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The Cinema I: Mangolte Film

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The National Gallery of Art’s film program provides many opportunities throughout the year to view classic and contemporary cinema from around the world.

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stills from Sky on Location, 1982 (L) and Edward Krasiński’s Studio, 2012 (R), courtesy Babette Mangolte
and BROADWAY 1602 UPTOWN & HARLEM, NEW YORK

Space

“It is here that day, will it ever be there again?” This anxious questioning is in the series of monologues in The Sky on Location. What you see is only there for today and all can still be lost. The American West always appears to be on the brink of extinction. No landscape is for all time. It can be destroyed very quickly. That was the effect I wanted to create in the film, not because I had any preconceived notions of what I was going to see. Armed with maps and having seen many books of images for all the terrains I was going to explore with my film camera, I discovered that it was the quick changes in light that made me want to shoot. I had no plan except to capture what was there and edit it to show change and movement in the light and in the terrain. Meanwhile, roaming a couple of weeks each season with a film camera, and going back from summer to fall to winter and spring to similar places, the changes were cumulative. In summer 1980 when I started to shoot the film, nobody was yet speaking about global warming, but environmentalists from the 19th century to the 1980s had described the land as a vanishing paradise.

The film was an exploration of the color of the sky north to south and west of the Rockies and east of the Cascades and the Sierras, although I made some exceptions, venturing into the Olympic Peninsula and the Sonoran desert. The film was trying to establish associations between what you saw and what had happened many years ago in that same place. Again, sound was how I could create associative transfer between past and present.

Interestingly, in 2016 I now have evidence that the sound of frogs in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite that I recorded in spring 1981 has now vanished. There are no more frogs in the Sierras, maybe because it is too dry, too polluted. But the frogs were still there in spring 1981. Sound is also a record of what is present at a given time.

I was in Warsaw for one week for a show in late November 2011 and wanted to see Edward Krasiński’s studio. The Foksal Gallery that represents his work gave me access and allowed me to shoot there. This is how the film Edward Krasiński’s Studio came into existence. I had studied the work of Krasiński the year before while in New York and wrote about what I imagined could have been his working relationship with the photographer Eustachy Kossakowski, who documented some of Krasiński’s performance work in the early 1960s, in particular Spear, which Krasiński never performed live and showed only as photographs in his gallery. The idea of using photographs as substitutes for live performance recalls the famous trompe l’oeil effect of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void. It was so strange for me, whose photo archive of performance works is made of photographs of real live events, to think that showing an image as performance by deleting the presence of the event was the choice of the performer himself.

On a normal November day in Warsaw there is light from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. I could shoot only on Wednesday and Saturday in the week I was in Warsaw, and when I arrived in Poland on Sunday it snowed. It was dark all day long. I had my usual digital camera with me and went out on Wednesday, unsure that I would have enough light. I was lucky. The sun came out and the snow stopped. The studio windows were covered by what was left of vertical lines in Scotch tape that Daniel Buren, the French artist and close friend of Krasiński, had installed in 1973. The lines were still visible after forty years’ exposure to summer sun and winter ice. It was in this studio that Krasiński started to build his minute objects in the early 1970s when he moved in with the abstract painter Henryk Stazewski (an established modernist painter in Poland since the late 1920s). The communist state supported him with a free studio on the top floor of a building with good light, situated at the edge of what had been the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw before the war.

In the studio I was enchanted by the minutiae of handmade objects, the trompe l’oeil of many perspectives created by small hanging boxes covered with black and white photographs, and the famous blue line that made everything “more real,” according to Krasiński’s interview with art historian and curator Eulalia Domanowska in 1993:

Krasiński: The tape is calmly wandering along the wall. It has no rapid breaks or wavy lines… It is steadily making its way to the world.

Domanowska: My feeling is that on the one side the tape is appropriating space and objects, and on the other it is making them unreal.

Krasiński: On the contrary, it only makes them more real. It unmasks the reality of what it has been stuck onto. [1]

Like the glass tears in Man Ray’s famous image, Krasiński’s work is all about revealing itself as “more real.”

My film Edward Krasiński’s Studio, including sound recording, was shot over two days, the only two days of sun during my week in Warsaw. The film is meant to evoke the life of the artist who lived there with his friend and mentor Henryk Stazewski. Krasiński constructed in situ the minute objects that became both a shrine to his friend and homage to his own installation work.

Both films, The Sky on Location and Edward Krasiński’s Studio, are different in their concepts and intentions but they have one thing in common: the films show what is there and try to put in perspective the forces at work in what is shown. In the case of Krasiński it is his aesthetics and sensibility, and in the case of The Sky on Location it is the force of entropy, the cultural context, and the environmental degradation. In both films there is the desire to show specific spaces that could vanish unless somebody ensures their preservation.

In both cases, as in a daydream, I hope the spectators will reflect on the history of what they have just seen. I quote the last lines in The Sky on Location:

“In looking at nature, I was tracking down history.
I ask myself:
Have I been standing up too close or back too far?
Have I really seen?
Did we really see?”

Previous: Performance

 [1] “Drole d'interview: Edward Krasiński in conversation with Eulalia Domanowska, Stanisław Cichowicz and Andrzej Mitan,” in Edward Krasiński: les Mises en Scène, ed. Sabine Breitwieser (Vienna, 2006), 30. (back to top)