Originally found in Freianlage

Some frames

By C. Clarke

 

1.          A single image occupies the film. The scene, taken from some picture, somewhere, is painted directly onto a snippet of leader film, hanging limply against the wall. The beginning of the movie is deferred; the countdown towards the opening credits cut short. Instead there is a sudden eruption of imagery, a momentary flash of colour and composition, like a subliminal message slipped into an otherwise straightforward narrative. This frame is opaque in two senses. It literally blocks out light with paint, applied on and over the (admittedly quite dark) transparent film strip. And it arrives on its own, without warning or follow-up or any sense of an unfolding meaning. The image is isolated, detached; it neither acknowledges where it comes from nor suggests where it may be heading.

 

 

2.          If the verisimilitude of film is achieved through the rapid succession of still, sequential photographs, then Andrew Bracey’s series of Frames manages to slow down and deaden the illusion of motion. The picture is frozen, at what one would like to think of as a decisive moment, at a point that captures the entirety of the narrative in one frame. Except that there’s no placing these pictures; the image depicts nothing that would give away its origin, no sign of actors or genre or the stylistic signature of the auteur. Furthermore, it doesn’t just isolate the frame, but paints over and distorts it, disrupting the narrative flow of the movie through the introduction of a new, un-realistic medium. In these works, the fragment of the whole is transplanted, re-located against an unfamiliar backdrop. No clues are given, no indication of provenance. Rather, the work seems to suggest amnesia, disorientation, an uncertain awareness that this scene is from somewhere (the filmic canvas gives that much away) but where? In place of the storyline, a relationship is established between the distinct, yet comparable, components of the series of frames. The arrangement of images of similar size, format and background evokes a spatial trajectory which, true to its individual pieces, doesn’t progress in a linear direction but invites the viewer to establish subjective links instead. This may mean returning to an earlier frame, finding echoes of one in the other(s), re-organizing a sequence of instants in a new, coherent order. Out of these disparate, de-territorialized images, a number of films can be made (as in the use of stock footage as material by Ed Wood or Werner Herzog). The viewer is encouraged to interact with the series; peering at each miniature frame in detail, working out what’s happening in the composition. Bracey has used this device in previous works (i.e. Freianlage, Clout) but here it acquires a different meaning, one that contrasts with the passive voyeurism of the movie-going public. While the theatre presents the seated, compliant audience with a relentlessly diverting, large-scale narrative, the gallery space allows for maneuverability, prolonged engagement with a particular work, and active interpretation of the work at that moment.  

 

 

4.          Could this be the revenge of painting on film? Could this gesture simply see, in film’s displacement by digital technology, the decline of a dominant mode of artistic expression (much as painting was forced to veer away from naturalism into pure abstraction with the arrival of photographic and moving images)? As Lev Manovich has suggested, the prevalence of special effects and post-production manipulation in recent filmmaking has changed our notion of cinema as a visual recording of reality 1. This documentary aspect becomes just another possible technique for the director, one of many strategies to be combined or chosen. The basic component of filmmaking, the frame, becomes a piece of raw material to be isolated, drawn over, re-worked and re-composed. It is a frame without a framework.

 

 

7.          Nothing seems to quite match up with these works. The images are taken from several lists of films, based on critical recognition, popular appeal, the chronology of awards ceremonies, everything but the personal taste of the artist. However, the order of films is displayed out-of-sequence, rendering the possibility of attributing scene to movie unlikely. Bracey employs a further distancing technique in his use of leader film, allowing the numbered countdown frames to remain in certain pieces, yet never suggesting that this number corresponds to the film’s position on one of his lists. The work thus seems to verge on recognition, even though any connection made is a strictly subjective one. The viewer may think he’s figured one of the frames out (maybe even has done) but at no point does the artist ever tell him he’s right. Bart Lootsma has noted, in speaking of Thomas Demand’s photographs of temporary sculptural constructions and quoting Deleuze; “The copy is an image endowed with resemblance, the simulacrum is an image without resemblance 2.” Demand’s miniature sets are to be ultimately destroyed, replaced by the photographic image, the second-hand version (or third-hand, including the actual, infamous architectural spaces they’re based upon). Inaccessible except through the camera, Demand’s tableaux are immaculate and uncanny reconstructions of the real. And yet this reality has been supplanted by a fixed two-dimensional picture, an image of a copy of an image. Like Demand, Bracey refuses to name his source, to differentiate between the ‘real’ site and the constructed work. The Frames waver between the two, clearly acknowledging their position as a copy, yet never going so far as to say what it is they’re copying. They might as well be original compositions for all the likelihood of discovering their true identities. Such an approach may also reveal a significant shift in attitude, where the re-contextualization and détournement of extant materials has become so commonplace that it seems unnecessary to declare the source. The post-appropriation artist freely plagiarizes, if only because distinctions of authorship and identity no longer mean very much to him. Bracey, in looking through a number of the frames, is unable to connect the images with their respective films (and when he can it is only through his memory of painting it, not through any evidence presented in the work). So Baudrillard’s words also ring true here: “To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn't. 3” Their origin has escaped even the artist. The position of the painter ends up on similar terms as that of the viewer; distanced, detached, unable to get a hold on the work, and unsure if that’s even what he’s supposed to do. 4

 

 

28.        The scene which doesn’t go anywhere, which has no impact on the narrative arc of a film, has, in turn, become a fixture in art-house cinema. There are longueurs in the films of Bergman, Kieslowski and Tarkovsky that are loaded with meaning, precisely because nothing seems to be happening. This is one of those tropes that Bracey has had to avoid in his Frames, to steer as clear of the intentionally anti-narrative as of the narrative itself.

 

 

55.        In identifying and selecting these still images, it seems likely that Bracey, for the most part, watched the films on DVD or video. Here, the pause function, and the ability to fast-forward or slow down footage, provides the artist with a perceptional authority far removed from the position of the theatre spectator. In scanning the narrative for that one scene, the moment that represents non-progression, he is actually searching for a frame that is indicative of his relationship to the film. After all, he isn’t caught up in the development of the plot. It is the instant of stasis that the artist is trying to arrest and isolate; the frame that is determined on purely visual terms. Despite this, his knowledge of its narrative irrelevance necessarily requires familiarity with the story; otherwise, how would he know what matters and what doesn’t?

 

 

80.        In structural or materialist film, the work acts as a critique of its own inherent illusionism by making the cracks and seams visible. It reveals its mechanics; the camera zooms without focus or intent, textual information and visual elements co-exist, a brief sequence repeats, repeats. This self-reflexivity demystifies the medium, disrupting the effects of passive reception implicit in narrative-based cinema. The spectator is faced with the breakdown of the projected reality, and, in this space, is activated towards a critical interpretation of the film (and his place as a viewer). He sees the film, all film, for what it is; a series of technical strategies to sustain illusion and suspend analysis. This focus on the transparency of the filmic structure is also an adaptation of developments in modernist painting, where the purity of the medium, of paint on a two-dimensional surface, became a priority and a spur towards total abstraction (this doctrine was itself partly motivated by the emergence of the camera). Like the vast monochromatic canvases of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, the materialist film presents two diametrically opposed aims; realism and idealism. While pure abstraction in painting seems to lead us further and further away from the everyday, in actuality, the brutal honesty of the painter towards the paint can be read as a return to the real. The work corresponds only to itself; colour smeared on fabric and stretched across a wooden framework. And yet, the non-representational painting is also a rejection of the prosaic and the material, seeking to transcend base concerns in its absolute purism. Greenberg’s neo-Kantian insistence on fidelity to the medium is at once a directive towards the phenomenal and the noumenal (the conception of the thing-in-itself, unable to be perceived by the senses). The work is an oxymoron; pure surface. And, somehow, this happens again, in the flickers and loops of the structural film. A film devoid of narrative, that gets caught up in its own processes and disengages the spectator from his reverie, is able to suggest an indefinite number of readings. The activation of the viewer incorporates a subjective element seemingly at odds with the concreteness of the work. In both these cases, of high modernist painting and materialist film, there is a qualitative difference between the signifier and the signified, the work and its reading, despite the artist’s insistence. So it is that, even in the self-reflexive work, whose obsession with its essential characteristics seeks to preclude any other commentary, the hermetic nature of the piece demands further and wilder interpretation, if only because the critic cannot get a decent grasp. Without any direct correlation to the object, the interpretation is left to continuously fill an empty site with various, and incomplete, meanings, or it surrenders to the indescribable, the incommunicable. The two are versions of the same thing.

 

 

98.        Perhaps the insignificance of the shot represents a momentary lull, a pause that intensifies the dramatic tension of a later scene. A red herring (a MacGuffin, in Hitchcock’s terminology). An instant of visual ambiguity sandwiched between images of narrative importance, unable to be recognized out of context, out of sequence. A reflection of the artist’s own subjectivity, in choosing one example from what must be a countless number of possible frames…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2002)

Manovich marks a transition from the ‘kino-eye’ of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (filmmaking as a documentary medium) to what he calls the ‘kino-brush’ (the manipulation of this material through digitization). However, he also notes the potential for this inevitability in early cinema and perceptual experiments; animation, panoramas, even in Vertov’s use of editing and montage. For Manovich, the resurgence of these approaches in digital film and new media represents a return of the (cinematic) repressed.

  1. Bart Lootsma, Thomas Demand / b+k (Köln: Walther König, 2005)
  2. Jean Baudrillard, ‘Simulacra and Simulations’ from Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988)
  3. Daniel Birnbaum’s reading of Sean Snyder’s work is relevant here, particularly as Snyder also makes excessive use of appropriated imagery, text, and footage in his work.

“Entering what might seem to be a hermeneutical labyrinth as puzzling as the hieroglyphs were before the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, we question whether we should take what the artist has excavated as factual or ask further questions. Or should we question the source from which the references are extracted? Do we even want to look for the source of the reference, or could we even find it?”

Birnbaum in Sean Snyder (Köln: Walther König, 2005)