FILMMAKER DAVID GATTEN IN PERSON!
At long long last, Magic Lantern gives you a reason to take those foam earplugs out and to turn your noise-cancelling headphones off – there won’t be any crying babies or balding men with thick accents swearing into cell phones, and there certainly won’t be any early-80s New Wave bass shaking the ceiling fan above your head. After all, this is the Silent Show, and Magic Lantern is quietly kicking out the jams for a night of text-as-image meditation-revelation. Our good friend David Gatten will be here (of “The Water and Sky Show” fame, and also ArtForum, the Whitney Biennial, and more) to project and whisper in your collective ear about his most recent series of films – Parts I-IV of “Secret History of the Dividing Line, A True Account in Nine Parts.” These are sound-less films about letters, lovers, books, ghosts, and the 18th century Byrd family of Virginia, and gathered together they present an entirely new vision of cinema’s glorious past, present, and future…
Featuring: Secret History of the Dividing Line (20:00, 16mm, 1996-2002), The Great Art of Knowing (37:00, 16mm, 2004), Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing (26:00, 16mm, 1999), The Enjoyment of Reading, Lost & Found (16:00, 16mm, 2001)
Secret History of the Dividing Line (20:00, 16mm, 1996-2002)
Let the ragged edge between the two be lightning or falling water, and figure its use: the distance away of a person poised in the air with wings on. – Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Empathy
When using tape to make a splice the cut pieces of film are placed end to end and the tape itself covers the gap: it is a band-aid and a bridge. But as the splice ages a line becomes visible; eventually the adhesive dries and the connection dis- solves. When making a cement splice, there is more violence involved. The films are not placed end to end but instead are crushed into one another. Frames are lost, emulsions are scraped. But the well made splice is strong: in fact, it is permanent. Unlike tape, there is no going back. And it leaves a mark — a line — covering a third of one of the frames. A splice marks difference and defines duration. To suppress that mark is to pretend that we will live forever. Instead, take your splicer and knock the blade out of alignment. Forgo the B roll in favor of a single strand of faith. Hold your breath and count the hours since you were last together. Blow softly on a wet face and watch the smile form. Float your hand across the surface and find all the words you need. Unfold the splicer and separate your image from your dream; you will feel bound, as if tied down until you are fully awake. Only then will you know for sure: this may not be final but it is definite. The landscape you see can change only when you pass through it. Regard your new object: a union: silent, tiny and bright.
Paired texts as dueling histories. A journey imagined and remembered. 57 mileage markers produce an equal number of prospects.
The Great Art of Knowing (37:00, 16mm, 2004)
And we are on our way, shrugging off coincidence and making up the story
From the story’s hitherto
The outcomes must be several and unknown
They must be exchanged like accuracies
With you taking your aim and I taking mine
Two figures in a figure drawing present at different times Time now is the element of invisibility In a tendered exchange Between a blown boy and a planted girl Love is a violence that compels thinking – Lyn Hejinian, A Border Comedy
On either side of a Life find a Library before and an Auction after: consider these figures as the sites for a collection created for the purposes of division and dispersal. The journey this time moves from the first light at dawn to the last rays of a sunset, reflected and refracted. In between find dry Fall turn toward the shadows of Spring and the stillness of death sparked by the singularities of a transcendental field. Find yourself resting uneasily half way up the stairs: Something has left the body, yet the body remains: what has left is on its way Elsewhere but cannot help but look back: this look animates the world and makes possible this Theory of Flight in the form of a bibliography.
Webster’s Third International Dictionary says a bibliographer is “one that writes about or is informed about books, their authorship, format, publication and similar details.” Is he or she supposed to compile a set of authoritative texts that can withstand the charge of forgery, the test of time, the timelessness of libraries? A bibliography is “the history, identification, or analytical and systematic description or classification of writings or publications considered as material objects.” Can we ever really discover the original text? What is a pure text invented by an author? Is such a conception possible? Only by going back to the pre-scriptive level of thought process can ‘authorial intention’ finally be located, and then the material object has become immaterial. Pierre Macherey’s description of the discourse in a fiction applies to the discourse in this bibliography: “sealed and interminably completed or endlessly beginning again, diffuse and dense, coiled about an absent center which it can neither conceal nor reveal.” – Susan Howe, The Nonconformist’s Memorial
From Leonardo da Vinci to Jules-Etienne Marey practitioners of a certain mode of transcendental empiricism turned repeatedly to combinations of words and images describing the flight of birds. In 1726 William Byrd returned to Westover in Virginia and began construction of a garden soon to be called “the finest in the country, filled with the charming colours of the Humming Bird.” In a parallel pursuit, he collected the largest library in the colonies to serve as mirror for his mind and testament to his knowledge. Evelyn Byrd was fond of sketching the birds in the garden. Her interest was more than aesthetic and scientific; she devised a very different use for her father’s vast library.
This chapter of an ongoing exploration of the Byrd library finds its name and shape within a single volume from that collection: Athanasius Kircher’s 17th century encyclopedia, The Great Art of Knowing. Herein find tangled texts and crossed destinies, filled with figures at once buried deep and tossed high by History, lined with traces of a hidden romance. Love finds purchase between tightly shelved volumes. In the spaces between the letters. In the lines themselves. An antinomian cinema seems possible. A gentle iconoclasm? The image is always backwards in a mirror. The story unfolds slowly.
Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or, the Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing (26:00, 16mm, 1999)
Now you see it now you don’t. Knew that it had to and knew that it should be free from the page and slide ‘till reborn. Knew that it had to and knew that it could be peeled from the page in frame-at-a-time mornings. Knew that it had to and knew that it would: monk-like sequestered, scriptorium scribbling: light from the window was light from above. Knew that I had it but knew that I couldn’t stretch the material in frames of my making. Looked for instructions and found an Instructor: Moxon directed and Moxon framed timely: found I should follow and follow I tried. A constant restaging of appearance as disappearance. The notion of a Baroque house in which we are in ascension from a lower floor comprising “pleats of matter” to an upper floor enclosing “folds of the soul,” . . . we fall again we rise in turn . . . in the beginning was the word in the end was the light . . . in between both at the same time . . . translation constantly in transformation . . . pushing upwards, disappearing at the upper reaches . . . we all look with hope we all hope to rise. Now you see it now you don’t.
The Enjoyment of Reading, Lost & Found (16:00, 16mm, 2001)
All night I sat reading a book,
Sat reading as if in a book
Of somber pages. I
t was autumn and falling stars
Covered the shriveled forms
Crouched in the moonlight.
No lamp was burning as I read,
A voice was mumbling, ‘Everything
Falls back to coldness,
Even the musky muscadines
The melons, the vermilion pears
Of the leafless garden.’
The somber pages bore no print
Except the trace of burning stars
In the frosty heaven.
— Wallace Stevens, “The Reader”
A closely watched candle and an invitation to the dance. William Byrd booms among his books while Evelyn keeps to a quiet window. The volunteer fire brigade sorts through the ashes and Isaac Goldberg tells it like it is. Alive again. But still waiting for the sunrise.
March 22, 2006. Toronto, Canada.