In the recent work of Ken Jacobs, showcased this month in an exhibit on tank.tv curated by Mark Webber, the beginning and end of the 20th century ingest one another in a technological uroboros. A central name in American experimental film since the century's middle, Jacobs has now virtually abandoned shooting and editing celluloid in favor of digital production. In works like Capitalism: Child Labor (2006) and New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903 (2006), Jacobs mines images from near 1900, taking delight in twisting and strobing them using digital editing, creating new works that revive the visual novelty of pre-cinematic optical toys and explore the hidden three-dimensionality of their source materials. The effects mimic similar patterns that Jacobs has executed live for years in his Nervous System performances, using altered projection devices of his own making; some of these epic events he has recreated in fixed form, including Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy (2005) and Two Wrenching Departures (2006). For tank.tv's exhibit, Jacobs has wisely excerpted ten minutes or less from these and other longer works, which in their originals can run into triple-digit minutes. It's a wisely pragmatic decision to offer only samples online rather than the whole shebang, given the challenged attention span available to the typical internet surfer, but this does mean that the grandly symphonic nature of Jacobs's work is barely conveyed; users are granted but a taste. Jacobs's sampler is rounded out with a selection of early film work, which range from downtown Beatnik romps featuring Jack Smith to the canonical structural film Tom, Tom the Piper's Son (1969-71), a rigorous investigation of Edison's composition, to his exquisite exercise in "found cinema," Perfect Film (1985), which reprints enigmatic lost local TV news fragments from the day ...
It's been said that necessity is the mother of all invention. That is, that true innovators were often responding to a lack of materials in crafting their art. This seems particularly true in the field of filmic media, where art history offers us so many examples, ranging from the Soviet KINO school's use of rearranged bits of paper to fine-tune the practice of montage to Britain's early-80s Scratch Video movement. The latter is the subject of an exhibition at London's Seventeen Gallery, May 28th-June 28th. "SCRATCH" presents work by intimate colleagues George Barber, The Duvet Brothers, Goldbacher & Flitcroft, and Gorilla Tapes, each of whom participated in this movement that involved sourcing material directly from existing broadcasts and other moving images sources, and often reprocessing them with what were then the latest in video editing techniques and tools. While all of the these artists' work responds largely to the new creative possibilities afforded by the birth of the VCR, Seventeen points out that they took this work in two distinct directions: politics and aesthetics. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive!) The Duvet Brothers and Gorilla Tapes directly engaged the Thatcher/Reagan new world order of conservativism and the ongoing issues in Northern Ireland with an anti-establishment ethos that marked all of their works. Their peers in the show explored visual styles ranging from dreams to pop music videos, imbuing their sources with rhythm, pulse, and a new life. If you're in the area, come check-out this often under-recognized work whose copious imitators, in the last two decades, are a testament to its influence and staying power. - Marisa Olson
"Stereo," Christian Marclay's first solo exhibition at San Francisco's Fraenkel Gallery, surveys "concepts of doubling and echoes" across the American artist's career. Since the mid-1970s, Marclay has uniquely navigated the visual and sonic realms, exploring the materiality of equipment like the gramophone, turntables and record through processes that foreground what the artist calls the "unwanted sounds" of the mediums: the clicks, pops, scratches and deterioration that hold "expressive power" in themselves. In the past decade, Marclay has extended his position as cultural archivist with acclaimed installations like Video Quartet (2001) and Crossfire (2007), respectively comprising sequences of musical performance and gunshots assembled from dozens of feature-films.
Consisting of twenty-five works -- the majority of them two-dimensional -- "Stereo" offers a timely retrospective of a side of Marclay's practice not always given due attention relative to his video and audio-based work. For Yin and Yang (1983), from his Recycled Records (1980-1986) series, Marclay cuts and reassembles two records according to the yin-yang design, rendering an unplayable product that also signifies turntable culture's collage ethos. This approach can also be observed in paper works like Untitled (1984) and Double Tuba (1992), both of which find the artist producing fanciful modifications to instruments and equipment through paper collage. Seen within the broader scope of Marclay's body of work, these objects offer examples of how visual art can provide conceptual space to reimagine sound and sound technology. -- Tyler Coburn