By Ivonne Sheen
One of the greatest achievements of Oberhausen short film Festival is their showcase of film and video Archives’ curatorial selections. Among them, Fundacja Arton’s exhibition curated by Marika Kuzmicz, showed film and video works by female artist with strong avant-garde and feminist voices. The Arton Foundation compiles private archives of artists’ works, who during the 60s and 70s created the artistic scene in Poland during their communist era. Founded in 2010 by Kuzmicz, the organization preserves and exhibit works who are mostly little known in the present, even though their pioneering radical relationship with media. This curatorial selection aimed to be an spectrum of diverse themes and aesthetics explored by women artists during that decade in Poland.
The first work, TV Drawings (1976) by Ewa Partum is an structural approach to TV medium’s mechanism and propaganda contents. The artist performs with a felt-tip pen and draws circles, horizontal and vertical lines over the TV screen, meanwhile analogue film mechanism encounters with TV signal and creates a similar striped movement, amalgamating her drawings with TV’s image making process. The constant black stripes also creates a sense of barrier and blocking against the Communist Party’s propaganda showed in the screen. At the same time, our perception gets blurred and immersed in an hypnotic rhythm, which recalls to an opaque point of view influenced by their message. TV Drawings is a political work which encounters two formats (8 mm and TV) as a performance that unfolds the effects of massive media in our consciousness, recalling McLuhan’s media theory.
This film was followed by sensual Natalia Lach-Lachowicz’s Impressions (1973), a playful and erotic self-portrait. In an intimate space, which seems to be a home or studio, the artist shots sensual parts of her naked body and is followed by the camera. She plays with her boobs and jumps repeatedly, as a mirror during the performance of having sex, in which one can’t have a complete view of one’s body. In this way, she creates an encounter with her body and sensuality, with the absent of a partner and mediated by cinematographic registration. Therefore she leaves us with the sensation of an intimacy that only has to do with her curiosity and desire. This film manifests female desire with a powerful, organic and playful approach. An intuitive feeling that even for women has been hard to completely figure out and that implies an intimate self-discovery, free from masculinity.
Jolanta Marcolla also explores female subjectivity. Three works by the artist took part of the program. Kiss Kiss (1975) is a loop in which the action of blowing a kiss is repeated constantly, becoming into a strange act with a lack of vitality. In this sense, common social behavior is questioned and revealed as a custom. The blowing kiss is also related to female delicacy expected in patriarchal society, in this manner Marcolla’s work also reveals how femaleness is structured in a tradition, by also exploring with the structure of repetition that moving image implies, as a succession of static images, such as Muybridge’s and Marey’s studies on locomotion.
Forced Response (1976) is a study on individuals’ social relation during walking in a crowded urban context, but disrupted by the presence of the camera. The filmmaker and a camera operator surprise the pedestrians, provoking their reactions and taking them out of the rhythm of walking fast in the street. The camera also moves in a hurry as everyone usually do in the city, this performance also makes a reference to TV sensational approach to people’s testimonies and opinions. Both Marcolla’s films are performative experimental inquiries around the undeniably influence on behavior that the film camera provokes.
In a similar line, Jadwiga Singer explores structural aspects of film. Four films by the artist also took part of the program. Destruction (1978) is an astonishing structural experimental film that recalls Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967), with a zoom into the photography of the room where the picture hangs. The artist creates an almost magical act of perception, in which the visual reproduction of the space happens to be the main reality. In Singer’s film, the zoom is done quickly to successfully trick us. The artists suddenly reveals the simulacrum in which we are immerse, with the appearance of fire burning the photography that seemed to be the actual room, in this way we are taken back to the origin of its reproduction. This film portrays the ephemerality of image reproduction and denude the sense of space and time that simulates.
In 50 km/h (1979), the artist also explores the transformation of reality’s perception with a 16 mm camera. From a car’s window, the landscape turns abstract as a consequence of film mechanism in relation to the car’s speed: 50km/h, that also appears written until the end. Once again, Singer explores the basic factors that structures the sense of reality and motion through film. In 50 km/h experiments and constructs her film as a process and demonstration of her inquiries. The End The End (1979) follows the same structural topics but including a performance. The film collages two same scenes but one in reverse, both next to each other in the same frame, creating a circular situation in which the beginning is also the end. A paradox that portraits a common act of eating as a absurd situation that has no end and no beginning, and subverts our regular sense of time due to cinematic possibilities. The performer also manifests some discomfort that contributes to the feeling of being trap in an action provoked by the cinematographic register. Another work by Singer also includes performance, but stands away from her structural inquiries.
In The Fight (1979), two women fight in a boxing ring and harm each other badly, nevertheless their moves are clumsy and the camera follows them closely so we don’t have a great picture of the context, their actions and attitudes are the main explanation to a random and probably ironic situation, when they stop fighting into each other and began beating the judge of the fight. This is a funny and fresh feminist manifesto against masculine oppression of women’s subjectivity.
Two final works also explored performance. Relative Similarities (1979) by Izabella Gustowska explores the noticeable similarities that twin siblings share, to uncover the undeniable differences in between each other. Pairs of twins perform the same gestures and actions, in a playful way and stay static for a moment, so we can notice them. This film reflects on standardization as a common attitude in our perception of others, and as an study on our common gestures and everyday performances along different stages in life. Gustowska also reflects on femaleness as something that we acquire, and that we recognize ours as we resemble other women.
In The Limits of Human Possibilities (1984) by Iwona Lemke-Konart, human condition is explored through an intersection in between performance, film and drawing. The artist performs a choreography laying on the corner of an empty room with white walls. The sequence creates a parallel in between each move and the drawing of lines on the wall, which traces the body’s movements. As the performance develops, shapes of mountains result from the lines drawn. The film finishes when suddenly an actual mountainous landscape appears as a wider space, immeasurable to human condition which remains in a small corner. This work also could be read as a study on language, defined as a delimitation traced in an empty wall that has a deep influence on corporality and on the relationship with nature.
Poland, 1976, 6′
Poland, 1973, 3’46”
Poland, 1975, 1’51”
Poland, 1976, 1’20”
Poland, 1978, 3’34”
Poland, 1979, 2’52”
The End The End
Poland, 1979, 2’55”
Poland, 1979, 2’06”
Poland, 1979, 4’28”
The Limits of Human Possibilities
Poland, 1984, 3’01”