Absences and (Im)possibilities: traces of an experimental cinema in Ireland

11 January 2015

Glasgow Film Theatre

Vivienne Dick, Guerrillére Talks, 1978. Courtesy of the artist and LUX.

Curated by the Experimental Film Club (Aoife Desmond, Alan Lambert, Donal Foreman and Esperanza Collado), this programme of experimental Irish film features a selection of films from 1897 to 2013, chosen for their relation to the possibility of an Irish experimental cinema.

This touring programme, in partnership with LUX, presents a selection of films from the full programme. Filmmakers include the Lumiére brothers, Samuel Beckett, Vivienne Dick, Dónal Ó Céilleachair and Jesse Jones. Absences and (Im)possibilities was commissioned by Irish Film Institute International and supported by Culture Ireland.

For this screening, artist Vivienne Dick will be in special attendance for a pre-screening Q&A with Maria Fusco.

Vivienne Dick was born in Donegal in 1950 and studied at University College, Dublin. Between 1977 and 1982 she lived in New York, as part of a group of filmmakers whose affiliation to the music and aesthetic of punk became known as No Wave’. Working mainly on Super‑8, Dick’s films from this period feature many musicians from the New York punk movement, with performances and music from Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Pat Place, Adele Bertei, and Ikue Mori. Dick returned to Ireland in 1982 and then to London in 1985, where she was a member of The London Filmmakers Coop for many years and produced a number of films in 16mm, and in video. She lives in Galway, Ireland, where she teaches and continues to make films.

Maria Fusco is a Belfast-born writer. Working across the registers of criticism, fiction and theory, her work is published internationally. She was recently commissioned by Artangel and BBC Radio 4 to make a series of new works for radio and a site-specific performance work inside a mountain on the west coast of Scotland. She is a Reader at the University of Edinburgh and Editorial Director of The Happy Hypocrite, a journal of experimental art writing.

Alexandre Promio & Lumière Brothers, Sackville Street, 1897. 35mm, 50 sec.

In 1897, Alexandre Promio, an agent of the Lumière Brothers, visited Ireland to get some footage of Dublin and Belfast at the very beginnings of cinema. This 50 second actuality film depicts a diagonal view of O’Connell Street, known at the time as Sackville Street. Following a predominantly realist approach, the Lumières – responsible for the birth of cinema in the 1890s – inaugurated actuality cinema’, a non-fiction film genre consisting of the depiction of everyday life without the argumentative structure distinctive of documentary.

Alexandre Promio was taken on by the Lumière firm in 1896 and became responsible for the training of the Cinématographe operators who were to exhibit the machine the world over.

Norris Davidson, By Accident, 1930. 16mm, 3 min 40 sec (extract).

By Accident, the first film by Davidson, is a rare example of independent film production from the early years of the Irish state, and one of the first films to emerge from the group Irish Amateur Films. Only the final third of the film remains intact, obscuring the film’s narrative, dark and psychological elements, but allowing its more innovative qualities – stark, disjunctive editing, poetic juxtapositions and freewheeling camerawork – to take centre stage.

Norris Davidson was a pioneering filmmaker of the silent years and a founding figure of Irish documentary cinema. He also did television broadcasts with RTE and opera programmes on the radio.

Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider, Film, 1964. 16mm, 21 min.

In 1969 Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in recognition of his development of a circular form of reasoning that implies entrapment in circumstances of one’s own design. Film, directed by Alan Schneider in New York and written by Beckett, emanates directly from such reasoning, in which the main character, Buster Keaton, carefully blots out all external reality according to a prevailing philosophical principle: George Berkeley’s Esse est percipi” (to be is to be perceived).

One of the key-writers of the Theatre of Absurd, Samuel Beckett was widely known for his avant-garde writing, which includes poetry, playwright and prose. Alan Schneider was an American theatre director and one of the leading directors of Beckett’s work in the US.

Vivienne Dick, Guerrillére Talks, 1978. Super 8, 24 min.

Vivienne Dick began making Super 8 films in New York in the late 70s as part of a group of filmmakers and musicians whose affiliation to the aesthetics of punk became known as No Wave’. Guerrillére Talks is her first completed film, which according to Jim Hoberman can be seen as the extension of Warholian pragmatism to Super 8 talkies’. The film depicts a series of portraits of – or encounters with – women in Lower Manhattan; each allowed a full roll of Super 8 film to perform for a camera characterized by its handheld anarchic style.

Originally from Donegal, Vivienne Dick now lives in Galway and continues to produce film and video for gallery and cinema contexts. Her work has been reviewed in several international publications focused on avant-garde and independent filmmaking.

Paddy Jolley, Rebecca Trost & Inger Lise Hansen, Here After, 2004. 16mm, 13mins.

An atmospheric study of a decaying and crumbling flat complex in Ballymun, Here After emerges from the residue of unknown events. Paddy Jolley’s film projects often begin with this sense of memory, time and place, inspiring experiments that explore the materials that embody them. Jolley’s multidisciplinary background informs this exploration and contributes sculptural, painterly and conceptual elements to this film collaboration with Inger Lise Hansen and Rebecca Trost.

Paddy Jolley was a graduate of NCAD and focused on photography before moving to film, and directed two feature films, Sugar (2005) and The Door Ajar (2011), along with many shorts. His work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin; and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. In 2012 he represented Ireland in the 30th Bienal de Sao Paulo, Brazil. Jolley died suddenly in New Delhi in January 2012, while working on a new film project.

Inger Lise Hansen is an artist filmmaker living and working in Oslo and London. A recipient of a Master of Fine Art Filmmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1996, her work has been shown in institutions such as Tate Modern in London and Centre Pompidou in Paris, and at festivals including the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Rebecca Trost is a German artist whose work, primarily in films and installations, has been exhibited in countries including Germany, Ireland, and Greece.

Barry Ronan, Late Arrival, 2006. MiniDV, 2 min.

Stripped of sound and language, Late Arrival relies entirely on its jittery and accelerated camera movement and overlapping imagery to create a kinetic and charged perception of its subject (the filmmaker’s wife) that could not have been expressed in a more ordered form.

Barry Ronan is an Irish cinephile living in London, England. He is interested in the political relationships between thought, language and the senses.

Dónal Ó Céilleachair, With Wind & White Cloud, 2005. Super 8, 5 min.

With Wind & White Cloud pays homage to Oskar Fischinger’s 1927 film Walking from Munich to Berlin which is one of the earliest films recorded in single-frame exposure. New York based filmmaker Ó Céilleachair repeats this process on his own travels between Istanbul’s Bosphorous shores and the heart of Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, using the single-frame technique to create an intense, high-speed staccato viewing experience.

Donal Ó Céilleachair returned to Ireland in 2007, after many years in New York where he founded the long-running Ocularis screening series. He has directed and produced an extensive filmography that includes documentary and experimental film.

Esperanza Collado, Horses, 2011. 16mm transferred to video, 2 mins.

Rewinding the film in a Super 16mm Bolex camera to shoot a triple exposure, Horses was shot at different speeds and home-processed using an extreme, unorthodox procedure. The resulting footage shifts unexpectedly from negative to positive and vice-versa, while scratches and other chance factors dominate its length. Shot at a rural location in northern Spain, and featuring Maximilian Le Cain, Horses imposes itself as material and process, rather than image.

Esperanza Collado focuses her work in an investigation of cinematic properties outside the standard film apparatus. She began to screen avant-garde works in domestic environments of Dublin in 2005 under the title Pure Film.

Michael Higgins, 04:59, 2013. PXL2000 Tape Cassette, 6 min.

04:59 features Maximilian Le Cain, Karen Power and the work of Gorging Limpet. Inspired by cinema and visual narrative, Michael’s work involves a range of both digital and analogue technologies, and concerns people’s perception of time and reality. In following an initial idea through, he makes a point of being open to changes and external forces that occur throughout the various stages of production, allowing the development of the work to be self-driven. He simply assists it in materialising.

Maximilian Le Cain, Mongolian Barbecue, 2009. SD video, 11 min.

Mongolian Barbecue presents us with the edge of an abyss circumscribed by cinematic possession. The corporeal ritual involved falls at its ultimate climax into the rhythmical interstices of red frames that opens the way to static images from vampire B‑movies, the feminine paradise a cinephile could encounter after taking a glimpse at cinema’s interior cavities. Mongolian Barbecue shares with much of Cork-based Le Cain’s prolific output (over 60 films in the past five years) the presence of TV static and the use of sounds that directly refer to medium specificity.

Maximilian Le Cain has made more than eighty experimental films and videos. He frequently works in partnership with sound/​performance artist Vicky Langan, and collaborates with Esperanza Collado on the multidisciplinary art project Operation Rewrite. He is a member of the Experimental Film Society collective and the Cinema Cyanide noise project. He is also a film programmer and critic.

Jesse Jones, The Predicament of Man, 2010. 16mm and Digital Mixed Media, 3 min.

This film is the second in the collection of films; The Trilogy of Dust. Using footage shot in an opal mine in Cobber Pedy, Australia, intercut with over a thousand still images that appear momentarily on screen, Jones subliminally contrasts the desolate landscape with flashes of often recognisable 20/​21st century icons and events. The Predicament of Man creates an uneasy and foreboding slippage in time that hints at an apocalyptic future. Its title is borrowed from an essay in Limits to Growth by the economic think tank The Club of Rome in 1972. The Predicament of Man examines the consequences of exponential growth theories of late capitalism and how they may not only over stretch our resources’ carrying capacities, but also our sensory capacity to perceive reality itself.

The work of visual artist Jesse Jones primarily takes the form of short films, works which renegotiate the material and ideological structures of cinema. They are concerned with how cultural artefacts can be restaged to reveal embedded histories of dissent – and their contemporary relevance.