Piles and piles of dusty ‘banana’ boxes stacked on 6 pallets, handwritten scribbles and stickers: Pretty much every archivist’s nightmare awaited me on the first day of my internship at the EYE collection center. I was taken on to assist experimental film curator Simona Monizza on the rather extraordinary (for EYE standards) Peter Rubin collection. Consisting of mostly VHS (and Super VHS) tapes, photographic slides, audio cassettes, an immense amount of documents but also some 16mm reels and even floppy disks, this project is outside the EYE’s comfort zone. This collection was donated to the EYE by the Amsterdam VJ academy in 2016 since it seemed like a logical home considering Peter Rubin’s film collection is already stored at the EYE. The second week (of my four month long internship) is coming to an end, and this blogpost is to share with you the progression of the challenging Peter Rubin collection.
Before I dive into the progress of this collection, some words about Peter Rubin and his work. Rubin was born in 1941 in the U.S.A. and studied filmmaking at the New York University. In 1968 Rubin moves to Amsterdam where he continues his career as a filmmaker. In 1976 he starts working for Holland Experimental Film (HEF) until well into the 1980’s. The 80’s were the real turning point for Rubin’s career as he digresses from film and enters the glitchy wonderland that is VHS. It was then that Rubin started working at the infamous Amsterdam club Mazzo as their in-house VJ (Video Jockey). Rubin worked 7 days a week at the Mazzo producing live video shows everyday until Mazzo finally closed its doors in 1989. At that point Peter Rubin’s career was at its highest point and it was then that Rubin started VJing in Germany in the Techno collectives Mayday and Love Parade. He worked closely with the renowned German DJ Westbam producing the collection of music videos “A Practicing Maniac at Work”. At the time he still kept Amsterdam as his base and also worked in several parties at the Panama and Melkweg and raves like Immortality and Awakenings. He lived most his life in Amsterdam but soon before his death moved to Berlin until he passed away in 2015. After his death the VJ academy with the help of his family and friends managed to collect all his work and belongings which is now in the possession of the EYE.
For this project we have decided to focus on Rubin’s VJ work in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as we see it as the core of this collection, and assess the overlaps between his film and VJ practice. Once the research phase is done, the goal is to preserve and digitize a number of VHS tapes we find critical and eventually be able to reconstruct one of his shows. But before we get to that, we have to sort out the collection we acquired from the VJ academy which is what we are focusing our efforts on at this moment. The collection arrived at the EYE in boxes Rubin put together himself with his written notes on them. These boxes contained his works as well as a lot of his personal belongings; from postcards to sweaters to an entire boxes of taped sports championships (see figure 2), VHS tapes with anything related to 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, and it is tapes like these which prove to be one of the main problematics of this project.
Figure 2. Euro and World Cup Soccer championship tapes
The first two weeks consisted of a lot of inventorying, sorting and carrying boxes. The pallets we focused on were those which contain boxes of VHS tapes (namely pallets 1 and 3). Each pallet consists of ~20 boxes and each box fits 69-72 tapes, so a total of ~2400 tapes and the boxes were given an individual number.
In the beginning of this process we were very thorough, giving an inventory number and cataloguing each tape in a spreadsheet. Each tape got a unique inventory number which indicated Peter Rubin (PR), the given box number and their given tape number. So the first tape of box 34 would indicate PR-34-001 (see figure 3). This strategy, although the most thorough, proved to be extremely time consuming. I could only get through 2 boxes in each day which meant working on each box for 3.5 hours nonstop. We found that a lot of tapes seemed entirely personal, movies he liked, sports matches and world news which meant a lot of work thoroughly inventorying tapes which would likely be discarded later in the process.
Figure 3. Box 34 inventoried with individual numbers
After an interview with Daan Nolen from the VJ academy which was illuminating on Peter Rubin’s and VJ workflow in general, we decided to change our strategy. Instead of inventorying each and every tape we decided to go through boxes and mark the tapes we thought would be most relevant and take photos to document everything (See Figure 4). The photos would then be sent to people who are more knowledgeable on Rubin’s work and then be checked to see if we missed marking any important tape in our selection. Of course this method runs the risk of missing something that could potentially be important but the limited time and funds do not allow a deeper investigation at this time. Our motto is: “When in doubt, mark it!”. This change of strategy proved to be faster and more efficient in terms of output and as I write this, we managed to go through all of the boxes with VHS tapes and can definitely say that we have a much clearer overview of what is in the VHS collection.
Figure 4. Tapes marked with the green dot as important.
The above process ran rather smoothly but there are some issues we faced which I will highlight in the following paragraphs. Firstly, a main issue we dealt with at this moment is deciphering what is on the tapes. Fortunately most tapes have some sort of identifiable text and from viewing some tapes we discovered that the text matches the content. The issues with the texts is that they range from a number, to an event name, or in a lot of cases a large amount of content information which at times is rather obscure (See figure 5). A number of tapes also contain pieces of paper, a lot of the time with what we discovered to be time codes relating to specific images (see figure 6). In time a lot of these texts became more and more clear. For example we found a number of “Barb” tapes, which in the beginning we thought referred to Barbie but later on I found out that they refer to a specific event series at the Panama in Amsterdam called “Barbarella”. Similarly a lot of tapes referred to an Elsa which I discovered refers to Elsa Wormeck a.k.a. Elsa for Toys, a VJ who worked with Rubin in the Love Parade parties and at the production company Mediamorph in Berlin. The abbreviations IMM refers to Immortality (a party in Amsterdam), NF refers to No Frontiers another event in the Netherlands, TJ to Tape Jockey and LP could refer to either Love Parade or Long play (a method of recording content on a tape which allows for more content in less space). Though these names and abbreviations have become clearer, some are still obscure, for example he used the abbreviation NG, ODY, SLUV and LIB a number of times and the name Jos is constantly reappearing but we do not know what and whom Rubin is referring to (if anyone has any idea do let us know).
Figure 5. Example of tape with a lot of content information.
Figure 6. Example of paper note with information inside tapes
Figure 7. IMM tapes referring to the Immortality parties
Furthermore another question, which is also a more ethical one, is what to do with all the content tapes we have received. We call content tapes, tapes which contain material directly recorded from television, either for inspiration or for entertainment, these tapes can also be referred to as “source” tapes. Being a VJ, Rubin relied heavily on not only the animators and technicians who worked with and for him, but a great part of his work process was taping footage directly from television. A lot of the time he would tape entire TV programs but then would copy an excerpt from them and would add it to a compilation tape, thus: Do we then keep the source tape (what we also call content tape) or simply the compilation tape? The line between the tapes he used for his work and the tapes he used for his personal entertainment is permeable and thin. This question is then followed up by another issue: Copyrights. A lot of these TV programs have different authors and owners which EYE does not have the rights to. Of course this is not a problem if the material will never be published or used but simply kept as a document of Rubin’s work flow, but their storing also requires space.
In the coming weeks we will continue inventorying and hopefully start the process of making some selections for digitization.
By Eleni Tzialli (Intern Experimental Film Collection)Tag:experimentele film, filmcollectie, VHS, tape, VJ, Peter Rubin, media art
As a strong believer in new forms of ‘collection outreach’, I’m very happy to have been part of an exciting collaboration with the prestigious Art and Design Academy ArtEZ in Arnhem. This year we commissioned an art work to Michelle van Ool, studying at the Interaction Design Department of ArtEZ, who was asked to find inspiration for her work in our collection. The brief was to engage with the material aspects of our film collection and to bring them under the attention of a wider audience. Without concrete goals in mind, we encouraged a reflection on the characteristics of the medium film. The student was quite free to choose any form or path that suited her.
During the following three months, Michelle was shown films from our nitrate and acetate collection with distinguishable and unique physical characteristics, as an inspiration source. It was clear from the beginning that as an interaction designer and a maker, she was interested in building a machine. Eventually she decided to focus on the technical process of film duplication and the importance of the negative as the ‘authentic’ carrier of information.
The result of this process is a machine called MEDIATED REALITY. This machine is able to perform film developing and printing in real time.
The idea behind MEDIATED REALITY is based upon Michelle’s fascination with the concept of visual perception and how reliable the medium of film is. With her machine she reveals the reproductive characteristics of the medium film and the loss of information inherent to the process of copying. Michelle concentrated her research on a specific film collection: the left overs of Naughty Boys by Eric de Kuyper. These left overs contained undeveloped footage locked in cans for more than 30 years.
In her own words: ‘Photographs often serve as proof of evidence in crime scenes. In the past, negatives were used because these are the first results of developing film. Mediated Reality is a machine that questions the reliability of this medium. This machine is able to both develop and copy film right away… By making a contact print of the original negative film, a positive copy emerges. During this process of copying, many other negatives are produced, which start to look completely different from the original movie’.
The machine allows you to watch in real time how a film reel is developed. The whole process of fixing and drying takes about 20 minutes. While some of us are familiar with this photographic process happening in the dark room of photographers, I was never able to see how ‘film’ develops before. Normally this process takes place in chemical tanks in film laboratories and is never visible. During the performance, the machine is working under the safe red light which allows the orthochromatic film stock (less sensitive to red light) to develop and copy itself unto another stock and produce first a negative and then a positive and then again a negative and so on. Every time the copy ‘appears’ under your eyes, it differs from the previous one. This is due to different factors like the chemicals getting older, the exposure time of the light source, the ‘slippage’ caused by the motor driving the film through the machine. All factors which are difficult to predict or even control and which give rise to surprising visual results when the copies are projected onto a screen.
The remarkable thing about this project is how Michelle van Ool, without prior knowledge of the film medium, managed to achieve these results by means of research and practical experimentation. In only three months she was able to get a grip on how the process of film developing and printing works and to design and build the machine from scratch.
The machine has been recently exhibited at the ArtEZ Academy as part of their final exam exhibition and I went there to see it working during a performance given by Michelle. Even though I had seen photographs of the machine before I was stunned to see how its complexity was translated into aesthetic beauty and functionality. MEDIATED REALITY is really well-thought and designed and it gives a fascinating insight into the magical world of the film medium from a young emerging artist’s perspective.
It is therefore an honour for us to add MEDIATED REALITY to our collection. Hopefully this machine will be exhibited and performed in and outside of EYE in the near future.
For this project I would like to personally thank Martijn van Boven, lecturer at the Interaction Design Department who has supported this collaboration from the start. Special thanks to Mark-Paul Meyer who guided Michelle in the difficult world of film development. And of course Michelle herself with her inquisitive and open curiosity towards our world of film heritage.
For more information and to see the machine at work, you can clcik here.
By Simona Monizza, Curator Experimental film, EYE Filmmuseum.Tag:experimental film, experimentele film, materialiteit, materiality, film medium, installaties, installation, interaction design, film stock
At the end of last year we began work on the collection of films in our archive by the Dutch documentary filmmaker Leonard M. Henny (4 August 1935 - 17 September 2011), donated to EYE before his death. Henny was a politically engaged filmmaker, what you would call a guerrilla filmmaker, but also a writer and professor with an academic background in sociology and Urban planning. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spent much of his life moving between America and Europe, residing in Berlin, Cambridge Massachusetts, San Francisco, St. Louis Missouri, Micronesia and Venezuela. Throughout his life he worked as a professor and researcher at several American and Dutch Universities. During his time at the Sociological Institute of the University of Utrecht he coached various sociology students in documentary filmmaking.
Henny was interested in the use of film as a tool to depict the elements of social, political and economic change that were taking place throughout America and Europe. He was mostly active as a filmmaker in the 1960s and 1970s. Much of his own work documents the Black Power Movement and the impact of the Vietnam war, both in Vietnam and in the United States. Henny was driven by the belief that film can be used as a platform for engaging people in discussion in order to harness a good understanding and much-needed solidarity with those groups or individuals in society who are oppressed or continually subjected to injustices.
“The main purpose of my films is to provide information on social problems from the point of view of people who are confronted with the problems, and who want to change them. In this way, the films provide graphic knowledge, and become a tool for people in universities, schools, churches and community groups to stimulate constructive discussion of the issues of our time…Thus, films provide an opportunity for people to meet with others with similar interests who are willing to engage themselves in efforts to change this world into a better place to live.” Leonard Henny
Whilst we were identifying and analysing Henny’s films we came across one film can labelled “Peace Pickets Original”. Within this can we found a fragment of a 16mm film reel which contains silent colour footage of Martin Luther King Jr entering Santa Rita Rehabilitation Centre. The footage, which is in excellent condition, depicts King being driven to the prison in a white car and then cuts to him, presumably upon exiting the prison, getting out of the car and delivering an impromptu speech to a crowd of anti-war protesters. After conducting thorough research on this subject matter we found that Martin Luther King was visiting the prison in Santa Rita on January 14th 1968 in order to visit his friend, the folk singer and activist, Joan Baez. Baez had been arrested, along with her mother and her sister, for “disturbing the peace” at an anti-Vietnam war demonstration. In Leonard Henny’s film “Peace Pickets Arrested for Disturbing the Peace” - a documentary depicting the early draft resistance demonstrations - there is clear footage of Baez’s arrest.
The speech King delivered outside the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Centre was recorded by Pacifica Coast Radio and can be found here.
Footage of an Interview with Joan Baez (courtesy of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive) on the day she was released from prison can be found here.
At this stage we are still researching this important collection with the idea to start preservation on the films, including this special find, in the near future, aiming to generate interest in these rarely seen documents witnessing major social changes of its time. This is now just a first step in this direction and we will come back with updates during the process.
Simona Monizza, curator Experimental Film & Ruth Sweeney, intern.Tag:Martin Luther King Jr, Leonard Henny, experimental film, experimentele film, Joan Baez