This program is presented in partnership with the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts (MFA) as part of Orlando, an exhibition guest curated by Tilda Swinton which draws upon the themes of Virginia Woolf’s seminal novel to celebrate openness, curiosity, and human possibility. This screening runs daily in the McEvoy Foundation Screening Room at the top of the hour, Tuesday–Saturday, 11am–6pm, February 7–May 2, 2020. ADMISSION TO THE SCREENINGS AND EXHIBITION IS FREE.
“I’ve been thinking about how certainty is becoming our nemesis. How doubtlessness is killing our ability to expand as a society and as individuals. How the once essential search for a definable, and immutable, identity has become stifling to our sense of development and the possibilities of finding true fellowship with other complex, variously wired, hesitant sensitive beings.” (Maggie Nelson, Aperture 235)
If it is seen as a refusal to commit, a refusal to act, John Cage, in his watershed 1952 composition 4’33”, explicitly opened the artwork as a site of projection and inaugurated an aesthetic of ambiguity and expressionlessness, the traces of which have whispered like queer phantoms through subsequent Western art, notably epitomized in Andy Warhol’s oeuvre of non-expressive cultural reflections and persona of antagonizing non-commitment. In the current context of aggressively rationalized social interface and the complexly blurred boundaries between self-expression and participatory surveillance (both mediated largely through the invasiveness of social media), this ambiguity—particularly the ambiguity of identity—has manifested as a crucial emotional survival strategy and politicized act of social defiance. Simultaneously, just as discourses on the fluidity and malleability of gender and sexuality have recently mainstreamed, a rich, strange, exciting and provocative body of contemporary artworks is foregrounding the expansiveness of personal invention and the assertion of the self. As provocative precursors to the discourses of the moment, the various iterations of Orlando—Virginia Woolf’s 1922 novel, Sally Potter’s 1992 cinematic realization and and especially Tilda Swinton’s defiant, understatedly ambiguous portrayal of the title character—stand as deeply prescient.
Inspired by the Swinton-edited, Woolf/Potter-inspired issue of Aperture (#235: Orlando) and the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts’ resonant exhibition, certainly is becoming our nemesis presents works on themes of transformation and self-invention, on gender fluidity and performance and on the legacies of families—chosen and otherwise. While flirting with notions of timelessness and perpetuity, these works refute notions of stability and offer radical gestures of intimacy.
Riverbody (1970) by Alice Anne Parker (US); 16mm screened as digital video, color, sound, 6 minutes
A continuous dissolve of 87 male and female nudes. (Canyon Cinema)
The film’s fascination lies with the suspense of that magic moment, halfway between two persons, when the dissolve technique produces composite figures, oftentimes hermaphroditic, that inspires awe for the mystery of the human form. (B. Ruby Rich, Chicago Art Institute)
Métamorphoses du Papillon (2013) by Pere Ginard (Spain); digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes
Métamorphoses du Papillon is a revision/reinterpretation/impressionist rewriting of the homonymous film made in 1904 by the French filmmaker Gaston Velle. Caterpillars become moths born anew as film frames burn. (Pere Ginard)
The Queen of Material (2014) by Rajee Samarasinghe (Sri Lanka); digital video, color, sound, 2 minutes
A short procession of colorful material and a mysterious woman lit by the sun. A paean to Kenneth Anger. (Rajee Samarasinghe)
Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face (2012) by Zach Blas (US); digital video, color, sound, 8 minutes
Facial Weaponization Suite protests against biometric facial recognition—and the inequalities these technologies propagate—by making “collective masks” in workshops that are modeled from the aggregated facial data of participants, resulting in amorphous masks that cannot be detected as human faces by biometric facial recognition technologies. The masks are used for public interventions and performances. One mask—the Fag Face Mask—generated from the biometric facial data of many queer men’s faces, is a response to scientific studies that link determining sexual orientation through rapid facial recognition techniques. Another mask explores a tripartite conception of blackness: the inability of biometric technologies to detect dark skin as racist, the favoring of black in militant aesthetics, and black as that which informatically obfuscates. A third mask engages feminism’s relations to concealment and imperceptibility, taking veil legislation in France as a troubling site that oppressively forces visibility. A fourth mask considers biometrics’ deployment as a security technology at the Mexico-US border and the nationalist violence it instigates. These masks intersect with social movements’ use of masking as an opaque tool of collective transformation that refuses dominant forms of political representation. (Zach Blas)
Rote Linie (Red Line) (2015/2016) by Rosa John (Austria); digital video, color, silent, 3 minutes
Self-portrait with camera and red pencil. (Rosa John)
Shape of a Surface (2017) by Nazlı Dinçel (Turkey/US); 16mm screened as digital video, color, sound, 9 minutes
The ground holds accounts of once pagan, then christian and now muslim ruins of the city built for Aphrodite. As she takes revenge on Narcissus, mirrors reveal what is seen and surfaces, limbs dismantle and marble turns flesh. (Nazlı Dinçel)
Unison (2013–2017) by Zackary Drucker (US); digital video, color, sound, 8 minutes
Unison is a short-format experimental film that visualizes the cross-generational evolution of transgender identity. Unison is set in and around an idyllic summer cottage in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The cottage is where Drucker has spent every summer of her life and was therefore an ideal setting to image the different stages and trajectories for her own life. Shot as a dreamlike, ethereal pastiche of a life lived in a trans body, the film engenders filmic memory and cross-generational representations of aging and time passing.
The film’s cast includes the late Mother Flawless Sabrina, a then 75-year old drag queen who organized and MC’d drag balls in the 1950s and ’60s despite frequent arrests and incarcerations. Sabrina was the ultimate gender rebel and frequent muse, oracle and collaborator to Drucker. Flawless plays the grand dame in elaborate high tea garb; Drucker and her then partner Rhys Ernst—a filmmaker and transgender man who collaborated with Drucker on the short film, She Gone Rogue (2012)—play a couple in a love-forsaken relationship. Additional performers include Ernst’s eight year old nephew—beautiful in his own youthful androgyny—Drucker’s real-life mother and Van Barnes, a transgender woman with whom she has collaborated with on several projects. (Zackary Drucker)
Jean Luc Nancy (2018) by Antoinette Zwirchmayr (Austria); 16mm screened as digital video; color, sound, 5 minutes
The full moon on the black night sky, a swinging pendulum, constellations, three women seen from behind, an ensemble of sparkling crystals, half-transparent stripes in motion, light plays in black-and-white and in color. Images, perspectives, bodies, spaces, worlds set in relation to one another. Or, in other words: cinema. Concrete and abstract, sensual and theoretical, thought out and felt Jean Luc Nancy the complex essence of cinema: as dispositive, as medium, as work body, as aesthetic experience, and as sensual site of encounter and tenderness—fleeting, moving, illuminating, touching. (Michelle Koch)
Between Dog and Wolf (2018) by Julia Dogra-Brazell (UK); digital video, color, sound, 8 minutes
The hour between dog and wolf, is an indeterminate time. It is the moment when day becomes night, when just briefly at dusk, one thing can be taken for another: friend for foe, sleep for death, you for me, dog for wolf. These scenes from a coast where the Roman fleet is thought to have first landed in Britain—in a language thought to be closest in sound to spoken Latin—are part of an ongoing philosophical enquiry set on the historic Isle of Thanet. The screenplay is adapted from writings by Virginia Woolf and Raul Ruiz. (Julia Dogra-Brazell)
the problem is that everything is fleeting (2015) by Karly Stark (US); digital video, b&w, sound, 1 minute
A poetry film on anxiety, love and the cosmos. (Karly Stark)
Special Thanks and recognition for support and inspiration for this program are extended to Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, the Canyon Cinema Foundation and the Luis De Jesus Gallery Los Angeles.