Originally broadcast: December 15, 2013.
More info, dates (and readings!): http://otherfilm.org/yoko/
Australian expanded, experimental and avant-garde advocacy collective OtherFilm will be hosting the week-long Experimental Universe: Re-enactments and Imaginings from February 6th, 2014 as part of Yoko Ono’s retrospective War Is Over [If You Want It] currently on show at Sydney’s MCA.
Rooted between 1960’s Fluxus procedure and Ono’s personal imprint in its cannon, various ‘instructional’ works were recorded by the artist circulating the use of film and projection in performance and installation. Spotlighting the usually overlooked pieces, OtherFilm have approached Australian artists to imbibe, refresh and reconstitute Ono’s instructions via their own practices in the present-day condition. Artists participating in across the week include Pia Borg, Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Nathan Gray, Emile Zile, David Haines, Artists Film Workshop, Hi God People and Bum Creek.
We caught up with OtherFilm curator Joel Stern on his last trip to Brisbane.
From the collective:
Experimental Universe is a program of events featuring films, music and performances created by Australian artists responding to Yoko Ono’s rarely-visited instructional works, Six Film Scripts (1964) and Imaginary Film Series (1968). Running over two nights (6 February and 13 February) the program also includes two film screenings of early Yoko Ono films, Apotheosis (1970) and Two Virgins (1968).
Six Film Scripts (1964) and Imaginary Film Series (1968) comprise a set of ideas, devised by Yoko Ono as part of her broader “instructionals” practice, begun in the early 1960s, notably with the publication Grapefruit (1964). Yoko Ono calls these film scripts “scores”, reflecting her contact with the ideas of international Fluxus, where scores were a common practice for instigating performances or just thinking.
Yoko Ono’s film score works often propose a starting point – as opposed to how a traditional continuity film script circumscribes each and every action, utterance, etc: If a conventional film script is a blueprint, a film score is a mud-map. The tenor of Yoko Ono’s film scores is alternately playful, blackly comic and naive: make a film about “Mr So… from cradle to grave” (Imaginary Film Series: Shi From the cradle to the grave of Mr. So, 1968); show a man and woman lying in bed together with their four year old child: “All they do is just sleep, and the 366 sexual positions are all in the mind of the audience”(Film no. 6 – A contemporary sexual manual, 1968).
The film scores by Yoko Ono interpreted by the Experimental Universe artists bridge two important historical modes / movements that have been central to our thinking at OtherFilm since we started in 2004 – Conceptual Art and Structural/Materialist Film.
These modes share a lot of commonalities – the simultaneous decentring of classical notions of the spectator and refutation of the romantic author; a love of ideas rather than “stories”; a critical stance towards the institution of art as jumped-up commodity speculation dependent on the accrual of surplus value to ‘dead’ objects.
On the other hand, held up together, there is some friction between conceptualism and structural-materialism. For instance, conceptual art’s privileging of ideas over the production of individual objects is bound to a rejection of formalism – this somewhat sets it against structural/material film’s emphasis on form, a function of its hardline medium specificity. (Not for nothing did Tony Conrad call structural-materialism “the result of a shotgun marriage between 1970s Marxism and deconstructionist theory!”).
Where structural-materialism is rigorously anti-illusionist, conceptual art is playful; where the former is explicitly – if academically – into critique, conceptual art’s politics are more individualist, oblique. As a practice, one is severe, the other diffuse. And, crucially, while many structural-materialism films are “conceptual”, they are first and foremost “about” one key idea: how the image works to organise our consciousness. So we’re interested in how these two methodologies might ‘play off’ against each other in Yoko Ono’s works.