Stan Brakhage: in Search of the Sublime
Type of activity: Audiovisual series and conference
Date: 14 - 31 October 2004
Place: Sabatini Building, first floor, Auditorium
Curated by: Joseph Jacobs
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía presents a retrospective of the work of Stan Brakhage (Kansas City, 1933 - Victoria, 2003), a pioneer in experimental and avant-garde film on the East Coast of the United States whose work is always alert to the possibilities inherent in film to capture images beyond the capabilities of the eye of the camera. As Paul Arthur has noted, viewers encountering a Brakhage film for the first time “often find the experience daunting and more than a little puzzling” since “the visual approach by which Brakhage renders images of things…places [them] at the edge of recognisability. It is not that a particular image is perceived as abstract - although a number of his films, or parts of films, are decidedly non-representational - but that our ability to easily and comprehensively order what we see into fixed semantic categories seems short-circuited.”
Brakhage investigates the very nature of cinema using the materiality of the physical film, the surface of which provides fertile soil for experimentation, from the markings and scratches that the filmmaker applied directly to the celluloid to the manipulation entailed in painting on it. Here, film acquires value as a found object, as a surface to be drawn on or because of the transformative properties in experimental developing processes and the specific uses of the film projector, which the filmmaker used to maximise visual perception in his work with the moving image.
From the way in which he holds and uses the camera to the importance accorded to light, which creates a unique sensation of movement, Brakhage drags the viewer to his particular form of seeing. In his first book, Metaphors of Vision, Brakhage describes his work as an adventure of perception. From this point of view, the viewer watching the films - from those that last a few seconds like Eye Myth (1967) to longer productions like A Child’s Garden and the Serious Sea (1991) - accepts the challenge of learning to see anew. Brakhage also plays with collage, for example in Mothlight (1963), a film in which he pressed moth wings between two strips of celluloid. The resulting film conveys dynamic tension through the small objects trapped on the frame that sparkle on the screen for a mere half second, revealing what Nicky Hamlyn called the “highly volatile world of light” contained in the objects filmed by Brakhage.