Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cut-Ups Are For Everyone

William S. Burroughs, American novelist and poet (1914-1997)
When William S. Burroughs instructed "...the cut-up method could add a new dimension to films. Cut gambling scene in with a thousand gambling scenes all times and places. Cut back. Cut streets of the world. Cut and rearrange the word and image in films" in his essay "The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin" from 1961, he seemed to have had an inkling of the volume of visual material to come and also how technologies and media would become increasingly accessible ultimately helping artist to "coax something up from the unconsciousness." There has been a long history of artists rearranging material found close at hand. From Marcel Duchamp defacing a mass produced picture postcard of the Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q., 1919) by drawing a mustache on the iconic painting to Paul Pfeiffer erasing video footage frame-by-frame to create his eerie loop "Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon)" from 1999, artists have taken on the role of editors sorting through the torrent of visual images to point out "the hidden ghosts of the individual and his society" (thanks to Italo Calvino in "Cybernetics and Ghosts").

After two years of scouring a film archive of decaying Fox Movietone reels in Columbia, S.C., filmmaker and director Bill Morrison created a monumental experimental film. The goo of dissolving nitrate stock added poetics to long forgotten documentary footage of "exotic" people and places. Decasia" The State of Decay, the resulting film completed in 2002, begins with a Sufi Whirling Dervish foreshadowing the cycles and endlessness of movie film spinning on reels or fibers being spun on wheels into fabric and yarn which are motifs repeated throughout. A graduate of Reed College in Portland and Cooper Union School of Art in New York, Morrison made a film that was recently described as "the calligraphy of decay growing increasingly hallucinated and catastrophic" by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice (May 2010). The film prompts us to ponder the delicacy of both what is lost and what is saved while considering the endless human struggle and attempts at transcendence. Morrison cared enough to transform the deteriorating found analog material and collaborate with composer Michael Gordon to create a wall-of-sound-track to create an unnerving viewing experience. Through juxtaposition and aesthetics, not just patina, Morrison's fascination with the interaction of decay and film imagery created new meaning. As the digital age progresses and the inevitable loss of digital data becomes more fully realized, the relevance of Morrison's analog project changed as reflected in a Q&A conducted in March 2010 at Stanford

Whrling Dervish still from Bill Morrison's Decasia
Morrison's project is a meaningful addition to the 21st century dialog on the Remix. In "7 Essential Skills You Didn't Learn in College" in the October 2010 Wired, senior editor Jason Tanz gives an "extra credit assignment" in his "Remix Culture" hypothetical course: create a unique work using the Prelinger Archive. Helpful suggestion and great that Harvard professor and chairman of the artist-based Creative CommonsLarry Lessig, continues arguing for copyright reform to protect fair use and creative freedom for artists using Remix strategies in their practice. He speaks of eliminating the "fear of legal liability" with the aim of encouraging the next generation of artists to succeed rather than to fail as he believes the current copyright system tends to do. 

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