certainty is becoming our nemesis

program online March 27–May 2, 2020
presented in partnership with McEvoy Foundation for the Arts

Pictured: Jean Luc Nancy (2018) by Antoinette Zwirchmayr

certainty is becoming our nemesis is guest curated by Steve Polta of San Francisco Cinematheque. The program is produced and was commissioned by McEvoy Foundation for the Arts in conjunction with Orlando, guest curated by Tilda Swinton and organized by Aperture, New York.

A note from the organizers: The world has become profoundly more uncertain due to the spread of COVID-19 since certainty is becoming our nemesis debuted at McEvoy Foundation for the Arts’ San Francisco gallery in early February 2020 alongside the exhibition Orlando. In light of the gallery’s temporary closure to combat the pandemic, San Francisco Cinematheque and McEvoy Arts have partnered to make the program available online in its entirety through May 2, 2020 in the hopes that the works of these extraordinary artists may provide comfort, inspiration, and even escapism to viewers worldwide during this very uncertain time. Cinematheque is proud to present this version of certainty is becoming our nemesis as its inaugural online exhibition.

 certainty is becoming our nemesis

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. (Tilda Swinton, “Orlando: Spirit of the Age,” Aperture, Summer 2019, #235)

If John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33” and its landmark performance are seen as a refusal to commit or to perform, then it should be said that the piece also inaugurated an aesthetic of ambiguity and expressionlessness, one that has whispered like a queer phantom through Western art. Today, as the boundaries between self-expression and participatory surveillance—in both public settings as well as online platforms—are becoming increasingly blurred, ambiguity of identity has manifested for many as a crucial survival strategy and act of social and political defiance. 

At the same time, as discourse on gender fluidity has become much more mainstream, it has extended into a rich and exciting new canon of contemporary artworks. The film and video works in certainty is becoming our nemesis illustrate this trend, foregrounding the expansive possibilities of personal invention and the assertion of self in radically new frameworks. Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando, as well as Sally Potter’s 1992 film interpretation—with Tilda Swinton’s defiantly ambiguous portrayal of the title character—are deeply prescient to this moment in which certainty, as a principle, is in question. 

Drawing inspiration from the resonant exhibition Orlando, certainty is becoming our nemesis presents works on themes of transformation, self-invention, gender performance and family—chosen and otherwise. While flirting with notions of timelessness and perpetuity, these works refute notions of stability and offer radical gestures of intimacy. (Steve Polta, January 2020)

Riverbody (1970) by Alice Anne Parker

This continuous dissolve of eighty-seven male and female nudes announces a cinematic interest in ambiguity of identity that precedes twenty-first century discourses. Posed in a darkened non-space and accompanied by an amniotic soundtrack of gently lapping waves, the film’s subjects seemingly exist outside of time, in an ever-shifting state of migrating personality and gender. www.aliceanneparker.com
Special thanks to Canyon Cinema Foundation.

Métamorphoses du Papillon (2013) by Pere Ginard

Recalling the works of Joseph Cornell, Pere Ginard’s films and collages explore early cinema, home movies and childhood. Concluding with a citation of French cinematic pioneer Gaston Velle’s 1904 film of the same name, Ginard’s darkly celebratory film presents an impressionist vision of rebirth and transformation. www.pereginard.com

The Queen of Material (2014) by Rajee Samarasinghe

The films of Rajee Samarasinghe elegantly synthesize portraiture, materiality and evocative meditations on family and Sri Lankan culture. This elusively brief work pays homage to filmmaker Kenneth Anger while envisioning a primordial world of sensual and regal adornment seemingly conjured by a mysterious dreamer. www.rajeesamarasinghe.com

Facial Weaponization Communiqué: Fag Face (2012) by Zach Blas

Zach Blas’ works refract an activist’s vision through science fiction and a dystopian critique of twenty-first century culture. Facial Weaponization Suite scrutinizes racialized and gendered tendencies of contemporary surveillance infrastructure, while Fag Face posits how anti-surveillance technology might provide activists access to “a fog of queerness that refuses to be recognized.” www.zachblas.info

Rote Linie (2015/2016) by Rosa John

An improvised and performative self-portrait, Rosa John’s Rote Linie confronts the viewer with an abstracted and symbolically defaced body. Simultaneously intimate and alienating, the subtly confrontational film makes a complex statement on introspection, interiority and, ultimately, the inscrutability of identity.

Shape of a Surface (2017) by Nazli Dinçel

Nazli Dinçel uses her hand-held camera as an extension of eye and body to explore the Turkish ruins of Aphrodisias, using mirrors to both conceal and reveal a destabilized landscape. Echoing Viviane Sassen’s work in the exhibition, which explores expressions of power and sexuality inherent in relics of seventeenth century French royalty, Dinçel’s film juxtaposes human bodies with views of decaying statuary, evoking intimations of both eternity of form and the brevity of existence. www.nazlidincel.com

Unison (2013–2017) by Zackary Drucker

With its non-linear structure, Zackary Drucker’s dreamlike Unison imagines phases of an always evolving trans identity existing simultaneously over an idyllic afternoon. A similarly complex examination of gender and sexuality is seen in Drucker’s 2019 series Rosalyne (on view in the exhibition). Both works illustrate the artist’s ongoing documentation of transgender legacies, relationships and experiences through portraiture and collaboration. www.zackarydrucker.com

Jean Luc Nancy (2018) by Antoinette Zwirchmayr

This foreboding, science fiction vignette contemplates philosopher Jean Luc Nancy’s ruminations on community, individuality and alienation. In an oblique interior narrative, an individual considers her relationship to the group, weighing considerations of security and community against the imperatives of following one’s own path. www.antoinettezwirchmayr.com

Between Dog and Wolf (2018) by Julia Dogra-Brazell

With sparse, elemental imagery and a multivalent narrative voice collaged from texts by Virginia Woolf and filmmaker Raul Ruiz, Between Dog and Wolf considers liminal states of transition and uncertainty. In a disruptive assertion of autonomy, an aloof figure regards the viewer before returning to a state of defiant disengagement. www.juliadograbrazell.com

the problem is that everything is fleeting (2015) by Karly Stark

A visual poem of expansive, annihilating love. With a hesitant yet ardently passionate voice, Karly Stark’s brief film suggests eternity of being and infinity of self. www.karlystark.com

Program Notes by Steve Polta

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.