuevas, Mexico, 1999)

Guest presentation:
Nicole Morse on the videos of Zackary Drucker

Week 9, 2017-03-23

Week 10, 2017-03-30
Sounding off

Readings for Week 10:
Sergei Eisenstein, V.I. Pudovkin, and G.V. Alexandrov, “A Statement” (1928)
V.I. Pudovkin, “Asynchronism as a Principle of Sound Film” (1929)
William S. Burroughs, “The Cut-up Method of Brian Gysin,” from The Third Mind (1978)

In-class screening on 2017-03-30, for immediate discussion:
clip from Deserter (V.I. Pudovkin, USSR, 1933)
My Name Is Oona (Gunvor Nelson, Sweden/USA, 1969)
Alone, Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold, Austria, 1998)
Turbulent (Shirin Neshat, Iran/USA, 1998)

Week 11, 2017-04-06
Alternative animation

Readings for Week 11:
Maureen Furniss, “Issues of Representation,” from Art in Motion: Animation Aesthetics (1998)
Cindy Keefer, “Visual Music’s Influence on Contemporary Abstraction,” from Abstract Video: The Moving Image in Contemporary Art (2015)

In-class screening on 2017-04-06, for immediate discussion:
Abstronic (Mary Ellen Bute with Ted Nemeth, USA, 1952)
Recreation (Robert Breer, USA, 1956)
Peyote Queen (Storm de Hirsch, USA, 1965)
(Robert Breer, USA, 1974)
Unsubsribe #4: The Saddest Song in the World (Jodie Mack, 2010)
Night Hunter (Stacey Steers, USA, 2011)

Week 12, 2017-04-13
Aesthetic borders, boundary crossings, and subaltern images

Readings for Week 12:
T.J. Demos, “Exile, Diaspora, Nomads Refugees: A Genealogy of Art and Migration” and “Hito Steyerl’s Traveling Images,” from The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (2013)
Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image” (2009)

In-class screening on 2017-04-13, for immediate discussion:
Stranger Comes to Town (Jacqueline Goss, USA, 2007)
Lossless #2 (Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin, USA, 2008)
How Not to Be Seen (Hito Steyerl, Germany, 2013)

Week 13, 2017-04-20
Their own small world: Trash aesthetics

Readings for Week 13:
Walter Benjamin, “Old Forgotten Children’s Books” (1924)
J. Hoberman, “Bad Movies” (1980)
Ara Osterweil, “Introduction” (selection), from Flesh Cinema: The Corporeal Turn in American Avant-Garde Film (2014)

In-class screening on 2017-04-20, for immediate discussion:
Living Inside (Sadie Benning, USA, 1989)
Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs, USA, 1963)

Week 14, 2017-04-27
Architectural kaleidoscopes

Readings for Week 14:
TBA (likely none—class will be spent reviewing drafts)

In-class screening on 2017-04-27, for immediate discussion:
Castro Street (Bruce Bailey, USA, 1966)
Energy Country (Deborah Stratman, USA, 2003)
Go! Go! Go! (Marie Menken, USA, 1964)
Spacey (Ito Takashi, Japan, 1981)

Week 15, 2017-05-04
The personal is the political: Sex, family, identity

Readings for Week 14:
B. Ruby Rich, “Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses” (1974), “A Woman’s Declaration of Secession from the Avant-Garde” (1998), from Chick Flicks
Scott MacDonald, “[Interview with] Carolee Schneemann,” from A Critical Cinema (1988)
Alexandra Juhasz, “[Interview with] Cheryl Dunye,” from Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video (2001)

In-class screening on 2017-05-04, for immediate discussion:
Martina’s Playhouse (Peggy Ahwesh, USA, 1989)
Vanilla Sex (Cheryl Dunye, USA, 1992)
Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, USA, 1967)

Week 16, 2017-05-11

In-class presentations on final papers, wrap-up, student requested topics, makeup/overflow week

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