Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at 7:30pm
Robert Fulton's Reality's Invisible

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Reality's Invisible, Robert Fulton, 1971, digital projection, 53 mins
Introduced by Martin Beck

What makes an institution? This is a question which animates Program, an ongoing project by artist Martin Beck at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts that has taken shape as a series of interventions, publications, and related events around the Center’s particular histories. For a recent episode of Program, Beck screened a fascinating yet largely forgotten work by Robert Fulton, Reality’s Invisible, and produced a DVD with designer James Goggin of the otherwise unavailable film that was then distributed to students pursuing art and cinema at the university.

Fulton made the film during his brief time at Harvard, where he had been invited to teach by Robert Gardner, his friend and collaborator (Fulton would later serve as a cinematographer on Gardner’s 1981 documentary Deep Hearts, among others). Reality’s Invisible could be described as a portrait of the Carpenter Center, yet it is a portrait of an extremely idiosyncratic and distinctive sort. Fulton moves us through the concrete space of the Center’s Le Corbusier-designed building—the only structure by the architect in North America—but, more centrally, presents us footage of students making and discussing their work alongside figures like Gardner, theorist Rudolf Arnheim, artist Stan Vanderbeek, filmmaker Stan Brakhage, and graphic designer Toshi Katayama. Fulton reconfigures these basic elements in a radically non-linear fashion, structuring the film as a breathtakingly rapid stream of sounds and images, using oblique angles, saccadic camera movement, single-frame shots, dynamic superimpositions, elaborate rephotography, direct animation and numerous other techniques to convey the manifold activities and ideas generated within and around the Carpenter Center.

In a subsequent discussion with Arnheim and Gardner on Gardner’s television program Screening Room, Fulton described his process behind Reality’s Invisible. “Normally we think of an image as an information-conveying unit,” he explained. “Well, more than that, it does have kinesthetic properties, in that it generates a certain energy, a certain ‘tone’ if you like.” Elsewhere, he describes his goal to “construct overall cadences” out of the records of individual perceptions, employing a musical metaphor in order to venture beyond historical notions of film form. Reality’s Invisible thus serves as an exemplary instance of a larger project taking place around Boston that scholar Scott MacDonald has termed “the Cambridge turn,” a rethinking of documentary involving not only Gardner and his circle, but also filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman, Ed Pincus, and Ross McElwee, to name just a few. Fulton’s film perfectly captures this era's spirit of inquiry, both through its unconventional strategies and the way its very composition mirrors an experimental ethos of art education.

Martin Beck (born 1963 in Bludenz, Austria, lives and works in New York and Vienna) is an artist whose exhibitions and projects engage questions of historicity and authorship and often draw from the fields of architecture, design, and popular culture. A number of projects developed over time include investigations into the history of communal living, notably the famous American commune of Drop City; the emerging discourse on ecology and politics at the 1970 International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado; and student protest and history writing in the case of the brutalist Art and Architecture Building by Paul Rudolph at Yale University. Beck distills from these references a paradoxical coexistence of emancipatory promises and logics of control that run through and between them.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.

Special thanks to Harvard Film Archive.