Flippin’ Hell

Blob2The man sitting next to me is cursing under his breath: I dared asking him to move from my reserved chair to the next, sacrebleu. When he eventually does, I thank him in his native language and he seems even more pissed off. I proceed to apply my full gallic charm onto the unruly character, drop a few ill-placed cinematic references that he cannot help correcting, and after a couple of minutes, we are friends. He is French of course and happens to be part of La Cellule d’Intervention Métamkine, an avant-garde performance group from Grenoble, working at the threshold between sound and image. He introduced himself as Christophe, the film director. He goes on explaining how, during their performance, he uses 8 and 16mm films that he projects onto mirrors and screens, creating a live cinematic vision, intertwined with the shadows of the performers, with a purely analogue, he insists, electro-acoustic soundtrack. They play at the ICA tomorrow as part of the long-awaited festival Kill Your Timid Notion, together with half-a-dozen artists, hand-picked from over the world, exploring the relationship between the visual and the sonic fields. Tonight the legendary experimental film maker Ken Jacobs and sound artist Eric La Casa are mixing their stuff at the BFI IMAX theatre, and Christophe, like the rest of the audience, knows he is in luck.

An enormous pulsating sponge-like creature appears on the huge screen. The images are flashing furiously about 4 times a second as if a giant eyelid was continuously flickering to brush some motes away. I feel instantly nauseous. The creature blurs and expands, slowly, imperceptibly, touches one edge of the screen. The constant flipping is unnerving and a really unpleasant physical sensation is getting hold of my self. I feel, for a moment, on the verge of losing it. I close my eyes for a rest. When I open them again, the blob and the maddening feeling have temporarily gone. A licking, lapping noise is echoing from behind us. The image has now a deep blue-green tinge and a dark silver lining. I let my brain settle on it, absorb it, embrace it so it reaches the depths of my mind. Suddenly, it seems to liquefy into a myriad of fluid, metallic branches being gently stirred away by the sound of a gentle wind. Or so my brain would have it. Images of the Terminator II re-liquifying in the heat come to my mind. We used to keep a little bottle of mercury liquid at home long ago, I wonder if it is still there. I had a fascination with it. I’d go and find it when nobody was looking and let the liquid run on the floor, split it up in tiny little pearls that I would connect again, one by one, into a big round drop of silver – a sensuous melting down of reality. I try to hold onto the memory but it disappears in a flash.

A sonic storm now blows the screen off to reveal a battle scene with centaurs and mythical double-head chimera, one of them precariously hanging from the edge of a crumbling cliff. When silence falls on us I feel like I am diving under the sea, gently floating away with urchins and algae. Christophe refers to Jacobs’ film-as-performance as ‘pre-cinematic’, using hand-crafted techniques and concepts to produce a moving image experience, like in the old days of the magic lantern shows. Lurking in the darkness of the projection room, I imagine Jacobs manipulating his found objects – I recognise a piece of old grainy wood – under magnifying lenses, mechanical contraptions and a dangling light source.  Whatever he does is having a tremendous effect on my body, as my eyes search to bypass the disorienting flutter-and-flips and my stomach churns at the atonal harmonics of La Casa’s intense, powerful live composition mixing with the jerky saccade of Jacobs’ images.

James has enough of it half-way through. When the session is over, Eli talks of a ‘visceral experience’ and challenges me to put it into words. I admit I have come close to what I feel is a truly phenomenological art experience. I had felt some of this deep gut-feeling in the films of Catherine Breillat and Claire Denis, who both attempt, in their own way, to reach to the viewer’s understanding of the self through their raw, sensual cinematography. Breillat never takes the viewer for a narrative ride – one remains acutely conscious of what is going on, of how one has been fooled all along. It is sometimes so painful a realisation that one longs for the illusion to take over the mind and to fall asleep again, per chance to dream. Jacobs’ organically created and blown up images on the IMAX screen are a real treat to that effect, the cherry on the cake that makes one want to eat more in order to remain awake, alive and driven by one’s perception, intuition and imagination for exploring the world around.

At the end of the performance, the screen goes blank while the part-jostling, part-languorous soundscape continues to stimulate our ears. Christophe laughs, recalling a previous event when Jacobs and La Casa’s performances were completely desynchronised. Eric La Casa is still learning how to follow the one-track mind, intuitive master at work – or to fill in the gaps. Listening to the lingering sound in the dark, I am amazed, yet again, at how the hidden power of sound in apprehending and creating our everyday life experience has been, and still is, flippantly downplayed within our occularcentrist society.

Kill Your Timid Notion is touring the UK in Nov/Dec 08

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~ by lavivette on December 5, 2008.

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