directors lounge monthly screening
gabriel lyons loeb
poems & trampolines
Thursday, 31 October 2013
Gabriel Lyons Loeb is in love with pixelation and other digital artifacts as other artists are with the "Wabisabi" of Super-8, and the illuminating technical flaws of "spaghetti-style" developed small gauge film. For years now, he has used an old mobile phone camera to explore his surroundings — and the media. He combines his poetry with video "blow-ups", either coming from his own footage or from footage appropriated from the internet. One may ask if it is his love for a specific aesthetic, or if it is an artistic-bohemian gesture to use the cheapest material and a look that we usually regard as an internet-related shortcoming. It may be both, however, there may be a third motivation: in his final years at university he studied the effects of endless repetitions of footage he found on youtube and other transformative experiments, mainly by exposing himself. As earlier avant-gardists and pop-Artists such as Bruce Conner and Andy Warhol already found out, repetitions have a changing effect on our cognition and psyche.
Loeb's film "you smell good now" the longest film in the presentation may have a similar effect on the mind, even if not by repetition. It is a semi-narrative, semi-documentary style blow-up of 176x144px footage of Ann Arbor in winter. Shot during his partner's three day visit, the film occurs in the favorite places of his home town. The fictive characters explore the town in an adolescent flaneurship sometimes becoming a passage à l'acte. In other parts of the film, they seem to conceive spontaneous lines of poetry from their experiences.
"wintersgarden" is another film shot in winter time, this time all around the place where he has lived for a year in Berlin-Neukölln. This time, it is a fuzzy portrait of "Körner Kiez" in winter colors and the chance-encounters on his walks. It uses another technique we know from analog filmmakers: it is edited in-camera, but then combined with big letters that for the viewer may or may not come together as a winter poem. The program will be completed with a number of poetry related films, some of which the author made on demand as part of a service previously offered through his website.
The effect of a painterly surface, that seems to melt with the picture, creating an image that not always seems to give away the expected information, and the effect of diagonal distortion when the camera is moving, in addition to the artifacts of faulty interpolation by upsizing the image, all those seem to be similar to the effects of analog distortions made by painting, scratching and badly developing film. So far there are only few known artists who explore the aesthetic of low-fi digital gadgets, though. In photography only Thomas Ruff and Annelies Strba come to my mind, in video there may be more but less well-known artists in the same field. Back in times of New York Avant-garde, Stan Brakhage claimed for himself to be a painter using film, and to have the same goals as the movement of "American Expressionism". In our times, as the discussion has overgrown the idea of the purity of art media related to Clement Greenberg and the Arte Povera, it may be interesting, why an artist falls in love with those digital artifacts. The most striking effect of "you smell good now" is the feeling of perceiving the stream of consciousness of the protagonists of the film. The almost opaque surface of pixelation that barely allows information to seep through is captivating, at least if comparing against high definition video quality (HD) that "shows it all", or an aesthetic of presenting a window-to-reality. As a viewer, "you smell good now" drags you into a kind of mind tunnel, at least if you allow it to happen. You may get the feeling of being part of the bunch, to experience their experiences, to see, not with their eyes but with their eye-phone. And actually, I was surprised to hear that the characters are fictitious and many scenes improvised though planned out.
There may be new contextual meanings beyond the beauty of digital paint. One is, we have come to accept the fact, that anything happening will be recorded, even, it must be recorded in order to become "true"; and if applying to mass media, it seems that fuzziness and the weird diagonal movement effects are indicators for authenticity, of "true witness" in contrast to a sharp and well-composed image that rather indicates possible staging and manipulation by the author, and if just by framing the picture. Just any footage from a mobile cam seems to be more real, be it the war in Syria, the past Tsunami in Japan or the Arabic youth rebellions. Another one is the meaning that photography and video has gained through social media. Instead of a media for exposure (of art, of ideas or of intimacy) to the public — let's remind ourselves of the double meaning of "exhibition" — image media has become an integral part of peer-to-peer communication, or even joint group perceptions. Close friends nowadays perceive their surroundings cooperatively with the aid of shared images, the quality of which is rated by immediacy rather than beauty. Going back to "you smell good now", the juvenile flânerie we are made part of, disturbingly seems to be confined in the immediacy of perceptions of occurrences in a small town environment that fail to make sense for the pair seeking for a larger meaning in life. Turning it inside out, the film may also talk about the flaws of media-aided perceptions of the world that have become limited to peer-to-peer relations by individual mobile communication. They become reduced to awws and wows. Even the inspirations-becoming-poetry talk of a loss. The fact of the story being a fiction though makes the interpretation of the film more complicated as we still would have to bring in the intentions of the author Gabriel Lyons Loeb at this point.
Though obviously showing the subjective POV of a single author, "wintersgarden" on the other hand, breaks free from making the viewer accomplice of perceptions as the big letters imposed on the image create a distancing effect of second meanings, another layer, even if I, the viewer, fail to put the poem together from the single white characters. The artist Loeb, as a conclusion, seems to play with the opposites of intimacy and distancing connected with media-aided perceptions, as well as meaninglessness versus meaning while using digital every day image gadgets.
Gabriel Lyons Loeb will be present for Q&A. Curated by Klaus W. Eisenlohr