Guy Sherwin

(Leer en castellano)

Matchbox (Wojciech Bruszewski, 1975)


11 films I saw in 2011. For Lumiere. 14 Feb 2012.

Having a young family and a job teaching film means that I’ve seen far more film works this year on DVD than for real. Several of the works in this selection were made prior to 2011 and many were made by film artist friends based in the UK. I make no claims to objectivity or to comprehensiveness.

Dawn Chorus (2007), Marcus Coates
Marcus Coates is a performance artist who often uses video to put across his ideas of ‘becoming animal’. In Dawn Chorus (first exhibited at BALTIC Gateshead 2007) he has found a way for humans to make birdsong by slowing down recordings of birdsong enabling it to be imitated, then speeding up videos of people imitating the songs to their original speed. It’s a brilliant piece of work, engaging, humorous and affecting. I saw it on a DVD produced by Picture This, Bristol UK. It includes a charming documentary which describes the processes used in making the work.

To Do (2011), Emma Hart; at Matt´s Gallery, London
Again, by chance, on the theme of birds dressed up as humans. A gallery installation in which we see a circle of twenty or more miniature movie/still cameras mounted on tripod legs and dressed up as funky-looking birds. Each camera/bird displays on its screen an action performed by the artist that had previously taken place in the empty space between the cameras. The exhibition has an energy, free spirit and playfulness typical of Emma’s work. Matt’s is a gallery with a long-standing reputation for taking chances with relatively unknown artists and working closely with them in the production of the exhibition.

Forms are not Self-Subsistent Substances (2010), Samantha Rebello
Sam is a musician turned filmmaker/philosopher and the title of this work, like the work itself, is typically thought-provoking and enigmatic. It’s a kind of filmic meditation on existence. It’s refreshing to see work like this that is impossible to package, hard to describe - it just is! The film was shown at the BFI London Festival 2011 although I had the privilege of seeing it later, in the presence of the film-maker and in the comfort of my home.

Travelling Fields (2009), Inger Lise Hansen
This is a film that I like to show students who are completely new to artists’ film. It’s a typically uncompromising film by Inger Lise that uses the simple device of filming upside-down. When combined with a time-lapse tracking shot of an enigmatic industrial landscape on the Russian Norwegian border, the result is visually mesmerizing, confounding and disturbing. Inger Lise is a Norwegian filmmaker who divides her time between London, Oslo and the remote landscapes which are the subject of her films.
A DVD of her work has recently been produced by LUX.

Two Years at Sea (2011), Ben Rivers
A film that is also shot in (relatively) remote landscape. It is the only film that I managed to catch at this year’s London Film Festival, such is the paucity of my film viewing life at present. Two Years at Sea is the long version of a personal documentary about recluse Scottish woodsman Jake Williams. The film makes great use of film’s reflective, durational qualities. A fascinating thing about this festival screening was the presence of Jake in the audience, and how at the Q & A one began to piece together a very different picture of the man from the one that we saw in the film. It’s a salutary reminder that ‘documentary’ is as much a construct of its maker as it is a record of its subject.

End Rolls (2009), Lynn Loo. Performance for 4x 16mm projectors & optical sound.
In spite of not going out much in London, I am able on occasions to travel overseas with my partner Lynn (and family) to perform in film festivals. So I’ve seen Lynn’s End Rolls a few times recently, last year in a wonderful little festival in A Coruna Spain that took place in a huge abandoned prison on the coast. We performed in one of the outdoor exercise yards with its high walls. I showed Man with Mirror with seagulls circling and crying overhead in the night sky, and baby Mei joining in occasionally from her pushchair. Lynn projected her cameraless film from four projectors directly onto the rough walls of the prison yard. She’s a great colourist and there is magic in watching (and hearing) the overlapping rectangles of light-fogged film break out into colour as the projectors are gradually pulled apart.

New Ratio (2007), Simon Payne
I recently presented this piece to my students in London in a programme of abstract films, beginning with Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21 from 1921 and ending on Simon’s latter-day equivalent. The entire programme was shown on video as is so often the case these days in (higher) education. Only at the end did I realize that Simon’s video was the only work we’d seen in the medium for which it was intended to be seen- all the others were either video copies of films or video records of performances. New Ratio looked great, a beautiful coloured jewel of a film, hard, clear and uncompromising. Like all of Simon’s work in the last few years every image and sound was generated directly by computer.
The work comes in a recently published DVD compilation distributed by BFI Southbank bookstore.

Matchbox (1975), Wojciech Bruszewski
Matchbox was made on 35mm film in Poland by Wojciech Bruszewski who died two years ago. In 1980 Wojciech had generously organized a film tour for John Smith and myself, driving us to a number of cities in (then communist) Poland. We slept in a video gallery in his flat at the top of a high rise block in Lodz. He claimed it was the first video gallery in Poland. Matchbox is a film I’ve always loved in the simplicity of its concept, the skill in its execution and the manner in which it develops. A loop of film of a hand tapping a matchbox alternates with a shot of a window and sets up a strong visual rhythm. This is offset by a single thumping sound (of the matchbox) that gradually slips out of phase, hitting all the sync points in the film. The work encapsulates in miniature such feelings attributable to film as anticipation, memory, desire, resolution. Matchbox was screened (on video) in a programme I curated for South London Gallery 2011.

Unusual Red Cardigan (2011), John Smith, at Peer Gallery, London
I’ve been an enthusiast for John’s work since we first met in the 1970s. Girl Chewing Gum is a popular film from that time which in recent years has attracted many Youtube remakes (none of which get close to the original, of course). In this installation at Peer Gallery the various remakes are shown on a pile of monitors to which are attached a tangle of headphones, making it an amusing game to try and trace the source of sound. With typical Smith humour the exhibition charts the (probably true) story of the sale on Ebay, at a ridiculously high price, of an old VHS tape of John’s films and his attempts to track down the seller.

Whisper of the Heart (1995), Yoshifumi Kondo, Studio Ghibli, Japan.
Having a young family means that I watch (or half watch) rather too many animation films, often the slow-paced feature films made by Studio Ghibli headed by Hayao Miyasaki. Whisper of the Heart, directed by Yoshifumi Kondo is perhaps my favourite. It’s a slow-moving love story featuring a school-age girl who aspires to be a writer. I particularly enjoy watching the background animation of Tokyo streets through the changing seasons as the story unfolds. It’s amusing to see such beautifully observed hand-drawn animation making use of all the continuity editing tropes of mainstream narrative cinema.

Tree Reflection #2
(2011), Guy Sherwin. Siobhan Davies Studios, London
I’ve taken the liberty to include one of my works in this collection. 2011 was the year in which I was able to realize a long-held ambition, to complete this installation for two mechanically interlocked 16mm projectors. A single loop of film passes in forward direction through one projector and then in backward direction (upside down) through the second projector. On opposite walls of the room we see an image and its inversion, a tree that gradually swops places with its reflection in water. Tree Reflection #2 was shown for three days at Siobhan Davies Studios as part of Movements in Light, an exhibition of my work. With thanks to Siobhan Davies and to curator Charles Danby.