Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 7:30pm
Four Films by David Lamelas
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Light Industry hosts an evening with David Lamelas, a pioneering figure of conceptual art. Though first known for sculptures made in a minimalist vein during the 1960s, as the decade progressed he became increasingly interested in approaching art as an information technology, producing works that involved light projections, photography and slides, television monitors, and, in the case of his site-specific performance piece Screen (1966), a movie theater in which, as he describes it, “on the screen there was absolutely nothing to see, just the continuous flickering of a blank film.” Soon after this turn in his work, he came to international attention for representing Argentina at the 1968 Venice Biennale with his piece Office of Information about the Vietnam War on Three Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio, which featured the ongoing reading of news-agency telexes about the conflict as they arrived at his Biennale “office.”
Following Venice, Lamelas moved to London, where he began some of his earliest cinematic experiments, such as A Study of Relationships Between Inner and Outer Space (1969), made for—and partially about—the Camden Arts Centre. Cinema became an increasingly central aspect of his work in subsequent years, and he produced a steady output of 16mm titles through the 1970s, including his featurette The Desert People (1974), shot on location in Southern California using a professional crew. His desire to engage directly with media systems would ultimately influence his move to Los Angeles in 1976, where he attempted to enter the film industry proper.
In his essay “Structure, Sign and Reference in the Work of David Lamelas,” art historian Benjamin H.D. Buchloh argues that the artist’s South American origins, his interest in mass media, and his engagement with the discourses around conceptualism are deeply interconnected. “It does not appear accidental that the internationalism of conceptual art emerged precisely at this moment in the late sixties—the moment in which media culture and the entertainment industries, now generally referred to as the culture of spectacle, made a definitive shift away from even the last remnants of nationality or regionally specific cultures,” Buchloh writes. “And inasmuch as conceptual art insisted on the assimilation of the technologies of the increasingly global communications industries, it removed itself further than any avant-garde internationalism from the framework of cultural specificities, be they those of discursive conventions, social institutions or the cultural orders of the nation state.”
Tonight, Light Industry presents a rare screening of four early films by Lamelas. The event will be followed by a conversation between Lamelas and Stuart Comer, Chief Curator of Media and Performance at the Museum of Modern Art and one of the organizers of Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980.
A Study of Relationships Between Inner and Outer Space, 1969, 16mm, 24 mins
Lamelas’s first film begins as an early instance of institutional critique, picturing the empty exhibition halls of the Camden Arts Centre and describing its administration in neutral, analytic language. But as the film progresses, its narration moves out of the Centre to detail the ever-larger socio-geographic contexts of London itself, from the Camden neighborhood to the city as a whole, taking into account the structures that contain it: political, architectural, and even climatic. The film concludes with verité-style person-on-the-street interviews about the impending moon landing, an event that would soon connect the globe via live broadcast media.
Time as Activity (Düsseldorf), 1969, digital projection, 13 mins
Created for an exhibition at the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle, Time as Activity (Düsseldorf) consists of three four-minute shots, each presenting a different location in Düsseldorf: the area around the Kunsthalle itself in late morning; a view from the Triton Fountain overlooking the Königsallee canal; and finally a downtown intersection at rush hour. Each is preceded by a title card stating the location of the shot and the exact time of its recording.
“In Lamelas’s rigorous reduction of the filmic image to its most elementary functions (pure duration, pure recording, and pure indexical presence),” Buchloh remarked of Lamelas’s filmmaking, “the dialectic of late modernist rationality suddenly appears: that the elimination of narrative and agency, of representation and the imaginary from the (filmic) image, driven by the desire to dismantle the ideological conditions of media representation, manifests the very order of the technocratic and administrative rationality that the calculated and industrially produced forms of narrative and myth conceal.”
To Pour Milk into a Glass, 1972, 16mm, 8 mins
“This work is a continuation of my interest in how the movie camera evokes meaning through framing,” Lamelas explains. “I wanted to find a symbol for the container and its content to represent how the camera frames and what is shown on screen. As a simple way of representing the idea, I decided to use a glass and milk. The eight sequences end with a scene of the glass being shattered and the milk splattering all over the table, which implies that there is no way to contain information.”
The Desert People, 1974, 16mm, 48 mins
In something of a pivot away from the structural sensibility of his previous films, The Desert People at first appears to appropriate two well-known cinematic genres, the road movie and the ethnographic documentary. It begins with shots of an American muscle car roaring through the desert highway, then switches to a series of staged interviews with four different people, all white, who each in turn describe their contact with a Southwestern Native American tribe, the Papago. The Papago themselves are represented only near the end of the film, through the character Manny, a young member of the tribe. “The Desert People presents itself as a documentary and was sometimes exhibited as such, though most spectators realize sooner or later that it is a fiction,” film historian David E. James observes. “A work of conceptual art, the film offers its own hermetic reflexiveness as the aesthetically resolved form of the impossibility of cognitive exchange across cultures, of the inattainability of a discursive objectivity outside solipsism, and indeed of the sealed autoreferentiality of all media systems.” As James contends, the real subject of the film, the eponymous desert people, are not the Papago but the Angelenos.
Lamelas arrived in California as an outsider, and the encounter was a formative one. “My first visit to the United States was to Los Angeles,” he recalls, “where I immediately experienced the shock of American culture. At that time I had this love/hate relationship with American culture. I arrived in LA not knowing a soul and wanting to do a film, so I spent the days discussing my film project with a lot of people and the nights watching movies on TV. I studied American filmmaking through television. It was like going to art school again. The Desert People is like a study of American movie making. Actually the process of making it was as interesting as the movie itself, because I acted like a movie director and thus became a movie director.”
Tickets - $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.