"James Nares, Films from the No Wave" showcases a cross-section of super 8mm and video work long thought lost, but recovered in storage earlier this decade. Rarely seen outside of New York, artist James Nares' films will premiere in Atlanta thanks to Andy Ditzler's Film Love at 8 PM on Friday, September 16 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.
The films oscillate between the cold structural rigor of filmmakers like Ernie Gehr, Paul Sharits and Michael Snow and the meditative mythological personal expressionist aesthetic of Stan Brakhage.
In the notes for the series, curator Andy Ditzler writes, "No matter what’s going on in front of the camera, the real subject of many of these films is 1970s New York. Made in the oddly deserted streets and abandoned lofts of Tribeca, they show a messy, vital, haunted urban landscape almost unthinkable today."
After watching the films, I'm not sure I agree.
Though New York is featured in a handful of the films—hauntingly vacant, decidedly gritty, with the same garbage strewn streets Travis Bickle wished to cleanse with his "real rain"—there is little doubt that the real subject of Nares' films is motion itself.
In Ramp (1976) Nares rolls a heavy sphere down a concrete slope, observing its Newtonian destiny as it gains momentum, rattles, scrapes, bounds, (one time banging a littered bottle) before coming to rest after crashing into a wall below. Like an aleatoric John Cage experiment in momentum, Nares' repeated efforts yield slight variations on a single theme.
Likewise Pendulum, a 17-minute study in the behavior of a large wrecking-ball-like contraption on an abandoned lower Manhattan street in the same as 1976 as Ramp and Bickle's Taxi Driver, finds Nares fixated not on the texture of the city, but on the kinetic possibilities of swinging a large, corporeal and potentially destructive mass around like a child in a super-sized play room.
Shooting handheld (from what appears to be a fire escape or a steel bridge many stories above the street) Nares momentarily shifts his attention from the pendulum to his own shadow, in both the foreground on the slats of the platform, and projected on the street five stories below.
It is here that Nares breaks from what would otherwise be seen as a formal experiment and takes time to acknowledge the "hand of the artist" in the work. As a general rule, structural formalism, as defined by P. Adams Sitney rejected presence of the artist as hero. No matter his motivation, when Nares stops to look at his own shadow, he mirrors Brakhage, whose obsession with is own shadow is rivaled only by Punxsutawney Phi and Georgia's own General Beauregard Lee.
The program includes two anomalies: Primary Function (2007), in which Nares acts out the Stroop Paradigm, reciting the color of the words "BLUE," "RED," "YELLOW" projected in succession on screen shown in a mix-and-match variety of colors themselves. Its a "pure" structural film worthy of Paul Sharits.
Suicide? No, Murder (1977) is a curious hybrid of the diary films of Jonas Mekas (Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania) and the personal (often autobiographical) lyrical poems of Brakhage, whose work famously chronicled all aspects of his life—including the birth of his children—as the subject of art.
Two other outliers suggest Nares' attempt to render a tempestuous inner-conflict: Waiting for the Wind (1982) set in a warehouse loft, finds Nares once again knocking stuff about. Staging a faux windstorm, papers, baubles and other artifacts are strewn about with destructive abandon. A desk is flipped over. The film concludes with the calming influence of the moon—coincidence, or is this an unmistakable nod to Brakhage's Anticpatoion of the Night?—set against a stable lower New York skyline anchored by the Twin Towers. Staid and elegant, Weather Bed (1991), makes the same point as Wind, but with a visual precision that showcases Nares' maturity as an artist. A series of rankled bed sheets suggest foreboding cloud formations, yet these visual sculptures are also artifacts of Nares' restless sleep.
Nares remains at his best when he is capturing motion. Cloth (1998) a slow motion study of an arm waving fabric, dropping it, tossing it, watching it settle etc. is pure visual delight. Though the film visually has been likened to Nares abstract paintings, it is a pure motion study in the tradition of Eadweard Muybridge or to the famous climactic shot of Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart.
The same is true of Steel Rod, (1976) in which the artist, on a rooftop, plays catch with an offscreen partner, tossing a heavy steel rod to and fro.
In many ways, Nares motion study films, brimming with a spirt of danger and play, ask akin to the choreographed chaos of the videos of OK GO.
They are also cousins to David Letterman, whose obsession with dropping things from a 5 story tower, back when he did that sort of thing, led to comedy gold.
Nares' work yields similar, though less humous, rewards.
The recovered treasure has indeed produced a few gems.
For complete information, visit http://www.frequentsmallmeals.com/Nares01.htm
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