Interaction – Alexandra Moralesová: Shuttered Cut

According to a few sinister newspaper headlines film has been dead for almost sixty years. Yet the debate on the encroachment of the digital video medium into the terrain of celluloid based cinema continues. Even if digital imaging has conquered the industry with its convenience and cost-effective nature, a few influential filmmakers are still committed to the cause of saving photochemical film and guaranteeing its future by securing arrangements between film manufacturers and big movie studios to keep supplying them with traditional motion picture film. As a result of these deals avant-garde filmmakers enjoy an artistic environment where all photographic media are allowed to coexist as a set of artistic tools, each with its own merits – yet having a strong impact on the others. The accessibility of the new media inevitably alters the use of the old.

The coexistence of these moving-image technologies resulted in a new generation of filmmakers who choose to cross between the analogue and digital mediums, experimenting with the materiality of the film stock but aiming to create new modes of vision by employing digital technologies. These films create a bridge between what Lev Manovich calls the “old media avant-garde” and the “new avant-garde”. While the old media avant-garde[1] came up with new forms, new ways to represent reality, the “new avant-garde is no longer concerned with seeing in new ways but rather with accessing and using previously accumulated media in new ways.”[2] As Manovich explains this is not at all a radical change. Already in the 1960’s artist-filmmakers like Warhol or Bruce Corner gave up the idea of creating new images and sometimes even completely rejected their artistic subjectivity. The process became more pronounced with post-modernism and culminated in the digital revolution. Forms remained the same, but their use changed radically. “The avant-garde [became]software”.[3]

Alexandra Moralesová (together with František Týmal) follows in the footsteps of Martin Blažíček, Martin Ježek and Alice Růžičková who in the nineties, at the dawn of the digital age took a stand on analogue film and its quality of being unrepeatable. Both Moralesová and Týmal, who represent the youngest generation of Czech experimental filmmakers, work with film in the stage of production, post-production and presentation.[4] While Týmal belongs to a narrow cycle of contemporary avant-garde filmmakers who – for ideological reasons – show most of their films exclusively on 16mm or 35 mm (among Czech experimental filmmakers Ježek is the most “radical” in this sense), Moralesová is more permissive when making digital copies of her analogue pieces. Through his abstract films made in the late nineties (Test, Neo-B) which put emphasis on the materiality of film and the artisanal nature of filmmaking, Blažíček protested against the complete digital switchover. For Moralesová working with film does not necessarily represent a stance or an attitude. [5] Moralesová chooses film because of its specific language which differs from the language of video. Without intenting to advantage one over the other Moralesová’s work demonstrates the difference between the two media by combining them in various ways.

Moralesová’s 2011 film Shuttered Cut (Vlasy) was shot on 8mm reversal film and was later scanned to video. Mingling analogue media with digital, the film focuses on the subject of cutting, as Moralesova explains: “both in the literal sense of actual hair trimming and simultaneously in the sense of the editing of the image. […] Hair here replaced by footage, is essentially ambivalent: it forms part of ourselves, making up our image – a medium of communication – but it is nonetheless a part that we shed; the act of growing hair takes on a form on its own, without our volition or participation. Hair cutting is an expression of a desire for control, an intervention, a sort of dramaturgy.” [6] The flickering, often out of focus images show a woman (Moralesová) standing still, then adjusting and cutting her hair with scissors. The film relies heavily on the effect of cross-analogies and parallels. The rhythm of the flickering recalls the clatter of the scissors, the hair with its own idiosyncrasies stands for the film material and the scissors refer to the digital editing. Just like celluloid, the hair represents organic entity, while the cutting act committed with metallic scissors refer to the digital post-production, the alteration or even mutilation of the living body. Here the digital override does not inherit a negative connotation. Morelesová cuts her own hair, transforms her recording of herself to digital and edits it with various techniques. Neither her body nor the film’s is a victim of external forces, all the different acts of maiming are in one hand.

In Shuttered Cut film and hair are introduced as living bodies capable of mutating on their own (the hair grows, the celluloid decomposes). An intervention by man-made instruments can mummify a definite state of both organic materials. The digital medium records all the personal and indexical traits of the original medium but takes away its body and its ability for independent, natural alternation. After transforming into digital data the film is disassociated from the physical environment.

To overcome the loss of the physical body of her work, Morelesová experiments with various forms of presentation. In the case of Shuttered Cut she shoots the image through a hand held film viewer, in other cases she uses a prism of the editing table.[7] She also engages in live performances and expanded cinema practices to retrieve the uniqueness and the unrepeatable nature of the ever-changing photochemical film. With live music, reading and different ways of on-location manipulation (rotation of the image, lighting and transformation of the space) she manages to make each and every screening unique.

In her work Moralesová never fails to distinguish film from digital and always emphasizes the difference between the languages of each medium. As her films are not entirely computer-based Moralesová’s work does not vanish into the realm of Manovich’s new avant-garde but straddles the frontier of analogue and digital, old and new. Her decision to take a partly digital approach is not to surrender to economic pressure but to create a contrast to illustrate the remarkable nature of film through analogies and parallels. In Shuttered Cut Moralesová creates a new cinematic experience, by manipulating her own cinematographic work in an electronic form but with the clear intention of exploiting – therefore acknowledging – the specific characteristics of each media.

Written by: Dorottya Szalay
English proofreader: Johannes Wachs

[1] Manovich refers to films made in the 1920s.
[2] Manovich, Lev (2002) „Avant-garde as software”. Oakland: University of California.
[3] Manovich, 2002
[4] Matej Strnad (2013) „Alexandra Moralesová, František Týmal and Working with Film – Between Attitude and Platitude”, in. Rosenzveig, Eric and Pospiszyl, Tomas eds. (2013) CAS – Co to je? / What is it? Prague: NAMU, p. 200.
[5] Strnad, 2013, p. 201.
[6] Moralesová in Strnad, 2013, p. 200
[7] in Strnad, 2013, p. 203.

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