parallel lives: in cinema & beyond

john conomos: erice-kiarostami, correspondences, acmi

Ten Minutes Older, Abbas Kiarostami

Ten Minutes Older, Abbas Kiarostami

ERICE-KIAROSTAMI. CORRESPONDENCES IS AN EXHIBITION NOT TO BE MISSED IF YOU VALUE THE POETIC AND EXPRESSIVE POSSIBILITIES OF CINEMA AND ITS SHIFTING CONNECTIONS TO THE VISUAL ARTS. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST ENCHANTING AND ENGAGING EXHIBITIONS ON THIS SIGNIFICANT THEME THAT I HAVE ENCOUNTERED IN THIS COUNTRY, AND INDEED, ELSEWHERE.

It is simply an elegant and imaginatively installed exhibition delineating the uncompromising aesthetic, cultural and formal qualities of these two modern trailblazers of world cinema. These two artists were born—as life would have it—one week apart in countries (Iran and Spain respectively) that have both experienced massive socio-cultural and political turbulence, censorship and ideological contradictions and tensions. In Kiarostami’s case, it was Iran under the regime of the Shah from the 1950s to 70s, and then the theocratic Islamic Revolution, and for Erice, the transition from fascism to democracy with the end of Francoism in Spain in 1977.

Co-curated by the prominent French film critic Alain Bergala and the Spanish curator Jordi Ballo the exhibition constantly asks of the engaged gallery-goer, “What is cinema?”, particularly in a time of vertiginous cross-pollination between cinema, digital cinema, photography, installation, painting, sculpture etc. As you wander through this spacious exhibition of films, photographs, installations, painting and videos you also entertain another question, “Why is our own cinema frequently lacking in an inventiveness of form, dialogue, performance, space and text?” I am not dismissive in toto of Australian cinema, far from it, but the same unsettling question returned.

The exhibition subtly reveals the resonating, parallel trajectories of the filmmakers, each exploring a personal path in cinema that speaks of everyday life, history, landscape, myth and memory. Both Kiarostami and Erice, as Bergala explains in his penetrating catalogue essay, refused careerism, cinematic fashion and public taste, making their diverse “post-medium” (Rosalind Krauss) oeuvres “with the sovereignty befitting an artist” (“Erice-Kiarosatami: The Pathways of Creation”, in Erice-Kiarostami Correspondences, Barcelona, Catalogue, Centre De Cultura Contemporana De Barcelona, 2006). In other words, they see and hear the world as a perennial enigma located and concealed in the visible. Whatever differences there may be in terms of culture, as you surrender yourself to their exhibits, you realise that these filmmakers have a mutual interest in producing a contemplative cinema of attentiveness to the contingencies of life, to silence and tranquillity. At the same time they evoke Proustian reveberations of their childhood memories.

Lifeline, Victor Erice

Lifeline, Victor Erice

Bergala is right in emphasising how both filmmakers abhor the iron-clad tyranny of drama, sense and narrative and make their speculative, non-linear and philosophically informed films as if they are contemporary visual artists. As we know, they are not alone in this facet of world cinema (Chantal Akerman, Stan Douglas, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman, Thierry Kuntzel, Sally Potter, Chris Marker, Agnes Varda and many others).

The exhibition’s intelligent structure provides corresponding paths, placing the life of each filmmaker in dialogue with the other, highlighting resemblances and differences. But which ever way you choose to enter the massive space, you find yourself at the ‘crossroads’ of the filmmakers’ oeuvres and whichever way you go, Erice or Kiarostami, is of no real consequence. There is a welcome “Cagean” wisdom to the criss-crossing curatorial and apparent design randomness. The ‘crossroads’ allows you to traverse from one universe of cinematic creation to another.

And at the other end of the exhibition, whose critical theme is, I believe, the indispensable connectedness that exists between the childhood of cinema and the cinema of childhood (Serge Daney, Jean Louis Schefer), we find the correspondence between Kiarostami and Erice conducted in mini-DV letters. This striking exhibit, amongst others scattered throughout the exhibition, particularly attests to their experimental creativity and curiosity to go beyond the usual constraints of celluloid cinema to explore the new possibilities of small digital cameras. This is another instance of how cinema is rapidly expanding beyond the theatre, especially in galleries and museums, where art and film are interacting in many intricate ways. For some 30 years now we have been witnessing the changing cultural geography of the gallery/museum as shaped by interactions between visual art and film.

There are also other works that cut across a number of media confirming for each a singular aesthetic and a sense of existential creative adventure: the black and white, calligraphic poetry of Kirarostami’s ravishing landscape photographs and The Roads of Kiarostami (1978-2003) are among the numerous delights of this exhibition, as is Erice’s Notes. Quince Tree (1990-2003), a work that continues the concerns of his 1992 modern masterpiece on creativity,The Quince Tree Sun.

The exhibition program also contains most of the seminal films of these risk-taking filmmakers. Erice and Kiarostami’s captivating films share a crucial aesthetic and ethical kinship of sorts based on the belief that the universal is indisputably connected to the singular. Both critically reject the crippling legacy of naturalism in the cinema and other art forms; and both also believe that the singular vocation of today’s artist is to speak of everydayness and, as Bergala puts it, “the essential inessentiality of art.”

Erice-Kiarostami. Correspondences highlights something that is sorely missing in these ahistorical times of ours. It unequivocally demonstrates that these two artists, who create with their camera-pens (Alexandre Asrtruc) and write to each other, pay respect to each other’s personal path to creativity and in so doing pay the same to the ancestors of their medium.

Erice-Kiarostami. Correspondences, ACMI, Aug 21-Nov 2

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 31

© John Conomos; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2008
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