Kinet Selects Lecture at NYU by Isaac GoesMichelle Yoon
The following is the transcription of a talk given by Isaac Goes and Michelle Yoon on October 25th 2019 at NYU Steinhardt's Einstein Auditorium.
[MY] Hi everyone and thanks so much for coming out. Before we begin we’d like to take a little time to talk a bit about kinet and outline our goals with the project in order to better situate the films were going to watch tonight. Isaac has prepared a little talk for us that contextualizes our project within the wider world of experimental cinema and we hope this is informative as to why we created the site and what we hope to achieve in the future.
[IG] Thanks Michelle.
So I think its best to begin with the obvious: What is kinet? Basically its a website Kurt Walker, Michelle and I run that releases small programs of experimental films and film writing online every few months.We usually describe Kinet as an online platform for experimental cinema - which is usually understood as something akin to a publisher or something like an online music label - basically a localized space for a group of films that we think benefit from being seen together.
While this description gets the gist of what were doing, we've progressively come to realize that in describing our project this way we run into a host of questions about the very nature of such a project in the first place. Many of these questions and our attempts to answer them have shaped both Kinet’s development and what we have understood ourselves to be doing at various stages of the project.
Part of what we would like to do today is address a few of these questions that a project like Kinet poses to itself by virtue of its very existence and then talk about the ways the films we’ve just shown factor into this ever changing definition.
Authority & Institutions
Any sort of project that claims to be able to make judgements on the value of art necessarily faces certain criticisms regarding its standards and criteria for making these judgements. What makes this work have value as opposed to this other one? How is this value defined? What gives you the authority to make this judgement in the first place?
When we think about it, every judgement on the value of an artwork is something of an implicit answer to questions such as these - the very authority we grant an art institution to be able to make these judgements is grounded in the adequacy or inadequacy of the reasons it provides for making the claims it does. Our coming to accept an art institutions reasons as authoritative in this regard is a social process. We collectively bestow authority on an institution because we recognize its judgements as somewhat faithfully representing the general consensus.
For example an art museum would be hard pressed to attract visitors if its standards were generally thought to be arbitrary, its authority in this matter relies on our recognition that these standards accurately reflect our shared historical idea of what kinds of art have value.
Of course, an art institution is more than just a passive servant to consensus, but its role in forming these standards must allow influences from outside. If an art institution’s standards are not in constant negotiation with the general consensus they will be left to stagnate and the institution will lose whatever authority it previously had. It cannot just impose these standards from the top down and expect anyone to listen.
Much of what I've just described my seem like an arduous and overly fine grained analysis of something that sort of goes without saying. But my point in doing this is to make explicit our own often obscured role in shaping the value systems upheld by art institutions. It is only by first doing this that we can bring to light the ways in which the very notion of “curation” can and often does fail to serve the best interests of the art form it wishes to cultivate.
We've chosen to highlight this because it is this failure that Kinet ventures to correct and was in many ways the impetus behind starting the project in the first place. In our own ventures into the world of experimental cinema we were met with institutional values that we felt were misaligned with the contemporary needs of the art form. In approaching this issue from many different angles it became apparent that this misalignment was due in large part to the institutions in question failing to allow influence from outside their own bubble .
Film Festivals as Market Institutions
As far as contemporary experimental cinema is concerned, the primary institution we recognize as having the authority in assigning our work value is the film festival. By virtue of its own definition a film festival is supposed to recognize films that are representative of the forefront of the art form, but in order for it to be considered successful it’s value systems need to keep up with the changing standards of the day.
In speaking of film festivals in general, their adequacy in this regard is supposedly guaranteed by the simple fact that a film festival is a market institution. The films selected are those that are seen as having the best chance of getting distribution based on their potential to attract an audience. In a market driven society this is taken to best represent what we collectively want. At the end of the day, its the conflation of market viability with the desires of the moviegoer that supports the festivals authority in giving certain works value over others.
Experimental film aside there is of course much to critique about placing this authority in the so-called invisible hand of the market, but for brevity's sake I think it best to narrow our focus down to the specific ways in which market dynamics consistently fail experimental cinema.
Obviously experimental films occupy a very different place within the film market than larger productions, but based on the way these films are seen and distributed this difference seems to have gone largely unobserved by those in charge. When were dealing with feature films, the festival circuit is something of a test market, the goal for these films is to eventually be seen by larger audiences outside of the festival. However this is far from the case when it comes to experimental works, which in most cases find their largest audiences at the festival itself, making festival screenings something of an end goal if you are looking to get your film seen.
Market value simply doesn’t operate the same way for experimental films as it does for commercial features.
The Forced Marketization of Experimental Cinema
Now, you would think that given this incompatibility with traditional market value we would not allow our value systems for experimental cinema to be determined by it, however what we see is quite the opposite. Instead of readjusting our value systems to suit these film’s specific needs, we see the forced imposition of a market dynamic on them.
I find this forced imposition of market dynamics to be best exemplified by the manufactured scarcity so prevalent within experimental cinema today i.e. the fact that despite the relative ease with which these films could be made available to everyone through the internet they are often only shared privately between critics and programmers - making them basically inaccessible to anyone who doesn't live where these festivals take place or lacks the money required for a ticket.
It basically boils down to the fact that making these films hard to see is the only way for the filmmakers to make any money, although this logic is somewhat upended by the fact that many large film festivals don’t pay experimental filmmakers at all for their contributions.
I find this aspect of the experimental film market to be absolutely detrimental to the progression of the art form for the reason that only a very small group of people even have access to what is currently going on in experimental cinema, what its concerns are, whats been done and what hasn’t, where you or I could make a contribution.
Making art is a process of building upon past foundations, of weaving in the new with the old. How is an art form meant to progress if its current concerns are inaccessible to most every single one of its potential contributors? Moreover how can something experimental, that is, something meant to challenge convention be expected to function if the convention itself is unknowable to most of its would-be practitioners?
This system is vulnerable to stasis. This is part of the reason that much contemporary experimental cinema feels outdated. By willfully keeping these films unseen the criteria by which these films were chosen in the first place also retreats from view. Hiding the standards for judging these films leads to these standards becoming more and more insular over time.
Online Standards and Values
Earlier we outlined the ways art institution’s authority depends on the collective recognition that the institution accurately represents our standards. But as we have seen with the insular nature of experimental film programming this couldn’t be further from the case. How can we take them to represent these collective values if their own value system permits little to no influence from the outside?
In the past perhaps this growing rift between value systems would be difficult to pinpoint and begrudgingly accepted as a necessary evil inherent to any sort of tastemaking enterprise. But the rise of the internet has brought this gap as it exists in experimental cinema into sharp relief when compared to most other artforms. When you look at the rise of something like Youtube stars, or musicians who have developed their followings on Soundcloud or any other number of similar internet phenomenons we can see that the necessity for curation is beginning to waver.
In these areas at least, it would seem that the collective consensus has begun to find ways to express itself without the need of a middle man directing the flow of content. Value is beginning to be determined by the sheer quantity of people who independently confer it. While this need for curation or localization would seem to be progressively ceding to the autonomy of new media we do still think that some form of localization is necessary, after all we wouldn’t be here presenting this group of films if we thought otherwise.
This raises another question: what purpose does this localization serve?
Our answer to this question has taken many forms over the years and will continue to change in the future. In much the same way standards are always changing so too should our methods of upholding them.
At this point in time we feel that in localizing these works we are providing a space wherein they can enter into a dialogue with one another, where many different and emerging tendencies, no matter how disparate, can flourish by virtue of their belonging to one single set.
In many cases our understanding of what “curation” entails in the world of experimental cinema has begun to shift to something like the “curator as artist”, with their selection of films determined not by these film’s individual merits but by how well they fit into or express a given theme chosen by the curator. While this may make for neat and tidy experimental film programs doesn't this type of curation inhibit variety by its own definition?
In making it so that a work must conform to a theme in order to have value in the eyes of a film festival - the body of possibilities within our field is slowly rendered monolithic. If i were an aspiring filmmaker and I were to go to one of these festivals and see these films grouped together by theme wouldn’t my impetus to make something truly novel or new simply whither away? they want films like that, so I should make a film like that.
It has been one of Kinet’s ambitions since the beginning to part with this curatorial model and attempt as best we can to choose films which have merit on their own terms. In doing this, the through line connecting the films to one another becomes simply the fact of their localization and not any thematic or formal continuities shared between them.
There is a feedback loop between what we decide has artistic value and the new kinds of art that follow. Curation by theme narrows the possibilities for what new forms can emerge and makes repetition the order of the day.It is by changing our definition of curation that kinet attempts to provide a space more attuned to the contemporary concerns of experimental cinema.
The theme is no theme. With radically different works hanging together in a constellation determined by nothing other than the fact that they are the best available. We feel that this relative looseness or lack of thematic rigidity is an absolute necessity for the development of future forms. Because new films can’t help but take the current consensus as a jumping off point, true progression in an artform can only be brought about collectively. A truly unprecedented work can never just come from without. In order to be unprecedented there first need to be precedents.
Combined Meanings & New Forms
These precedents are set by the collective body of works we decide have value. Taken together, a group of films expresses something that no single film can in isolation, with certain formal shapes and meanings emerging only in these works’ combination with one another. The process by which this combined meaning is shaped and reshaped is never ending: the inclusion of a new film in the group changes what the group expresses.
It is in this sense that localization can steer the progression of an art form, with the combined meaning of all the films we collectively value playing a large role in determining what we think of as possible. Because any new film is always going to respond to what came before it, it is essential that our standards be readily adaptable to whatever these new forms may be.
The collective form taken by cinema as a whole is what Kinet aims to nourish, to help advance filmmaking to a new stage by providing the future with ample opportunity to emerge in the present. It is a difficult task and one that is full of contradictions at every turn, but we feel that by removing as many institutional limitations as we can - and addressing the questions that arise in the process - we can make cinema as a whole more receptive to the experimentation it needs in order to progress.
So now I'm gonna pass it back over to Michelle to sort of introduce the films and then we'll get the screening underway, and then afterwards Michelle will talk a little bit about the films themselves.
[MY] Thank you Isaac.
Despite the detail which Isaac has just gone into outlining our project its difficult to really impart what were trying to do with a description alone. We feel that a full understanding of kinet can only come from watching the films. I’ll come back for a brief analysis and we’ll Start the program now.
[MY] Hi again, thanks for your viewing.
How I’d like to begin is by looking into how many of these movies subvert the standards we have taken issue with by directly by confronting certain tropes prevalent in experimental cinema today. I use the term “subversion” because it is not by simply ignoring the status quo that one changes it. In order to effect a change we must alter these standards on their own terms - no matter how incorrect we take these terms to be.
Untitled [camera roll]
I’d like to start by talking a little bit about Douglas Dixon-Barker’s untitled camera roll and how it reacts to the elevation of celluloid that is popularized today.
Dixon-Barker’s film archives iPhone images (8 megapixel stills in size) which he then reprocesses onto 35mm film. The way the film cycles begins with fast cuts that join at the center with harsh cuts to black and this creates a strobing effect. The pace of the sequence starts to fade into slow dissolves between frames. This pacing throughout the film calls to a familiarity of rapidly scrolling through images on our phones, a feed, a modern phenomena.
The sonic track further adds to this notion of the anomaly - the images are synced to a corrupted version of an Arca track from their self-titled release in 2017. When the reviews of this album came out all of the press was mentioning a harsh noise break at the center of the record, but this was a mistake - it was a glitch.
The approach of the film calls attention to two strategies in particular that are linked to visual art as far back as the 30s, but of course popularized in the digital age. The first is the glitch as a summation of errors. The second is collage as a sort of pathless matrix of abbreviated moments.
The processing of digital images onto celluloid in this case does not place emphasis on the quality of celluloid. Instead it agitates the image. So while the celluloid is at the forefront of the image as a texture, we know it’s also a manipulated digital image with analogue distortions.
in:sent [no subject]
Another convention that has become a popular in many avant-garde films is to incorporate text within or on top of an image. Since a lot of experimental films defy narrative structures subtitling or embedded text has become a sort of key signifier to link images together.
In the beginning of Dylan Tachick’s film insent: (no subject) there is an establishing text about an unsustainable relationship that reads “we are at different points in our lives” - the text then begins to vibrate towards illegibility
Sound comes in 2/3rds into the film as a layer and begins to function as a variation of graphic matching (which is when shapes, colors and overall movement match in composition between two shots). We see the text vibrate across the frame silently in the first minute of the film, then mirror again with sound. In the audio clips we hear an edited version of DJ Hell’s The DJ featuring a voice that describes this idea of “divided soul”.
It’s interesting that Tachick adds this idea of the divide, in that the motions of the film are painful and destructive not only in it’s affect for the viewer, but from the snippets of text we can read here and there throughout the film. The film suggests disparate realities. Montage moves relentlessly and obtrusively and then the music drops into the film’s climax by way of geometric and intricate cutting. The film influences the viewer to investigate exactly what is being said in the messages context, but ultimately we submit to it’s obscurity as artifice.
This is something that the pioneer of avant-garde cinema Hollis Frampton characterizes as a modularity of misfortune - an omission. We view this as prime example of a film subverting the contemporary expectations of experimental film form - but on it’s own terms. Intelligibility is purposefully left out - and in many films we see today there is a huge priority of exposition
Late Embryo is a 10 second montage composed of 300 frames of 56 photographs taken over 20 days. The form is an exercise of presence, Dong compressed these frames into the span of time it took for someone that they were calling to pick up their phone call: 10 seconds.
The film functions as a sort of mental note, but the images archived and it’s reduction does not subtract anything from the scale. We’re reminded of the filmmaker Takashi Ito, an exceptional Japanese experimental filmmakers from the 80's who made rule based films based off continuous stills and photographs.
We often take the frame rate as a given, seldom considering the mechanics that make motion pictures possible. Dong’s film is not only self-reflexive in it’s form as an automachine of memory and sensation, it pushes this reflexivity further into the realm of re-animation. They engage with the frame rate on a more intimate level. The timing of each frame is carefully selected according to the films own concept rather than according to a set frame rate. It introduces variability into an area of filmmaking that we usually don’t see.
Jessica Johnsonand Ryan Ermacora are a filmmaking duo from Vancouver currently based in Toronto. Their film Ocean Falls as you I’m sure you’ve observed was very different from the rest of the films. The film was made in 2015 and is an anthropological study of a colonial settlement built upon resource extraction.
This film is a descendant of what many call slow cinema today. It sweeps through abandoned spaces that were once a home to over three thousand people who were pushed out to create a facility that manufactures pulp. The architecture of the deserted structures serves as a window to overgrown vegetation. We admire the independent production of this film and the juxtaposition of historical truth vs aesthetics, it’s motive to call attention to this space.
Nature, once subject to industrial force, is re-represented and envisioned as an aesthetic focal point in colonial history. Yet rather than have a local or industrial function, the architecture’s relationship to the land is presented in a universal cinematic context.
Alexandre Galmard, a filmmaker we have featured on Kinet, has written a great analysis ofIsiah Medina’sfilm idizwdidiz on our website’s criticism vertical called Diopter. We recommend you to read itif you are interested in an in-depth analysis of this film - but want to highlight and address one observation Galmard makes about the bathroom divide.
Galmard notes that these figures are already painted as decapitated. They are torn from their respect bodies to represent their own inherent disjunction and the fact that we do not fit our own bodies. Medina is currently wrapping production on the film adaptation of the accelerationist manifesto Inventing the Future - which several other Kinet collaborators have worked on - and he’ll be joining us back here at NYU in December to give a talk on philosophy and mathematics and how it relates to contemporary experimental cinema.
We loosely view Miguel Mantecon’s Madmanwedding_remix 2018 as a third act of a trilogy that we screened at Spectacle Theater this summer. We watched three films he made between 2016-2018 that drift between diaristic image-making, landscape filmmaking and textural play. We see this film as a new form of documentary filmmaking, we see experiences of love and family and communion at his sister’s wedding - yet there is this rejection of understanding in the way that he parses these images together.
Earlier, Isaac spoke on how a group of films taken together can produce meanings that weren’t necessarily there in the films individually. A pretty literal example of this can be seen in the trailers we make for our programs. Occasionally these trailer’s style will be based on a formal aspect of one of the films. For example the trailer that we made to premiere Madman was based around a zoetrope effect (found in the film itself).
By using a formal element in Miguel’s film and applying it to rest of the shorts in the program, we created something new. This is also the case with the short intro and outro to the program that we’ve watched today, where we rapidly cut together the entirety of the program into one sequence.
As you may have noticed this played twice for the reason that it was designed to be playable at two different speeds. Because of the way the frames quickly alternate, playing it at twice its original speed results in certain shots being entirely skipped over. The change is dramatic and the rhythm and the content of the piece shifts. We’re fond of doing these edits of the films together because we think it is a simple and direct way of exemplifying the benefits of their localization and we believe a cinematic rendering of this can make for new and interesting forms to emerge.
We really hope that we have imparted some sort of interest towards how we are evaluating and creating experimental cinema today and if there are any filmmakers or writers here with us today we’d love to see what you are working on as we always have open submissions on our website kinet.media. Thanks to Jamie Sterns and NYU for inviting us here and providing a space and we'll be back here two more before the end of the year. We hope to see you then.
kinet:selects trailer [x1 speed]
MadManWedding_remix 2018 by Miguel Mantecon
untitled (camera roll) by Douglas Dixon-Barker
The Words Are Not What You Meant by Jiayi Chen
Late Embryo by Kelley Dong
Ocean Falls by Ryan Ermacora & Jessica Johnson
in:sent (no subject) by Dylan Tachick
Nanterre Personne (do not bury anyone) by Angelina Battais
shooting star summer solstice by Kelley Dong
idizwadidiz by Isiah Medina
kinet:selects trailer [x2 speed]
Video sound by James Emrick