Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Moving the Sleeping Image of Things Towards the Light

“A confused mass of thoughts, tumbling over one another in the dark; when the fancy was yet in its first work, moving the sleeping images of things towards the light, there to be distinguished and then either chosen or rejected by the judgment.” – John Dryden

I guess that I’m familiar with Daïchi Saïto’s experimental films. I would have seen All That Rises and Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis at Café Ex and then Never a Foot Too Far, Even at the Blackwood Gallery. But it would be hard for me to correctly recall them. Seeing them were striking and captivating experiences where familiar places were being de-familiarized through light, colors and sounds. Fleeting memories that come to mind include abrupt footage of an old alleyway, colorful light gliding through trees, and two projectors in a gallery flashing light towards a wall.

Saïto is part of the Montreal Double Negative Collective whose poetic and illusion-bashing manifesto includes statements like, “We locate cinema in human experience, in the eye, hand and heartbeat, not in the well-worn tropes that pass for meaning and feeling in conventional moviemaking.” As the recent issue of 24 Images attests, with its feature on the fifty years of video art, Montreal has always had a vibrant alternative film community (cf. Vidéographie 70 by Luc Bourdon). Double Negative Collective builds upon this since it is not only a filmmaking cooperative but also organizes experimental film screenings.

Since Saïto’s works aren’t available, which contributes to a stronger aura around their screenings, a recent publication from Les éditions Le Laps of Saïto’s writing Moving the Sleeping Images of ThingsTowards the Light with a nice preface by André Habib (who also wrote about him for the 24 Images feature on one-hundred contemporary filmmakers) offers a nice aide-mémoire for his films.

“The alternation of brief phrasing of images with black pauses in All That Rises, or the soft flickers in Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis, are what gives life to the films. Breathing in, and breathing out, until the light goes off and we return to the darkness.”

Saïto in his essay (which is available in both English and French) discusses some interesting topics: his background, life, solitude, previous jobs, inspiration, artistic practices and the Double Negative Collective. His first language is Japanese. He is an autodidact with an interest in literature and philosophy. He is an admirer of the Arachi school poets and the Japanese novelists Kenzaburō Ōe and Shiro Hasegawa. And so on.

Saïto who processes his own films (and whose dual projected Never a Foot Too Far, Even allowed one to look at them), writes about their aesthetics, “My films are often characterized by rapid bursts of fleeting images.” And more on this, “Wonders are many in the art of film, and none is more wonderful than this simple fact: the radical gap that exists between the manifestation of a finished film when projected on the screen and the actual physical material – filmstrips – the filmmaker works on.

Habib, on the other hand, offers some interesting observations on Saïto’s work from a film curator's perspective: it might be better to see them without knowing too much about them to better appreciate the experience and their singularity. Habib compares Saïto’s work to the photogram and highlights their paradox of being both fixed and always in motion. For Habib the Double Negative Collective renews the potential of ways to see in Montreal. I would add that, with Saïto’s work, they also renew the potential to see cinema and life, in general.

No comments: