DIRGES & STURGEONS

Dirges & Sturgeons

Curated by Astria Suparak
For Anthology Film Archives, New York, NY
2001. Tour through 2003.

Videos and music by:
Animal Charm, Pierre Yves Clouin, Lawrence Elbert, Jacqueline Goss, Miranda July, Bjørn Melhus, Seth Price

YACHT: Young Artists Challenge High Technology (for a Total eclipse of the heart). Sometimes, danger and small warm things. A lo-hi limbo, a purging of the doubles. It is an occasion for instant nostalgia and time-shaped puzzles.

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PROGRAM

Slow Gin Soul Stallion, Animal Charm, 1996. 2:30 minutes
The unusual combination of a sound like a singing saw accompanies sweet images of frolicking lambs in the meadow, galloping horses, and a strange boy, is eerily beautiful and pure. “Horses gallop and a dandelion blows apart in a pervy flow somehow reminiscent of a feminine hygiene commercial.” – Jon Raymond, Plazm

Lightfoot Fever, Animal Charm, 1996, 1:30 minutes
Fuelled by lavish doses of disjointed hyper-editing, super talented Jim Bailey dances with wild animals in this hot and exciting performance of “Fever.”

Whitney: Mama’s Little Baby, Lawrence Elbert, 2000, 8:30 minutes
The diva as a paranoid crackhead venting tender(izing) love on her backseat baby.

The Little Big, Pierre Yves Clouin, 1999, 3:38 minutes
“Every crease and surface of the human body has erotic potential in the work of Pierre Yves Clouin. With only details of unidentifiable flesh to ponder, sexual tension vibrates between the screen and the audience’s collective imagination. The answer to the question ‘Is that his…or his…?’ is kept out of reach, drawing the viewer into a mind-body-camera menage-à-trois with no climax…” – Cinematexas International Short Film + Video Festival

The 100th Undone, Jacqueline Goss, 2001, silent, 9 minutes
“A love letter to the individual in the age of biotechnical reproduction – i.e., transcription of the Human Genome – with a personalized pre-history for future human clones.” – New York Video Festival

Getting Stronger Every Day, Miranda July, 2001, 6:30 minutes
“There are two movies I saw on TV about boys who were taken from their families and then returned to them years later. One boy was on a fun spaceship for years and the other boy was kidnapped and molested. These boys were never the same again and they just couldn’t re-integrate into the family. I saw these movies when I was little. I’ve often described them to people, always paired together. They are sort of the comedy and tragedy version of the same story and it is a mundanely spiritual story. GETTING STRONGER EVERY DAY includes these boys’ tales, but they are like mystical objects placed on the living reality of the man storyteller. In other parts of the movie actual mystical objects hover in peoples lives without a myth or story attached. I like to think about how these dimensions interact simply and can be enacted: real life / story / worldly / spirit / video / flat drawing.” – MJ

Das Zauberglas (The Magic Glass), Bjørn Melhus, 1991, 6 minutes
A short meeting of a shaving man and his female reflection in the magic glass/the TV monitor. A tale about coming and going and the desire of an incomprehensible virtual image. Based on the German version of the 1950’s Western romance, “Broken Arrow.”

Industrial Synth, Seth Price, 2001, 15 minutes
“Modernity, the period roughly spanning the mid 19th century to the present, has produced a vast body of linked and interrelated ‘mass’ or ‘popular’ culture, which is, in effect, an archive. This phenomenon is closely tied to the rise of time-based media, from film and the gramophone, through the LP and CD, TV and radio, HiFi, animation, video, and the World Wide Web.

Most recent of these, the web represents a different order of information technology. Its interactivity distinguishes it from traditional media’s ‘total flow,’ which may run 24 hours a day, but can only be switched on or off. Moreover, the web is composed of disparate media previously available only in controlled broadcasts, or locked into discrete consumer objects such as videotapes and records. At least theoretically, then, the historical archive of pop culture becomes accessible, and, just as importantly, mutable: this is an opportunity not simply for preservation, but for recirculation and recombination along new lines.

An archive like this allows for an experience of history that is quite personal. Artifacts such as pop songs, typeface designs, logos, and advertisements, are, like illuminated manuscripts or Victorian corsets, headstones marking a bygone era; the difference is that an item of the ‘just-past’ may have originated in the lived experience of the viewer, and produces the shock of the uncanny: it remains the same as it was, and yet completely different. This shock is a recognition that the change has occurred in the viewing subject. These items are the detritus of a society predicated on perpetual turnover and obsolescence, and a personal experience of history is an intimation of one’s own mortality.” – SP

*Pre-show may include Seth Price’s Game Heaven (Video Game Soundtracks 1982-1987), 2002, CD, time variable.
“Although unavailable through commercial channels, early video-game soundtracks nonetheless circulate on the internet, exchanged by fans who have hacked the songs from cartridges, discs, or free-standing arcade machines. The peculiar status of the music-obsolete, overlooked by the market, and imbued with nostalgia for a second cohort-coupled with the fan sites flaunting of legal ‘content’ control, makes it emblematic of hacker culture’s ideal of art liberated from commerce. This album’s release enacts the common corporate strategy of rooting out an obscure cultural artifact resuscitated through someone else’s labor of love, and exposing it to a broad audience.” – SP

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PRESS

THE VILLAGE VOICE:

Peripatetic curator Astria Suparak has an eye for the strange and ineffable.
– Amy Taubin

THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN:

Video art starlet Astria Suparak is on a mission to bring the freshest experimental works to the theaters nearest you. The 23-year-old New York curator makes a stop on her national and European tour at Artists’ Television Access tonight with Dirges and Sturgeons, a program of shorts by young and emerging artists. Playful laments indeed, these new works use lo-fi aesthetics to critique high technology and mass-produced culture.

Using outdated analog video modes, Jacqueline Goss muses on the fate of the individual in “The 100th Undone,” a personal history of cloning and biotechnological reproduction. Hilariously grotesque, Lawrence Elbert’s “Whitney: Mama’s Little Baby” is a baby’s-eye view of the pop diva. Also featured is new work from performance artist and videomaker-distributor Miranda July of Big Miss Moviola, now Joanie 4 Jackie, fame (whose touring program “Some Kind of Loving” was also curated by Suparak). In “Getting Stronger Every Day,” July addresses mythmaking and media fables in the retelling of two TV-movie stories of little boys lost and found.
– Alissa Chadburn, “Screen Time

THE CHICAGO READER:

Curator Astria Suparak describes these videos as presenting futuristic or high-tech ideas “in a lo-fi way,” and the best entries are both simple and conceptually subtle in their approaches to gender. Pierre Yves Clouin continues to explore the male body in The Little Big (1999), a single take in which a crack that appears to be buttocks in shadow is revealed to be something more erotic. In Lawrence Elbert’s Whitney: Mama’s Little Baby (2000) a drag queen drinks from a bottle in a paper bag and delivers a solipsistic and rather pathetic monologue to the camera. The theme of self-entrapment is echoed in The Magic Glass (1991), as video maker Bjorn Melhus speaks to his feminized image on a monitor while shaving himself.

On the same program, which runs about 58 minutes: work by Jacqueline Goss, Miranda July, Seth Price, and Animal Charm.
– Fred Camper

PHOENIX NEW TIMES

Experimental Workout: Films are short in format, long on imagination

Like a celluloid black sheep in a world of fluffy white feature films, the unsung short film tends to flirt with disaster — taking more risks, breaking more rules, and often deliberately throwing viewers off guard in ways that features rarely do. With so much to prove in five minutes rather than two hours, its brevity creates intensity, whether it’s a condensed narrative or an outlandish mélange of disjointed images.

The champion of this raw, creative art form is Astria Suparak, a New York-based film curator who’s on a tour to screen “Dirges and Sturgeons,” a program of seven short, experimental films. One of her goals is “for people to expand their minds to different forms of storytelling and different ways to make movies,” she says.

Suparak chose several of the pieces because they have what she calls a “lo-fi look” to them, in keeping with the program’s subtitle, “YACHT: Young Artists Challenging High Technology.” “I want to generally inspire others to make their own work — to think, Oh, I can do that.'”

Indeed, for Animal Charm’s Slow Gin Soul Stallion/Lightfoot Fever, the filmmaker didn’t actually film anything. It was made entirely of imagery from found sources — “like maybe a TV studio Dumpster,” Suparak says. The result is a surreal, rhythmic composition that plays out like a visual response to the innovative mix-and-sample sounds of modern DJ culture.

This spirit of recycling and synthesizing is also apparent in Bjorn Melhus’ Das Zauberglas (The Magic Glass), which uses the German-dubbed dialogue from a 1950s Western movie as its soundtrack, as well as Miranda July’s Getting Stronger Every Day (starring Carrie Brownstein of indie band Sleater-Kinney), a morphed retelling of two different TV movies about boys taken from their homes, one kidnapped and the other abducted by aliens.

Seth Price’s Industrial Synth exploits the “lo-fi look” to explore consumerism, planned obsolescence in popular culture, and ultimately, our own mortality. It’s unsettling. “In all of the pieces, I like the sense of bewilderment,” says Suparak.

The viewer’s discomfort seethes under the surface most of the time, but in different ways. In Jacqueline Goss’ The 100th Undone, an explanation of the Human Genome Project arouses rational fears of sci-fi scenarios, while in Lawrence Elbert’s Whitney: Mama’s Little Baby, the viewer is trapped in the passive role of baby, stuck in the back seat of a car while Mama — an erratic, crack-smoking Whitney Houston look-alike drag queen — unleashes her disturbing, paranoid monologue.

And in all of the works, “What you see at first isn’t the whole thing — you have to figure it out over the course of the video, sort of like visual puzzles,” Suparak says. Case in point: Pierre Yves Clouin’s The Little Big, an up-close crevice of quivering flesh that maximizes its eroticism by keeping the viewer guessing about what body part is being shown. “That’s what I like about experimental work — just having to work your brain a little harder instead of predicting the ending.”
– Michele Laudig, “Experimental Workout: Films are short in format, long on imagination,” Oct. 10 2002

CONTINUITY ERROR:

Curator Astria Suparak has come to my hometown, Milwaukee, once already — with Sexuality Malfunctioned, an itchy, extremely disturbing program of films and videos whose images seemed to scab over our entrenched self-regard. Now she’s back on tour with Dirges and Sturgeons (check out astriasuparak.com for dates) and the results are much more user-friendly, although itchiness is certainly on the plate.

The organizing principle this time is YACHT: Young Artists Challenge High Technology. I’m not sure I’d be able to thread every film in the program through this acronym, nor if it’s even necessary. But certainly Seth Price’s “Industrial Synth” (2001) has a lot invested in low technology. Most of this 15-minute video is taken up by an ancient computer adventure game where the player examines the dot-matrix environment and tries to elude death (and Death). For Price, discarded or outmoded technology offers an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the personal in history, a perpetual accessing of memories in an effort to stave off mortality. And so the player’s final examination never goes through, and the effect is devastating.

For itchiness, we have Lawrence Elbert’s “Whitney: Mama’s Little Baby” (2000). Whitney Houston, played here by a drag queen, mounts a drugged, terrifying monologue in her parked car. With the camera shooting from the wide-angle distorted perspective of Houston’s child in the back seat, the audience receives all the abuse, paranoia and cracked-out affection. The cinema chair becomes a restraining child seat as we become helpless witness to La Whitney telling us we’re ugly and spitting up rotten Lunchables. There’s not much compassion for the diva at the wheel, which only adds another level of discomfort for us to sort through. A genuinely unpleasant experience, and all the better for it.

A few videos from “media cannibals” Animal Charm will be shown. My favorite is “Lightfoot Fever,” which mixes together footage from what looks like a scopitone (early music video form) for a cover of “Fever” and a nature film for children starring the lovable fawn Lightfoot. The nature images attack the scopitone via flying boxes, and the song itself is re-edited for a stuttering effect that reminded me of Martin Arnold’s deconstruction of Andy Hardy films.

Bjorn Melhus stars in his own video “Das Zauberglas” (“The Magic Glass,” 1991) as a man shaving his hair off and also a woman he communicates with via a television screen. Their dialogue is lifted from the German-dubbed version of the 1950 James Stewart Western vehicle “Broken Arrow.” The mirror in the original has now become the television screen as the increasingly mediated sense of identity gets lost forever in the static.

Also on the bill: Pierre Yves Clouin’s “The Little Big,” which transforms [this should be a surprise. but if you really want to know, then read the full article].

Jacqueline Goss’ meditation on genetic engineering, “The 100th Undone” — silent so our own stomach growls and rumblings won’t go unnoticed.

Miranda July’s “Getting Stronger Every Day,” starring Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein (!) and the idea of film as mythical hovercraft.
– Kevin John

INTERMEDIA ARTS:

This off-the-wall collection of shorts curated by Astria Suparak is enmeshed in American pop culture, almost to the point of obscurity. Suparak curates widely ranging film and video programs, from the easily accessible to the extremely vague, from historical avant-garde to works by contemporary and virtually unknown young artists.

DAS KURTZFILMMAGAZIN:

Following the resounding success of her programme at the Anthology Film Archives (NYC), curator Astria Suparak is now taking “Dirges and Sturgeons” on a tour of five American cities. In New York the programme of short films and videos- by Miranda July, Seth Price, Bjørn Melhus and others – interspersed with audio pieces, received accolades from both filmmakers and the press. According to Bjørn Melhus: “The room was packed like I’ve hardly ever seen in a cinema, the audience loved it and we all had a wonderful, stimulating evening. I was so happy to finally be able to watch videos in a cinema instead of an exhibition room”. Amy Taubin commented in the Village Voice: “Peripatetic curator Astria Suparak has an eye for the strange and ineffable”. The young curator (23) is currently at work preparing further programmes. – “Curatorial hit – “Dirges and Sturgeons” tours USA

AUDIENCE RESPONSE:

It was all my… pleasure. I was really eager to see something ‘off-the-wall’, something goofy and at the same time fun and I wasn’t disappointed. Suparak always brings on the goods, keeps up the splendidness. I was impressed with each work and the curatoral satisfied. It was kind of like medicine, good medicine. I came out dizzy with fervor. It was amazing.
– Carlmelo Boor, Pratt Institute

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TOUR DATES

Sept. 28, 2002
@ minicine?, Lee Hardware Gallery, Shreveport, LA

March 22, 2002, 8pm
@ Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA

March 23 , 2002, 7pm
@ Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA

March 24, 2002, 8pm
@ C- level Gallery and Artists Collective, 963 N. Hill St. in Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA.
Red door located in the alley behind Full House Restaurant.

March 27, 2002, 8pm
@ Pitzer College’s Cinematheque at Broad Performance Space, Claremont, CA

April 5, 2002, 8pm
@ Intermedia Arts, Minneapolis, MN

April 9, 2002, 8pm doors open
@ Bamboo Theater Presents, 832 E. Locust St, Milwaukee, WI

April 11, 2002, 9pm
Starlight Cinema
@ University of Wisconsin, Madison. Frederick March Play Circle, Memorial Union, Madison, WI

April 15, 2002, 8pm doors, 9pm show
Discount Cinema
@ The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL

April 16, 2002, 9:30
Cinema Society
@ Illinois State University, University Main Gallery: Center for Visual Arts, Normal, IL

September 26, 2002, 8pm
@ 3 Billion Art Gallery, Fort Worth, TX
Co-presented by The Video Association of Dallas. Pre-show by Paul Baker.

September 28, 2002, 8pm
minicine?
@ Lee Hardware Gallery, Shreveport, LA.
In conjunction with gallery opening, followed by live music.

September 30, 2002, 8pm
Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center
@ Barrister’s Gallery in the Venus Gardens Complex, New Orleans, LA
Co-presented by ten eighteen films.

October 4, 2002, 8:30pm
Basement Films
@ Field & Frame, Albuquerque, NM

October 10, 2002, 8pm
@ Modified Arts, Phoenix, NM

October 11, 2002, 8pm
@ The Earwig Factory, 8 Brewery Gulch, Bisbee, NM

October 12, 2002, 4pm
@ University of Arizona, Science Museum Auditorium, Tucson, AZ

October 22, 2002, 5pm
@ Bard College, Preston Theatre, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

October 23, 2002, 6:30pm
@ Smith College, Seeley Hall, Northampton, MA
Presented by Films Studies and the Motion Picture Committee.

October 24, 2002, 12pm
@ Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, West Hall, Troy, NY.
Screening and talk, organized by Kathy High, iEAR Dpt. of Arts.

October 29, 2002, 6pm
@ Harvard University, Harvard Film Archive, Cambridge, MA.
Organized by Elisabeth Subrin.

October 30, 2002, 8pm
@ Mass Art Film Society, Boston, MA

October 31, 2002, 6pm
@ Yale University, School of Art Bldg, New Haven, CT

November 1, 3pm:
@ Western Connecticut State University, White Hall, Danbury, CT

December 1, 8pm
@ Space 1026 Gallery and Artists Collective, Philadelphia, PA.
Co-presented by Ladyfest Philly. Plus Open Video Call and screening: bring f/v (10 minutes max) on VHS.

December 3, 7:15pm
@ Cornell Cinema, Willard Straight Theatre, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

March 12, 2003, 7pm
@ San Francisco Art Institute, Lecture Hall, San Francisco, CA

March 24, 2003, 7:30pm
@ University of Manitoba, Communications Systems Theatre, Winnipeg, MB

March 25, 2003, 7:30pm
Available Light
@ Club SAW, 67 Nicolas St, in the Arts Court building, Ottawa, ON

March 27, 2003, 8pm, doors at 7pm
@ Concordia University, MFA/Bourget Building, Montreal, QC
Presented by the antechamber collective

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