Experimental And Documentary Filmmaker Abigail Child Receives Career Retrospective at NYC's Anthology Film Archives
During the final weekend of March there will a career restrospective of the works of Abigail Child at New York's Anthology Film Archives. We last spoke of the filmmaker when sharing a clip from her most recent documentary Origin of the Species. She would go on to win the Best Documentary Award at the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival the following year.
All the details you need to know about the program are in the extensive programme notes that follow.
At times playful and at others intensely provocative, the cinema of Abigail Child has been a cornerstone of the American avant-garde film movement since the late 1970s. Poet, visual artist and filmmaker Abigail Child has absorbed the best of mentors like Jonas Mekas, experimental icons like Marie Menken, Len Lye & Arthur Lipsett, and has been a trailblazer for LGBTQIA+ artists alongside fellow game-changers like Barbara Hammer and Yvonne Rainer.The work is emotionally probing, intellectually challenging, and visually arresting. Every image is a masterful flourish filled with power, and each sounds an alarm, a call to arms for each of us to march forward in our own personal journey.A destroyer of boundaries and builder of bridges, the work traverses the finest experimental cinema and the very best of the documentary form.These fantastic works have been lovingly curated in a long overdue career retrospective for Abigail Child, presented at New York's Anthology Film Archives from March 24th to the 28th, 2023.Tickets are currently on sale by visiting the Anthology Film Archives website at http://www.anthologyfilmarchives.org/series/55719.Additional information on Abigail Child can be found by visiting her website at: http://www.abigailchild.com.About Abigail ChildAbigail Child has been at the forefront of experimental writing and media since the 1980s, having completed more than thirty film/video works & installations and written six books. An acknowledged pioneer in montage, Child addresses the interplay between sound and image to make, in the words of LA Weekly: "brilliant, exciting work…a vibrant political filmmaking that's attentive to form."
ABIGAIL CHILDMarch 24 – March 28 – Anthology Film ArchivesThis spring, Anthology hosts a long-overdue retrospective of the work of the moving-image artist, writer, and poet Abigail Child. A leading figure of the generation of experimental filmmakers that emerged in the late 1970s-early 1980s, Child has continued to make innovative and challenging work – in a dizzying variety of forms and on a wide range of topics – ever since.Child, who has often grouped her films into thematically and/or formally linked series, first gained widespread recognition with the seven films presented under the title “Is This What You Were Born For?” Created between 1981-89, these works inspired (and continue to inspire) a plethora of commentary, and have become modern classics. But Child’s body of work extends far beyond this renowned series, encompassing her rarely-screened but remarkable early films; later cycles such as the “Suburban Trilogy” (2004-11) and the “Foreign Film” series (2005-14); and feature-length works produced over the past decade, including the experimental biographical films UNBOUND: SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF MARY SHELLEY (2013) and ACTS & INTERMISSIONS: EMMA GOLDMAN IN AMERICA (2017), and the recent ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES (2020), which explores the growing field of android development and the ethical, emotional, and psychological impacts of these technological developments.This retrospective gathers together all these films and many more, offering a rare chance to experience and grapple with Child’s body of work as a whole. Child has restlessly explored different mediums and modes, often working with pre-existing footage – drawn from Hollywood films, advertisements, home movies, and many other sources – which she radically transforms in ways that unite formal experimentation and social-political analysis. But what unifies her moving-image work above all is the unparalleled dynamism of her investigations into the relationship between sound and image, the still not-fully-tapped possibilities of cinematic montage, the technique of audiovisual fragmentation, and the complex mechanisms of language. Child’s films, videos, and installations activate the potential energy of the cinema to an extraordinary degree.Child will be here in person for the majority of the screenings!“[Child] has for decades been an inspiring teacher, and I feel the same energy drives her films. The very title of the series: ‘Is this what you were born for?’ captures the tone of her pedagogy: Asking questions, not instilling answers, demanding a personal address from filmmaker to viewer, probing the very foundations of one’s existence. […] The complexity of Child’s pedagogy relies on such juxtapositions and transformations in meaning between image and sound, image and image, language and noise, as well as image and language.” –Tom Gunning, “Abigail Child: The Pulse of the Last Machine”“As an artist and writer, Child has worked seriously across a range of media. In all of them, her principal form has been montage, developing, as Tom Gunning writes, ‘a system founded not on coherence, but on breakdown, not on continuity, but interruption.’” –Colin BeckettUpcoming ScreeningsABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 1: IS THIS WHAT YOU WERE BORN FOR?March 24 at 7:30 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 2: EARLY FILMSMarch 25 at 4:00 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 3: FACING REALITYMarch 25 at 6:00 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 4: FOREIGN FILM SERIESMarch 26 at 5:45 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 5: THE SUBURBAN TRILOGYMarch 26 at 8:00 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 6: UNBOUNDMarch 27 at 6:45 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 7: ACTS & INTERMISSIONSMarch 27 at 8:45 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 8: ORIGIN OF THE SPECIESMarch 28 at 7:30 PMABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 1: IS THIS WHAT YOU WERE BORN FOR?“This project is conceived as a way to bracket my ongoing film investigations in the context of the aggressions of the late 20th Century; the title is from an etching by Goya, part of the ‘Disasters of War’ series. The work is in seven detachable parts, each of which can be viewed by itself for its own qualities. Each ‘chapter’ has a different sound/image relation and each explores the social landscape through different foci. The films don’t form a single line, or even an expanding line, but rather map a series of concerns in relation to mind, to how one processes material, how it gets investigated, how it gets cut apart, how something else (inevitably) comes up.” –Abigail Child“One of the most assured and important projects to have emerged [during the 1980s]. Constructing from and subverting a wide galaxy of source materials, these films are archeological digs into the very stuff, the conceptions, we are born into. Child decomposes the materials and gestures that would compose us. The films are charged with a startling and playful musicality and poetic and rigorous compression. Each image and sound cuts deep and works over time containing hidden and unhidden detonations working against the manufactured ambush that images have in store.” –Mark McElhattenPREFACES (PART 1) 1981, 12 min, 16mmBOTH (PART 3) 1988, 3 min, 16mm, silentPERILS (PART 4) 1986, 5 min, 16mmCOVERT ACTION (PART 5) 1984, 11 min, 16mmMAYHEM (PART 6) 1987, 20 min, 16mmMERCY (PART 7) 1989, 10 min, 16mmPlus:SURFACE NOISE 2000, 19 min, 16mm. Music by Zeena Parkins, Christian Marclay, Shelley Hirsch, and Jim Black.Total running time: ca. 85 min.ABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 2: EARLY FILMSPERIPETEIA 1 1977, 9 min, 16mm, silentNavigation spiraling sunwards. Exploring the movement of forest and body, seeking the larger pattern of my digressive attendance. Filmed in the Oregon coastal rain forest, fall.PERIPETEIA 2 1978, 10 min, 16mm, silentA navigation by light, contrasting the camera’s fixed sight with “in site” movement. A sculpture of glass, mirrors and film vies with the choreography of the cardinal points: dense shelter, rain, red emulsion. Filmed in the Oregon coastal forest, June.SOME EXTERIOR PRESENCE 1977, 8 min, 16mm, silent[This film is] structured on the four-handed nature of film: original footage (outtakes from a television documentary I was directing in the spring of 1975 in the South Bronx and Brownsville) manipulated, then optically printed, then manipulated again.DAYLIGHT TEST SECTION 1978, 4 min, 16mm, silentRecurring emergence of narrative. The “loaded” image becomes the determinant feature for reading otherwise unemotional footage; a first experiment in what is an ongoing investigation.PACIFIC FAR EAST LINE 1979, 12 min, 16mm, silentAn urban landscape film constructed from materials gathered over two years looking out at downtown San Francisco. The elements “folded” and mixed, Time redefines Space: the erector and helicopter appear as toys within a schizy motor-oil-ized ballet mechanique.ORNAMENTALS 1979, 10 min, 16mm, silentThis film was crucial to my understanding of composition, to my desire for an encyclopedic construction (the world “out” there), and reaffirmed my allegiance to rhythm, the rhythm of body-nerve-mind.Total running time: ca. 60 min.ABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 3: FACING REALITYFilm NotesGAME1972, 40 min, 16mmOne of the early documentaries that Child made before turning towards the experimental cinema, and whose footage she repurposed for her later work, MUTINY (1982-83), GAME is a portrait of a prostitute and pimp in downtown Manhattan.MUTINY (PART 2)1982-83, 11 min, 16mm. With Polly Bradfield (violinist), Sally Silvers (dancer), Erica Hunt (poet), and Shelley Hirsch (singer).“A new kind of classic, it has invented once and for all the machine-gun sound of explosives and composed sentences with speeded-up speech and wild singing, laughter, hardly all understandable, with violins screeching like falling bombs and a Hispanic grind dance.” –Anne Robertson, X-DREAMB/SIDE1996, 38 min, 16mmA provocative exploration of the urban homeless, combining sensitive footage of their exterior situation and entering imaginatively into interior fantasies. Framed by footage of the encampment locally known as Dinkinsville on the Lower East Side, where some of the homeless of Tompkins Square Park settled after the riots of June l991, the movie begins with the encampment’s first night and ends with the subsequent destruction of the lot in October of the same year. Applying rhythmic construction, poetic license, and a generous eye to bodies in poverty, B/SIDE documents a gritty vision of late 20th century urban life.Total running time: ca. 95 min.ABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 4: FOREIGN FILM SERIESFilm Notes“We perceive that a set of concerns builds up, with artful indirectness: women’s power; the gestures of gender; manipulation of a spectator’s sensibility through the medium of film; large-scale political implications of small moments.” –Karen Schiff, BIG RED & SHINYTO AND NO FRO 2005, 4.5 min, 16mm-to-digitalIn collaboration with Monica de la Torre and Bunuel’s WOMEN WITHOUT LOVE. Status and culture crack the mirror of family secrets, dreams, hauntings, and wish-fulfillment in shifting and multiplying frames.MIRROR WORLD 2006, 12 min, 16mm-to-digitalIn collaboration with Gary Sullivan and Mehboob Khan’s AAN. A reshaping of Khan’s classic Bollywood feature, locating its narrative tropes against mistranslated subtitles…and becoming “multi-lingual” in the maneuver. Formal play and poetic montage wrench causality to create a subversion of class conflict and desire.(IF I CAN SING A SONG ABOUT) LIGATURES 2009, 5.5 min, digitalIn collaboration with Nada Gordon and E. J. Bellocq’s classic photos. Subversive sexuality and the poignancy of desire and vulnerability. The women are visions, desirous, vulnerable, illusory; the illusionary nature manifests in traversing boundaries, expectations, and ultimately physical bodies.SALOMÉ 2014, 20 min, 35mm-to-digital. Music by Frank London.In collaboration with Adeena Karasick and Charles Bryant’s SALOME (1923). Child has layered and processed the images, recomposed the multiple strains of music and selected words and phrases to create a “succulent nexus”: fluid and strange.Plus:VIS À VIS 2013, 25 min, 16mm-to-digitalInspired by Vertov’s LULLABY (1937), as well as by Warhol’s SCREEN TEST portraits and Frampton’s MANUAL OF ARMS (1966), VIS À VIS constructs black and white portraits into a set of Romances, a notebook of sexualities: s/m, lesbian, gay, straight, solo. The piece celebrates friends and divergent (d)alliances. Out of the past comes a vision of the future as a set of erotic possibilities.Total running time: ca. 70 min.ABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 5: THE SUBURBAN TRILOGYproject about girlhood and the immigrant dream, focusing on post-WWII North American suburbs as well as Europe between the wars, the “Suburban Trilogy” views these worlds critically through the lens of gender, property, and myths of nation. The project is prismatic, insofar as each part explores a different perspective in terms of both cinematics and historical era.CAKE AND STEAK 2004, 18.5 min, 16mm-to-digitalExcavating the phenomenon of “girl training” in the home movies and culture of post-war suburban America, CAKE AND STEAK is constructed as a series of achronological “chapters” in which Edenic images of adolescent twirlers, basement parties, and “dress-up” are challenged by a sound montage composed of horror movie music, old TV shows, laugh tracks, and the machine noise of our modern Arcadias.THE FUTURE IS BEHIND YOU 2004-05, 18.5 min, 16mm-to-digital. Music by John Zorn, arranged and performed by Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman.A fictional story composed from the archive of an anonymous family in 1930s Europe, this film focuses on two sisters who play, fight, kiss, and grow up together under the shadow of oncoming history. At once biography and fiction, history and psychology, THE FUTURE IS BEHIND YOU excavates gestures to locate the heart of narrative, and seeks a bridge between private and public histories.SURF AND TURF 2008-11, 33.5 min, digitalContemporary ambiguities on the Jersey shore: the look is secular, the lifestyle capitalist, the religion orthodox. 40,000 Syrian Jews have moved into a landscape previously occupied by Irish and Italian immigrants, and by the distinctly different sect of Ashkenazi Jews. The “unmelted pot” of America’s small towns is set within memory and contemporary oppositions. What does it mean to have class in America? What does it mean to be Jewish?Total running time: ca. 80 min.ABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 6: UNBOUNDUNBOUND: SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF MARY SHELLEY2013, 70 min, digital. Music by Zeena Parkins.UNBOUND transforms and explodes the idea of documentary and biography. The result is an inversion of narrative, re-siting Romanticism through an infinitely caressing yet ruptured and painterly lens. For this film – produced during a one-year residency in Rome – Child created imaginary home movies of scenes from the life of the writers Mary and Percy Shelley. Incorporating non-actors, the seasons, and the extraordinary architecture and landscapes of Italy, where the Shelleys spent six of the eight years they were together, UNBOUND is digressive, looped, unpredictable, and symphonic. A poignant exploration of women and creativity, Child’s deconstruction embodies the poetic primacy of memory as well as the wit of techne: layered, diverted, delayed, reframed, and remade.“At once a mischievous scuttling of BBC costume drama and the creative anachronism of home movies before the invention of film, UNBOUND achieves a playful mastery of form.” –Jim SupanickABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 7: ACTS & INTERMISSIONSACTS & INTERMISSIONS: EMMA GOLDMAN IN AMERICA2017, 60 min, 16mm-to-digital“As an artist and writer, Child has worked seriously across a range of media. In all of them, her principal form has been montage, developing, as Tom Gunning writes, ‘a system founded not on coherence, but on breakdown, not on continuity, but interruption.’ Here she subjects Goldman to the latest iteration of this always evolving system. She mixes Goldman’s own words, in titles and on the soundtrack, with reenacted tableaux and documentary footage both archival and new. This method uncovers the historical figure as a patchwork of complex personal and historical determinations that cannot be contained within a sealed past, but which seep into a present moment animated by the same injustices Goldman sought to abolish.” –Colin Beckett“An hour-long collage essay, charging the discussion with Child’s enlightened aesthetic of poetry, the archive, and experimental montage. As the Most Dangerous Woman Alive, Emma Goldman’s life is seen as an ongoing negotiation of revolutionary purity and personal freedom, a complexity that Child mirrors in her own formal strategies. She layers multiple fragments of Emma’s liberatory legacy – from archive, from reenactment and from observational cinema – her speculative play with the revolutionary ideas extending to the present moment of feminist revolt!” –Craig BaldwinABIGAIL CHILD PROGRAM 8: ORIGIN OF THE SPECIESORIGIN OF THE SPECIES2020, 73 min, digitalAn experimental feature documentary that explores android development with a focus on human/machine relations, gender, and the ethical implications of this research, ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES reveals the work taking place at cutting edge laboratories in Japan and the U.S., where scientists attempt to make robots that resemble, move, and speak like humans. Our guide through these explorations is BINA48 (Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture), who has variously been called a sentient robot, an android, a gynoid, and a cybernetic companion. She is modeled after a black lesbian, and designed to test hypotheses concerning the ability to download a person’s consciousness into a non-biological or nanotech body. The last in Child’s trilogy of female desire, ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES reveals the contemporary dance between metal and flesh, as humans become more mechanical and robots approach consciousness. The film brings a necessary female perspective (and humor) to this research, asking how subjectivities and nationalities shape our imaginings of an “appropriate” mechanical companion?