On January 8th in Philmont, NY at the Columbia house, a group gathered together for a presentation by the painter Martina Muller in which she shared from her life and work as an artist. The same evening there was a discussion concerning a chapter from the book Sculpting in Time by and a viewing of his film . The discussion of the chapter by Tarkovsky was brief. We spent most of the evening speaking with Martina and viewing the film.
Martina shared a couple of paintings which were unfinished and also brought many pictures of paintings that she has completed in the past. She told the story of where her path has led her so far. She spent some time describing the interweaving of meditative work and painting which she cultivates. She spoke of the inner color and movement experiences which appear while she experiences art forms, such as music and other people’s painting. These experiences lead her to the easel with specific and direct intentions.
She also tried to characterize religious dimensions which open up to her through her artistic practice. The conversation was directed toward the past at times, toward the present and new developments in art at others, and then she spoke of a possible future painting art, which she feels at times she is practicing for.
A shared meal and a viewing of The Sacrifice by Tarkovsky took place for the rest of the evening. This film, filled with spatial expanses, with very minimal special effects and many long, long takes, left a few people able to discuss it afterward. The moving colored light pictures on the wall told a story of a man whose life became a sacrifice. One of the great challenges which the film posed to those viewing it, and those who stayed to discuss it, was how one could stay true to it as an artistic experience and refrain from simply interpreting it intellectually with this and that meaning.
In Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky tries to indicate the laws which govern cinema, by which it is born and lives. He describes the raw material of the cinema artist as reels of footage. This is the raw medium. The stone for the sculptor, the paint and canvas for the painter, the instrument for the musician, reels of time for the cinema artist. These reels are then cut, re-arranged and composed. For example, a 70-year life shot with a camera would be created into a 1 1/2 hour artwork, thus sculpting in Time. Here Tarkovsky sees a common activity which is also present in literature. The real world offers a series of events and processes; the artist, both writer and film artist, arrange it in a unique and singular new sequence. The artist moves away from the factual while affirming structural wholeness.
In The Sacrifice very few special effects are employed. One can sense also through the takes that he worked with long sections of film. One can also sense that through his editing, as in other films, he strove to maintain structural wholeness. The beginning and the end of the film are the most striking evidence of this. Silence and sound are dealt with in a very subtle manner. As was mentioned earlier, one question which immediately presented itself was the difficulty of not being pulled into stale philosophizing with ideas, which the dialogues that are woven through the film might encourage. That this would be a temptation is clear from the fact that such philosophizing leads one into a pictureless activity and is devoid of the very material of film. If this was the point then the film would be truly superfluous; it would be a means. That this is a dilemma he was aware of is clear. His success in this regard was not always.
He describes watching cinema as watching the play of shadows on a sheet. With this reference he points toward the deeply-related art of shadow puppetry but does not comment in the chapter which we worked through, on their relationship. It would, of course, be impossible to see the raw material of shadow puppetry in reels of film. This is also true of animation.
We left the evening with some of these things in mind.
The next meeting will take place on March 5th as announced before. A few artists will be sharing some of their work and ideas for an exhibit we are planning for August. The theme of the exhibit is:
-- Anxiety and Fear and Their Overcoming --
We are hoping to hang it in the same space where we will have the conference. We will let everyone know about this in more detail soon.
We are studying Walter Benjamin's (1936) essay "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility" (also translated as "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"). In the evening, after dinner, there will be a discussion on "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility" in relation our theme.