Spaces of Palpable Memory: Somewhere between the cinematic and the photographic
by Gillian Wylde
21st September 2009
Artist Gillian Wylde looks at Anya Lewin's references to cinema in With Heartfelt Gratitude...
As we watch a film, the continuous act of recognition in which we are involved is like a strip of memory unrolling beneath the images of the film itself, to form the invisible underlayer of an implicit double exposure.
- Maya Deren
‘Darling, shall we escape to the movies?'
Anya Lewin's With Heartfelt Gratitude for the Painless Treatment represents a rethinking and restaging of fact and fictions. A palimpsestic ‘film space' of memory, both out of time and place and of its time and place. The work is an account of the Central European world of her grandparents and foremothers; a world that has ceased to exist. A world in fragments, in exile and memento mori. The residual rests in the photographed or the filmed, in our fragmented memory.
Lewin is drawn to narrative in her work. She is a storyteller, who not unlike her father and father's father likes to blend fact and fictions, often humorously. The illusory narrativity of film and filmmaking, the blending of real and imagined, suggests, what Deleuze in conversation with filmmaker Jean Luc Godard, refers to as an ‘and'. Deleuze remarks:
‘AND is neither one thing nor the other, it's always in-between, between two things; it's the borderline, there's always a border, a line of flight or flow, only we don't see it, because it's the least perceptible of things. And yet it's along this line of flight that things come to pass, becomings evolve, revolutions take shape'. (Deleuze 1976)
Visible writings, gently, quite, then, there.
Framing differing points of reference, Lewin's film work traces an archival journey, an artist's journey. Journeys inhabited with social and cultural echoes of a cultural and ethnic history, sentient journeys of broken memory and recovery. Retroactively, journeys, both literal and metaphorical occupy the movie. The literal, slow and deliberately steady tracking cinematic journey of the mechanical eye documenting archives of the Holocaust and the Nazi era housed in the Wiener Library, London.
The agency of the archival and photographic is central to this work, alluding to both presence and absence. The camera eye journeys over a collection of handwritten autographed photos; smiling faces of glamorous film starlets with perfect teeth, photographs that portray a rich cultural Berlin life of the 1920's and early 1930's.
‘A transformation of the cinematic into the photographic, returning the moving image to the status of still photography'. (MacDougall 1998)
A central distinctive attribute to Lewin's film work utilises a history of cinema by meditating on the allure and limits of cinematic escapism, a journey of sorts. Berlin was the center of Germany's fledgling film industry, producing some of the great pioneering silent films of the 1920s and leading the way for future filmmakers in Hollywood who borrowed and adapted sound techniques, lighting, storytelling, and set design.
While there is little physical trace of the life journeys, i.e. flight between Poland, Germany, the USA and the UK within the film work, our spectator eye journeys between screens and a palpable index of these journeys are cinematically and photographically present. The implication of this palpability is of a something already known or understood, something already ‘felt' between the embodied spectator and the screen.
On the threshold of the visible, our faulty memory.
The film opens on the threshold of focus. Imminent, becoming apparent, an extreme close up films crystal glass, transparent and unbroken, a refractive index engraved with two interlaced equilateral triangles; a Jewish star. Material, object, signifier. One of six hand made crystal glass dishes also safely carried in transit by Ignatz and Ada Lewin between Berlin and New York in 1938. This ‘establishing shot' an alluding to of Kristallnacht, November 9 1938. The ‘night of crystal,' referring to the broken glass produced by the smashing of store windows throughout Germany and Austria, an act against Jews and their property.
How close can the camera be to its subject? Seeing occurs within time, the ‘given to be seen' of the photographic or cinematic image.
Lewin's sensitivity explores the expressive possibilities inherent within the medium of the moving image, the ‘given to be seen'. The film presents a chronicle of histories present, both in and beyond the frame/not seen. An ‘archival' photograph of Dr. Ignatz Lewin's dentistry business, Berlin Germany late 1920', an image of the past which dissolves, fades from black and white and forms into colour. A doubling exposure of sorts transporting the viewer into ‘now time', a built ‘film set' re-construction of the dental office in Plymouth England, 2008.
‘Do we ever know where history is really made?' (Marker 1983)
The film deliberately reveals aspects of its own making. In recreating and restaging archival photographs, the film work recreates/restages historical fact and historical fictions. The camera moves beyond the confines of the mise-en-scène, a mise-en-abyme of sorts, a ‘fourth wall breakage'. Beyond this containment of ‘film set', the interior architecture of the warehouse building in Plymouth is exposed along with the structures and apparatus of filmmaking. Tracks on which the fluid movement of the film cameras eye ‘sees' and films, usually hidden within filmmaking, are clearly viewable.
The clapper board, ‘the great time keeper/ time line locator of moments' counts the time code, obscuring momentarily the face of the actor ‘stand-in'. Tracking towards the face, the remembered face, the mouth, teeth, and the smile of her or him. Registering these faces in the yes of the camera moment. No Sound, No Text, No Camera Movement, Just Face and gaze, camera and looking. Directly referencing both Hollywood's filmic ‘screen test', which reinvented traditional portraiture through deceptively simple means and Andy Warhol's Screen Tests of the 1960's.
Perhaps we witness thinking.
‘That expressive instrument called a face can carry an existence, as my own existence is carried by my body' (Merleau-Ponty 1992)
Our very present tenseness
With Heartfelt Gratitude for the Painless Treatment explores not only ‘uncanny' traces or "strips" of memory but a narrative of a past tense, both real and imagined, factual and fictional. The fragility and instability of the present tense, a present tense, perhaps both real and imagined already in ‘fragile' flux. This ‘filmic' work suggests a tacit implicatedness, a cinematic suture, of sorts. The frame; a memory position, implying the space outside itself as much as a space within. Watching this film work, we are aware of some of the intangibility of a rethinking and restaging of fact and fictions within the films ‘filmic' moment(s). The ‘filmic' a term which Roland Barthes refers to as, ‘that in the film which cannot be described, the representational which cannot be represented.'(Barthes 1972) Surely all films suggest a blurring of fact and fiction? Somewhere between where ‘language' and ‘metalanguage' ends.
‘That s a space within. Watching this film work, we are aware of some of the intangibility of a rethinking and restaging of fact and fictions within the films ‘filmic' moment(s). The ‘filmic' a term which Roland Barthes refers to as, ‘that in the film which cannot be described, the representational which cannot be represented.'(1972) Surely all films suggest a blurring of fact and fiction? Somewhere between where ‘language' AND ‘metalanguage' ends.
Barthes, Roland 1972 "Mythologies", London: Jonathan Cape
Deren, Maya, Winter 1960 "Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality," Daedalus
Deleuze, Gilles November 1976 "Six fois deux"; Cahiers du Cinema 271 Exerpt from a conversation with Jean Luc Godard
MacDougall, David 1998 "Transcultural Cinema", New Jersey: Princeton University Press
Marker, Chris Sans Soleil 1983 film script
Merleu-Ponty, Maurice 1992 "Phenomenology of Perception" translated by Colin Smith, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul
Gillian Wylde is an artist working in video, installation and performance. She is a senior lecturer at Dartington College of Art, Devon.
Anya Lewin was commissioned to make With Heartfelt Gratitude for the Painless Treatment as part of our Small Wonders scheme 2008.