Avant-Garde, Crystalized

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In honor of its 15th anniversary this October, Artspace will play host to a variety of events centered on the theme of crystal — the gift traditionally exchanged between spouses on this wedding milestone. But the origin of the celebration’s motif is likely the only conventional element of the upcoming spectacle, as the gallery prepares to transform its space into a veritable Crystal Palace.

From Oct. 5-22, visitors to Artspace will be able enter projection rooms and view, on an endless loop, the videos that have been chosen for the Crystal Palace experimental film festival. Curated by Liena Vayzman GRD ’02, the festival will feature films by 20 different artists from across the world. While the works are unique in their subject matter and the issues they explore, all have a common thread that can loosely be traced to crystal. With either representations of crystal or filmic structures that are reminiscent of the multifaceted solid, the films aim to shock visitors with their innovative approaches to video projection and motion.

“Crystals are natural objects with multiple facets,” said Vayzman. “The festival will showcase a diverse blend of avant-garde filmmaking that encompasses both the up-and-coming as well as the established.”

The concept of placing a film festival within the context of an art exhibition speaks to the nature of the work that is being presented: none of the films have ever been put up for commercial release. Rather, she hopes that the event will give New Haven residents a meaningful introduction to the world of experimental film, as many of the works have been screened at such notable venues as the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Black Maria Film Festival in Jersey City.

Many of the artists involved have used strange and inventive techniques to produce their work, from Shambhavi Kaul’s intermingling of photographic film and video to Kathleen Quillian’s stylistic use of graphic animation. The most radical method, though, is indisputably that of Berlin-based artist Thorsten Fleisch, who soaked filmstrips in solution so that actual crystals would grow on them. He then inserted the filmstrips directly into his camera, so that viewers feel as if they are exceptionally close to the crystals, and near the end, as if the crystals are rushing towards them in a rhythmic dance of water and light. Even more daring is the technique Fleisch employed for his 2007 film “Energie!”, for which he used a cathode ray tube to shoot 30 volts of electricity onto sheets of photographic paper. Although the work is in essence a stop-motion video made with a series of still photos, the electric waves on the page create the dizzying illusion of an unidentified form convulsing to a rapid rhythm.

It is, as Vayzman described, “an eye-blistering visual assault.”

Each of the artists conveys his or her own interpretation of crystal. Abigail Child, the renowned media artist and writer, placed mirrors in an Oregon forest for her film “Peripeteia II.” Produced with 16 mm celluloid, the film portrays a dance between the real and the illusionary, the true and the reflected. The crystal element of the film is found in the movement of light, which Child described as “crystalline, sharp, exquisite.”

While some of the films, such as “Energie!”, have no discernible plot, others chronicle transformative, even spiritual, journeys. For instance, Kaul’s “Scene 32” is a trip back to her origins, to the salt deserts of Central Kutch, India, where she was born. In an alternate universe, Kathleen Quillian’s “Fin de Siècle” explores the

Victorian era’s obsession with superstition and death. The narrative of the film follows the path of a crystal being passed between a crippled world explorer and a mystical young girl.

“Many of the spiritualist mediums working at the time were young women, who people believed had a special relationship to the spirit world,” said Quillian. “The combination of the crystal and the young girl unleashes a magical energy that unlocks a previously unknown passageway into some kind of ethereal, mystical underworld where spirits reign.”

The notion of a mysterious underworld will be emulated in Artspace’s planned nighttime projections, which will allow passersby along Orange Street to view screenings of silent films from the corner window. The festival will be the East Coast premiere of creations by several artists based in the California Bay Area, and it is one of the first experimental video festivals to come to New Haven. For amateur audience members and avant-garde aficionados alike, the Crystal Palace Film Festival promises to be an eye-opening spectacle.

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