Enter Through the Workshop

By Stuart Heaney

Euphoric greetings to you all!

What a fortuitous opening to the workshop programme we had yesterday at the Serpentine. After some introductions and explanations of the workshop programme in the Serpentine’s Learning Space by no.w.here‘s Head of Lab and Learning, James Holcombe, the BFI‘s Education Curator, David Edgar and myself, Stuart Heaney, editor and administrator of this website, the students all introduced themselves to the group.

It was encouraging to meet such a group of bright, creative, perceptive and friendly young people – all with plenty of enthusiasm for new experiences and challenges (in fact, I must confess the strength of talent in the room was almost tangible). All of the students are undergraduates or younger and all of them have had some experience of either video production, photography or other related visual artistic practices, moving and still, but they are all eager new initiates to working with celluloid film and to poetic diaristic forms.

After some getting to know one another we all headed out into the exhibition space, which at present is nothing short of a wondrous grotto, and were taken on a walk-through by the Serpentine’s Head Curator, Kathryn Rattee, who treated us to her considerable expertise. Here some of us spotted Jonas himself wandering around and briefly chatted amiably with him.

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With a much more insightful review of the exhibition by our own Georgia Korossi, writer and curator of the BFI, forthcoming on this site I won’t go into too much detail here but, at a glance, highlights include: a new 16 monitor-screen work entitled Lavender that forces the viewer to use the footage in its parallel universes as the raw material to edit one’s own film in the mind’s eye, simply by moving the eyes around the screens in whatever order one subconsciously chooses (or doesn’t choose). That’s an idea that one of Jonas’ contemporaries, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, once referred to as “eye-ball kicks”.

The show also includes audio recordings by Jonas; his collection of 16mm Bolex cameras; blown up prints of clusters of his film frames; a video monitor showing a 1970s loft party with Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Andy Warhol, with polaroids taken at the event blown up and mounted adjacent to the screen; and not least a touchingly elegiac new film by Jonas entitled Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man, which is Jonas’ swansong to celluloid film and which shows him making some final edits to 16mm film strips using a splicer: he now makes video work only.

An excerpt from that very film was the note on which Sandra Hebron opened her In Conversation interview with Jonas, along with British film director Mike Figgis, that evening. Again, I won’t dwell on this as, segueing neatly from this appraisal, the next post will be a report on that event by our own expert writer and curator, Alex Davidson, also of the BFI.

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Back in the Learning Space, we closed the walk-through with the students by treating them to some introductory short films by Jonas (although not without some technical hitches with laptops and projectors – how reliable our cutting edge digital technologies can be!): including silent footage of the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the area where Jonas first lived in New York, which is now very trendy and expensive to live in but was then dilapidated and occupied by poor immigrant communities) from the very late 1940s and early 1950s (re-edited in 2002) and finally a beatific four minute film of a Hare Krishna parade from 1966 in which the film is sped up to a rapid pace, slowed down and multiple images are layered over one another (all of which was done using the Bolex camera only with no post production, except to add the asynchronous audio).

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Our next appointment will be the sold out screening of Lost Lost Lost at BFI Southbank this evening (with a review by Alex Davidson to follow next week) The students and curators will all be there and we’ll be busy reporting on it for those who are not lucky enough to make it! Tomorrow we will be joining Jonas and the students at the Serpentine for an informal chat at which we hope to learn from him some suggestions on how we might work to achieve our own diaristic films.

Until then – stay tuned for further developments folks, they’re coming thick and fast!

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