Monthly Archives: May 2011

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’

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so many outstretched hands

Robert Beavers shows us his workspace — so, so inspiring.

Being in Berlin, we’ve had the chance to brush shoulders with the likes of P. Adams Sitney, Robert Beavers, and Ute Aurand on several occasions — which if you’re at all conversant with avant-garde and experimental cinema, is a BIG, BIG deal.  Check out my post for the trip blog here to read about our time with Beavers and Aurand, and my classmate Josiah’s post about the talk that Sitney gave at American Academy in Berlin.

introduction to psychogeography

Today was my first official psychogeographic walk.

After an individual meeting with John Schott this morning, in which he fully endorsed my new fascination (and me as a person, so thank you, Professore…) then challenged me to create something for Conflux next fall, I set out from Schonhauser Allee at 12:20 pm.  I headed in the vague direction of 188 Brunnenstrasse, where we were supposed to meet at 14:00 at the Neu School for Fotographie to hear a talk by painter-photographer-professor Thomas Anschütz.

The practice of psychogeography, or at least Situationist-inspired conceptions of it, seems to me so far to be defined by the establishment of rules (although they may really be more like guidelines, to paraphrase a great pirate of our cinematic age).  Working from or within restrictions has always been a way of inspiring creativity, whether as necessity giving birth to invention or Lars von Trier reinvigorating Jorgen Leth with The Five Obstructions (incidentally, I highly recommend this film).  So I began by outlining these rules (or guidelines) for myself.

1. I must always be moving in the direction of my destination.

2. I can only walk if am also reading from the Introduction to Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography as I move.

3. Every time I reach and cross a threshold, such as a gate or archway or either end of a bridge, cross an intersection, or turn, I must stop and write whatever word I have just read on the ground with sidewalk chalk.

4. Every time I write a word with chalk, I must photograph it from above.

The goals of this inaugural walk were many: to create an urban poem through chance that could be reassembled visually and would remain transcribed onto the streets for anyone who wished to discover it, to experiment with re-writing the city by physically marking it, to approach written theory in a non-traditional and almost automatic way, to distract my sense of sight from navigation to reading and therefore force myself to rely on my other perceptions to avoid collisions or sense when to stop, to experiment with recording my walks photographically, to inhabit the role of performer as well as observer and theorist of the urban environment.  (Among many other unarticulated or subconscious goals, I am certain.)

So — was I successful?  Although I feel this question cannot be answered negatively when one is engaging in a practice that creates a framework with the ultimate goal of simply seeing what happens, I would say yes, resoundingly so.  Practically speaking, on this first walk, I was able to maintain my guidelines and work creatively within them, and I did feel like my relationship with the city, and my movement through it, was very much transformed by the performance.  Elements of chance — a flower seller stopping to observe me, a delivery truck parking over one of my words before I could photograph it, the brief moment in which I was completely uncertain where I was in relation to my necessary destination — all of these things are part of what made it enlightening and worthwhile.  I am still debating about how best to capture (or whether one should capture) the psychogeographic drift, but the photographic trace (which will be very shortly forthcoming!!) of the walk will itself will prove interesting and poetic and meaningful because it is a street poem that is what photography is to painting — full of the beauties of chance and serendipitous meaning.

going crazy

“I have never been so intellectually turned on.”

Those were my exact words this morning, eliciting a skeptical glance from my friend Sam.  They came post-lecture, a lecture in which I took notes feverishly and simultaneously did research on the internet and tried to type as quickly as could in order to capture all of the new ideas pouring into my brain.  The topic of the lecture?  Psychogeography.

Okay, maybe I’ve been falling madly in love with this concept since I read a sizable chunk of Mythogeography a few days ago.  Or perhaps, since the tender young age at which I realized that I get lost really easily — a revelation that has made me conscious and appreciative of the intense processes of locational self-re-discovery that I am always subjecting myself to, whether somewhere strolling in the cornfields of Minnesota or running at random in the light of early-morning Berlin.  Definitely from the moment I read Michel de Certeau‘s Walking in the City, and first conceived of the city as text — now, I am discovering that there is an experiential-experimental, critical-creative world of almost-academic reinterpretation of the city that makes meaningful my tendency to lose myself and my love of the urban landscape and the loveliness of being alone and looking for nothing in particular and therefore finding everything.  This is psychogeography.  This is the legacy of Guy DeBord, of Baudelaire, of Dada and Surrealism and the Lettrists and the Situationists, continued today by Will Self and Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home, and now, ME.

As part of our new media studies trip, we’re supposed to be designing derivés (psychogeographical walks) for ourselves, and I am simply brimming with ideas and excitement about this.  I’ve been testing some of my thoughts as I wander the city, thoughts not yet organized to truly count as self-contained performances of walking, but nonetheless — I’ve followed other people at random, followed only people holding hands, created street-crossing algorithms, put my iPod on shuffle and turned every time the song changed, I’ve gone out into the world as a departed soul with the goal of determining if I have gone to heaven or to hell.  In stumbling about through a multitude of potential psychogeographic ways of exploring, I am sort of engaging in a meta-psychogeographic, randomly associative walk through my own mind and my newly-forming conception of all the things that psychogeography is now and may yet be.  Hopefully before I depart Berlin, I can fully engage with several of my many many MANY ideas, and I will undoubtedly make use of this blog as a forum and medium for translating my performances and experiences into document.  But I have a feeling this will be something I do beyond Berlin.

When I fall in love, I fall hard, I fall fast, and I fall pure.  This is hopeless romanticism of the mind and of the feet.

disconnection

Nine films, three lectures, two workshops, one awards ceremony, and nineteen hours of train travel later, my time at Nippon Connection has come to an end, and I am back into the action-packed swing of the OCS program in Berlin.  I’ll keep posting my reactions to the films and other events over the course of the next week or so (since it is beyond even my blogging capabilities to post on five films in one day, and honestly, who among you, even my most devoted readers, would have the time to read five blog posts in one day, no matter how wonderfully-crafted they may be?), but in the mean time, I’d like to take a few moments, or paragraphs, to reflect on the festival in general.

Karaoke was a nightly event at the festival.

I haven’t been to Cannes or Sundance (facts I hope to change in the not-too-distant future), but I think there is something unique about Nippon Connection.  As a showcase of national cinema outside its nation, the festival’s focus is broader than a mere slate of high-profile films with high-profile directors and high-profile attendees at the events.  Nippon Connection extends itself into a sort of symposium of Japanese culture that centers on film but is not limited to it — so many free lectures and workshops on all things Japanese, udon and sushi and takoyaki available at every turn, a gaming room, tea and sake lounges, constant karaoke each night.  On the one hand, it’s really cool to see a film festival being morethan a film festival, becoming a cultural event — but at the same time, I wonder if by distilling Japanese ‘culture’ into a microcosmic world within the festival, we are limiting a view of Japaneseness to a set of metonymical objects or practices, a sum total of sake, tea, DDR, sushi, and karaoke.

Look! I brought my own chopsticks! How good for the environment.

Taking into consideration the level of collaboration between Japan and Germany in the organization of the festival, I think that both the intentions and the outcomes of this collaborative cultural exploration in the form of a film festival are good.  Whenever we try to define culture, or anything for that matter, we do run the risk of stereotyping, but we cannot abandon classification altogether in a vain attempt to offend no one or to make no distinctions in the fear that all distinctions will be inherently Otherizing.  There is a genuine curiosity and good-will brimming up out of every aspect of Nippon Connection, among the Western and Japanese people involved alike. And this year in particular, there is a solidarity and empathy among all of the attendees to help Japan in light of the Sendai earthquake and all of its many repercussions — Saturday night’s big event was the “Help Japan” party, the ticketing proceeds of which are all going to the relief effort.  There was a campaign to fold 1000 paper cranesfor the victims, and tons of Help Japan buttons were getting sold each day.

Throughout the entire festival, this wall of cranes grew and grew as attendees folded origami in spare time between screenings.

So, I think, this year more than ever, in spite of my intense Said-inspired misgivings about my own fixation on Japan and my projection of this uneasiness onto many Western examinations or treatments of the country and its culture, Nippon Connection succeeds in its attempt to be more than just a film festival.  It engages culture, without boxing it in, and for the year of 2011, it engages that culture in a way that is incredibly concrete — reaching out to a country and a people and a culture in need.  And that, for anything, let alone a film festival, is commendable.