Images Festival gets up close and personal this year
The public pulse is measured every way: from political polling to pondering why dance videos go viral. But at the avant-garde video extravaganza, Images Festival, it’s possible to reflect on how inward looking we’ve become by having us listen to a long-gone love affair revisited via long-lost tapes or watching a smuggled-in Chinese worker’s quiet private battle to keep his dignity.
“Last year, a lot more works had an epic, landscape, outdoor feel,” says Kate MacKay, interim artistic director. “There’s always a tension between the epic and the intimate at Images but this year the films show a lot more intimacy.”
Jane Gillooly’s Suitcase of Love and Shame is the festival’s signature piece in this regard. It’s also one of the most accessible works among the festival’s 35 programs from 135 artists worldwide at 24 locations starting April 11.
A collage made from a collection of reel-to-reel tapes found in an old suitcase bought on eBay, Suitcase unreels an affair between Tom, a married veterinarian and Jeannie, his mistress, who also seems to be employed in an animal hospital. The same one? We never know. Uncertainly adds to the piquancy of the piece as does our partial knowledge. Snippets of news or an overheard TV show give the away the time as the mid-’60s. So does their audio technology of choice. Unlike a phone call, tapes can be replayed — the tape as sex aid.
They ramp up their desire by hurriedly sending the voice recordings in the mail to one another. He plans to send her a copy of Playboy. She cranks up the sounds of a Miss America contest on TV to tweak his libido.
The visual elements added by Gillooly to what is mostly a sound event seem generic and may in fact be misleading. No matter: it’s Gillooly’s intuitive sound editing — “it’s almost a piece of music,” says MacKay — that distinguishes Suitcase. Lust Hollywood-style never feels as true as this.
In a city with some 70 festivals annually, Images differs mainly in its pursuit of newer-than-new experimental work unencumbered by money-making motives and undaunted by any impossibility of popular recognition. This is the true outsider’s festival, more fluid, indeterminate and unfettered than most.
The themes within Images this year include music, architecture and pioneers.
The piano’s 19th-century technology animates Brian Virostek’s Early Figure, screening in the Sleight of Hand program. Music likewise shapes the fascistic romanticism in Scott Stark’s Bloom, in the Rhythm and Reflection program, where “Edelweiss,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from The Sound of Music in 1959, is blended with fiery fumes shooting up from Texas’s oilpatch.
The same program concludes with The Woolworths Choir of 1979, the spectacular 20-minute-long video by Elizabeth Price that conflates images of a deadly 1979 fire in a Woolworth furniture department in England with sweet early ’60s girl group pop and images of ecclesiastical architecture. Winner of the 2012 Turner Prize, The Woolworths Choir ups the bar for all of contemporary video.
Built environments are subject matter for many video makers such as Lynne Sachs, whose Your Day Is My Night raises questions of privacy and isolation of Chinese immigrant workers in New York who must share the same bed around the clock.
Meanwhile, Althea Thauberger, a festival regular and 2013 Spotlight Artist, rounds out the pioneer theme with films that confuse the boundaries between drama and documentary. Her A Memory Lasts Forever screens April 12.