Using EYE archival footage in exhibitions
Among the most rewarding activities of the EYE Filmmuseum collections, we can count our participation in various recent exhibitions. A few examples using films from our silent film collection are the Alma Tadema exhibition in Fries Museum in Leeuwaarden, Biskra exhibition at the Insitut du Monde Arabe in Paris and the overview exhibition on the Turkish painter Feyhaman Duran at the Sabanci Museum in Istanbul.
None of these exhibitions is about film history, nor about the specific films it incorporates. Each exhibition uses the film fragments to enrich the context in a different way. The exhibition curators search for specific images, with the help of the EYE film curators. Certainly, the possibility to view the films (or fragments) from a distance and to deliver them digitally has made more of this kind of collaborations possible. Thanks to our digital platform (through which we can provide temporary access to professional users), our film collection (or at least the part that is already digitized) is within the reach of any museum curator around the globe.
By looking at each above mentioned exhibition in detail, we can see how the archival footage can be used creatively in different settings and made relevant to the audiences today.
‘Alma Tadema; Classical Charm’ exhibit has a special section about the relationship between Tadema’s paintings and cinema, curated by Ivo Blom. Here, the paintings that seem to have provided inspiration for the later film makers are hung right below the screens showing the film fragments, in approximately the same dimensions. The screens show the selected scene in a loop, demonstrating the similarity between Tadema’s style and the framing, sets and costumes and overall look of the films. Using scenes ranging from more than 100 years old films like Orgie Romaine (FR, 1911) up to recent Hollywood films like Gladiator (USA, 2000), this exhibition uses the film fragments to illustrate the relevance of Tadema’s imagery for today’s audiences. After a very successful run in Leeuwarden the exhibition will now travel to the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.
The temporary exhibition ‘Biskra, Sortiléges d’un Oasis’ at the Insitut du Monde Arabe (curated by Roger Benjamin and Eric Delpont) incorporates cinema in a different way, as the exhibition aims to show the photogénie of this Algerian region and illustrate in which ways it has influenced the arts and culture. The exhibition is divided in sections about photography, architecture, music, cinema, tourism, etc. To screen the films, a small cabin is situated in the middle of the main hall, where a few visitors at a time can sit down, while others can stand behind to watch the films. The selection varies from exotic documentaries showing the region (like the 1923 travelogue selected from EYE) to fragments of well-known fiction films like The Sheik (USA, 1921) starring Rudolph Valentino.
The third example is the exhibition ‘Feyhaman Duran. Between Two Worlds’. Duran (1886-1970) was a prolific painter from Istanbul, who studied in France until 1914. The exhibition is an overview of his career spanning many decades, in which the curators Nazan Ölçer and Hüma Arslaner highlight “the influences that shaped the art of Duran, who left [the Ottoman] empire on the brink of collapse to arrive at the home of art in Paris and returned back to a country in revolutionary transformation. Duran, greatly influenced by impressionist movement during his Parisian education, took up the habit of carrying his canvas to various spots across the city to just sit back and paint. Duran’s landscapes of Süleymaniye, Bosphorus and Istanbul’s islands, provide a comprehensive glimpse of Istanbul’s history.” The exhibition uses documentary footage found at the EYE collection, showing Istanbul and Paris in the early decades of the 20th century, to remind the visitors of the atmosphere of a century ago of these two rapidly changing metropoles. The films are thus used to evoke what the painter had seen, and reflect on the urban development that has taken place in the meantime.
Why is this type of collaboration rewarding for EYE?
This kind of cross-medial use of the early cinema collection confirms the very motivations behind our film collection and preservation policy. Particularly with the silent cinema collection we believe that every meter of film counts; that every holding is unique in its own way, and that it is part of the global collective memory. For this reason, in essence, we do not differentiate between a very short scene showing a farmer’s market in the Balkans around 1914 and the ‘best documentary of all times’ Man with the Camera by Vertov. We find both items worthy of attention and restoration. Sometimes even the smallest fragment of a foreign fiction film can provide the key to an urban restoration project elsewhere, as in the case of Shoes (USA, 1916) and the Pershing Square. Or a seemingly conventional coverage of a news item among many others can turn out to be among the only surviving moving images of an influential event, like the capsized SS Eastland in 1915, or the occupation of the Estonian city of Tartu by the Germans in 1918.
In terms of presentation, we believe that the images we preserve must reach out to the biggest number of viewers as possible. Normally we prefer to present our silent films with live music, on the big screen. In museum exhibitions, although the images are shown on relatively small screens without music (often in a loop), the images get to be seen by thousands of visitors over the course of months, as opposed to the single theatrical screenings scheduled on one specific day and time.
Last but not least, collaboration with other musea and curators from different fields enrich our understanding and provide further inspiration to view our films under a different light, and help strengthen our conviction to treat every single item with special care it deserves.
Films from the EYE Collection used in the above mentioned exhibitions: