LIZ WENDELBO – photography-film-music

Cold Cinema by Liz Wendelbo

Published by Liz Wendelbo and Xeno Presse, May 2009 for the screenings of ‘Opticks’ – a collection of 16mm films numbered I through XIV

Liz Wendelbo is an artist based in Brooklyn whose practices include photography, electronic music and film. Her filmmaking predicates resistance to cinema as a virtual medium – this resistance in film is what she refers to as Cold Cinema. It is a sentiment and a philosophy which places the artist in a position of resistance, akin to a soldier in a bunker, or Plato’s imaginary self in a dark cave – standing watch, reminiscing, coldly observing and hypnotized by flickers of light in the distance. With a kinship for obsolete technology, the artist uses 16mm and vintage formats as her shooting medium of choice. She explores themes of darkness, color, rituals, Goth iconography and film as a medium, with melancholy and restraint.

She places particular emphasis on the shooting stage of the filmmaking process because of its live aspect: ‘reel time’, such as pioneered by early Andy Warhol, is preferred and ‘in-camera’ editing is signature. All effects are produced ‘in-camera’ at the shooting stage and are analogue. Each film is the length of a film reel (3 minutes). No computers are used to aid this process. These are filming principles and techniques that are unique to 16mm film. The camera used, a Bolex from 1955, was a staple in documenting the Vietnam War. One of the first portable 16mm cameras, it liberated film from the studio system and was widely used by experimental filmmakers and war journalists alike.  The Bolex camera in this series of films embodies cinema’s equivocal quivering between reality and fabrication.

Color is a strong component to ‘Opticks’. It is the result of the artist’s study of Isaac Newton’s principles of color, which he founded in the book ‘Opticks’, published in the early 18th century. Compelled by Newton’s writings, the artist came across an obscure scholar of Newton’s theory of color refraction – J.C Maxwell. A 19th century Scottish physicist, Maxwell ‘projected’ the first color photograph using Newton’s color theory in 1861 – the image was a ribbon of Tartan fabric, which contained all colors of the spectrum. Both Newton’s and Maxwell’s empirical approach to color deeply informed the color experiments of the film.

Sound in ‘Opticks’ is non-diegetic: it is purposefully disconnected from the original footage. The synthetic “Gamelan bells” composition by musician Sean McBride (Xeno and Oaklander / Martial Canterel) in ‘Opticks V – Rituals’ is created separately so as to depart from the ‘Mickey Mouse Effect’, whereby sound follows image. A stifling narrative film technique, Mickey Mousing was debunked in the sixties by experimental filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage.  Here, separation of sound and image allows for serendipitous connection between them.

Inspired by Brechtian concepts of ‘distanciation’, the ‘Opticks’ films seek to ‘alienate’ its audience by providing philosophical space within the films. Deliberately sparse, the Cold Cinema of Liz Wendelbo is an exploration of the mechanics of the projected moving image and its mesmeric quality: what we see is the hypnotic quivering which occurs between surface and the immeasurable depth that is film.