Flowers of the Sky (2017)

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Not to subvert the proper definition of what stereoscopic is, but meddling with some of the images of Janie Geiser’s oeuvre kept me in incessant agony while trying to get a word that was remarkable enough as to describe her unique language of animation. Stereoscopic is then, an easy (sort of easy) way to describe the transmutation of the multiple overlayed images that recreate this sense of stereo-visual game, a game that is expanded in Geiser’s multiple work as an installation artist, visual artist and performer. I was able to grasp a wide panorama of her film works while covering her program at the last Olhar de Cinema Film Festival.

The Red Book (1994) was a proper introduction for what would become Geiser’s trademark method of working with images: a combination of collage, illustrations, paintings layered together in a narrative apparatus in constant dynamics. The narrative is vague but recalls events and situations where memory is involved: a woman, captive in this particular atmosphere of a trichomy of colors, slowly recovers her memory and the events unveil before her. It’s an outstanding exercise in animation, a summa of significants that are adjacent and tangential, something that reminds us of the early experiments of the surrealists with cinema. In this same vain we find Immer Zu (1997), again a cryptic imagery of constant pulsing images that slowly unravel themselves.

This stereo-visual quality of the images of Geiser lies in her unique constant effort of executing her animations in constant complimentary movements. Each part of her multidimensional images is complemented with a particular movement, an execution that is hidden and surges like an apparition, intersecting or molding with other image, creating this visual tension that opens the dimensions of the images. Immer Zu is permeated with noir drama, detective fashion imagery, a  surreal and dark journey through the mind whose significance requires more than one simple reading. This complicated artifact though, plays with a certain naivete, which adds to its genius.

Terrace 49 (2004)

The fractured antagonism of animated images is particularly well played in Terrace 49 (2004), a triumph of a film which develops its narrative like a downward spiral where the fragments of old animated superhero cartoons come alive with different manipulation of other moving images and the intrusion of common objects to provide a “magnifying glass” effect, something that is played again in films like Ricky (2011). Geiser uses digital animation and sound manipulation as her main elements, but the result is fairly anachronistic for this kind of particular use of the image. This method of working the new to reclaim the old brings to mind other outstanding experimental filmmakers that are currently in the same line of elements, like Dalibor Baric, with different final results but with a shared frame of mind.

Also, the particular use of feminine imagery by the filmmaker, explores a particular interest with the body as an element of memory, but with a particular fragility that usually breaks with the use of fragments, that solely represents pieces of memory or phantasmagoric manifestations. Her “protagonists” usually take a journey through the surreal paths of the mind, trying to reconnect hidden pieces to rebuild a particular puzzle of the psyche. In Ghost Algebra (2009), Geiser describes the meaning behind the title: “the science of restoring what is missing, the reunion of broken parts”and it’s precisely what the mastery of her animated collages bring to mind, not a particularly closed view of an uni-dimensional space, but the stereoptics of multiple small universes colliding.

This method is further refined in her shorts Ricky (2011) and Kindless Villain (2009) which visit the apparition of childhood and the role of early memory and fantasy, in Arbor (2012) and Kriminalistic (2013), which turn to the use of found imagery like thrift shop photos and medical books to propose a particular universe of ghosts in a limbo of animation, and in Silent Sister (2016) and Look and Learn (2017), meditations on the body and a catalog of instructions on how to read her particular universe. Look and Learn, particularly, takes on a political dimension by presenting school images of children and political protests, which resonates particularly close with some political events in America today.

Look and Learn (2017)

Mention apart are the fascinating sound collages that accompany her pieces, with a life on her own. In Look and Learn, Geiser mentions: “The sound collage includes found soundtracks, institutional alarms, contemporary field recordings, and fragments of speeches from the 1965 Berkeley Teach-In. Perhaps some of these students found themselves there.” This is a method that Geiser’s been utilizing from the beginning of her craft, with different collaborators, that give her films a particular spatial dimension, another manifestation of the fragmentation which she so diligently uses.

Geiser’s universe is a fascinating experimental manifestation of the moving image through the use of shards, refined sharp shards that penetrate deep into the unconscious.