Whole Grain: Unshielded

Still image from Isabell Spengler’s The Pitch (2008, 16 minutes, video).

Join us Monday, March 18, at 6 pm, for a Whole Grain: Experiments in Film & Video screening of Unshielded, a program of short films about looking and being looked at, guest curated by Jon Davies, part of the curatorial team who organized the 2023 Flaherty Film Seminar program Queer World-Mending, held at Skidmore. Davies will present the program of four works and discuss his curatorial practice.

In the spirit of the Flaherty Film Seminar, the full screening list will not be revealed until showtime.

Unshielded Program Notes

“Plodding back up the steps, with the grit of the linoleum underfoot, I thought: is all this good for you? It leaves you kind of raw and unshielded to the world—so that it’s more comfortable thinking of yourself as a ‘you’ than as an ‘I.’” – Samuel R. Delany

In this passage from his philosophic-pornographic novel The Mad Man (1994), Delany is describing the aftermath of intense sexual intimacy but could just as easily have been writing about how it feels to appear and be seen in a film or video. Exposed to the camera, one is left raw and unshielded to the world, doubled into a spectral image of ourselves. The videos in this program are about looking and being looked at, about what is included in the frame and what is left out of it, about how moving images have the capacity to work through power dynamics and interpersonal relationships, and to bridge any distance between the realm of the intimately private and the larger wounds of history. Sometimes there is no footage and sometimes there is too much footage.

how to make a refugee
dir. Phil Collins, UK, 1999, 12 min., video
Shot during the Kosovo War (1998–99), how to make a refugee addresses the depiction of war victims by journalists and documentarians. The artist brings a critical, self-conscious eye to the conventions governing the representation of suffering in the media.

Inner Eyes
dir. Barry Doupé, Canada, 2017, 1 min., video From Object Poems, a series of nine short animated sequences based on the language of visual poetry, collage, and abstract visual experiences. Relating to the unique qualities of non-narrative filmmaking, it explores the elemental principals of rhythm, color, light, and the body in motion.

The Pitch
dir. Isabell Spengler, Germany, 2008, 16 min., video
An encounter between an on-screen listener, who is addressed as a film-producer, and an off-screen talker telling the story of a film she wants to make. The talker, who also operates the camera and the film lights, employs a diversity of special effects, all seemingly to illustrate the story’s development. The listener reacts to the circus around her sporadically and laconically. The story, told from off-screen, features two protagonists who resemble the listener and the talker. By the end it becomes clear that by folding the description and the performative illustration of the film’s story into one another, the film, initially presented as dependent on the listener’s financial support for its realization, is completed, instead, during the act of pitching.

Roasted Cockroach for Scale
dir. Katz Tepper, US, 2021, 47 min., video
Roasted Cockroach for Scale is a narrative video created during Covid lockdown, produced entirely from screen recordings using the corporate interfaces of Google, Zoom, and the AI speech-to-text transcription service Otter.ai. The material results from a social experiment with my father involving scripted and improvised performances recorded through Zoom over the course of a year. The intimacy of family conversations about Holocaust memory is processed, redacted, layered, and collaged towards a critique of Zionism and nation-state violence, and a meditation of how such violence is internalized and reproduced. The video approaches the materiality of remoteness expansively as it relates to disability, diaspora, translation, and epigenetics. The primacy of text and other obfuscations aim to complicate representation and resist spectacle.

About Jon Davies

Jon Davies is a Montreal-born curator and writer. He holds a PhD in Art History from Stanford University, where he wrote the dissertation The Fountain: Art, Sex and Queer Pedagogy in San Francisco, 1945–1995. He was a member of the Pleasure Dome programming collective for several years before working as an Assistant Curator at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (2008–12) in Toronto, and then as Associate Curator at Oakville Galleries (2012–15). He has curated artists’ film and video programs for venues including the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Aurora Festival, Gallery TPW, Images Festival, Inside Out Film Festival, and Vtape.

Davies’s book about Paul Morrissey’s film Trash was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2009 and his anthology More Voice-Over: Colin Campbell Writings was published by Concordia University Press in 2021. His writing on film, video, and contemporary art has been published in many anthologies, catalogues, journals, and periodicals such as C Magazine, Canadian Art, Criticism, Fillip, Frieze, GLQ, and No More Potlucks. His articles include “Sissy Boys on YouTube: Notes Towards a Cultural History of Online Queer Childhood” for C Magazine (2014) and “Sell Your Parents: Marketing the Handwriting of Julia Warhola and Phung Vo” for Master Drawings (2020). He also co-edited issues #5 and #6 of Little Joe magazine–“about queers and cinema, mostly”–with Sam Ashby (London).

About Whole Grain

The Tang Teaching Museum’s Whole Grain series explores classic and contemporary work in experimental film and video. Whole Grain is programmed by Assistant Director for Engagement Tom Yoshikami. All events are free and open to the public.

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