Traffic between the worlds of art and cinema has always been brisk. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray dabbled with film during the medium’s infancy, while commercial filmmakers like Germaine Dulac edged into impressionism and surrealism. And the back-and-forth has rarely been livelier or more provocative than it is right now. One measure of the rising status of moving images in the art world is the selection of finalists for this year’s Turner Prize. For the first time ever, all four of them work with video. And Tacita Dean, whose commitment to celluloid has practically become a crusade, has seen an unprecedented series of concurrent exhibitions this year at three of London’s top galleries.
There are showcases of new and innovative moving image work throughout the year, of course, but each fall, two programs at major festivals offer a sort of annual report from the front lines. In Toronto, Wavelengths is programmed by Andréa Picard, who recently told Mónica Delgado and José Sarmiento Hinojosa at desistfilm that “there is a greater appetite for experimental film, nourished perhaps from the art world and the Internet, which paradoxically bathes in moving images but also drives people back into the cinema for a collective experience.” Projections, the New York Film Festival program formerly known as Views from the Avant-Garde, has wrapped its first weekend but returns with three features on Saturday.
Working on his virtual reality project The Deserted last year, Taiwanese artist and filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang discovered that the format deprived him of what he considers to be an essential element of cinema, the close-up. His response is Your Face, a series of close-ups of around a dozen subjects, men and women ranging in age from nearly fifty—actor Lee Kang-sheng, for example, who’s appeared in all of Tsai’s films—to the elderly. Some speak, while others peer into the camera in silence. “Some of the shots are funny,” notes Giovanni Marchini Camia at Filmmaker, “as when an old man, clearly bored with the exercise, gradually falls asleep and then starts snoring; in others, painful memories of familial strife and economic hardship are related to the camera. . . . Amongst the structural experiments Tsai has been undertaking since supposedly retiring from feature filmmaking—others include Afternoon and the Walker series—Your Face belongs to the more modest efforts. Nevertheless, as a gentle invitation to slow down and take in the pleasures of extended contemplation, it proves extremely restorative.”