Filmmakers use film as a medium of expression, to document a culture in which they live or one that they imagine. Film is a form of visual expression, layers of imagery and sound. It is telling stories with pictures—moving pictures. In fact, screens are everywhere and on everything. I can watch a film on the two-inch screen of my Blackberry. In fact, I can film action on my Blackberry, sit down at my computer and with some accessible and affordable software create a movie. Technology is making it possible for film and video to transform the way we view story.
Contemporary visual artists use films as an element of their work. American pop artist Andy Warhol was one of the first artists to make films. Today, contemporary artists are using film to transgress culture. Consider video artists Mika Rottenberg (born in Argentina) and Omer Fast (born in Israel), both featured in the 2008 Whitney Biennial exhibition of American contemporary art. Rottenberg uses film and video as an absurd and subversive element of her large sculptural installations. Her videos feature female bodies that represent a microcosm of larger societal issues such as labor issues and class inequities. Fast uses film to explore how culture and media shape perceptions and memory, using existing film edited together to create a unique commentary or videos played simultaneously to show two perspectives and where they merge.
“I'm fascinated with sub-cultures and extraordinary physicalities - extra-long nails, lots of muscles, long hair,” Rottenberg told The Guardian in 2006. Rottenberg culls American pop culture for extraordinary features that individuals, most often women are willing to advertise, promote and exhibit. Her productions are filled with Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not creatures. She has a unique narrative approach utilizing film. Action is compressed into layers of repetitive and senseless activity in her videos. In “Mary’s Cherries (2005)” a trio of female wrestlers pedal bikes to power a ‘machine’ that magically transforms long fingernail clippings into maraschino cherries.
In “Cheese,” six longhaired women ‘milk’ their tresses to create cheese.“Cheese” also features video of goats and chickens from a Florida farm. The multiple videos loop as visitors walk through a cramped wooden structure similar to a beaver dam. There is a sense of comedy to the work. The characters within her videos work in dadaesque factories, too small for their size. Viewers of her multi-media sculptures enter tight spaces to experience the art. The film and sculptural elements conflate to explore the role of labor and value. The women use multiple body parts to produce the end results and Rottenberg explores in “Cheese” the magical feminine ability to grow things out of the body.
Rottenberg’s exhibitionists contrast with Fast who uses television, video and film to examine how individuals and histories interact with each other in narrative. He cobbles together personal history, the media’s account of current events and history.
In 2002, Fast created “CNN Concatenated” where he culled footage from America’s Cable News Network, splicing and editing until he formed a sort of poem. "Just get near me already you hypocritical opportunist fake phony con-artist sell-out lip-serving limousine-liberal,” is one spliced together passage where each word jumps from a different newscaster's mouth. The video browbeats the viewer about its own importance and his or her shallowness, weakness, hypocrisy and self-absorption.
In “The Casting,” four projectors and four video screens comprise the installation. Upon entering the exhibit, a viewer sees two screens side-by-side featuring actors performing in silent tableaux. As the viewer walks around the screens on the backside are two more videos side by side. In one, a U.S. Army sergeant recounts two incidents: a romantic liaison with a young German woman who mutilates herself and the accidental shooting of an Iraqi. In the second video, the artist sits and listens, as a journalist would, to the soldier.
Omer Fast, production still from The Casting, 2007
The recounted story is a pool of words from which Fast seamlessly wove together a script that was given to the actors to perform. The two stories—the one of the soldier and the one presented by the actors—are interspersed. The viewer doesn’t know what is memory and what is story. What is conscious and what is subconscious? The eyewitness, in this case the artist, or the media, becomes the bigger storyteller. The narrator’s recollections slip between setting and story as he tries to find redemption in the act of recalling. The film never tries to pretend that this is exactly what the soldier is saying.
Both Rottenberg and Fast move beyond the boundaries of film and art to create a multi-media commentary on society. They question what is real and what is fabricated, what is birthed and what is created. Ultimately, through film they challenge the perception of truth.