Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Christmas on Earth" at Artists Space

At Artists Space on Friday to help project Barbara Rubin's "Christmas on Earth," with Barney Rosset, MM Serra, and Jonas Mekas on hand for the introduction of the film.  The event was in celebration of the release of Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia? edited by edited by Marta Kuzma and Pablo Lafuente.

I've projected "Christmas on Earth" several times now with MM Serra, who has been a notable champion of this double-projection work, perhaps under-recognized for its importance in exemplifying sixties underground cinema.  Figures in body paint play out erotic interactions, superimposed in a smaller frame within a larger one, the outer image comprising of closeups of the body, most notably shots of genitalia.  The synthesis of these two images creates the impression of the body-painted figures as inhabitants of the genitalia, as if we are privy to the playful goings-on of unseen pixies and sprites that inhabit various hubs and recesses of the body.

The film has a certain indeterminacy built into its presentation: The film is a dual projection piece, with one image inside the other, the inner image approximately half the size of the outer one.  The black and white footage is transformed into color by the projectionists placing color gels in front of the lens of each projector while the film is showing.  Barbara Rubin requests that the soundtrack be a live radio, tuned to a rock station.  All of this is communicated by a set of instructions that are packed in the can with the film.

Given its design as a work of expanded cinema, each time the film is shown something new is there in its presentation.  What drew my attention in projecting the film on this occasion was the degree to which the density of the color gels demanded careful consideration from the projectionist.  A very deep, dark color (dark blue, for instance) could completely obscure the image if a bright gel (yellow, perhaps) was being used by the other projector.  I kept trying to adjust the use of gels on the projector to complement the gel on the other projector, not just in terms of color combination but also in terms of density of lightness or darkness.  Something I'm sure I've done without thinking about it, but this time -- perhaps due to the gels available -- it seemed to require much more deliberation than at other times I've helped to show the piece.

For those wanting to know more about the film, an very informative article on Barbara Rubin's "Christmas on Earth" can be found in Art Signal Magazine.


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