By José Sarmiento and Mónica Delgado
Almost at the end of last year, Spanish filmmaker, curator and teacher, currently based in Los Angeles, Antoni Pinent premiered his new work “i STiLL BELiEVE iN CELLULOiD” [aka ‘film beyond film’] or iSBiC (2020), a series of short films (or capsules as he calls them) as part of a multimedia project that reflects on the practice and validity of experimental cinema, art and celluloid as a subject.
Pinent is an acquaintance of ours, since in 2017 he was in Lima giving talks and workshops within the framework of the first edition of the International Festival of Audiovisual Appropriation MUTA. It is in this framework that we were able to see his films projected, including G / R / E / A / S / E (2008-2013) and FILM QUARTET / POLYFRAME (2006-2008) or SHARITS / KASSEL 2015 (2015/2020 ), and which have been screened at various international festivals and galleries. iSBiC is his new project and also a different challenge from what he had been doing. Recently, Microscope Gallery in New York has dedicated a monograph to him which, although it does not include iSBiC, allows an orthodox curatorship to view his work in experimental and filmic form.
In iSBiC, each of the ten capsules (# 0- # 9) has a very short duration, between five to eleven minutes (78 in total), and each one he addresses some topics or perspectives on montage, the artisan work of cinema experimental filmmaking, the intertextual relationship between various disciplines and artistic practices in a very playful way, almost with the sharpness or playfulness of an old-school animation film. But, above all, the work represents a range of possibilities on how to move the celluloid out of its usual field of action, to see it even crawl down some Hollywood avenues. In Pinent’s gaze, this “I still believe in celluloid” or “The film beyond the film” involves accessing reinvention, dismantling the material use of celluloid and merging or activating it from other experiences, even as manual as those that allowed their origin.
In iSBiC there is also a playfulness that is not found much in the experimental today. The manipulation of the format, of the material, in these games of meaning and the different symbolic forms that celluloid takes (as a key, as a closure, as a razor, as a route, as a carnal opening, etc.) appear extremely evocative and sensitive (willing to the senses). For example, the game with Duchamp’s Étant Donnés in one of the capsules (# 1), shines forth as a magnificent mischief and a very powerful visual metaphor. Or as it happens with capsule # 7 (‘recalculating… expiration date?’) Which is also highly suggestive, as it establishes a parallel between the GPS instructions and the manipulation of the film reel in motion.
iSBiC pleasantly questions us about the use and meaning of analog in these times, but also about the physical link between cinema and the quotidian, that somehow becomes a memorabilia, a space of nostalgia even, that is preserved anyway.
Desistfilm: In this first series of pieces, the first season of iSBiC, there is a didactic intention (despite the complexity of some proposals). How did you decide on this pedagogical profile for the concept of this new project?
Antoni Pinent: Well, actually I have not conceived iSBiC so much from its pedagogical aspect, but rather from its more playful way and from references to the history of art itself, including its dialogue with the cinematographic medium itself and, by extension, the filmic medium. But yes, it contains that other more pseudo-tutorial side, the viewer may have that pedagogical feeling there. And it is that, sometimes I think that without a minimum knowledge of the media that is treated, it is difficult to create certain affinities and allow to approach it with a minimum of basic concepts. Sometimes that’s my feeling. So here, an attempt is made to create a certain balance, between some more cryptic proposals or ideas, but with an access key for the uninitiated in the experimental field.
Desistfim: Is iSBiC also conceived as an installation work, or does it share some of your installation work? How do you perceive the complement and difference of the moving image intended for the big screen and the same in the framework of a larger work of art?
Antoni Pinent: We are now in difficult moments for the field of art, as well as in moments of transformation in terms of the enjoyment of exhibitions as we have lived them until now. I suppose that in the near future new strategies will be developed for this, since the online visit (show rooms) to museums in a pandemic period is the most aseptic thing I have experienced.
iSBiC, born from indefiniteness. Or rather, it had always been thought of as something different, in its different stages of genesis: a long film (from the first entries in the notepad since 2012, in the style of the 1986 classic Film Before Film. What really happened between the images? by Werner Nekes); motion image capsules to show my extension as a plastic artist (period 2016 – 2018); And it was, at the beginning of the pandemic, that the project we are now talking about was defined, as it has been materialized, to be shown -for now- on digital platforms and festivals.
Waiting to retake, from a future opening of the art world, the exhibition spaces. Since iSBiC, I believe that its potential also contains that other aspect beyond being able to see the capsules -in whatever display: video projector, monitors with headphones, etc.-, and complement it with all its universe of “characters” and works. visuals that make their appearance -cameo- throughout its contents, in a more expository and close way. Perhaps, with the wish that a potential visitor to a future exhibition can touch –feel- some of the artifacts that make it up, as a further -or complement- to viewing the capsules.
In other words, all the work is conceived as a hybrid project from its realization and indefinite exhibition mode, to gradually mutate and adapt in its viable exhibition spaces, in order to find its potential interlocutor.
Desistfilm: Décollage continues to be a fundamental part of your work with experimental cinema. Why this approach to cinema since its deconstruction?
Antoni Pinent: Well, maybe because I have always believed that to build something new or from scratch, you first have to disassemble it. See its dismembered elements, analyze them, make contact for their unitary, autonomous value, the potential that each one of them contains, without their dependency relationships. And from there to look for new invisible threads, to create new patterns and original or creative combinations. Perhaps, if we compare it with clothing design, it is clearer. With the cinema, it has always had many links, especially in the concept of montage, in our case in the union of pieces of time … especially if we talk about ‘transparent montage’, trying to hide its seams. Here at iSBiC, it is about showing its conception, showing its basic ideas, its skeleton from the raw material, and from there we go through potential creative paths and letting ourselves be carried away by its intrinsic ways …
It should be added that each project has its own rules of the game, that is, FILM QUARTET / POLYFRAME (2006-2008), sought to unite elements from very disparate sources, from classic Hollywood to experimental references; while in G / R / E / A / S / E (2008-2013) -both made in 35mm-, it was to make use of a single source, but presenting it as a new piece, restructured, disassembled, resignifying or revealing it other layers of its interior, closer to the concept of layered work in the décollage of Mimmo Rotella.
For the first season of iSBiC, in its ten capsules (# 0- # 9), this dismemberment or deconstruction, thanks to the external registration of the digital and not dependent on the container itself containing the images, allows to show the elements, some tools, and especially the hands doing the combinatorial work, at times as if it were a magic trick (# 5 / ‘step on concepts’), a jazz musician in full ‘jam session’, or something closer to what would be procedural art.
Desistfilm: iSBiC is also a questioning of the way we approach the subject of experimental cinema, but you do it from the digital. How did you perceive this transit?
Antoni Pinent: The support itself, the celluloid, here becomes an object of study and knowledge, but also of enjoyment, of a carnival where he himself has fun, enjoys and expands, breaking with his chains and common uses, thus revealing part of that which has not yet been and could be … its potential denied.
Something similar, as already happened during the process of ‘liberalization’ of painting thanks to the appearance of the photographic record (a faithful capture of ‘reality’, initially); I conceive of this diverse use of celluloid in the digital age a bit like this. In which celluloid feels more wild or free-coming to light, a rebirth-, leaving its exclusive tie to its function established by the industry, hence also the importance of having carried out iSBiC in the geographical space of Los Angeles – Hollywood.
It is perceived as a new step or stage, beyond the period that we have lived through these last 15 or 20 years, which was the opening of some artisan chemical laboratories in different cities during the transition of the film industry from analog to digital, both in shooting as distribution / exhibition. I believe that we must find new ways to travel with physical support, from the experimental and animation community.
The celluloid seen -or reflected in the register- in the eyes of the digital one acquires very interesting connotations, which incite their reflection, also from the archaeology of the media.
But, also from his dialogue with the art that surrounds him, with an anti-nostalgic approach and breathing new life into the full community – coexistence – with digital. For me, the project itself continues my trajectory in the field of art, challenging and opening new avenues of exploration, celebration and sharing it with a restless, participatory and iconoclastic spectator – rightful or not.
Desistfilm: A sense of humor is essential in your proposal, also working from the sound. In addition, it is something that appears very delicately in your previous works (as in G / R / E / A / S / E). Tell us about this playful narrative.
Antoni Pinent: Yes, it is true that the sound aspect in this work is of great importance and is very careful. Well, many of the ideas work thanks to this. I like to conceive the ideas from the equation / sum 1 + 1 = 3, that is to say that the image + sound results in something unexpected.
With R.C. Alexandri, in charge of the sound -as it was with Dirk Schaefer for G / R / E / A / S / E-, many of the ideas worked on, were modeled during the work process itself during the assembly phase. And when what was desired was not achieved, he discarded them, since they had to function from an organic perspective. My ideas for this project, from the beginning, were linked to creating a particular sound universe, sometimes childish, playful, but with its poetic side and pinches of innovation.
I have to add, until y added R.C. Alexandri to the project, I did not begin to walk the assembly phase of all the capsules –and the number of them-, as it was his soul which gave life to the development, tone and rhythms of certain ideas and intentions. Sound has a magical component that transports you and passes through the image, when that element occurs … some of its objectives are achieved. Other layers are opened, and certain atmospheres are entered with a magnetic –captivating-, almost hypnotic power.
It was hard work, due to his uncertainties in the search to find something different, and with the addition of having worked at a geographical distance throughout this phase – due to confinement issues – for almost 5 months of creative intensity. To articulate the ideas in the montage and its sound aspect, simultaneously.
The aspect of humor, yes it is true that it is an element that usually accompanies me almost always, it is like my friend of artistic adventures. I think it should be present, since it is the one that moves the action forward, poses certain challenges, reveals with its contribution of irreverence, gives a point of rebellion and breaks some of the established conventions. It’s “spank and spur” in equal measure, an invisible and versatile little engine.
Although sometimes I feel that the humor in my work is not well perceived. It makes that certain aspects are not taken with the seriousness that they should be. I am not saying that the viewer lowers his guard, but that some aspects are less valued. I like to interpret it as the figure of the jester in court, not by making people laugh does it mean that it lacks a certain depth and tells less truths … well, my references for this in the world of experimental cinema have always been Michael Snow, Morgan Fisher or John Smith … maybe John Baldessari or Maurizio Cattelan in the artistic, among others.
Desistfilm: Optical sound plays a fundamental role. How was this sound work in a piece that feels, for now, digital.
Antoni Pinent: Once again, I think that digital here gives us the opportunity to reveal certain elements of the cinematographic corpus, from another perspective. More distant, but no less intimate for that. Showing that invisible, but essential part of the cinema (sound + image), has that connotation of revealing a certain mystery. That which is always on the left side of the frame (in the case of 35mm), but which remains hidden on the screen.
It seemed pertinent to me, dedicating one of the capsules here to that tangible part of sound (# 6 / ‘tactil sound’), its visual structure attached to a support, taking its time – duration. Catch the sound wave with your hands, walk it with the tip of a brush, caress it with your eyes until you internalize it, wave it. Optical sound fixed, but not caged or domesticated. Music listened to with the tips of the fingers, articulated with intoxication.
Desistfilm: The tactility, malignancy, possibility of celluloid is very present in all the ludisms of the series. Do you feel that these explorations are immanent to the material? Could you also explore the “materiality” of digital in that regard? Is it something you want to visit later?
Antoni Pinent: Yes, it is something that I am evaluating and taking notes in the form of ideas-situations-objects-connections, perhaps for a future piece in this or another series. I like that dialectic of the container of images on a translucent material, such as celluloid, in which its content can be seen without the use of devices, with only a magnifying glass and some backlight … and on the other hand, that container of zeros and some, in which we have created a certain dependence, over which we have even less control and are more conditioned by the system and its trade. I am concerned, as always, by the rush of certain things and the unexplored potential that is lost by the haste imposed by the market. As Paul Virilio said, “the future is in the hands of speed”.
Also, I would like to visit, analyze, play with those non-linear time paths that digital access poses, as well as its invisible / virtual aspect and make it tactile or sensory, in some way. Let’s see how some of these ideas advance, if they find a location and inexpensive ways to materialize them. Or maybe one more job in the line of transmedia.
Desistfilm: In some previous conversations you told us that you were going to include the quotes, that is to say the mention of each piece used or their relationships in this series (Étant Donnés by Duchamp, An Andalusian Dog by Buñuel and Dalí, Muybridge, etc.) In some ways, it would have been an exhilarating way of inviting the viewer to search for those sources (be they works or books), and on the other hand, it could be overwhelming. Tell us about these references or inspirations.
Antoni Pinent: Yes, initially I had a list ready for each of the capsules, and add its corresponding credit card at the end. By way of “inspiration” and its “expiration”, it was the result of those sources passed through my creative filter. By way of breathing, game board or reflection guidelines. I had even included a supplemental bibliography at the end of the capsules. That would have been a more didactic and conventional way. But, after some first editing versions, I put the idea aside. I sensed that my intention was being misunderstood, and I’d be branded as arrogant and pedantic. So, once again, my ideas of approaching the viewer collided with an idea full of prejudices. I gave up on including it, for now.
Some of the names that were to accompany each of the capsules are the following, for example the first:
Inspiration: Marcel Broodthaers • Joan Brossa • Luis Buñuel • Salvador Dalí • Michel Gondry • Wassily Kandinsky • Christian Marclay • Man Ray • Josep Mª Mestres Quadreny • Harald Szeemann • […]
Exhalation: session # 0 ‘manifest’.
And so would each of the capsules follow. Some of the other names to which I make some direct or indirect reference are: Marcel Duchamp • John Baldessari • Michael Snow • Fabio Mauri • Josef Albers • León Ferrari • Gary Beydler • Benet Rossell • Liliana Porter • Ricardo Liniers • Robert Indiana • Paolo Cherchi Usai • Elaine Sturtevant • Peter Fischli & David Weiss • Paul Sharits • Alexander Calder • Alighiero Boetti • Bruno Munari • Joseph Cornell • Ed Ruscha • Alfred Jarry • Stan Brakhage • Arthur Lipsett • Paolo Gioli • Joan Miró • Arman • John Smith • Marcos Magalhães • Juanjo Sáez • Hergé • Agnes Martin • Edward Krasinski • William S. Burroughs • Piero Manzoni • Maurizio Cattelan • Eadweard Muybridge • Morgan Fisher • Oskar Fischinger • David Oubiña • Tony Conrad • Stanley Kubrick • Tacita Dean • Ricciotto Canudo • Phryne L. • Werner Nekes, etc.
Desistfilm: There are evocations of motherhood or birth in various parts of the series. This symbol of the umbilical cord or of births as a way of synthesizing the communion of various elements that make something new grow runs through the concept of iSBiC. I had thought of this as feminine, but it is actually a total process. How does this metaphor arise?
Antoni Pinent: Actually, it arises quite unconsciously. Well, it was produced through reflecting on the materials that surrounded me, at least the oviparous birth (# 3 / ‘uncut second birth’).
On the other hand, that Duchamp one (# 1 / ‘odd even eyes’), is more studied from of ideas taken in 2014. Its intention was, as I mentioned before, to give new ways of experimentation to the cinematographer, from its very birth and stage childish. Hence the little use of the word in the entire first iSBiC season, just just those first babbling – given – of the same credits (from my daughter Sofia, when she was a baby). It also refers to the beginning of the text of ‘Metaphors of Vision’ by Stan Brakhage (1963), that virgin, new, unconditional look … to propose the cinematographer the chance of existing without the impositions and rules of the market or the industry that was transforming it to narrative uses, thus creating for iSBiC a more direct link to cinema as art.
My idea of the whole series, in successive seasons, would be to accompany its growth and reinforce its visibility through its erratic or unexpected steps, to find its own voice also adapted to the new changes that we are experiencing.
This first birth of the inaugural iSBiC season did not have any funding … like being born naked, with nothing in your pockets. We will see how it proceeds, and if it finds his ways to learn to walk.
10 capsules [#0-#9] / 77 min. approx.
iSBiC #0 ‘manifesto’
iSBiC #1 ‘odd even eyes’
iSBiC #2 ‘into the blood’
iSBiC #3 ‘uncut second birth’
iSBiC #4 ‘family photocall’
iSBiC #5 ‘step on concepts’
iSBiC #6 ‘tactile sound’
iSBiC #7 ‘recalculating… expiration date?’
iSBiC #8 ‘seventh art, even’
iSBiC #9 ‘infinite film’