The passing of Stan Brakhage marked 2003 as an ongoing celebration of his life and work; there was barely an avant-garde venue worldwide that didn’t host a screening in his honor. His legacy, however, continues to evolve. While Brakhage’s generation came of age when film remained the dominant moving-image art form, younger experimenters now explore special essences made visible by cinema’s relative marginality. Luis Recoder toured his delicate light-and-sound performance, sussing out the unique qualities of projector mechanics and photographic strips. At the Robert Beck Memorial Cinema’s fifth birthday party, at Ocularis, Bruce McLure rocked an unnamed combo of gels, lights, and grids into a kaleidoscopic whirlwind.
Bill Brown’s MOMA retrospective subtly conveyed the complex nostalgia that film has acquired with looming obsolescence—a theme relentlessly hammered through in Bill Morrison’s maudlin found-footage feature Decasia—while James Fotopoulos’s features Families and The Nest dived headfirst into brutal celluloid death drives. The most important survey was Anthology’s massive “Shoot Shoot Shoot,” a revisit to the early days of the London Film-Makers Co-op, when all cinematic conventions were abandoned and heady new art forms jury-rigged from equipment at hand.
In avant-garde chatter, the old film-versus-video debate has died down—digital video ultimately blurring the difference—only to be replaced by the gallery-installation-versus-theatrical-screening conundrum. But many of the most engaging gallery shows—Isaac Julien’s “Baltimore” at Metro Pictures, Jeremy Blake’s “Reading Ossie Clark” at Feigen, and Abbey Williams’s “Moon in Gemini” at Foxy Production—compelled strollers to sit down and watch.
Tech-savvy DIY ethos powered two trends that boomed this year: live video bands and geeky-as-we-wanna-be computer art. LoVid and Tracy and the Plastics achieved the most advanced manifestations of the former, with post-new-new-wavers Ssion and the Plantains holding their own. Various exhibits by Eddo Stern and Cory Archangel investigated gaming’s inner workings, and Beige/Paperrad’s “Summer of HTML” tour combined both trends into a hyperactive nerdapalooza.
So in honor of media art’s eternal regeneration, here’s a sweet 16 of some more dynamite works from 2003:
Amy Goodrow: Tape 5925 (Eileen Maxson)
Learning Stalls: Lesson Plans (Torsten Z.Burns & Darrin Martin)
Security Anthem (Kent Lambert)
My Minute Beats Your Year (Devin Flynn)
Untitled (Violence) (Seth Price)
The Stairway at St. Paul’s (Jeroen Offerman)
Travel Songs 1967-1981 (Jonas Mekas)
An Injury to One (Travis Wilkerson)
After Wegman (Anne McGuire)
Scumrock (Jon Moritsugu)
American Dreams #3 (Moira Tierney)
Ich Bin Eine Manipulator (Andrew Jeffrey Wright & Clare Rojas)
Film Sketches (Shannon Plumb)
The Magic Kingdom (Jim Trainor)
Final Flesh (PFFR)
Inflated: the Blow-Up Doll Films of Steve Hall and Cathee Wilkins