With its focus on slide film, a medium for which slides are driven through one or more slide carousels, OFFoff’s exhibition Still Moving explores the boundaries of the film medium. Slide film is situated somewhere in the twilight zone where photo, film and experiment meet, calling to mind film classics such as Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Put into sequence, the still images generate movement and allude to the pre-cinema era, with Eadweard Muybridge’s photo sequences and the first films by the Lumière brothers and Thomas Edison.
Apart from Muybridge and the rise of “real” moving images, slide projection made it possible to show a fast succession of images to general audiences. Brought to perfection by Kodak, slide carousels became a household device in many a meeting, class or living room. They were to remain there until in the sixties and seventies a crop of conceptual artists would put them back into an experimental - this time a visual arts - context. Fascinated by Muybridge’s photographic experiments and attracted by the democratic and anti-authoritarian nature of the slide film, artists such as Jan Dibbets, Hollis Frampton, Dan Graham, Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim and Marcel Broodthaers extensively applied themselves to this medium. Slide film offered artists who did not feel at home in the elitist art scene a perfect side-step. These creative artists also felt strongly attracted to its indefinable nature: it is neither photo, nor film, nor installation. An intermediary medium which interconnects different art forms is an ideal mode of expression for those who want to cut the ground from under the artistic conventions and are in search of a new role for art in society.
American conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim’s (1938-2011) Stewing Around (1972) represents this period. This will be the first presentation of this work as a slide film in Belgium thanks to a unique cooperation between the Oppenheim Estate and Art Cinema OFFoff. Stewing Around captures Oppenheim’s eponymous performance. By documenting his performance in a slide projection, Oppenheim not only explores the boundaries between photography, performance and film, he also reflects on Roland Barthes’s claim that photography is a performative medium by definition. The use of slide film emphasizes this performative aspect and demands the spectator’s active attitude to ‘read’ the work, as the slides have been put almost haphazardly into the carousel. It is, therefore, no wonder that when Jonas Mekas watched Stewing Around, he wrote in the Movie Journal: "The effect of Dennis Oppenheim's piece is of a slow, very controlled, minimal quality. Of course this piece is the perfect bridge from slides to cinema; it is also a perfect piece to confuse those who are too certain about what cinema is or is not."
If Oppenheim represents the historical note in this exhibition, the other artists each in their own manner illustrate that the slide is still a medium in motion, no longer in the class or living room, perhaps, but the more so in contemporary art.
Austrian Josef Dabernig’s Petržalka (1991) is a fine example of that. Even if Petržalka still closely leans on Dabernig’s photographic work, the series’ tendency to narration clearly reveals Dabernig as a director. In the work of this master of suggestive cinema, nostalgia, alienation and the former Eastern bloc play a prominent part. Thus in Petržalka the taut black and white images, shot in 1989 at a fair in Bratislava, evoke the uncertainty and instability of life in post-communist countries. Dabernig’s films are recalcitrant comments on social structures. We can read the films as allegories of The Great Society, as it is reflected in the tiny (sometimes obsessive) details of everyday life.
In A 240 SECOND ANALYSIS OF FAILURE AND HOPEFULNESS (WITH COKE, VINEGAR AND OTHER TEAR GAS REMEDIES) (2012) Basim Magdy also depicts a society in transition. During the Arabian Spring, Egyptian Magdy photographed the demolition of an apartment building and subsequently developed the images exposing them to vinegar, cola and agents used to get tear gas out of your eyes. Then Magdy inversed the images, making them change from images of a demolition site into images of a construction site. A poetical gesture by Magdy to reveal how demolition can be turned into creation simply by using devices which present themselves spontaneously during the process.
Even though Magdy’s work obviously has strong political connotations, he fascinates precisely by not being explicit and by speaking a purely artistic language. The same thing can be said about Brazilian artist Tamar Guimarães’s A Man called Love (2007). In her fascinating slide film Guimarães tells the true story of Francisco Xavier Candido (1910-2002), a Brazilian psychic who devoted his life to writing down the words spoken to him by the dead and who became immensely popular during the nineteen sixties and seventies. With more than 400 books he is the most prolific psychographer of all time. In his novel Our Home he describes a city where the newly deceased study and work. In a utopian vision of social-democracy he evokes a place with splendid squares and benches where fragile flowers grow amidst lit fountains. Guimarães connects Candido to the social unrest in Brazil and the racial and class struggle during military dictatorship (1964-1985), thus putting the rise of spiritualism into the perspective of utopian socialism and its decline during the dictatorship. A Man Called Love uses archive footage of Candido, demonstrations against the military regime in the late sixties and of spiritual objects produced in Brazil in the thirties and forties.
Floris Vanhoof, for his part, uses slide projection particularly because of the sculptural qualities and the potential of the medium to establish a hybrid form of music, photo and film. In Fossil Locomotion (2016) Vanhoof plunges into his family’s geological collection – stones he and his entire family collected from French fields and deserted quarries. Using manipulated light projection, flickering images, simultaneous projections, rotating slide installations and playful sounds, Vanhoof presents this intimate and personal collection to general audiences. Vanhoof’s quest is not a quest for age-old 'lost' images, but for alternative ways to present images and at the same time generate sound.
Paradoxically enough, the first crop of conceptual artists such as Oppenheim used slide projection precisely because it was widespread, easily accessible and trivial, whereas nowadays the medium is used almost exclusively within the context of the visual arts. Time caught up with the medium and has given it a place in the museum, where it will probably survive – and only there.
This physical history of the analog medium is also the subject of Sample Frames (2011-2012) by Swiss Alexandra Navratil. Sample Frames is the most sculptural work in the exhibition. Navratil’s work opens up history by using the enormous amounts of visual material that remains of political and historical events. For Navratil this material is not only ‘conceptually charged': it also mainly conveys a formal pregnancy, merging form and concept into one and the same. By putting together a gigantic collection of images, new histories emerge or the significance of existing histories is weakened. The decay of the image thus becomes almost the same as the decay of the history it tells.
The images shown in Sample Frames were originally shot on nitrate film. During her research, Navratil came across the Eastman Kodak Tinting and Toning manual. This nineteen twenties publication was intended as a manual for the standardization of colour processes, but at the same time also to promote the Eastman Kodak products. Navatril subsequently travelled to various archives and libraries in the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where she found seventeen different copies of that same manual. The nitrate samples which were included with each manual, were reproduced photographically and now constitute the images for Sample Frames. Four identical images eventually each tell another story because the 'ravages of time' has affected the images differently. Thus the work reflects on the history of the image, on how the physical image is subject to constant manipulation and on how that, in turn, affects the 'conceptual' image in a poetic ensemble.
— Stewing Around (Dennis Oppenheim, US, 1972, colour, dia)
— Petržalka (Josef Dabernich, AT, 1991, b&w, dia, no sound)
— Fossil Locomotion (Floris Vanhoof, BE, 2016, 4 x dia)
— A 240 second analysis of failure and hopefullness (with coke, vinegar and orther tear gas remedies) (Basim Magdy, EG, 2012, colour, dia, no sound)
— A Man called Love (Tamar Guimarães, BR, 2007, b&w, dia)
— Sample Frames (Alexandra Navratil, CH, 2011-2012, 4 x synchronised dia, no sound)
Admission: 7€. Special rate 4€ for students, teachers, 65+, unemployed, CJP-card upon presentation of proof of identity
Free entrance for students and Ghent University personnel
In cooperation with Film Fest Ghent and Ghent University. The exhibition is located at UGent Technicum Block 2, Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 41, Ghent