When you mention the term "the arts," imaginations are often instinctively drawn to images of paintings, drawings and sculptures. A little bit more thought, and music, dance and theater will often enter into the general concept of "the arts." Writing, architecture and photography usually get tucked in as well.
There is, however, a medium that regularly incorporates elements from each of those artistic realms: filmmaking. The process of transferring artful images from the real world to celluloid simply seems like enhanced photography. But when those images are applied to a blank screen -- or a canvas, if you will -- the photography begins to resemble painting. Sound, arranged by the artist, draws us into the realm of music, and the movement of images over a period of time is suggestive of the way that dancers transport themselves across a space. It's as if the 20th century, rather than creating a form of artistic expression out of nothing, yielded a single medium that would contain all other artistic media -- filmmaking.
These connections are what will be explored as part of the 2002-03 Visiting Artist Lecture Series, Artists and the Moving Image. Initiated several years ago, the Consortium for the Visiting Artist Series, composed of Eastern Washington University, the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture and Spokane Falls Community College, has regularly brought to the community both national and international artists whose work is challenging and inspiring. By focusing on moving images -- in film or video -- the series is acknowledging the role that those media play in the art world today and offering Spokane audiences the chance to encounter one of the visual art world's most engaging forms of expression.
"We thought that they were so much a part of the visual arts," Lanny DeVuono. A professor at EWU and member of the Consortium , DeVuono says "they're a seamless link between the computer, sculpture, painting and performance. And so we thought that it was our responsibility to remind ourselves about film and its connection with the visual."
To initiate this year's series, the consortium will be presenting artist and filmmaker Dana Plays, who will speak three times this week.
"I think what is important about Dana's work," explains DeVuono, "is that it's a link between the older experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage and Maya Derin, and the newer, memoir-style work that's being done by artists like Abigail Child. Dana is in dialogue with those two different groups. It's still experimental, with all of the characteristics that go with that, like abstract visual imagery, yet it also has these concrete ideas that are very close to a narrative. You can follow a story, or at least an idea in them. And that's what's fun about good film -- you get this incredible visual information, and you also get this sense of a story as things come together over a period of time."
The process that DeVuono is describing becomes clearer when Plays describes one of the films that she'll be presenting next week. "It's called Nuclear Family," Plays says. "It's a short experimental film that's a compilation of found footage that documents science experiments on animal behavior in the 1950s. Essentially what happened is that in 1996, a university decided to throw away their educational film archives. So I pulled about 100 films out of the dumpster, and used them here. It's also cut in with optically printed, more abstract film in black and white that I've shot."
Plays describes the abstract, visual parts of Nuclear Family as representing "the personal memories that we have. And it's placed in conflict with the scientific images that are from the cultural memory bank. The film is called Nuclear Family, but you never see a family. You see mannequins used in above-ground nuclear testing experiments. And you see animals interacting with each other in boxes, while authorities with triggers are controlling them. And the animals do stuff that would be representative of love and aggression or sibling rivalry in the families."
This juxtaposition adds up to a much more controlled, choreographed experience for the viewer than would have been possible in a gallery setting. In film, she's able to present the images with an element of artistically shaped time. The result is the same thing that a novelist, switching from character to character, can achieve with fiction; or that a composer, moving sound around an orchestra over the span of an hour, can create with music. But when the basic building blocks are images, the result rests somewhere between
these artistic worlds -- the space inhabited exclusively by film.