Meridians, Parallels, and Other Pathways

Transnational mobility and displacement, in various forms, have shaped art practice and the idea of artistic community in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Inspired by a specific reading of the exhibition Noguchi for Danh Vo: Counterpoint, this screening programme looks at the entanglement of influences and ideas produced by individuals who make art with an alertness to their environments and a sensitivity to their circumstances. The artists and filmmakers featured in M+ Screenings: In the World, Of the World are often compelled to create by the artistic, social, political, and historical forces that have shaped their own situation, or that of their communities. In this sense, the films become a collective output, an outpouring of attempts to engage with the world, to be a part of it, and to be made of the world in a deeply meaningful way. Art- and filmmaking has long been an individualistic exercise, but the desire to engage with the world expressed in these films feels most timely: they compel us to look at ourselves in connected communities, as legitimate observers and perhaps also as agents of change. Artistic practice is intertwined with artistic community, each enabling the other to map out a more accurate reflection of our collective contemporary identities.

This eclectic selection of films includes some of the most interesting and innovative expressions in cinema. The works by cineastes Sergei Eisenstein, Satyajit Ray, Jacques Tati, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Akira Kurosawa mark significant periods in their careers at which they sharpened their craft (in Eisenstein’s epic film project in post-revolutionary Mexico), distilled a cultural expression on film into another mode of display in another country (in Two: A Film Fable, Ray’s film for television), refined a point of view about the post-war world through design and technique (in Tati’s radical sound design in Mon oncle), created a new film language while questioning heritage (in Teshigahara’s Pitfall, a ‘documentary-fantasy’ that marked his move away from documentaries about traditional Japanese crafts), and subverted convention to carve out new space for social commentary (in Kurosawa’s adopting of the courtroom drama in Scandal to investigate what he saw as moral decline). These films suggest how stories and images in established forms of cinema can be taken beyond their conventional value as entertainment and considered as alternative modes of address.

Elements of non-fiction inform many of the works in this programme—for example, the plight of the Mexican fisherman in Redes, the unrealised Satyajit Ray film project in Otolith III, and the experience of wartime incarceration in Manzanar—but they are subsumed, appropriated, and manipulated in a variety of ways. Visual Variations on Noguchi and Dreaming Murakami use another artist’s creative output as a breeding ground for forms of interpretation and experimentation, taking one sort of artistic reality and transforming it within a filmmaking practice. In contrast, The Return has personal experiences at its very core, as if to distil a specific performativity in filmmaking practice. Whether these essay films or hybrid docu-fictions are intended for a socially minded cause, a call to action, or a study of the nature of image-making, they all re-form elements of reality and question its contours.

Finally, the programme articulates the many connections filmmakers have with wider artistic communities and how interdisciplinary practices are established by both chance encounters and long-term collaborations. To view films that involve modernist photographers and Hollywood directors (Paul Strand and Fred Zinnemann for Redes), dancers and painters (Shirley Clarke for Bridges-Go-Round, and Marie Menken for Visual Variations on Noguchi), writers and translators (Mette Holm in Dreaming Murakami), and dancer-choreographers and artists (Martha Graham and Isamu Noguchi for Night Journey) is to recall that artists’ relationships form a crucial meridian through the body of artistic output that reflects our world. Here is the hope that these films encourage us to reach out and look outside for ourselves, to re-engage with core ideas, to play with potential futures, to be connected beyond language and tradition, to be in the world and of the world.

Chanel Kong
Associate Curator, Moving Image, M+