Margaret Rorison – Sympathetic Bodies (2018)

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

¿What’s behind the concept of “body”?

I’ve been trying to articulate a coherent piece after watching program 4 of Crossroads Film Festival, a creature guided by the acute intuition of filmmaker Steve Polta. It occurs to me, somehow, that a man of such artistic caliber might be one of the most appropriate people to curate a program as extensive and rich in interactions. In Crossroads, films are carefully basted in a web of tacit rapports and communicating vessels, floating together and declaring their own tensions and possibilities. Such is the case of program 4, aptly titled all those things you used to feel. While it might seem like a vague title (and many of Polta’s strategies for programming are just vaguely tangible), there is an underlying  truth that lies close to the programmer’s heart. In this gravitation of sorts, Polta allows us to access this truth from our own space of perception, but then again, there lies the essential intuition that shows clearly and is a driving force for all his programs. Crossroads is one of the few experimental festivals where the curator and artist relationship becomes part of a bigger narrative, where the programming adds up to greater knowledge, a bigger field, something that can be apprehended by a sensible soul.

I fear that my role as a film critic/thinker/commentator will not add further to what Polta has already made. It’s my fear to subtract from the whole experience, to act like an researcher who breaks apart its subject of study so precisely that it shatters it altogether. Polta weaves delicately, and the bonds between the films that are part of his curation are strong enough to carry a big and strong subtext, but yet feel so delicate that one is constantly expecting to destroy it all by simply opening its mouth. Maybe silence, sometimes, is the appropriate answer when approaching an art piece or program, the mere act of observation and fermentation of a diffuse clarity inside the soul, never leaving the body, like a precious gift one doesn’t want to share. It may seem like a selfish attitude, for sure, but I abide to the truth that everyone that has been able to watch these programs at home might also carry a diffuse clarity of its own, as different and strange that it might be for me.

Polta’s own words might help us in the right path: Program opens with a series of quietly lyrical and observational works: reveries of landscape, the celestial heavens and the body; mediumistic studies of corporeal time and of eternity. These slowly give way explorations of the electronic ether and the mediation of subjectivity.  Not without humor, these oblique conundra present uncanny intermediated non-places in which intimacy becomes increasingly alien and where buildings and other mysterious objects assert themselves.

Kevin Jerome Everson – Mockingbird (2020)

So ¿What’s behind the concept of body? Flesh, materiality, cosmos, shape. These concepts all feel correlational, and are able to link works that at first glance might seem quite different, like Meredith Moore’s intrinsically funny My Favorite Object (2008), with links a John Whitney-esque vibe with acute humor and a piece like Kevin Jerome Everson’s Mockingbird (2020) or Westinghouse One (2019), films which interweave politics, intimacy and tenderness. The different tangents that this program explores are landed in an intuition that ascertains physical  or oneiric presence as a quality, and, while each film of the program could be subject of a whole piece in on itself, the logical tensions between the program, its order and its selection give for different iterations of thinking.

Let’s take the outstanding miniature Story of the Dreaming Water, Chapter One (2018) by Brittany Gravely, (who also co-directed one of my favorite short films of 2018, the Anger-esque and indecipherable Prologue to the Tarot: Glenna) and Carleen Maur’s Traces (2020). Both are films that explore corporeality behind different strata: breaking water, electrical landscape, celluloid’s own thick patina. There’s an ungraspable quality to both of these films, which feel somewhat fleeting but also particularly intimate in the way they portray the body and its different behaviors. This cosmos or strata is also present as embodiment itself in films like in Die Nacht (2017-2019) by Wenhua Shi, a heartfelt homage to film poet Phil Solomon and Susan DeLeo’s liminal poem (2019), which delicately traces nature or landscape as a repository of contemplation, or a possibility. DeLeo’s (Rose) Lowder-esque tone , while more playful, is equally as intimate as Wenhua Shi’s own poem, which is just a glance at a window, something that Luminous Variations in the City Skies (2019) by Giuseppe Spina could very much also be. If the beyond and outer space are interlinked, why couldn’t Guido Horn D’Arturo’s photographic plates from 1932 to 1957 (which are the element composed in the film) inhabit the same space with Phil Solomon’s spirit in the outdoors at Shi’s piece? The correlational poetic possibilities are immense and capricious.

Charlotte Clermont – where i don’t meet you (2019)

Charlotte Clermont’s two miniature films, where i don’t meet you (2019) and Plants Are Like People (2018) are mischievous works of free-form sequences that share small events, spaces, performances and materiality, “Confusing poetry” as Clermont eloquently affirms. It’s tempting to approach the looking glass expecting answers, but Clermont pieces work precisely because they are quite opaque and yet so transparent and unique, playful yet mystifying. After Clermont’s and Gravely’s works, is quite strange to find Silvestar Kolbas’ The Tower (2019), an almost structural approach to a monolithic capitalist structure which repeats its drone perspective over and over again, like forcefully unveiling the text erased from a manuscript already written over. The constant gliding movement of the drone camera, together with a re-framing which enhances the image in each iteration is insistent and problematic, and feels eerily post-apocalyptic. Kolbas’ work seems to veer away from the structure of the program but it’s its open possibility of looking at a structure that finally reveals a shared intention in finding meaning behind the corporeal.

Probably the most accomplished work of the batch is the intimate Sympathetic Bodies (2018) from Margaret Rorison. I became familiar with Rorison’s fantastic work with cyanotype in her Instagram account, and it’s so fitting that Sympathetic Bodies will enact the same impulses that allow Rorison to work with physicality with such dexterity. The body is an ever-compassing approach to empathy through the DIY philosophy, the hand-processing of material which allows the touch to be truly felt. The film’s rhythm corresponds to Byron Westbrook’s song of the same title -which the film was made for- but perfectly works as its own creation. Rorison’s tactile universe, in process and in the image itself, is always tangible, even in its out-of-context digital screening. Nature mirrors time, time is mirrored in our body, as the prescience of the imminent is expected with subtle calm.

Throughout all these visions of the corporeal, or different compositions of the body, Crossroads program number four is a triumph in itself, because, as its title proclaims, brings back all those things you used to feel back to memory.


Westinghouse One (2019)
by Kevin Jerome Everson

mockingbird (2020)
by Kevin Jerome Everson

Die Nacht (2017-2019)
by Wenhua Shi

liminal poem (2019)
by Susan DeLeo

Luminous Variations in the City Skies (2019)
by Giuseppe Spina

Sympathetic Bodies (2018)
by Margaret Rorison

Traces (2020)
by Carleen Maur

where i don’t meet you (2019)
by Charlotte Clermont

Plants Are Like People (2018)
by Charlotte Clermont

Story of the Dreaming Water, Chapter One (2018)
by Brittany Gravely

The Tower (2019)
by Silvestar Kolbas

Interbeing (2018)
by Martina Hoogland Ivanow

My Favorite Object (2019)
by Meredith Moore