Lewis Klahr: Prolix Satori — Lewis Klahr In Person!

Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30pm; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; 701 Mission Street in San Francisco

more info here / advance tickets here

Lewis Klahr’s Prolix Satori

by Kristin M. Jones

The breathtaking elasticity of time and memory in Lewis Klahr’s elliptical collage films is echoed in the title of his ongoing, open-ended digital-video series Prolix Satori. Time, of course, is a constant theme in Klahr’s work, not only in the decaying and outmoded objects that evoke naggingly incomplete memories, such as the ever-present cutup comic book characters, but in the circles that are constantly reappearing, and often spinning—polka-dots, planets, coins, old timepieces, stained buttons—and in the gilded leaves that have surfaced like fragile epiphanies in his recent work. Made up of films of varying lengths that tell of prolonged reveries and painfully slow or abrupt awakenings, Prolix Satori also contains the subseries Couplets, in which paired songs accompany stories of broken romances that are as haunted by the poignancy of vanished neon advertisements for Canadian Club and Admiral television sets as they are by hints of money worries, betrayal and frustrated longing.

 False Aging (2008), in which music from The Valley of the Dolls, Jefferson Airplane and John Cale and Lou Reed’s Songs for Drella helps tell a story of passing years filled with longing and muffled regret, was the germ from which the other Prolix Satori videos have emerged. Nimbus Smile (2009) follows an anxious affair amid twinkling skylines, elegant invitations, crumpled cocktail napkins and dancing translucent layers of tissue, with the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” summoning wistful disillusionment. But have we misread what we’ve seen? In Nimbus Seeds (2009), the same images are accompanied by quotidian sounds—teeth being brushed, nighttime insects, wind chimes, a squeaky faucet, a zipper, rain, sirens, noir-ish footsteps on pavement on gravel—conveying feelings ranging from anxiety to fleeting contentment, while also lending greater weight to darker images, such as garbage being collected on an urban street. Some sounds, such as a clock being wound or a typewriter bell, are as unsettlingly dated as the images onscreen. In Cumulonimbus (2010), the third in the trilogy, the same sounds take on yet another emotional valence in a story about a different tangled romance.

But love clearly emerges only through degradation and damage in Sugar Slim Says (2010), whose two grimly crooned ballads—written by Mark Anthony Thompson and performed by Chocolate Genius Inc.—evoke bitter infatuation and comical disgust. Holographic patterns, brash ’70s advertisements and lonesome flotsam and jetsam conjure a tough-guy spiral of graffiti-covered lavatories, card games, dirty dishes, booze, cigarettes and motel quickies. A transparent drug capsule plays at being urban signage, buttons float by piles of cash, a mustache or a ship’s rigging fill the screen. Wednesday Morning Two A.M. (2009), on the other hand, suggests a more stereotypically feminine brand of coping—as well as the softening of painful memories over time—with the Shangri-la’s “I Never Learn” repeated twice, first to objects and nocturnal images evoking longing and broken dreams, and then to a shimmering procession of textured and colored backdrops.

Just as scenes and rhythms reappear in individual films, certain troubling images and phrases crop up throughout Prolix Satori, such as “There must be a logical explanation—but what?” The caterpillar that first crawls into the frame and curls up in Nimbus Smile returns in a jeweled box in Wednesday Morning Two A.M., and in Lethe (2009) it metamorphoses into a butterfly and is captured, killed and pinned, like a memory of love. Set to music by Gustav Mahler, Lethe is an erotic, mournful, uncanny masterpiece that unfolds amid laboratories and a glass-and-steel wasteland of modernist architecture. The title refers to the river in Hades from which dead souls drink water to forget life on Earth—an apt metaphor for the emotional journey of the sci-fi melodrama’s protagonists, a scientist who becomes younger to please his beautiful young assistant, with disastrous results. Wielding guns and syringes, the lovers are killed and reborn, only to die again; water bubbles from their underwear like an eternal spring. Only with great effort do the carnal and the astral vanish into oblivion, and remembering comes to seem as difficult as dying.

—Kristin M. Jones, November 2011

Please Note: Lewis Klahr will appear in person at Pacific Film Archive on Wednesday, November 30 with a completely different ptogram. More information available here.

video portrait of Lewis Klahr at work, created by the Wexner Center for the Arts:


Once It Started It Could Not End: Cut-Ups and Collage by Sears, Cox, Kennedy & Rosentrater

Friday, Nov. 18 at 7:30pm; Artists’ Television Access; 992 Valencia Street in San Francisco

more info here / advance tickets here

Archive in the Sky

by Craig Baldwin

It is heartening to know that SF Cinematheque has so risen above (an operant metaphor in this post) what we now recognize as tempests in teapots over exhibition formats, and is now placing itself at the very leading edge (of a cloud?) of contemporary, yes LIVING cinema as we like to call it. This vote of confidence in “new” media in fact arrives, in a marvelously complex but not really paradoxical way with a long reach into the collective image-bank of the past! This “retrieval” function—plus enhanced post-production facility, as we all know—comes with an aggressive exploitation of the ways and means of the electronic encyclopedia, and these digital avenues are just as amenable to the fantasy-world-building of visionary artists, tale-spinners, cranks and crackpots as they are to academic researchers and archivists.

The selection of works on Cinematheque’s Cut-Ups and Collage program unabashedly demonstrates an almost salacious promiscuity regarding media supports—and sources—blithely leaving behind any frets about “purity” (as if we could afford the luxury of that argument) in its 3- (make that 99-) stage trajectory towards and through a star-cloud I’ll call, again apparently paradoxically, “Matters of the Mind.” Password is “Collective Memory.”

The screening’s tag-line “Once It Started It Could Not End” tips us to this endlessly networked rhizome of fact, fantasy, history, narrative, speculation and, penultimately… paranoia. The four artists on the bill—Kelly Sears, David Cox (both in person!!), Gideon Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater—all deploy truly stupendous palettes of compositional moves, arrays of creative skills and technical agencies way beyond that of Chief Agent of Expression—tho that’s in there too—instead, multi-tasking in multiple modes in and out of that Great Archive of the 20th Century—Explorer, Excavator, Editor, Aesthete and Architect of Emplotment (to use J. Skoller’s apt term)—to cobble together Exquisite Corpses from Your Back Pages of the popular press and already-quaint “broadcast regime.”

Flying in from her Research HQ in Houston where she’s been based after earlier SoCal stints, Kelly Sears deserves the kind of welcome that the Bay Area would usually reserve for a festival-style Prometheus. But by releasing her superbly smart shorts one by one, year in and year out, she never until now achieved a critical mass for a larger exhibition block of her work. That would so powerfully demonstrate an oeuvre solid enough to merit monograph status… please consider this a modest first step towards that.

Witty, savvy, ironic, poetic, exhilarating, even cosmic—and lovely to look at to boot—Sears’ works afford the viewer a sort of wormhole into a parallel universe… made entirely of things we nonetheless recognize. This is the uncanny principle that Ms. Sears so unerringly parlays, rendering collage-animation singularities out of institutional media.

Something is wrong with these pictures, things are not what they seem, appearances are mere cover-ups for the real power plays behind the panels.

In her Voice on the Line (2009), Sears seduces us into a candy-colored post-War zone somewhere between Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Richard Prince and John Baldessari for a deliciously designed Technicolor speculation, an Eisenhower-era postcard that slyly backs us into the beginnings of our now-ubiquitous surveillance society. The political critique remains at the level of the most delirious allegory, and, like the sorry dupes in the tale itself, we are powerless to resist the nigh-on nostalgic pleasures of this puppet-peopled Pop composite.

Approaching a 1974 high-school yearbook like it was an irradiated artifact from a military-industrial A-test, Sears works her forensic magic again in Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise. Through Sears’ masterful collage/compositing/animation, the banal imagery is centrifuged for its most toxic content, and the noxious precipitate is perversely turned to truly chilling effect. Again, the spectres of American alienation lurk behind every half-tone dot (and there are a lot of them), and the bigger picture resolves into a “bummer, dude” waking nightmare of the national dream in slo-mo collapse.

Moire, noise and digital “dirt” are on their relentless march over the empty promises of Time-Life’s Benday dots in Sears’ He Hates to Be Second (2008). Once more her evident aptitude for graphic gesture and industrial-audio design are consummated in a scathing critique of the 20th Century Organization Man, and its chief executive embodiment in the form of a Kennedy. Sears here reminds us that all we can know is through the gaps in the redacted text, which was a heap of lies in the first place.

In The Body Besieged (2009), she turns her attention to women’s bodies, here as flat found-image marionettes on harshly stylized backgrounds—anxiety-producing territory commercial designers would not dare to tread. Playful but dangerously op-energized, this wordless work contains the proof of her media-centric stance… that in fact literacy and fluency in the idioms of mass-media A/V can, even without ‘normal’ language, be redeemed in sociopolitical commentary… in this case the dictation of the female form by the flattening mandate of advertising/industrial design.

But back to our pulsar-cloud of Possible Worlds: as electromagnetically attractive as Sears’ cluster of Dark Matters presents itself to us, its Aesthetic of Secrecy—a “digital occult?”—is here mirrored by Gideon KENNEDY (ah, you think that’s a coincidence?) and Marcus Rosentrater’s Clandestine (2009), an ecstatically obsessive and meticulous meditation on global espionage networks. Cannily seizing on the no-longer-underground mystique of the Conet “Numbers Stations”—disembodied-voice recordings that constitute the most sublime audio artifacts of the post-War analog-spy period—this half-hour masterwork almost automatically conjures up conspiracies out of the rich real-world artifactuality (my neologism), towards a meta-political meta-narrative that marvelously hybridizes investigative journalism, genre story-telling, experimental sound, and a whole lot of other rhetorical modes, into a sort of rhizomic cinema that has as much to do with the Archive as with the Eye. Here’s to a future hyperlinked version!

The Third part of this media cut-up program is in fact informed by co-author of the The Third Mind himself (and also star of The Cut-Ups for that matter)—William S. Burroughs, as channeled by our own local mix-master David Cox. Mr. Cox, director of Otherzone (1998) and dozens of other short collage movies, is throwing down his own challenge to the space-time continuum with his Time Ghost (2010), an unapologetic assemblage of found material—fictional and non—that is dialectically synthesized into a larger, formalized critique of the Spectacle. Cox accelerates the simultaneously centripetal and centrifugal forces that characterize the program as a whole through crafty selection, positioning, and narrativization—a fearless re-mobilization of those phantoms of the horrible past into a digital-video puppet-show, in an argument against the so much more horrible present.

—Craig Baldwin, November 2011


Kelly Sears: Voice on the Line; The Body Besieged; He Hates to Be Second; The Drift; Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise; Imprinted; The Believers; Cover Me Alpha // David Cox: Time Ghost // Gideon Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater: Clandestine

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