“Contemporary art is so highly regarded but experimental film is just the bastard child. It’s like contemporary art and cinema hooked up one night and had a baby and just never wanted to talk to it again.”
American filmmaker and animator Jodie Mack is exceptionally talented at the bastard craft that is experimental film. I had the immense pleasure of catching a screening of Let Your Light Shine in Brisbane a few weeks ago, presented by OtherFilm, and I was very happy to learn Melbourne will now get a chance to see her latest work, at a one-off performance at Gertrude Contemporary this Thursday, 22 May.
Let Your Light Shine is a collection of five films, the centrepiece of which is Dusty Stacks of Mom, a 40 minute animated musical documentary about the decline of her mum’s pop culture poster business set to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, with live vocals from Mack herself. And it is every bit as mad and joyous as it sounds.
Mack says that audiences tend to respond most strongly to the personal, biographical aspects of Dusty Stacks, which is why she ultimately decided to incorporate the film into a longer screening of other, more abstract works. “I realised after a certain point that people weren’t really understanding the movie in the ways that I wanted them to understand it.” Mack goes on, “A lot of people see the personal element of the film, and that’s certainly there, but to me that’s definitely not the major part of the work…I see the personal element of it as a device to have the other conversation.”
The other conversation Mack is referring to, is an exploration of cultural taste, aesthetic value, and the ever-blurrier boundaries between high art and mass manufactured design. Why is this work of art valued but not this one? Why is that visual style acceptable in one context but not in another? How does something move from cutting edge to kitsch to camp and back to cool again?
Working mostly in abstract animation and with found materials, Mack has a keen eye for the ways that avant-garde aesthetics find their way into every-day decoration. Tie-dyed t-shirts look like a Sam Francis painting; paper colour swatches resemble a Paul Sharits film. As Mack says, “It’s like when you know a rap song but you don’t know the where the sample is from.”
Her mum’s poster warehouse was piled high with ‘dusty stacks’ of Klimt, Van Gough, Munch and Dali sandwiched alongside stacks of Che Guevara, River Phoenix, Buffy, and boy bands best forgotten. “Something that was really interesting going through the posters,” says Mack, “is seeing the pieces of fine art that made it into these mass manufactured poster businesses - Water Lilies, The Scream, The Great Wave off Kanagawa - things that weren’t bad until they became fridge magnets. Did you know you can buy a melty clock?”
Dusty Stacks is funny, irreverent and kind of kitsch, all of which, says Mack, tends to make folks in the super serious experimental film scene a little uncomfortable. “There are lots of elements coming together in this piece that would be easy to dismiss because it’s campy, but I really feel that’s deceptive and just on the surface. And I’m actually happy that it’s a little bit campy because I don’t want to make films for these experimental film people anymore. They’re getting me nowhere other than to a psychologist.”
Mack is only partly joking. “A lot of my philosophy comes from being an educator and meeting these students who want to work in Hollywood, but even Hollywood barely exists anymore. We have to cultivate these community film scenes and a local culture. We’re not going to do that by alienating our audience. It’s a risky thing to bring humour into experimental film, but worth a try.”
>> Maura Edmond
>> Posted 16 May 2014
GO SEE IT:
Let Your Light Shine (75 min screening)
Thursday 22 May, 6pm
200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Let Your Light Shine: Lecture with Jodie Mack
Friday 23 May, 5.30pm
John Medley Building, G23
University of Melbourne, Parkville
Blindside Live: Late Night Program
Sky Needle performing with live visuals and prismatics by Jodie Mack and the Artist Film Workshop
Saturday 24 May, 10.30pm
Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne