Bernard Roddy

Beginning in 1998 with his 16 mm film, Truth, Bernard Roddy made experimental animation, then personal documentary and body art/performance.  His 2008 film, Postcard, his most accomplished work in the "personal" form, covers five years of living with a close partner, Beatriz Flores Gutiérrez.  Prior to undertaking live performance, he completed his most important body art/performance art film, Transit, in 2010.  Roddy's works in 16 mm dating from 2012 and 2013 include four films best described as poetics.  And in 2017 he completed iek in Tulsa, a record of thinking and working with the artist ieke Trinks of the Netherlands. His films have screened at Black Maria, Cinematexas, Ann Arbor, New York and Chicago Undergrounds, Kassel Dokfest, Antimatter, Experiments in Cinema, $100 Film Fest, Montreal Underground, and Australian Experimental Film Festival, among others.


United States


Bernard Roddy's picture

Film and Video, 1998 - 2013

Truth (16 mm, 1998)

This is the first of two experiments in animation involving the transposition of conceptual material to visual form. The film explores what is in philosophical circles called the correspondence or representational theory of truth. Technically, the film demonstrates the power of simple stop-motion technique using cut-outs. The voice-over narration is coordinated with rockabilly music and single-frame motion. Precise synchronization to sound effects enhances the exploration of grace, expression through movement, and timing. Although in color, imagery remains black and white until the final minute. The second such experiment is the film Relativism.

The Sex Life of the Chair (16 mm, 1999)

This film treats the chair as a domesticated animal and develops a theory of its reproductive life in animated drawings. Proposing that the human backside functions like the airborne transmission in plant pollination, the film integrates drawn studies of adolescent chair rotation with a sequence representing a chair’s sexual fantasy of witnessing a dancing pair of bare buttocks. The graphic style eschews the standards for children’s animation in favor of a pseudo-scientific precision.

Relativism (16 mm, 1999)

This is the second of two experiments in 16 mm film animation involving the transposition of conceptual material to visual form. The film continues an earlier study introducing the correspondence theory of truth by addressing objections and utilizing the symbolic potential of color. By means of an elaborate process of multiple-exposures, the same frames were reshot to introduce different colors into different parts of the frame. Instead of relying on the duller reflective colors of objects beneath a camera, vivid color is produced by directing light up into the lens through colored gels. As a result, where colors appear to mix, the film posed the challenge of creating the effect of additive colors in a medium that tends toward white with each additional wavelength. The first such experiment is the film Truth.

Time & Object (16 mm, 2001)

In Anglo‐American philosophy theories of identity address a metaphysical question that has nothing to do with gender or ethnicity. If an object that exists at an earlier time is identical to one that exists at a later, then one thing undergoes change. But if the later object has a property that nothing has at the earlier time, then the earlier object is distinct from the later one. They are two, not one. The same philosophical tradition offers two theories of time. According to one, time moves, the past no longer exists, and the date of the present changes. According to the other, all points of time – past, present, and future – exist as fixed points on a line. No time begins to exist and then stops. Instead all times exist at all other times. This film explores these philosophical differences while making the most of the effects of time on the celluloid image. A variety of experimental animation techniques are explored and set to a track of experimental jazz by Michael Bisio and Joe McPhee.

Dire Mastery (16 mm, 2003)

Michel Foucault argued that sexuality is produced in a culture of confession and self-help. At the same time, when it first became widely available, video technology served purposes of self-discovery in the context of psychotherapy. Thus while video presents the individual with a means of personal expression, it also offers society another technology for normalization. In this film pseudo-identities are manufactured by inserting into the mouths of performers the language of early psychoanalysis. In its visual language it merges ‘70s television soap opera with videotape footage from individual analysis.

The Gift (VHS Video, 2004)

I began my video journal with an entry recounting a road trip I took with my girlfriend of the time from northern Texas to Mexico City to visit her family. The pretext for the trip was to drive an old car to her father, an auto mechanic in Cuernavaca, and offer it for Christmas. At the time I was reading Marcel Mauss’ ethnographic study, The Gift (1954), which provided a theoretical context.

Havana (Digial Video, 2008)

This video is designed to subvert the authority of an artist working as a documentary researcher by presenting him as a clown. Research into a small town’s history is presented in voiceover. The problem is that the only source for local history, documents in the local public library, failed to mention race. The moment of blackface insinuates details effaced from the record in the story of a local tragedy. Expressing doubts about the value of good intentions, the video fails where failure is proper.

Post Card (16 mm, 2008)

This film was shot over a five-year period, during which time my friend Beatriz and I made several moves before separating. Prior to this separation we spent two years living in northern Texas and making several extended road trips into Mexico and across the American West. During the 2007 holiday season, while living in a studio apartment in Chicago, I began to write letters to her I would never send. I was also reading Jacques Derrida’s book, The Post Card, in which he presents his philosophical reflections as though they took the form of love letters written on a series of post cards. Derrida apparently discovered an engraving depicting Plato dictating to Socrates, but it was less the question of authorship that attracted me than the experience of distance. Derrida reflects on the uncertainty of meanings that travel through the postal system on open-faced cards, some getting lost en route. The film evokes this uncertainty of transmission and impossibility of fulfillment, giving voice to a love lost somewhere in canyons of the American West.

Painting (16 mm, 2008)

An experiment in abjection, this film is a single take that went wonderfully awry. Inspired by the early body art of Vito Acconci in Super 8 and its critical examination by Amelia Jones, this sound film begins my exploration of the interface between painting and performance. Jackson Pollock's technique encouraged a variety of visual artists to explore performance, particularly given the expression of masculine subjectivity identified with genius in such work. There’s long been an attraction for me to the images of performances by Carolee Schneemann or Karen Finley, and ‘70s feminist performance art from Canada remains a strong influence. This film was shot on 16 mm black and white reversal film and then reversed processed and printed. Sound was recorded simultaneously and added as an optical soundtrack.

Journal 2004 – 2009 (VHS and Digital Video, 2009)

In 2004 I began a video journal with an entry recounting a road trip with my girlfriend of the time from northern Texas to Mexico City to visit her family. A Mexican living in the States, she worked on border issues affecting migrant labor and I recorded her sound during interviews. We traveled frequently by road across the United States. The next installment records our first leisure trip across the Southwest and includes my roadside performance on stilts. We then moved to Chicago, where I was reduced to selling art door to door. I made a scrappy Super-8 film in which I connect this selling experience to a theory of value. She then took a job out west while I remained in Chicago. I returned to footage from our life together, producing an entry reflecting on my involvement in prison justice issues and the struggle to abolish capital punishment in the States. Like the earlier tapes, reflections on the social contextualize personal struggle. The journal concludes in 2009 when, after landing a teaching job in Oklahoma, I learned she had breast cancer and bought a motorcycle to ride across the country to see her.

Transit (16 mm, 2010)

Staged actions with a model make the most of similarities between the artist's studio and the setting for the Christian passion. Shots run the duration of the action, emulating early video art, and the DVD sections off the film into three performances for camera. Two young women agreed to be on camera, one of whom I paid to appear nude with me, the other of whom I asked to improvise a monologue for two of the film strips used. To undress the human body can be construed as exposing a person to degradation or as preparing them for beatification. According to Mario Perniola, in the Christian West eroticism involves a transit between dressing and undressing the human body. The first performance in this film was inspired by a black and white film I read about by the sculptor Robert Morris in which he had a nude woman interract with large prefabricated materials in the space of an empty warehouse. The second includes my delivery of Vito Acconci lines used in Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley's video Fresh Acconci. Inspiration for this bloody portion of the film includes Italian critic Lea Vergine's essay on body art and the first chapters of Jane Blocker's book, What the Body Cost. At the time of the final performance I was reading portions of a text about the depiction of Christ's genitals in Renaissance painting alongside a text by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy on Mary Magdalene.

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma (16 mm, 2011)

Staged performances are inserted into a film that links the memorial in Oklahoma City to the one in Berlin by relating a scene from Kafka's unfinished novel, Amerika. This was the first film in which I began to explore the written word on screen and the use of the German language. It shares thematic concerns with my video, Convicted (2011). Adapting central features of the case against Timothy McVeigh but substituting photographic documentation from my own world, Convicted presents itself as news coverage of the prosecution's case against me for a capital offense. The soundtrack for Nature Theater was also the result of my interest in experimental music, particularly its affiliation with noise. Music and poetry both came to my attention as potential elements of live performance. Completion of Nature Theater turned out timed to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. My thinking as I completed this film was developing within the general concerns of the essay I wrote on Abraham Ravett and Jayce Salloum for Afterimage, Jan./Feb., 2012. The footage includes several performances for camera. In the larger picture of my work with the body the shoots constitute a transition from performances conceived as pro-filmic events to performances planned as live actions.

Dein ist (16 mm, 2012)

Verheißung der Bilder (16 mm, silent, 2012)

Amigo, I had a chance (16 mm, 2013)

V. (16 mm, 2013)

The first two of the above films draw on my interest in German poetry and texts. The submission of Dein ist to festivals proved strangely satisfying. The soundtrack uses spoken German and does have significance, but the speech becomes mixed to create an audible experience of vocalization for its own sake. I refuse to translate and subtitle it. The film works as a kind of poetics for the theater using billboard design. The image of Verheißung is effectively "animation," a term I dislike. Its movements include sliding, but the film is a visual experience of writing, or more accurately, perhaps, reading. As I made it I thought it ought to be watched in the way one might watch an arbitrary selection of varous types of film leader. Certain of Wilhelm and Birgit Hein's Materialfilmen strike me as particularly uninterested in producing any sort of satisfying visual experience, which excited me, and I wanted to incorporate this quality into Verheißung, but Verheißung remains more lyrical than arbitrary. For the third film I had the script of a death row inmate tremble across the page. The second exposure of the roll is of me performing in the nude much in the spirit of my film, Painting (2008). The black and white image makes this rather like a figure drawing project that has finally lost faith. The last of my poetics films, V., received its soundtrack from an accomplished electroacoustic musician, Konstantinos Karathanasis. The film was shot as visual percussion and could, like Verheißung, be left silent. Whereas Verheißung slides, V. pulses. The idea of flicker has been adapted here for shooting cover art from paperback novels of my youth and "keeping time" to the rhythm of the graphics. Instead of the billboard design of Dein ist, V. exploits the personal significance of particular paperback titles I remember owning.


- - - - - - - - - -


This article is part of the Experimental Cinema Wiki. You are welcome to join us and then edit it. Be bold!