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Invisible cinema

Winnipeg artists attempt filmmaking without film, with subtle, surprising results

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/2/2015 (929 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At the Corner opened at Platform last Friday, but standing in the Artspace Building lobby, you might wonder if you missed the show. The gallery is mostly dark, and the walls are mostly bare. Lined-up stacking chairs face something hidden behind one corner; an oddly angled ceiling fan points toward another, also out of sight. Soft lights flicker at the edges of the room.

There's more to see inside but not much more, or not at first.

Maltese by Aston Coles

Maltese by Aston Coles

Irene Bindi: Collage panel detail

Irene Bindi: Collage panel detail

Viewing area in front of collages by Irene Bindi

Viewing area in front of collages by Irene Bindi

With backgrounds spanning visual art, experimental cinema and noise music, Irene Bindi and Aston Coles produce "films" without film. Their collage works and motorized light projections set the stage for experiences that flutter between vision, illusion, memory and hallucination. They ask a lot of their audience -- that we be patient, relax our eyes, suspend disbelief, engage in improbable-seeming thought experiments -- but the rewards, while fleeting, can be transformative.

Held up by a tangle of guy wires, the fan casts a whirling shadow on the wall. One of two light-based works by Coles, Maltese has a recommended "duration" of five minutes, our clue that there's more to the work than meets the eye. (The title refers to a mechanism that staggers the movement of film through a projector, advancing it one frame at a time.) From straight ahead, the shadow rotates as expected, but watching through peripheral vision the brain struggles to complete the picture. The spinning cross might slow or stop, shift in scale or suddenly change direction, and this is the "film" Coles hopes we'll see.

The experience is disorienting but familiar, like idly watching the propeller through an airplane window or staring too long at the bedroom ceiling. Along related lines, Shark Purse Area revisits a hazy childhood memory of finding shark eggs on the beach. Behind a black curtain, a lamp rigged to a motorized fishing rod sends a wobbly, bobbing spray of light lapping against the gallery wall. The jury-rigged mechanics of both pieces are pleasantly at odds with their simple, ephemeral results.

By comparison, Bindi's luminous, finely worked collage panels seem more concrete, and they're unself-consciously easy on the eyes. This comes as a relief, but it's also misleading. Carefully cut paper scraps fit tightly into one another, creating an effect like tooled leather or stone inlay, but the dappled patterns of saturated colour and rounded black borders faithfully mimic the appearance of 16mm film. The waiting row of seats suggests that, like Maltese, these are works meant to unfold over time.

With sustained attention, gently abstracted still images of hushed domestic scenes -- a stack of books, a pile of laundry, snow-covered front steps, the space under a kitchen sink -- seem to make and unmake themselves before our eyes. Some of the images resolve quickly at a distance but fall apart up close; others tantalizingly skirt the edge of legibility.

One could write off At the Corner's modest revelations as dorm-room-variety "insight" (Have you ever looked at a ceiling fan? I mean really looked at it?), but it wouldn't be productive. Bindi and Coles might reject that narrative format of conventional filmmaking, but they're compelling storytellers in their own weird way.

Approach the work with an open mind and you'll leave it like any challenging piece of film: you might not know what you just watched, but as you rub your eyes and head outside, things will look a little brighter and a little stranger for having seen it.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

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