Category:making movies


I was half-watching the German artist Ferdinand Kriwet's Apollovision, a film & sound & video collage of the Apollo 11 moon landing as American media spectacle made, incredibly, in 1969, when I heard this:

Now you can follow the Apollo astronauts as they explore the Sea of Tranquility and the Ocean of Storms!

Brillo offers you an Official Rand McNally 18x24-inch Moon Map

Just send two labels from any Brillo product

to Brillo Moon Map Offer

Let Brillo give you the Moon--free!

Which is hilarious, except that it's completely not. How quickly did Brillo Boxes transmute from banal, everyday product to icon of Pop Art? For those who lived through the 60s, the dissonance might have been jarring, but now, Brillo just is an art object. What was it like to see it in 1969, when Pontus Hulten was, er, figuring out what to do with all those leftover boxes? Or when the folks in Pasadena and LA were asking Andy if they could whip some up, too, would he mind? It's for a show? What was Brillo in the culture at the moment it was making Art History?


I'm not sure it was anything, or that it really cared terribly much about Art History. As I write this post, the only Google result for "Brillo Moon Map" is from a
rather simple, beautiful ad in the August 8, 1969 mega-moon issue of LIFE magazine. It's just one of many ads with lunar tie-ins, ads for everything from frozen foods ["Everybody who's been to the moon eats Stouffer's"] to frozen foods ["Congratulations Neil, Buzz and Mike. We're just glad we could help./Frozen meals provided by O'Brien, Spotorno, Mitchell, a subsidiary of the Del Monte Corporation."] to toothpaste [Crest: "The Astronaut Dental Care Program"].

Hulten and the folks in Toronto who exhibited actual cardboard Brillo boxes got their shows up just in time, because by 1969, Brillo had redesigned its packaging. [update: in 1967, actually.] Which meant that the 1970 Pasadena boxes were now out of sync with the product they replicated; they were historic, not copies of Brillo's boxes anymore, or even James Harvey's, but copies of Warhol's Brillo Boxes.

Was there any moment where Warhol contemplated keeping them conceptually linked, maybe instead of varying the size, having the 1970 Brillo Boxes fabricated to look like Brillo's 1970 boxes? I'd guess no, but I haven't even heard the idea floated before. Warhol made his Brillo Boxes point in 1964, and the rest is history.

But what are the conceptual implications of the Brillo Boxes, and how did they develop? They were sculptures, symbols, objects, appropriations, readymades [at least the cardboard versions exhibited were]. If they had a conceptual element to them, though, might that affect the whole Hulten Box Affair, which I obviously can't wrap my head around?

Watch Kriwet's Apollovision (1969) on Ubu [ubu]


The things you learn at church. So of course I knew that the late illustrator Arnold Friberg's dramatic paintings of scenes from the Book of Mormon, with ripped Nephites and Lamanites striding around the Promised Land, are lodged in every Mormon's head for the last three generations. [If you don't believe me, as you study Friberg'g painting above, go ahead and listen to this impromptu ukelele rendition of "Abinadai" by the at least somewhat LDS ska masters GOGO13, who ask the eternal question of wicked King Noah (L), "Why you got that flower pot on your head?"]

And I knew that Friberg also did the concept studies, opening titles, and some key costume designs for Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments. What I did not know is how closely those two men--and those two over-the-top religious projects--were intertwined.

So let it be written: Brother of Jared sees the finger of the Lord, Arnold Friberg, 1951

Friberg was commissioned to make twelve BofM paintings in 1951 for the LDS Church's children's magazine, The Children's Friend. Four ran in 1953 and four in 1954, but Friberg stepped away from the project for several years, after growing frustrated with doctrinal micromanaging of the images. [1]

So let it be done: Moses and the Burning Bush, Arnold Friberg, 1954

It was DeMille seeing a portfolio of Friberg's Book of Mormon lithographs in 1954 that clinched him the The Ten Commandments gig. Friberg's illustrations were extremely close to the finished look and feel of the movie, and in the process of working on the film, Friberg and DeMille became close friends.

Which led to DeMille meeting the President of the LDS Church at the time, David O. McKay. Who invited DeMille to speak at Brigham Young University's commencement in 1957. Which he did. He basically gave a sermon about the Ten Commandments. As part of BYU's The Board, a community service--meets-Mechanical Turk resource, someone named Laser Jock retyped DeMille's entire speech from one of BYU's two surviving transcripts. It's available on PDF. He was quite a preacher. [DeMille's relationship with BYU was such that after his death in 1959, his extensive archive was donated to the university. It is in the Harold B. Lee Library's Special Collections department, which seems to be almost entirely unavailable--or even unindexed--online. Amazing.]

Anyway, Friberg went back to finish the last four Book of Mormon paintings after the film, and they were published in The Children's Friend between 1961 and 1963. But more importantly, the paintings were included in softcover copies of the actual Book of Mormon starting in 1961. Which all but put the canonical seal of approval on them, paintings essentially functioning as scripture.

There has to be several doctoral theses worth of material about the cultural and theological impacts of Friberg's religious superheros, and on the symbiotic relationship between one of classic Hollywood's most bombastic religious spectacles and one of America's most unorthodox religions. Maybe there already are.

[1] Apparently, Churchs officials [whether ecclesiastical leaders of bureaucrats, I don't know] at the time had a strong aversion to LDS artists making portraits of Christ. They had no problem with using non-LDS artists' naturalistic representations, though. After much back and forth, Friberg's solution was to only show Jesus as a tiny figure descending from the sky.

This reluctance eventually faded, and there are plenty of illustrations of Christ by LDS artists in use, and even more in circulation. But I distinctly remember the frisson of faith when the Church commissioned a new portrait of Christ, and the rumor mill began churning about why it was the most accurate ever, because it was based on Christ's ID badge for the Church Office Building or whatever. nother thesis topic, perhaps.

Brigham Young University Commencement Exercises
Commencement Address: Mr. Cecil B. DeMille
Introduced by Pres. David O. McKay
May 31, 1957
Journal of BofM Studies: The Book of Mormon Art of Arnold Friberg: "Painter of Scripture" []

Larry Gottheim's 1970 short film Fog Line is just beautiful to watch. 11 minutes of fog imperceptibly but inexorably dissipating in a rural landscape.

It reminds me a bit of Tacita Dean's Banewl, a 63-minute fixed shot of a Cornish cow pasture during a 1999 solar eclipse--only without all the action.

In 2005, the NY Film Festival hada mini-retrospective screening of Gottheim's work, including Fog Line.


I came across a mention of Len Lye's spectacular-looking kinetic sculpture a couple of weeks ago, while reading 1965 coverage of the Buffalo Festival of the Arts. Sandwiched in between a photo of Robert Morris and Yvonne Rainer in a nude dancing embrace and a headless mannequin dangling on the set of a Eugene Ionesco play was an installation shot of Lye's Zebra at the Albright-Knox: "It consists of a nine-foot rope of fiber glass which, when set in swirling motion by a motor, bends into constantly changing shapes."

Lye's kinetic works had been getting some traction in New York--the Govett Brewster Gallery in his home country of New Zealand begins its sculpture section with Harmonic (1959), another spinning work similar to Zebra, which was shown at MoMA in 1961. But according to his biographer Roger Horrocks, the Buffalo exhibition and the concurrent solo show at Howard Wise Gallery in Manhattan were really his first chances to show multiple pieces at once.

Thanks to some steady evangelizing, some scholarship, technological advances that help realize--or keep running--his work, Lye has become something of a posthumous hero in New Zealand. There was a retrospective in Melbourne and New Plymouth NZ last year that included refabrications of several sculptures.

But Lye's most frictionless path to history and fame is probably not his sculptures, but his films. He was probably the earliest practitioner of direct animation, drawing and scratching carefully synchronized abstractions and imagery onto celluloid as early as 1935, when Stan Brakhage was two years old.

Lye made A Colour Box as a pre-feature advertisement for the British General Postal Office. Other of his early animations were commercials, too. I'm so glad he did them, because they are awesome, but seriously, they seem like some of the most ineffective ads imaginable.

But as art and filmmaking, holy smokes. Just try, as you are mesmerized by all the separations and compositing and abstraction and color in Rainbow Dance, to remember that Lye made this in 1936:

He also made commercials using stop-action animation and puppetry, such as the rather incredible 1935 short for Shell, The Birth of the Robot, whose tiny kinetic figures and machines look like the missing link between Alexander Calder's Circus and Ray and Charles Eames's Solar Do-Nothing Machine:

It didn't occur to me until just now, watching Trade Tattoo, a 1938 GPO short in which Lye incorporates both direct animation and coloring and found footage, but the saturated, post-production colors and the collage of abstraction and photo/film realism suddenly reminds me of Gilbert & George's distinctive visual style.

I don't know what WWII did to the GPO Film Unit's output, but both Gilbert and George were born during the war, in the early 40s, and only George grew up in the UK. [Gilbert was born in Italy and moved to London to study.] Perhaps there was a Lye/GPO legacy lingering around St. Martins in the 60s. Or maybe it was all lava lamps and LSD. Who knows?

All of these YouTube clips, by the way, are from user BartConway, who turns out to be an OG filmsnob of the highest order, and thank heaven for it. He seems to be getting them from the BFI's extraordinary-looking PAL DVD collection of works by the GPO Film Unit.

July 7, 2010

On Gilbert & George


I didn't make it the first time, of course, but I did see Gilbert & George's reprise of "The Singing Sculpture" in 1991 at Sonnabend. It left a pretty deep impression on me in a way their photo compositions really haven't. And there was always something about their conceptual conceit of being "living sculptures," and not separating art and life that seemed a little precious.

But holy crap--no pun intended--have you seen these guys work? No wonder art and life aren't separated, they have turned their entire life into the most systematic, all-encompassing, hyperefficient artmaking process I think I've ever seen or heard of.

I watched a 2000 interview/documentary/archive visit with them ["un film de Hans Ulrich Obrist," seriously], and I imagined Hans Ulrich dying right there on the spot and going into archival heaven. It was that intense and organized and incredible. When Gilbert [the non-balding one] is talking, George is training his gaze straight into the camera, as if he were hammering the point home. It's just--just watch it.

Fortunately, it sounds like the boys have finally gotten a little digitization in their process. Robert Ayers visited with them in 2007, and they now use a computer and a hi-res scanner to compose their images using the tens of thousands of photos they have taken and categorized and archived over the decades.

[One thing that I wonder about, from the movie: George holds up a model of an unidentified gallery which would house a show they've conceived of their entire 1977 series, Dirty Words Pictures, which to that point had never been seen together. The first person to identify the location would win "a special prize," he said.

So how'd that turn out? Because less than two years later, the Serpentine did show the Dirty Words Pictures, but that gallery mockup doesn't really remind me of the Serpentine.]


Anyway, if they weren't interesting enough, in 1975, on the occasion of a show in Dusseldorf, they commissioned Gerhard Richter to paint their portrait. He ended up painting eight of them, using melanges and overlays of various photographs. Anthony d'Offay donated a pair to Tate Modern, where they are in the Richter Rooms. So strange, but the National Gallery of Australia's, above, is even stranger.

The Secret Files of Gilbert & George (2000), 35min, dir. Hans-Ulrich Obrist []
[images: Gilbert, George, all 1975, all Gerhard Richter. Top: via Tate, above: via]


Harrier and Jaguar, Fiona Banner's commission for Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries opened this week, and from the making of film and interview with the artist, it looks spectacular.


Banner has installed two decommissioned fighter jets--a BAe Sea Harrier XE695 and a SEPECAT Jaguar XZ118--in the grand neoclassical space. By altering each slightly, and by placing them in atypical, non-functional positions, the artist turned them into overwhelming, beautiful objects--sculptures--which nonetheless manage to retain all their original significance and meaning as highly advanced weapons of war.


The Harrier was covered with a delicately feathered matte wash and hung, nose down, just off the floor. It barely fits inside the limestone-clad hall. The SEPECAT Jaguar was stripped down to bare metal and polished to a mirror finish. It rests upside down, on its cockpit. Did I mention it looks spectacular?


With those reflections it generates, it's like a 3D realspace version of Google's distorted Street View portraits.

Video | Fiona Banner Harrier and Jaguar, 9'23" [tate channel]
Duveens Commission Series | Fiona Banner 2010, through 3 Jan. 2011 []

July 2, 2010

Olafur Street View


One of the simplest, best parts of Innen Stadt Außen [Inner City Out], Olafur Eliasson's multiple public and museum projects in his adopted hometown of Berlin this year, is now online as a short film.


In what feels like the diametric opposite of Google's Street View scanning, Olafur and his studio rigged a truck with a giant mirror and drove it around town. Part of me wants to not say what it is, but to let viewers figure it out. But the whole exhibition was promoted with photos of the truck. And I knew what it was, and I still was enthralled by every sequence and cut in the film.

Innen Stadt Aussen, from Studio Olafur Eliasson, 10'31" [vimeo via @grammar_police]

This 11-minute documentary short by Brisbane animator Simon Cottee gives a nice look at contemporary pixel art and its origins.

Unsurprisingly, game developer Jason Rohrer has the most thoughtful perspective on the idealized, ex-post-facto perception of pixels as these perfect, hard-edged squares, which he attributes in part to looking back at old low-res games on new, hi-res monitors.

Cottee et al make the connection between pixels and pointillism, but the focus on animation leaves out the influence both pixel-centric image software, like Photoshop, and pixel-related art shown in galleries. [Juan Cespedes, Cory Arcangel, Sherrie Levine, Joerg Colberg or Thomas Ruff, or even Tauba Auerbach or Gerhard Richter] Still well worth a view.

On the occasion of Apichatpong Weerasethakul [1] winning the Palme d'Or, Frieze's Dan Fox has a incisive recap of the debate over Slow Cinema that erupted after Nick James' Sight and Sound recent op-ed calling the genre out as a passive-aggressive dare to the audience to admit they're bored.

The row among film critics and festivalgoers is as annoyingly insidery and lingo-obsessed as any art world argument. [Fox is careful to give equal time to competing terminologies. One blogger critic, Harry Tuttle, thinks Slow Cinema is pejorative, and proffers Contemporary Contemplative Cinema instead, which seems arbitrary. Might as well call it Minimalist Meditative Movies.]

Fox's dead-on point is how insulated and blind these two systems of production and distribution--theater/festival/DVD vs gallery/installation/edition--are from each other. And this, despite the remarkable confluence of interests, strategies, and styles among filmmakers and artists on both sides of the divide:

Much as I admire Tuttle's spirited engagement with his favoured genre of contemporary cinema, nowhere on his timeline of CCC/Slow Cinema is there anything that represents, for instance, the achievements of Structural cinema. This is curious, for if 'plotlessness', 'wordlessness', 'slowness' and 'alienation' are what he is trying to chronicle, where are Andy Warhol's Empire, from 1964, or Michael Snow's 1967 film Wavelength for example? Nor is there any acknowledgement of how these multiple strands of experimental cinema history have fed into the work of artists today.
Artists such as Tacita Dean, Sharon Lockhart, and Matthew Barney, for example. [On the other side of the fence, I'm not sure why no one seems to have mentioned my own personal favorite Slow Cineman, Gus Van Sant, who emptied Sundance theaters with Gerry and whose lingering, looming Elephant also won at Cannes.]

Barney has broken theatrical and festival ground with his Cremaster Cycle, of course. But I think Frieze, which has commissioned projects from Weerasethakul, has high hopes for him as a candidate for bringing the worlds of these two film traditions together. We'll see.

Slow, Fast and Inbetween [frieze]
[1] yes, he's in the art world pronunciation guide.

My buddy John Powers has been working on this insane project forlikeever: an artists commentary track--with pictures!--that runs alongside Star Wars IV. Tonight he's presenting it at Philoctetes, and discussing it along with Colby Chamberlain and Luke duBois, who's made a sick score.

I've seen pieces Star Wars and Modernism: an artists commentary emerge in pieces over the months, but tonight's the first time a big section of it will be screened large, and in public. I'm very jealous of all those who can make it out there tonight:

Star Wars and Modernism, an artist commentary conceived and directed by artist John Powers, explores the original 1977 science fiction film as an object. Juxtaposing video with film stills and historical archives, Powers creates a compelling argument that the visual program of the blockbuster can and should be understood in terms of the art, architecture, and politics of Cold-War America. An essay by Powers published in Triple Canopy, with important editorial contributions by Colby Chamberlain, was the genesis of the project. Composer Luke DuBois created the film's original score.
Details at

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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Category: making movies

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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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