Tuesday, March 6: Heaven Is a Place


So, this blog became something of a ghost town in February. The reason for that is that I’ve been hard at work on a number of projects, which means that the coming months will contain a slew of announcements.

To inaugurate these announcements: this Tuesday, The Nightingale Cinema is screening a program entitled “Heaven Is a Place,” curated by my friend Jesse Malmed. (It’s an offshoot of the exhibition of the same name he curated at Heaven Gallery.) Each of the filmmakers & video artists showing work in it have been commissioned to create work for another historical exhibition or screening—i.e., it’s a chance for them to finally be a part of Frank Stauffacher’s “Art in Cinema” film series, or Douglas Crimps’ “Pictures” show, or Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst,” or whatever catches their fancy.

I have a short video showing in this screening, entitled OREO NABISCO secret planet POISON january 2018 Concealed Information CONFIRMED!!!! The exhibition I’ve chosen to align myself with will remain a secret for now. If you’re in Chicago, and you are able, I invite you to show up—7:30 PM on Tuesday March 6, at The Nightingale. It promises to be a great show. (Indeed, I’m preemptively both honored and embarrassed to have something I put together more or less on a lark to be shown alongside the work of filmmakers I genuinely admire.)

I’ll eventually post the video on Vimeo, but not until after it’s premiered. [UPDATE: I’ve uploaded it onto my Vimeo page, here.]

Lesson Plan: Borders, Boundary Crossings, and Subaltern Images


Ian here—

Well, you can’t win ’em all. Over-ambition gets to the best of us, and sometimes a somewhat incoherent lesson is the result. Consider this post to be less of a how-to guide, and more of a postmortem on what is clearly still a work-in-progress.

Migration is a topic that, from the beginning, I knew I wanted to tackle in my Avant-Garde Film and Video Art course this term. US immigration reared its head quite explicitly in my week spent on Bill Brown’s The Other Side, but I also wanted to try out some more conceptually far-flung approaches to the topic. Key here were two texts: Hito Steyerl’s article “In Defense of the Poor Image,” which re-casts image quality as an image of global politics, turning a close eye on how media objects circulate around the world in the current neoliberal order, and Jacqueline Goss’ video Stranger Comes to Town (2007), which tells tales of entry into the US that have been metaphorized into World of Warcraft machinima.

I thought I could draw out some sort of grand theme from this material, about how the circulation of images maps on to the migration of people in our contemporary political regime. It turns out I wasn’t really up to this task. And it’s a shame, too, because I dearly love the videos I assembled for this week, and wish I could have done better by them.

[Update: I asked for feedback in the last day of class, and it turns out that several students actually really liked this class session. They thought its sketched-out argument left them room to think, and really appreciated having to fill in the blanks themselves. Apparently, for some students, it was perfect seminar material. Their only real complaint was that I could have expanded this material, and stretched it out over several weeks! So take the self-criticism in this post with a grain of salt, I guess.]

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Katie Wittenberg

As one of the only known female Actionists, Viennese filmmaker Valie EXPORT explored the possibilities of experimentation in cinema during the late 1960’s- early 70’s.

Prior to her work, names such as Stan Brakhage and Michael Snow held major influence in New American Cinema (1960’s). Both artists were known for their work in Structuralism Film making. Film’s of this genre mainly consisted of an emphasis on the material aspects of the film, or qualities found in the film itself. Snow’s film Wavelength 1967, is one such example. In this film, a stationary camera focuses closer and closer on a particular section of a studio apartment over the course of 45 minutes. The area in focus, and even the room are not the subject. Snow chooses to demonstrate the act of “zooming in” as the main initiative, making the actions caused by the camera the primary staple of the film.

Work of Valie EXPORT and other Vinnese filmmakers took the polar opposite approach from both American and European Structuralism. Approaches to their films formed from encounters with Viennese Actionists. These Actionists held “Ritualistic Performances”, often using mud and bodily fluids on and around their bodies to show relations. The idea of incorporating “temporality”, starting first with both the Happenings and the Fluxus, was used as well. The mixing of genres (music, movement, sculpture, etc.) coupled nicely with their intentions of infusing work with interactivity.

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Joana Pimenta’s An Aviation Field


Ian here—

So I’ve done a couple dispatches now from the University of Chicago Film Studies Center’s “Troubling the Image” series. I’ve especially like the recent material that Julia Gibbs and Patrick Friel have pulled together from filmmakers and video artists around the world. As it turns out, 2016 was an especially good year for experimental cinema.

In fact, although there’s a truly embarrassing array of films I need to catch up on from 2016 (been playing too many games …), I think it’s likely the case that my favorite film from 2016 will be an experimental short: Portuguese-American filmmaker Joana Pimenta’s video An Aviation Field.

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Arash Nassiri’s Darwin Darwah


Ian here—

Another quick reflection on something screened for the Film Studies Center’s so-far excellent “Troubling the Image” series. This time, Arash Nassiri’s video Darwin Darwah (2016), screened as part of their “Tales of Sound and Vision” night, last Friday. The screening was full of great stuff—including The Inner World of Aphasia (Edward R. Feil, 1958), which I would recommend to anyone who always wished Sam Fuller and Owen Land had made a film together—but Nassiri’s piece left me with the most coherent thoughts.

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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.

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Janie Geiser’s Flowers of the Sky


Ian here—

Any occasion to see a new film by Janie Geiser is a happy one, but I am especially lucky in that the context in which I saw Flowers of the Sky (2016) was during the inaugural screening of “Troubling the Image,” a series of recent (or recently-restored) avant-garde/experimental films being put on at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center. Programmed by Julia Gibbs and Patrick Friel, the series promises to be a stream of delights, and I’m hoping to post some more dispatches from it in the future.

There was plenty of great work on display in this first screening, entitled “Color My World.” (I was especially glad to see more videos from T. Marie, whose work I had fallen behind on in recent years. 2014’s Panchromes I-III certainly did not disappoint, together forming one of the greatest examples of “cinema as painting” that I can think of.) But I’ve decided to limit my thoughts here to Geiser, and Flowers of the Sky.

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