25 January 2012

For the last four or five years filmmaker Kerry Baldry has been curating and organising national and international showings of selections of artist made films united by the sole criterion of being a minute or less in length. Each 'volume' is between 50 minutes and an hour in length and features both long standing and well known makers of artist film, such as Guy Sherwin, Steven Ball and Catherine Elwes but spans the whole gamut to newcomers and 'outsiders' too.

The first three volumes were compiled on an invitation basis, volumes 4 & 5 as the result of both invitations and an open call.

Baldry has received no funding for this; it is a labour of love and it is all the more impressive that she not only compiles and elegantly sequences the volumes but seems, in a quiet way, to be unable to take no for an answer when it comes to arranging screenings.

There's a long history of valuing the miniature in most art traditions; the Japanese netsuke (and of course the haiku, a form that springs insistently to my mind at least when I watch many of these films), the Indian and Persian miniature, the place of the study, sketch, album-leaf and impromptu at the heart of the European cultural tradition and a cult of the fragment arising out of the material circumstances of the transmission of the European Greek and Roman heritage - Catullus, Sappho &c. and the subsequent reflection of this, particularly in a strain of 19th century romanticism.

Apart from the general cultural antecedents of the One Minutes there's a particular tale to tell in moving image: the quality of being both lapidary and epic that pertains to the early films of the Lumière brothers, then the gigantism that gripped some of the greats of the experimental film tradition -Brakhage, Markopoulos, Frampton, the pithy one-liners (even when long!) of Fluxus and the narrowing down of size that came with the opportunity in the, perhaps less market driven than today, late sixties through to the early eighties for artist film to get a showing on TV, sometimes as 'interventions', sometimes in small gaps between programmes, sometimes in dedicated late night strands, the influence too of a growing tendency to present in galleries as well as screenings.

Finally, of course, in 2005, came YouTube. I'm not arguing that the films you'll see here tonight have all been directly influenced by YouTube and video on the net (some clearly have, but the making of a number of them preceded both innovations) but that our tolerance of and understanding of short form video, which enables a programme like this to seem not only possible but almost inevitable, arises out of the new relationship with the moving image that sitting closely in front of a monitor and watching (until very recently) works that were of necessity somehow miniature, has gifted us. (Miniature, initially, both in window size and length, now to some extent still length, though the whole ground is shifting again substantially.) Actually I'd argue that the one thing missing in the public showings of the One Minutes is that ability to pause, to replay, almost to 'handle' characteristic of the PC - perhaps a DVD for sale sometime?

I want to say a bit about the films themselves.

There are some kinds of content that extreme short form moving image seems to make particularly welcome:

  • What might be called the unlooped loop where one could conceivably start and finish at any point, where the content is abstract or non-representational.
  • The one liner - often, but not always, humorous - where the whole piece unfolds inevitably out of a single initial premise (and as you'll see, the form does lend itself particularly well to humour)
  • Animation (and here the precise and fluent control at the level of the frame made possible through digital technology allows for a quite remarkable level of carefully structured visual incident within a very short time frame)
  • The documentary - characterised sometimes by what stills photographers would call the decisive moment - the camera is there, ready to capture something beautiful, absurd, terrifying, touching or, indeed, all of those. At other times simply be an examination - an exercise in close looking and wonder.
  • The juxtaposition - here're two or three things, facts, events, views, objects put together in some way - often the whole will be more than the sum of its parts. Or the process lays the sometimes well-camouflaged fact of editing bare upon the surgeon's table. Or a strange found poetry is discovered.

Finally, and in conclusion I throw this down as a kind of gauntlet, there's a very special kind of one minute film where, after seeing it, we blink our eyes in disbelief that only a minute has passed because what we have just seen seems to have been so packed with incident or so suggestive of the breadth and wonder of the world we live in, or has brought forth so many powerful and (we thought) long buried resonances from our unconscious. 

I have no intention of identifying my two or three candidates in this volume for that kind of richness. I leave it to you, dear reader, to watch attentively and thoughtfully and decide which are yours.

Michael Szpakowski, Artist, writer and Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at Writtle College