It’s a positive/negative thing. Where a film’s emulsion gets removed, the light passes through to create an image. The distinction between absence and presence gets blurred. I like to relate it back to the natural world. Like a flower breaking soil, or a cloud passing over the sun. And these cycles mimic the revolving discs of the camera. I think it’s all very poetic. “Like a river. Flowing seamlessly. A step, in the water, breaking the seamlessness. Only to bring it back together, again. And again”.
Yours is a kind of work that uses the meaning of the medium but without using some of its normal instruments. You do cinema without a camera, by scratching the film or using other experimental possibilities; you paint without using brushes, using the cinematic dimension…
I do use the camera sometimes. But I don’t feel obliged to use it the way instruction books tell me. I like to be surprised and watch to see things I could not have expected. I find something in complete control to be very flat. When filming, the camera is on my side, I see through it. The film is on the other side. I don’t see it at all. I am constantly divided. Between becoming, and being. Film is sight in the process of rediscovering itself by way of a material support. Scratching is process of being. I am dealing with the material itself, and not what supports its production. Not what supports my reproduction, but reinforces, in a way, the vulnerability of my existence.
Impressionism – the first avant-garde movement – wanted to give creative answers to questions such as: how is possible to make artistic films today? And your answer?
Possibility is simple, it’s just an act. Why we act, that’s complicated, and impossible for me to answer at the moment. The history of other actions, I find that beautiful, and how we live with it around us, living with us, even when it’s not there. That’s interesting. Movies are closely connected to death in that way, I think – as photographs are, and recorded music. Art categorizes (movements) that all happen after the fact. “Artistic films” isn’t a term I use very often. They are films. Just films. Movies. And for me – I can only speak for me – my movies are a reflection of something that I cannot really articulate with words. That’s why they go towards visual language.
In the series “The W. Lee Prints #1-10”, the title refers, among other things, to the protagonist of William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Often in your work there are allusions to literature, film and personal experiences. Is this an important element in your creative process?
There are allusions to literature, film and personal experiences, but it is not important that these be known. Almost the opposite. I do not wish for others to know really what I think, I don’t like the idea of telling people what they should see. Hopefully it is open enough there can be many interpretations. For me, it’s just another layer of my reflection... or a personal way to mark the time and moment. But it’s true, I like people to find their own meaning and way.
courtesy: Galerie Eva Presenhuber - Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zürich
Often you do collaborative work, do you feel a particular need? And can you tell something about the collective Cinema Zero?
When I organize a Cinema Zero evening, I think of that entire act as my real linear narrative film/movie. It becomes hooked to time in the straight and narrow and brings the present and history together. In true film fashion… it has many sources and no source at the same time.
Steven Parrino was part of it…
Yes, Cinema Zero started in fall 2004 with the help and support of Steven Parrino and Olivier Mosset. The idea was to have a space where movies could be screened, and music performances, dance performances, and painting and sculpture exhibitions all could take place. With my background in film, and having worked on and been exposed to films in this avant-garde archive (Filmmakers Cooperative NYC), I just wanted more of my artist friends to know about these great old movies. And also have there be a situation again where all these things could blend together. When I found a space, I invited a selection of friends/artists/curators to start this with me. They could of course “program” things in the space as well. Richard Aldrich (painter/musician), Felicia Ballos (dancer), Gabrielle Giatanno (curator), Fabienne Stefan (curator).
Tell me something about your first event, where was it?
Our first event was a great hit. It freaked out the landlord because of the number of people in the space (it was a basement in Brooklyn). Fire code anxiety, he kicked us right out of the space. Then Steven died, just around the exact same time. The idea just sort of froze for a while, then Gabrielle, who worked at the Swiss Institute in NY as her day job, had me do it there. Then other places, along with showing my work, would ask me to program “filmic events” blending all these people and things together… in a hosting space. It became nomadic. Bringing together friends and like-minded artists, screening movies from the 1920s to today, having the screening break with a music performance or a dance piece, having a painting show installed around it, just for one night. I think it is an interesting way to introduce some film works into the art context, still thinking and looking at them in terms of time and space... that are in “movie” terms... which is interesting, I think. Most often when film is brought into art context, it shifts to fit other terms. Sometimes that is great, and can be what the work is about... but anyway... yes...
Is it possible to consider your work “calligraphic”?
Anything is possible.