Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 7:30pm
Nineteen Films by Kurt Kren

Maccarone - 98 Morton Street, New York

As a prelude to our upcoming benefit auction, hosted by Maccarone, Light Industry will present a screening of work by Kurt Kren at the gallery's Morton Street space.

Long celebrated as one of experimental cinema’s most seminal figures, Kren was among the first filmmakers of the postwar European avant-garde, a key participant in the Vienna Actionist movement of the 1960s, and a progenitor of rigorous formal techniques and processes that would re-emerge, years later, in the flowering of structural film in North America and the UK. Kren’s filmography stretches from the 1950s through the 1990s, and his influence on the Continent can only be compared to that of Stan Brakhage in the US, yet his work screens all too rarely on our shores. This program of nineteen films spans Kren’s formidable career, from his first 16mm film, 1/57 Test with Synthetic Sound, through one of the last works he completed in his final decade, 49/95 thousandyearsofcinema, made in commemoration of film’s centenary.

Kren’s best known works are those of his brief Actionist period, beginning with 6/64 Mom and Dad, which uses images from an eponymous Otto Muehl piece. Kren’s film is not merely a document of Muehl’s performance, but rather a collaborative and transformative work. The rich hues and dirty surfaces of the film stock convey a multi-colored mess of naked bodies, paint, eggs, and other substances, cut to a frantically fast split-second pace, underscored by visible tape splices that quiver along the bottom of the frame like a silent soundtrack. This style carries through in 9/64 O Tannenbaum, depicting a Muehl action involving regressive play with shabby, abused Christmas trees. The films made with Actionist Günter Brus are composed in stark black and white, but here there are moments even more visceral. His Brus collaboration 16/67 September 20 is alternately titled The Eating, Drinking, Pissing, and Shitting Film, and these utterly literal events, shown in parallel editing, are not easily forgotten.

Kren staked out a space for a new kind of cinema by avoiding both the poetic tendencies of Deren and Brakhage as well as the narrative subversions of Godard, choosing to focus instead on producing an extreme tension between structure and image, articulated through dense films that range from a few seconds long to under ten minutes. This project is apparent in the Actionist films, which convey sloppy, monstrous, and seemingly out-of-control events through unrelentingly systemic editing. But the dialectic becomes even more pronounced and nuanced in Kren's other films, wherein the visual subject matter seems relatively casual and innocuous—ranging from the unremarkable street details in 5/62 People Looking out of the Window, Trash, etc. and the unknown passers-by in 38/79 Sentimental Punk to the deceptively pastoral images of 3/60 Trees in Autumn and 37/78 Tree Again—thereby heightening a contrast with the precise mathematics of his montage, often built from predetermined scores based on serial patterns. 2/60 48 Heads from the Szondi Test, for example, follows the Fibonacci sequence, so the length of each shot is the sum of the two preceding shots. The rapidity of his films becomes less about a kinetic exhilaration than producing experiential puzzles, offered to the viewer to decode.

In certain films, though, Kren achieves both transgression and enigma though the an erasure of content, as in 42/83 No Film, an ultra-brief movie consisting of almost nothing but its title, and 18/68 Venecia Kaputt, a film that uses emulsion-scratching to remove an image of the Italian city. In contrast to his Actionist work, Kren enacts a more subtle violence. “There was already talk about Venice going down,” he explained to an interviewer about this film. “I had fun destroying that picture.”

1/57 Test with Synthetic Sound, 16mm, 1957, 1 min
2/60 48 Heads from the Szondi Test, 16mm, 1960, 4 mins
3/60 Trees in Autumn, 16mm, 1960, 5 mins
4/61 Walls-Positive-Negative and Path, 16mm, 1961, 6 mins
5/62 People Looking out of the Window, Trash, etc., 16mm, 1962, 4 mins
6/64 Mom and Dad, 16mm, 1964, 4 mins
8/64 Ana - Action Brus, 16mm, 1964, 2 mins
9/64 O Tannenbaum, 16mm, 1964, 3 mins
15/67 TV, 16mm, 1967, 4 mins
16/67 September 20, 16mm, 1967, 6 mins
18/68 Venecia Kaputt, 16mm, 1968, 1 min
26/71 Cartoon - Balzac and the Eye of God, 16mm, 1971, 1 min
31/75 Asylum, 16mm, 1975, 8 mins
32/76 To W + B, 16mm, 1976, 7 mins
36/78 Rischart, 16mm, 1978, 3 mins
37/78 Tree Again, 16mm, 1979, 3 mins
38/79 Sentimental Punk, 16mm, 1979, 4 mins
42/83 No Film, 16mm, 1983, 3 seconds
49/95 thousandyearsofcinema, 16mm, 1995, 3 mins