Thursday, December 24, 2020

Józef Robakowski - "Prostokąt dynamiczny" (1971)


                                                        Music by Eugeniusz Rudnik


"Józef Robakowski... was the founder of artistic collectives Oko (1960), Zero-61 (1961-1969), and Krąg (1965-1967), and member of the 'Pętla' Student Cine Club (1960-1966). In Łódź, he co-organised the Workshop of Film Form (from 1970), and the 'Stacja Ł' Television Creative Group (1991-1992). He teaches at the National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź. An integral part of Robakowski's work are his statements and self-commentaries, as well as numerous programming texts and manifestoes, e.g. Calling Once Again for 'Pure Film' (1971), Video Art - a Chance to Approach Reality (1976), or Manipulating! (1988). Since the 1960s, Robakowski has remained an active animator of cultural life, as the author of a number of important initiatives (e.g. the Exchange Gallery), organiser and curator of exhibitions, and originator and editor of publications (Nieme Kino, Pst!).

"Robakowski made his first experimental film in 1962, 6,000,000, a compilation of fragments of Holocaust-era documentaries. Photographic activity dominated the early period of his practice, also as part of the collective Zero-61... During that time, besides various photographic experiments (e.g. Photo-Painting, 1958-1967; double-exposure photographs employing mirror-image composition), Robakowski made photo-objects, such as Colander (1960), the photograph of a colander nailed to a plank.... Between 1965-1967, Robakowski was also active on the collective Grupa Krąg, which brought together visual artists, filmmakers, poets, sculptors, and photographers. The artist remembered: 'These exhibitions were like quasi-theatrical happenings, with all kinds of actions, 'tricks', transforming exhibition presentations into spectacles (...) I was closest to a simulated character that didn't really exist, and its name was Józef Korbiela."

"In Łódź...  in 1970, the Workshop of Film Form (Warsztat Formy Filmowej) was founded... The Workshop's practice, focuses on an analysis of the new media language (photography, film, video), drew its inspirations from the constructivist tradition and conceptualism, striving to get film rid of 'alien elements' (anecdote, literary forms, narration) and make its language simpler and information denser.

"The artist's analytical position at the time was also manifested in his interest in the peculiarities of human perception towards the still cameras and film cameras, in questions about these tools as extensions of the human organism's mental and physiological functions. During this time, from 1974, Robakowski also embraced a new medium - video.

"The move away from the traditional forms of filmic narration often went hand in hand with a rejection of the representational function. The non-camera film Test II (1971) is among the most radical statements against the narrativity and illusiveness of the traditional filmic message, made by puncturing a dark film tape, as a result of which the viewer was 'attacked' by a strong beam of projector light, producing the effect of afterimage.... 

"In the 1971 manifesto Calling Once Again for 'Pure Film', the artist wrote, 'Currently the subject of my work is eliminating from film elements characteristic for literature....  through various kinds of experiments, trials, propositions, I will succeed in freeing film from the ballast of habits adopted from literature, uncritically accepted almost universally by both filmmakers and viewers.'

"The first piece made as part of WFF was Robakowski's Market Square (1970), an animated film compiled with still images of the Łódź market square, Czerwony Rynek, made every five seconds on a single day between 7 am and 4 p.m. In the film, that time was compressed to five minutes.

"An important aspect of Robakowski's WFF work were experiments with image and sound - an extra soundtrack, asynchronicity of sound and image, or their mutual relation. The artist experimented with them in Próba II (1971), juxtaposing intense red colour with classic organ music. In Dynamic Rectangle (1971), Robakowski manually shaped a rectangle to music by Eugeniusz Rudnik. The issue of the relation between sound and image returned frequently in the artist's oeuvre, including the films Videosongs (1992) and Videokisses (1992).

"... Since the 1970s, an important role has been played in Robakowski's art by his concept of art as a field of energy transmissions. Hence he has focused in many of his works, which are often biological-mechanical recordings, on issues such as vitality or energy resulting from the contact with a tool. The film are often an effect of an encounter between the mechanical camera and the human body, a confrontation between man and medium. "I want to tell you all that art is energy", Robakowski says, jumping out of water in his Energy Manifesto (2003), as if paraphrasing and referring to a conception by Andrzej Pawłowski, who claimed that "art is an energy field". Robakowski wrote in 1977...


"...n 1975, Robakowski started a series of works called Energetic Angles, which, as he says, reflect my fascination with the problem of the existence of 'Angles' as a kind of intuitive geometry. (...) I've been wondering to what extent geometry, whose goals are intended to be purely practical, can function in art.... 

"Energy fields have also been realised in Robakowski's art in other ways. In the 1980s, he made films based on recordings of rock concerts, especially his favourite band, the punk group Moskwa. In 1989, in the film My Videomasochisms, he mocked self-mutilating tactics of performance artists: during a for-camera performance, he manipulated various tools next to his face, inflicting a kind of torture on himself. In 1996, in a TV studio, he carried out a happening, broadcast live, during which he was connected to electricity, asking viewers to increase the voltage (I Am Electric).... 

- Culture.PL.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Kibwe Tavares - Robots of Brixton (2011)

"Kibwe Tavares combines his training as an architect with his love of storytelling and animation to create futuristic 3D animated/live action films with social and political depth, creating incredibly detailed, vivid, and kinetic visual environments to entice audiences. His first short, ‘Robots of Brixton’ (a thesis project for his master’s degree) made a big splash in 2012 leading him to win the Special Jury Award at Sundance.... He is a founding member of Factory Fifteen, a design-led creative studio working with animation, VFX and emerging technologies." 

"OKA: You've said that your 2011 film, Robots of Brixton came out of questions you had about your identity, specifically as a university-educated black Briton. What were some of questions you were asking when you made that earlier film?

KT: I made Robots as my final thesis piece, to look at how migrant cultures reappropriated their space. I used it as an opportunity to redesign Brixton but also to be propositional about what I was suggesting. Something I noticed while I was travelling in East Africa was the segregation between tourists and local people. I felt strange. None of the locals expected me to be a tourist because I was black - but I was staying in these weird campsites which were really isolated - so I was in Africa but surrounded by white people. Somehow I was the only black guy in a very black place. Now that’s quite normal for me  - to be the only black guy in the room,  or at a party. But it's very different from when I was growing up. As you go down this architecture path, slowly, slowly, slowly, you’re taken into a different world. I was thinking about that, looking at race, and what happened to migrant populations. I looked at the Brixton Riots as something that happened right at the start of my life. When they happened [1981], it would have been quite rare to see a young black academic, and still is, although less so, but at this level we’re still quite rare. So I was just looking at what’s changed, and trying to retell that story which I felt was important to my own story. But I wanted to do it in a way that was a bit less “black” – which was a bit more accessible, which had a wide audience – from schoolkids to academics, to people just into sci-fi. So it became very broad but also had quite an important meaning to me. So many people have that experience of being other. Not everyone – but a big chunk of people - always feel like the outsider. That’s why abstracting it allowed it to be a project that doesn’t have so much baggage. And I think that’s one of the reasons it was successful." -- interview with Okayafrica

Saturday, December 5, 2020


Recently I participated in a project called microtelevision pulled together by outernational audio imprint Artetetra, "an experiment in imaginal PSAs, digital folklore and non-narrative infotainment". Basically it's lots and lots of YouTube playlists of cool shit curated by oddball types, mostly musicians in the same online milieu that Artetetra moves within. 

My contribution is an immense (and still growing) playlist of experimental animation, visual music, and weird short films titled Dreams Built By Hand  - an offshoot of this blog, although I forgot the significant comma in Dreams, Built By Hand

The Artetetra project is a finite entity, so for the permanent link to the playlist, go here. But do check out the other great stuff at microtelevision

Below is my introductory text to the playlist, which serves as an explanation for this blog too: 

It was music that actually led me into the world of 20th Century experimental animation. 

I noticed that some of my favorite avant-garde electronic composers had provided the scores to various films: Bernard Parmegiani and Francois Bayle both made music for Piotr Kamler, a Polish animator transplanted to France, while his erstwhile compatriots Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk  drew on the eerie abstractions of composers like Wlodzimierz Kotonski  and Eugeniusz Rudnik.The makers of the films sought out music as alien and futuristic – or surreal and creepy – as the moving images they created.  Sometimes that was from established composers;  other times from lesser known people  of their acquaintance who had institutional access to synthesisers or studios at universities. In some cases, animators like Norman McLaren and Jeff Keen, created their own peculiar scores, using various methods. In McLaren’s case, this involved a self-devised technique of “hand-drawn sound” whereby he literally scored the film, scratching miniscule markings on the celluloid’s edge that controlled loudness, pitch and timbre. When the film was run through the projector, this miniature code generated electronic-sounding scurries of blips.  

The connection with avant-garde sound makes sense because much of this animation is so abstract it falls into a category that scholars call “visual music”.  So there’s a reversibility at work: two art forms united through their shared synesthetic ambition. Animation in its most radical, pure form is aspiring to the condition of music; music, in its most radical, adventurous form, is trying to create moving pictures in your mind.

Another parallel between experimental music and experimental animation is that much of the work involves a do-it-yourself, outsider ethos. Just as there is a whole tradition within avant-garde music of inventing instruments (Percy Grainger’s assemblages of ready-made household equipment like vacuum cleaners to invent sound-generating machines, Harry Partch and his gamelan-like percussive constructions), likewise in experimental animation, it is usually a lone operator, maybe occasionally a duo, creating these projects over a long period of time. You often have an obsessive, eccentric individual, like Harry Smith, devising their own techniques and spending months or years painstakingly assembling these works.

Hence the playlist title “Dreams Built By Hand”. It’s almost all animation from the pre-digital era. The means of production is manual, laboriously fiddly, time-consuming, and it involves working with the stubbornly material realm of the analogue. Techniques range from widespread ones like drawing cels and stop-motion using puppets, models, paper cut-outs, etct o more bizarre, self-invented modes (Julian Antonisz’s “non-camera films” that involve painting directly onto the surface of the celluloid film, Ferenc Cakó’s patterns drawn in sand, etc).  

These literally hand-made movies have a certain quality that is phenomenologically different from digital animation. The illusionism at work feels like magic, in both senses: conjuring tricks, and the uncanny and sorcerous. A creaky kind of artificial life is created before your disbelieving eyes.