Alexandra Cuesta: Films & Influences

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At the invitation of art cinema OFFoff, Courtisane is very pleased to present a program composed of films made and chosen by artist and filmmaker Alexandra Cuesta (EC/US). Inspired as much by Walker Evans‘s reticent street photography as by Bruce Baillie’s sensuous film poems, her work manages to strike a delicate balance between the mundane and the poetic, the material and the intelligible. Public places and urban landscapes are observed in their splendor and singularity through the abstract and vernacular figures of everyday life, exploring the constructions of space and structures of time that can be found in the order and disorder of people’s daily movements and environments. These filmic portraits in motion, elegantly composed of textures of light and fragments of bodies, are reminiscent of an approach that Flaubert once referred to as an “absolute way of seeing things”, manifesting the sensible intensities of the most ordinary things, on the point of disentangling the connections that make them into functional objects. It is precisely in this point of tension that the sensibility of Alexandra Cuesta’s work is situated, perpetually oscillating between a fleeting play of correspondences and a surface of percepts and affects that is there for us to engage with.


- Beirut 2.14.05 (Alexandra Cuesta, US/EC, 2008, 16mm, colour, 7')
Shot in Beirut, Lebanon during the filming of Ca Sera Beau, From Beyrouth with Love by Wael Nourredine.

- Despedida (Farewell) (Alexandra Cuesta , US/EC, 2013, 16mm, colour, 10')
Shot in Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, this neighborhood historically formed by cultural transition resonates with the poetry of local resident Mapkaulu Roger Nduku. Verses about endings, looking and passing through open up the space projected. A string of tableaus gather a portrait of place and compose a goodbye letter to an ephemeral home.

- In the Street (Helen Levitt, James Agee & Ed Howard, US, 1948, 16mm, b&w, 13')
“In The Street is reportage as art. It reports the facts, but for their useless beauty above all. While it could be argued that the film tells us how working class residents of Spanish Harlem lived in the 30’s and 40’s - how they looked and behaved, the addition of expository narration could have told us so much more. Statistics and other facts could have helped us put what we see into context and multiplied the use-value of the film. The absence of narration or other texts proves the artist’s intent that we are intended to enjoy the film as a collection of beautiful appearances.” (Roy Arden)

- Los Angeles Station (Leandro Katz, US, 1976, 16mm, colour, 10')
“Leandro Katz’s simplest, most direct and probably least ambitious film and yet in many ways it is his loveliest. The results of the systematically structured material is unexpectedly stirring. Because of the impersonal method of construction, the freeze frames are not the result of sudden sentimental tugs. The count sometimes falls very conveniently on an image of natural poses, strikingly set against the backdrop; but just as often, the freeze frame is of a bare wall or an alleyway. The mechanical tension between the handheld camera’s panning and the systematic stops creates disarmingly simple, evocative effects. The freeze may halt a pan or simply congeal an already held moment. In the first case, an image often ends up de-centered, highlighting the broadside of the shack-like dwellings with their inhabitants crowded at the edge. Or, alternatively, a smiling boy, full of animate life and sensuousness, suddenly becomes an anthropological document, frozen evidence of a time, a place, and a culture.” (Tony Pipolo)

- Passage (Ernie Gehr, US, 2003, 16mm, colour, 14')
Composed of two intercutting shots of the S-Bahn elevated train through former East Berlin taken before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gehr presents a mundane, yet illuminating glimpse of the profound cultural and economic changes in his ancestral homeland as seen through the city’s transformed - and almost unrecognizable - urban architecture.

- Piensa en Mi (Alexandra Cuesta, US/EC, 2009, 16mm, colour, 15')
Moving from east to west and back, the windows of a bus frame fleeting sections of urban landscape. Throughout the day, images of riders, textures of light and fragments of bodies in space come together to weave a portrait in motion; a contemplative meditation on public transport in the city of Los Angeles. Isolation, routine and everyday splendor, create the backdrop of this journey, while the intermittent sounds of cars construct the soundscape.

- Recordando El Ayer (Alexandra Cuesta, US/EC, 2007, 16mm, colour, 8')
Shot in Queens, NY in 2004. Memory and identity are observed through textures of everyday life in a portrait of Jackson Heights, home to a large Latin American immigrant population. Images of street, people, and daily rituals render passing of time in a neighborhood that becomes a mirror not just of another place, but also of the past. The landscape visually reflects the space as a creation of a new home while revealing displacement within the new condition. The meaning of home is explored and built upon collective recollection.

- Soledad (Meditations on Revolution, Part III) (Robert Fenz, US, 2001, 16mm, b&w, 14')
Part three of Robert Fenz’ silent black and white series of films that explore the meaning and the resonance of the word “revolution”, shot in Mexico and New York. “The films of Robert Fenz can never be subject to the principles of static analysis: their potential of subversion is always at work. However some traits are common to his entire oeuvre: the critical conscience, the political engagement (which differs from militantism), the desire to know what the shadows withhold, the passion for the other. Fenz reaffirms these prominent traits of his artistic humanist heritage innovating in the construction of a visual sensitivity which opens up elemental questions of idealism from concrete, sensitive and physical observation. Following the path of rhythm, creative improvisation and kinetic description, his cinematographic oeuvre develops a style that is founded on a profound faith on the power of the image – as a source of communication, as a critical tool, as an interior necessity.” (Gabriella Trujillo)

- Valentin de las Sierras (Bruce Baillie, US, 1971, 16mm, colour, 16')
“I just shot simply but used a telephoto lens with an extension tube on the back, which gives you a very limited focal plane, a few inches. No one I know ever uses it with a long lens, especially with a moving subject, but I really liked the way it looked. I had to get into the flesh of that town, with the merciless sun beating into the bricks of the street and all the death-every night there’d be something or somebody killed, lying in the street in the morning. I had met up with this (archetypal) young girl, riding her pony. And I was afraid to meet her father. I’d sent word out trying to see her, and he sent word back to come meet him, and I thought, “Oh, God!”. But he turned out to be a very nice fellow: Manuel Sasa Zamora, of Jalisco. They were very poor and lived behind a big gate and had a horse and a dog named Penquina. That horse didn’t like me and would not let me film. I had to give it up for a while. Later, I named my horse after the film – Valentina.” (Bruce Baillie)



Monday, February 17, 2014 - 20:30


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