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