Saturday, July 29, 2006

Screening at the Ateneo

Last Thurday, I screened three of my films to a film class at the University of Ateneo.The class is taught by Quark Henares, the director. I screened Hulikotekan v. 2.1; Sausage; and The Retrochronological Transfer of Information (RTOI for short). Chipper, intelligent bunch of kids. It was Experimental Film Day and I showed my stuff alongside Lyle Sacris and John Torres.

Quark made a stab at differentiating our approaches. He said that John Torres (who might be described as carrying on the film diary tradition that Kidlat Tahimik pioneered here) made "personal" films, I (whose films are made in the light of questions like "Would it be possible to make a film that was not the record of an event, but the actual event itself?") made "conceptual" films. Lyle (a director and professional film cinematographer famed for bravura lighting and camerawork) made "visual" films. Not strictly true, of course: Lyle often intends his visuals to express personal sentiments, and John often bases his decisions on the visual lyricism of the image, the "visuals." But not bad as a rough guide as to where we place our primary emphases.

I discovered that it was a good idea to first show 1 film, and then to talk about it, which is what I did for each film. And although this carries the danger of extinguishing the process of engaging the work by giving easy "answers" to the viewers' puzzlement, I think it is possible to use the platform to give "user guides," hints as to the places in the aesthetic universe you (the artist) think the work occupies/engages/makes connections to. The perception of order produces pleasure. In the Philippines, artists either unintentionally give too little information, or flat-out intentionally use silence to cover up the confusion in the work. The trick is to talk just enough to service the frame the work with right quantity and type of information to encourage imaginative participation. To point the puzzlement towards fertile courses of speculation.

A girl came up to me afterwards, and asked about the religious attitudes behind Sausage. Gave a polite polysyllabic answer, ending by saying the "the film IS meant to be blasphemous..." Next time I ought to cut to the chase and just say "O yeah, I hate Jesus. Always have."

Friday, July 14, 2006

Making Sausage

In this post, I'm going to write about what I was thinking about when I made Sausage in 1996. Sausage is a 12 minute experimental video, which I will try to make available for download on one of the free file hosting sites on the web. It was shot on a consumer Video8 camera, and edited on a pair of consumer-grade VCRs, no computers, no nothing. I will be talking about the subject and structure of the video, and so spoil most of it for anyone who might want to watch it afterwards. I don't like this idea, (especially since it seems to be successfully traumatizing Filipino catholics to this a little robot that escaped from the lab to scuttle around the city, biting someone in the ankle every month or so), but A) most people wouldn't be able to watch it anyway, B) All readers are free stop reading now and download/watch the thing first (yeah, right) and C) almost no artist writes about this stuff, and I, for one would love to read about it. So I am publishing this in the hope that others might do the same. Now: to the chase.

The core idea for the video came when I noticed that "Jesus" said backwards, sounded a lot like "sausage." I don't know why, but the conjunction seemed fascinating. It seemed credible that this relationship between the sounds were not a trivial accident, but the perceptible sign of some secret and essential relationship between Jesus and sausages, between Jesus and pigs. A wealth of facts that seemed to corroborate the idea, to resonate with it.

In the first place, the pig is considered a dirty animal. It's a term of opprobium, even if we eat a lot of it. It would be in keeping with the "the last shall be first" stuff for Jesus to incorporate something of the reviled in him. Second, pigs are slaughtered without thought or mercy. This is in keeping with the theme of sacrifice, the dying for your sins stuff. Third, there is something terrible and nightmarish in the shapeless-ground-meatness of sausages. Unspeakable additives and obscene organs buried in the blandness of the stuffing. Urban legends of human fingernails turning up in hotdogs. Then there is the ritual cannibalism that is the core metaphor of Communion. Many, many centers of energy twinkling away in the dark. (I wonder if this kind of thinking is what Dali called his "paranoiac-critical method"? Even if he didn't, it appears to me that paranoia --seeing looming patterns in the universe-- is a good methodological foundation. For art, anyway.)

However, I was sure I didn't want to make some kind of strict parallel, something that said "pigs are like Jesus, we kill them everyday, barbeque is just like the Host." In the first place, that's about a bath away from some kind vegetarian plea which I am very far from making: I love pork. In the second place, I abhor that kind of "committed art" messaging. Politics and programs are such scrawny universes. An artwork is most fascinating when the images seep into the everyday world, and vice versa. Tufted fragments from the work parachute into the folds of the brain, lying in ambush like little nano-commandos, jumping out and performing hit-and-run surgery on our perceptions when we least expect it. Things in the real world we never noticed before suddenly seem part of a conspiracy. Things in the artwork seem to be hinting at something about a person we just met this afternoon. What I love is when the artwork and reality invade and modify each other, and it is precisely this process of seepage and epiphany that an explicit message stops dead in its tracks.

The premise was: would it be possible to make a film that did not "explain," or give a meaning to the Jesus/sausage sonic artifact, but which amplified the implications lurking in it? Would it be possible to make a film that attracted meaning in such a way that more and more Jesus things seemed like pig things, and more and more pig things seemed like Jesus things? THAT was the problem/goal. How to set up something that would promote the cross-contamination of the ideas we had of Jesus and pigs. (Of course, I did not actually put these ideas into words. It wasn't until a year or so ago that I was able to state what I had been aiming for. At the time, I could only have verbalized what I did NOT want to do. )

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dummy Head Microphone

headmic LS
Originally uploaded by angermitano.
A stereo microphone I built. Microphones mounted in a dummy head is actually an old and respectable stereo recording technique. Recordings made with such mikes were supposed to sound fantastic over headphones, because the headphones reproduced the exact audio information that two human ears would receive at the recording environment. Some orchestral records were recorded this way, using grey and featureless heads. The technique lost popularity, probably because it would sound like shit over speakers in a living-room. It'd make perfect sense for recording stuff intended for mobile mp3 players though.

I found the doll's head in a park. Didn't wash the mud off because I deliberately wanted to make a tool that was not self-effacing, anonymous and clean, but obtrusive, meaning-laden, and dirty. It works as a microphone, but seems eerie, loaded. I'm not sure what I'll incorporate it into, but it seems to invite shamanic usage: using a magical object to record sound in order to incorporate magical properties into the recording. Maybe.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Market States: Lolas in Metallica T-shirts

It's not because they're really cool lolas. It's because the knockoff Chinese Metallica T-shirts were the cheapest thing in the bangketa, the cotton was thick, and since they were extra-large, they got more fabric for their money.

This is refugee style. Or more strictly, this is not style, but necessity, the resultant of the vectors of poverty.

The process of making meaning is short-circuited. Was it Langer who defined Man not as the rational animal, but the symbolizing animal? Consumer style/market style is not style: it is victimhood. When what you wear or use is determined for you by the market, you have lost the ability to create meaning, of making your being and environment legible. Under the onslaught of overruns/remainders/dumped goods, appearance becomes the record of the state of the market. The chaos and chance fortunes of bargains and default.

Of course, everything chaotic becomes legible in time. the cheapest things in the 70's are not the chepest things in the 90's, in the millenium. The cheapest things in Bombay are not (yet) the cheapest things in Manila. We find we can differentiate between types and moments of unstyle, of market states. Making flashbacks and period films in a third world country is all about identifying the style of a particular moment of chance, like studying the details of a car wreck until everything wrought by chance becomes transformed into visible/identifiable detail.