Adynata (1983, 30 minutes) takes a formal 1861 portrait of a Chinese Mandarin and his wife as the starting point for this allegorical investigation of the fantasies spawned in the West about the East, particularly that which associates femininity with the mysterious Orient. Adynata presents a series of oppositions – male and female images, past and present sounds – which in and of themselves construct a minimal and fragmentary narrative, an open text of our imaginations, fears and fantasies.
About the Participants
Leslie Thornton’s short films combine original and archival footage, video and still images, and digital media in their investigation of the collision (and collusion) of these modes. The play that she exercises between abstract and referential imagery allows her to address moral and ethical issues as they pertain to events and as they relate to the role of art and media. By editing together controversial or transgressive material, she creates discursive cinematic spaces in which to consider humanity’s inexplicable behaviors, as do fellow avant-garde filmmakers Chris Marker and Chantal Akerman. Yet Thornton’s signature inclusion of sublimely beautiful footage pitted against the tragic lends her oeuvre what she describes in an interview in Afterimage as an “ambiguity of intentions” inspired by a favorite film, Luis Buñuel’s Land without Bread (Tierra sin pan; Las Hurdes) (c. 1932).
Thornton has long been considered a pioneer of contemporary media aesthetics, working at the borders and limits of cinema, video and digital media. Such seminal works as her ongoing series Peggy and Fred in Hell (1985- ) operate in the interstices between various media-forms, often using simultaneous, interacting projections of film and video to address both the architectural spaces of media, and the imaginary spaces of the spectator’s involvement. Thornton uses the process of production as an explorative process, a collective endeavor “position(ing) the viewer as an active reader, not a consumer.” She is a contemporary of such fellow explorers as Chris Marker, Chantal Akerman, Gary Hill, Michael Snow, Alan Sondheim and Harun Farocki, all artists who are opening up new spaces for media, re-mapping its boundaries within the projective spaces of the museum or gallery as well as within the public spaces of the cinema, television and internet transmission. Thornton’s career to date has been a unique and unusual one. She was one of the first artists to bridge the boundaries between cinema and video, to explore their complicities and resistances, and to embrace their differences as positive, and even complementary, attributes. Thornton’s complex articulations are both edifying innovations in media form and content and tacit deconstructions of the principles, presumptions and promises of technically reproducible artworks. Her projects are ongoing and provisional, and she had been unafraid to return to, and rework, and rethink, issues, topics, subjects.
Steve Fagin (stevefagin.net) is Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, and has produced a series of feature length videos including The Amazing Voyage of Gustave Flaubert and Raymond Roussel, The Machine That Killed Bad People and TropiCola. These films have been featured prominently at museums, international film festivals, art biennials and have been screened on Bravo International in Latin America, Canal + in Europe and PBS in the United States. His work has had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and is the subject of a book from Duke University Press, Talkin’ With Your Mouth Full: Conversations with the Videos of Steve Fagin. The work has been presented at both the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in many contexts including both of their summary shows of the essential art of the twentieth century. From 2005-2009 he worked as creative consultant for the haudenschild Garage and commissioning editor of the hG, Spare Parts projects. The Last Book, an hG, Spare Parts project, was conceived and directed by him. Currently he is working on a feature film, A Cloud of Hope, about the independence movements in Africa, circa 1960 and on a series of “smart phone pieces”, both as commissioning editor and as one of the artists for LACMA.