Interview with Barry Gerson on 'Luminous Zone'

By Francisco Algarín Navarro y Carlos Saldaña

Luminous Zone (Barry Gerson, 1976). © Barry Gerson

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Was Luminous Zone shot in one or in different locations?

Luminous Zone was filmed in Manhattan, at my studio in Brooklyn and beach front areas of Brooklyn. It started with my observances of light hitting a radiator in a friend’s apartment in Manhattan, and the ideas involved in the approach to the filming came afterwards.

How long did it take you to shoot and edit Luminous Zone? Was the idea of using mattes and exploring their possibilities central for you from the beginning?

I think it took about three months to complete Luminous Zone. It was all done with a matte box, which I purchased for the express purpose of making films in which I would be able to construct images, i.e. another form of collage, but within a single image. So, this was also a way of exploring possibilities of extending a still image into a set of moving images.

I did some sketches of ideas and then I needed to find the locations that fit those ideas. I usually start with an idea which leads to the enfolding of what is needed, but everything that follows is a set of spontaneous reactions, much as a painter who puts unplanned marks on a canvas. I seem to need some kind of starting idea, otherwise my brain might explode from too many possibilities. It does lead to an odd mixture of isms.

For a number of years, I have been making digital films, by placing objects into existing settings. Recently I have started making sets composed of many objects, set up not to make a pleasing composition, but set up to facilitate the making of many possibilities for filming. Some will be lit by direct sunlight and some I will light. I should say, that I continue to be more fascinated with natural light.

In Luminous Zone, each of the six parts works as a series, but our feeling is that they could also be seen individually, as "studies". Each part is very differentiated, there is a specific exploration in each one different from the others, but at the same time there is a strong unity between them. On the other hand, we wonder if those sketches were something like a score and if they reflected in some way the "structure" of the film. We think that within each part there is an important place for improvisation. Maybe you knew the way you were going to shoot, but not the full set of variations.

The sketches consisted of a drawn rectangular frame, representing the visualization of the shot or scene. Under this was a written description, notes on how to use the matte box, lens setting, etc. and a general description of the scene. The mattes were made from construction board. Each of the six parts required it's own set of mattes. The sketches were not like a score, there was one sketch representing a sequence. I carried the structure in my head and the sketches were representative of each sequence. You are correct about my allowing for improvisation in the actual filming, which is my modus operandi for all my films: have a structure that allows for chaos to reign within. In going through these old papers I became upset over all the beautiful ideas that never got realized—especially the film sculpture and film installations.

To what extent does each part work as a completely indivisible unit for you? Do you think they would make any sense separately? We could relate this with the progression that we find in the film. Did you find the structure of the six parts when working on the sketches or when filming? Also, the sixth part is very enigmatic: in it we return to the space of the first part, this time framed by a double mask consisting of a black rectangle placed in the center and another as a black border around the image. How did you come up with this device as the end of the film?

Luminous Zone gradually grew one part at a time. I did have in my head from the beginning that it would be a certain number of sequences. I always thought of the sections as parts of a whole, but yes, they are complete in many respects and they were created to be complete, much like a "movement" in a symphony where it has its own integrity but makes up a part of the whole. The last part was not done to be the last part. That happened in the editing process. It looked like it should be at the end.

In the film, we can find what we could call "natural" or "internal masks". For example, the window sash could work as a "mask" in relation to the frame in part three, and in part four the geometrical and diagonal side that covers the right part of the image, which is part of the architecture, creates a mask-like effect. This is how that strange illusionistic hexagon shape is created. How did these "natural" or "internal masks" interact with the masks you built?

I often use architectural parts as elements of framing, as well as the color and texture. This consideration is important in Celluloid Illuminations, where color masking is used throughout. When I would find a location it had to have these natural or man made boundaries, in order for the site to emit an energy that comes from the Universe. This energy emits charges in conjunction with the Earth’s special point energy. The Cheops Pyramid is such a site, a very powerful one. The Earth's energy points are created by an activity in the Universe. For a more explicit example in my work, you can see my digital film The Universe.

In many others of your films, you work with the visual perception of framing and reframing through, for example, tracking shots, surfaces that cover other surfaces, layers, objects, but many times you work with "elements of the world", and you construct the film around the location of the camera, the movement of the objects, and so on. Although the masks can also be understood as "elements of the world", we feel that by working in Luminous Zone with them, there is a bigger intervention and a bigger transformation of the reality that these "still lives" constitute. Let's say you have a greater margin of control when moving and manipulating the masks.

I attempt to create images in which the correct placement of color, light, and motion are responsible for actually creating this energy. This means that when a digital film is projected or viewed within a flat screen, the shape of the activity of the digital film, is hopefully eliciting this energy within the rectangle of the screen. It has always been my project, and therefore my driving force, to create images, right from the start of my life as a working artist with a camera (age 12): to seek out such sites and to have those images that I create contain the energy of the Universe. I needed the "natural masks" to interact in a perfect union. As with all my films, because I’m filming a composition eliciting power from the Universe, it is correct. Therefore, I don’t cut out parts of a sequence. If it turns out to be wrong, when the whole thing that was shot at that time was wrong and the whole sequence is not used. Everything that I filmed for Luminous Zone was used. It was, in the editing, just a matter of the order placement. This is when I decided to end the film with its ending sequence.

Conducted between October 5 and 29, 2021, Seville-New York.