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Magazine

02 April 2018
Film Attitudes, Urban Environments. In the City (1976-1977)

Albert Alcoz

A Text, A Film

‘The city is a place for obsessions. The self has an identity file and an urban map. “Let me know where you are and ‘l tell you who you are”.’ With these words, in the mid-seventies thinker Patricio Bulnes began a text that invited people to take part in an exceptional initiative, an open proposal entitled In the City (original Spanish title: En la ciudad). The heading that introduced the requirements and specifications that each artist or film maker was supposed to follow in order to sum up their contributions was ‘a project, a film’. Each one of these brief works filmed on Super 8, lasting between two and three minutes, would form a part of a collective film inspired by Eugeni Bonet and José Miguel Gómez. The general theme of each shooting was meant to be the city, a pretext for everyone to express their urban concerns. The memorandum indicated both a series of technical aspects that all those who wished to contribute to the project, and the deadline for receiving the filming: 14 April 1976.

The result of the call was a 63-minte film characterised by its heterogeneity.[1] Its twenty-four sequences were made independently by dozens of artists who saw the opportunity of developing ideological requests, revealing narrative, analytical or formalist criteria. Among the contributors were some of the most significant names in the Spanish visual arts of the seventies. We are referring to directors connected to experimental film practices – Iván Zulueta, Benet Rossell, Eugènia Balcells, Juan Bufill, Manuel Huerga – and visual artists rooted in conceptual art verging on the new artistic behaviours described by Simón Marchán Fiz – Francesc Abad, Eulàlia Grau, Antoni Miralda, Fina Miralles, Muntadas, Joan Rabascall, Francesc Torres and Isidoro Valcárcel Medina – all of whom signed a plural work recorded on a magnetic cassette tape and in a substandard film format.

A Film, A Document

In the City is an art film transformed in its own right into a historical document. To view this work is to corroborate the idiosyncrasy of a host of photochemical representations characterised by a period of sociopolitical change. The onset of the Spanish transition to democracy following the death of the dictator in 1975 and the subsequent celebration of the first democratic elections pervade images that reflect on the urban environment from unique points of view. Aesthetic proposals related to film research and critical documentary recordings establish a balance that reveals current problems. The country’s economic recovery, its urban transformations, industrialisation, traffic, pollution, noise, anonymity, identity, police repression and media landscape are the key issues of a feature film shot mainly on location.

Assembled, the units become a sort of heterodox mosaic, an eclectic melting-pot of ideas and attitudes related to art, film and the city.[2]

Among all the films, mention should be made of the cinematographic discoveries and conceptual gestures of some that reveal the quality of Super 8 as a tool for artistic expression.

Silence is all that can be heard in the work of artist Eulàlia Grau. Black and white classical sculptures tensely surrounded by public stages in Barcelona form a sharp contrast with other colour sculptures of people strolling through the city streets. Optical distortions of pro-filmic space evoke a psychedelic tone. The author likens statues to pedestrians through stillness and mobility, a contrasted vision not free of tension. The radiophonic tune of a Latin American station is the soundtrack of the film by artist Antoni Miralda. Several general shots of the city of New York show clouds of smoke from the air vents of buildings and streets in south Manhattan. This focus of attention evokes the curious gaze of the foreigner.

The explanatory voice-over by Valcárcel Medina is the sound of the work. In a series of crossroads between Madrid streets, the conceptual artist carries out an action in which he affixes brightly coloured posters announcing ”in the city’. Two days later, the only result was their disappearance. Artist Fina Miralles also chose to document an action, one that was much more precise. Her voice narrates a critical discourse on the capitalist traits of the city while she strolls along the streets. Throwing into relief the sense of possessiveness all citizens have is the objective of a performance in which her adjustable shoes – ink-stained soles that act as tampons – print her name and surname wherever she goes. Identity also structures the work of experimental film and video-art specialist Eugeni Bonet, whose piece entitled Photomatons (Photo Booths) is characterised by loud music. Hundreds of identity card photographs – anonymous portraits of faces in black and white – are swiftly represented, preventing any form of identification.

Photographer Marc Mallol and art critic Juan Bufill (cover image) concentrate on road traffic. The former combines shots of drivers in their cars with a collage of radiophonic recordings of what could be heard in their interiors. The latter decides to include the song Colours by Scottish song writer Donovan to accompany a static shot of a traffic light that remains red longer than reasonable. Two television monitors against a black ground are the key elements in the silent fragment by artist Muntadas. While one device broadcasts video recordings of people strolling down the Rambles, the other one is tuned in to the official state television signal. This comparison of disparate audiovisual recordings forms a part of Barcelona Distrito Uno (Barcelona First District, 1976), the video project that was the logical continuation of the famous television experience Cadaqués Canal Local (Cadaqués Local Channel, 1974). Artist Eugènia Balcells uses a single high-angle shot to impress a progressive accumulation of magazine cut-outs of everyday objects. It’s an animation collage that highlights the consumerist nature of all capitalist cities.

 

‘Order is only a way of seeing things’ is the text printed on the film by artist Francesc Torres. It features a series of panning shots along unidentifiable New York streets. Its moving shots converted into abstract captures seem to indicate a state of alert, as if the subject holding the camera were apprehensive before some threat. The work by artist Francesc Abad entitled Terrassa: dos aspectos de una ciudad (Terrassa: Two Aspects of a City) compares neighbourhoods, private properties and public facilities of the Catalan locality to confirm the scarce presence of culture. It is also a town-planning document that denounces economic inequalities.

The police repression of demonstrators at Madrid’s Plaza de España is captured by the camera of film maker Iván Zulueta. From a higher angle – that of his apartment in the España building, omnipresent in the legendary film Rupture (original Spanish title: Arrebato, 1980) – captures the indiscriminate shots of the officers, a pathetic performance summed up in the newspaper the next day: ‘Two youths dead during the demonstrations’. The last fragment of In the City is by visual artist Joan Rabascall. A fixed shot of a motorway captures the density of the traffic at the entrance to a city – Paris – although it could be any other city in the Western world saturated with cars. It’s a good way of finishing a film that calls into question the progress of town-planning, prompting critical interpretations that invoke kinder ways of living in cities.

A Document, A Model

On 14 October 1978, on occasion of the Conference of Catalan Cinema, Eugeni Bonet wrote: ‘[T]he film isn’t intended as an anthology or a hybrid [art + film], or a manifesto, simply as a sample, a set of works by different people around a specific subject and on a given support’. Thanks to the significant number of artists and the relevance of their filmic interventions, In the City forms a part of our country’s cultural heritage. The critical spirit with which the various problems affecting contemporary cities are faced make the project an artistic and cinematographic reference, whose urban conflicts are not that different to those of today. There is no doubt that urban growth entails an increase in difficulties related to urban speculation, social inequality, atmospheric contamination, road traffic, acoustic noise, media saturation, political repression, accumulation of residues, etc. Promoting coexistence in the city, acting in favour of the diversity and vitality of residents is, therefore, an unavoidable commitment. Struggling to achieve a coherent and collective transformation of the city also implies finding rigorous ways of representing it, either from the artistic context or from the audiovisual sphere.

The audiovisual document we have analysed is a video restored in 1977 by Eugeni Bonet, who edited the material again – ‘IN VITRO edition’ – identifying the authorship of each work, readjusting its durations and changing their order.

 

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[1] The audiovisual documentary we have analysed is a video copy made in 1997 by Eugeni Bonet, who made a new montage of the material (‘IN VITRO edition’) identifying the authorship of each work, readjusting their lengths and changing their order.

[2] Our reference to the ‘ideas and attitudes’ of the artists represented intends to highlight the relevance of an exhibition like Idees i actituds. Entorn de l’art conceptual a Catalunya, 1964-1980, held between 15 January and 1 March 1992 at Centre d’Art Santa Mònica in Barcelona, curated by Pilar Parcerisas.

Albert Alcoz is intrigued by film experimentation and videographic exploration, as well as the singular ways of configuring sound through moving images. He writes about the cinematographic medium and the visual arts since he started the Visionary Film website in 2006. He organizes projections in self-managed spaces and collaborates with legitimated art centers. From time to time he films, records or edits his own pieces, alternating found footage, structural cinema, cameraless cinema, expanded cinema, video clip or documentary practice. It is not enough to pay the rent, but teaching is.

Articles

02 April 2018

Film Attitudes, Urban Environments. In the City (1976-1977)

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