Utopian Visions is a four-part program of experimental films curated by Ben Russell exploring the relationship between cinema and Utopia – both idealized forms of reality.
Utopia is that horizon hovering just out of reach, that bright future on the other side of the darkness and catastrophe of our never-ending present. In the undeniable face of the Real, Utopia is an unavoidable imaginary – it is a no-place, as Thomas Moore defined it – but it is a no-place made habitable through the century-old miracle of Cinema, of time-space regained. In its most vital manifestations, cinema is a construction of time and space that offers a hallucination of the real – it is a flickering vision of radical possibility drawn from the fabric of our everyday. Cinema is an always-present that only exists while we are present; it is a utopia that is always-arriving. By way of immersive and transformative example, here is a four-part program of film and video works drawn from an international canon of artist’s films: from mushroom clouds to hypnagogic states, Buddhist haircuts to slow-motion dance parties, Red Sea ecstasies to capitalist color theory, and noise concerts to LSD trips, UTOPIAN VISIONS is an invitation to inhabit the no-place called Now.
PROGRAM 1: THE PRESENT, REVISITED
With startling echoes of our present historical crisis, this 40-year old film by one of the masters of the American Avant-Garde reanimates the 70-year old Bikini Atoll nuclear tests to shocking and sublime results. Scored by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley, here is annihilation as true transcendence!
Featuring: Crossroads by Bruce Conner (30:00, 16mm, 1976)
PROGRAM 2: THE BODY IS A VEHICLE
From two of the UK’s finest and one of the USA’s best, here are three utopian lessons in Getting Physical. From John Smith, a droll transformation in reverse (with more echoes of our political present) shuttles us with a laugh into Peggy Ahwesh’s spirit-landscape, in which every cut is a Surrealist’s knife – bringing us closer and closer to the mystic realm of the everyday. We look again to Mark Leckey and see our Selves mirrored, moving in a glorious slo-mo delirium of UK party-dancers, vibrating as a singularly ecstatic body. One beat pulses through us all.
Featuring: Om by John Smith (4:00, 16mm, 1986); Bethlehem by Peggy Ahwesh (8:00, video, 2009); Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore by Mark Leckey (15:00, video, 1988)
SOUND IS A COLOR IS A FEELING
With the gathering force of a tidal wave, the voice of Egyptian singer Abdel Basset Hamouda flickers up from the depths of the Red Sea to a synaesthetic visual score by Dutch artist Gerard Holthuis. The waters recede and the screen becomes a curtain becomes a grotto becomes a forest – for NYC-based artist Mary Helena Clark, sound is an emotion, a haptic memory, an induction into a hypnotic state. So (dis)oriented, we arrive at a grayscale image of love via Gunvor Nelson (and scored by Steve Reich): the color here is felt, transmitted through a mother’s emotionally-chromatic vision of a child at the delirious cusp of adolescence.
Featuring: Marsa Abu Galawa by Gerard Holthuis (13:00, 35mm, 2004); By Foot-Candle-Light by Mary Helena Clark (9:00, video, 2011); My Name Is Oona by Gunvor Nelson (10:00, 16mm, 1969)
PROGRAM 4: THE MIRROR OF TIME
Our four-part treatise on Utopia ends with a program of films by the curator – an LA-based artist whose programming is a reflection of his own inquiries and inspirations. To that end, here are three UTOPIAN VISIONS in which time (the true medium of cinema) is a plastic, mutable space that occupies us oh-so-briefly as to reveal that no-place inside us all. From a Lightning Bolt concert to an everyday Saramaccan animism to a desert trance film with bells, here is the Real.
Featuring: Black and White Trypps Number Three by Ben Russell (12:00, 35mm, 2007); River Rites by Ben Russell (11:30, S16mm, 2011); Trypps #7 (Badlands) (10:00, S16mm, 2010)
CURATOR BIO: Ben Russell is an artist and curator whose films, installations, and performances foster a deep engagement with the history and semiotics of the moving image. Russell’s work lies at the intersection of ethnography and psychedelia, and he has received international acclaim for his films.
His films and installations are in direct conversation with the history of the documentary image, providing a time-based inquiry into trance phenomena and evoking the research of Jean Rouch, Maya Deren and Michael Snow, among others. Russell received a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, a FIPRESCI International Critics Prize (IFFR 2009) for his first feature film Let Each One Go Where He May, and is an exhibiting artist in documenta 14. His second feature film, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (co-directed with Ben Rivers), premiered at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2013. Curatorial projects include Magic Lantern (Providence, USA, 2005-2007), BEN RUSSELL (Chicago, USA, 2009-2011), and Hallucinations (Athens, Greece, 2017).
Merriweather Post Pavilion Lawn