Monday, November 16, 2020

Jeff Keen – Irresistible Attack (1995)

Brighton-based Jeff Keen was an important figure on the  1960s British underground scene of happenings and “expanded cinema”. This film “Irresistible Attack” comes from 1995 but is essentially of a piece with his earlier work  - typically consisting of short bursts of rapid-fire imagery, scrawled drawings, roughly clipped photographs from magazine advertisements and newspaper stories, and sometimes 3D objects like plastic toys that melt before our eyes.  Although not typical ‘visual music’ in the sense we’ve seen earlier in this video-lecture, there’s two connections to music here. There’s a violence that convulses Keen’s work, in both the editing and the imagery itself - endless explosions and savage acts, mutilated scraps from the mass media, the burned black materials. That reminds me of Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall – a British counterculture contemporary of Keen’s, although involved in experimental poetry more than the visual arts – in which Nuttall writes evocatively about the orgiastic violence coursing through the music of the Sixties – the overloaded, distorted guitars, the heavy amplification, The Who and Hendrix destroying their instruments onstage – which Nuttall saw as a kind of Dionysian reaction to the threat of living under perpetual threat of nuclear obliteration (hence "bomb culture") as well as to contemporary carnography of Vietnam. Another music connection is the soundtrack, which Keen made himself, using processed shortwave radio sounds and other electronic effects. The scores to the films were released a few years ago by Trunk Recordings under the title Noise Art. ” - SR, from a video-lecture given at the Tate Modern. 

"Jeff Keen was no minimalist. You’re apprised of that at the entrance to this selection of works from the 1950s to the ’90s, where several of the late artist-filmmaker’s early films are looping. The opening two minutes alone of Meatdaze (1968) – an eight-minute 16mm film intended as a compacted simulation of an entire movie programme – overwhelm the eye with intensely accelerated and inventive footage; rewatching it on the BFI boxset GAZWRX: The Films of Jeff Keen (2012) invites athletic use of the pause button. To a thunderous soundtrack of kitsch war-movie orchestrations and booming bombs, a cut-out biplane soars through a gallery of Old Masters, red goo bursts from an anatomical drawing, torpedo-like cocks spurt, giant bubbles menace a doll’s house … and that’s about two seconds’ worth....

"The Brighton-based artist and pioneer of expanded cinema, who died last June aged 88  had served in World War II, working on experimental tanks and aeroplane engines. Afterwards he became interested in Surrealism and Art Brut.... He took up filmmaking as British art went proto-Pop. All these influences bubble through his wildly inclusive films, whose ensemble casts, multiple exposures and haywire storylines echo and perhaps anticipate those of Andy Warhol and Jack Smith. They’re reflected, too, in his auxiliary production of 2D works (replete with forces-style stencilled texts on dirty grounds), assemblages and sculptures, barely seen outside Brighton galleries until a couple of years ago, when Paris’s Galerie du Centre began showing his paintings.


"The result is that this show, which touches all bases, feels like a soup made out of individual soups, scalding hot and, in places, burnt. Keen’s art is structurally gristly, but what comes out of it most strongly is a translocation of the violence he witnessed in war into culture, wherein it might provide an exhilarating headfuck that retains a latent critical dimension. He seems to have been warring with categories and borderlines from the start, and comes off as a rigorous anti-formalist as well as a reflector of unstoppable bodily energies....  ‘It’s Auto-Bio-Graphik / But not an Autobiography / Direct Projection / & not an illustration / See the world drawn inside-out…’ he once wrote.
                                                                            - Martin Herbert, Frieze, 2013.

Interview with Jeff Keen by Jackie Foulds & Duncan White.


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