Saturday, July 30, 2016

Seattle Art Fair at CenturyLink Center & "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat" at Pivot Art + Culture: Aug 4 - 7 | Out of Sight at King Street Station: Aug 4 - 28 | "Death and the Maiden 2" final group show at Roq La Rue: Aug 6 - 20

Proceeding the success of last year's inaugural Seattle Art Fair there was abundant speculation as to the nature of the exhibit local philanthropist Paul Allen and the organization he had assembled with Max Fishko of Art Market Productions, would be bringing to the city. At the time the little the public had to go on included the fair's press release which made it out to be half-commercial gallery, half-curated exhibition, featuring some 60 galleries representing local to international dealers and an emphasis on the West Coast and Pacific Rim. The majority of the then dialog focused on the fair's relation to the art market, with Brian Boucher's "Why Are Gagosian, Pace, and Zwirner Signing On for the Seattle Art Fair?" and The Observer's "Paul Kasmin and Pace Gallery Join the Inaugural Seattle Art Fair" leading the discussion. With later pieces like Seattle Times "High Art Meets Deep Pockets at Seattle Art Fair" and the New York Times, "Seattle Art Fair Receives a Boost From Tech’s Big Spenders", and Art News "Why the Seattle Art Fair Is Important for the Art World", positioning the art fair as it relates to the moneyed local tech industry.

All of which were little more than discussions of the art market and the inclusion of some of the gallery world's international power players. For insight into the curatorial direction and work to be featured, one had to rely on regional media in which there was no small supply of skepticism expressed concerning the fair being another of Paul Allen's pet cultural projects, both for the good and the bad. The extent of the fair's conception became apparent opening weekend with favorable coverage in both the New York Times and Artforum. The exhibitions and galleries drawn from Asia were among the three day event's greater successes. In addition to the participating galleries Kaikai Kiki and Koki Arts from Tokyo, along with Gana Art of Seoul and Osage Gallery from Hong Kong, the "Thinking Currents" wing curated by Leeza Ahmady, director of Asia Contemporary Art Week produced a premier exhibition of video, film and sound work exploring themes related to the cultural, political, and geographical parameters of the Pacific Rim. Next week Seattle Art Fair returns for it's sophomore edition, this year with an expanded body of galleries, some 80 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events around the city, including the In Context: Satellite Exhibition. Notably, in the way of influential presenters, "Roberts & Tilton and Marlborough are Among New Galleries" yet New York preeminent arts entity, Gagosian will not be present next week when, "Seattle Art Fair and Out of Sight make a Return". Organized by new Artistic Director Laura Fried, the fair's Projects present immersive and large-scale works spanning sculpture, performance, and installation, offering a platform for presentations beyond the art fair booth and into adjacent neighborhoods of the city. This year's Talks program present a daily two-person dialogue by an array of artists and leaders in creative fields. Teaming musician and artist Kim Gordon, actor Carrie Brownstein, art historian Branden W. Joseph, architect Sharon Johnston, artist Rita McBride, curator Anne Ellegood, and actor Kyle MacLachlan, in discussions both in and outside their respective fields.

Foremost among the Projects on offer this year, Paul Allen's Pivot Art + Culture space host the return of the KaiKai KiKi collective and it's cultural figurehead, Takashi Murakami, as "KaiKai KiKi & Juxtapoz Curate a Pop-Up Group Show in Seattle". In collaboration with Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine, their group show "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat" follows in the footsteps of Murakami’s previous curatorial efforts which began with 2001's SuperFlat exhibit at MoCA Los Angeles. Together with Juxtapoz editor Evan Pricco, the two conceived the exhibition as a survey of emerging artists, originating from both east and west, who operate outside of the central hubs of the global art world. A continuity of vision can be seen in the decades-spanning work featured in 2005's "Little Boy: The Art of Japan's Exploding Subculture” exhibit and and more recently the Brooklyn Art Museum's “©Murakami” retrospective. The latter's coverage in the New York Times "Watch Out, Warhol, Here’s Japanese Shock Pop", speaks to Murakami's role in bringing an awareness of Japan's Otaku-generation anime, design, sculpture, video and urban art scene to the larger art world. But it was the proceeding SuperFlat touring exhibit that introduced the west to the blissfully macabre transposition of dream and waking world seen in the vibrant surrealistic work of the loose collective of artists, and their reflexive dialog with Japanese popular culture.

Also in it's second installment, Out of Sight returns to the King Street Station exhibition space for its annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. With a new curatorial and production team under the direction of exhibition caretaker, Scott Lawrimore of Lawrimore Project and current Director of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery alongside the new curatorial team of Sierra Stinson, Greg Lundgren, Minh Nguyen, Beth Sellars, Julia Fryett and Molly Sides. Credited as "The Real Seattle Art Fair is Out of Sight" in local press, last year's exceptional program was a collaboration between Kirsten Anderson and Sharon Arnold of Roq La Rue and Bridge Productions along with Seattle artist Greg Lundgren and Sierra Stinson, founder of Vignettes for Vital 5 Productions. Offering a counterpoint to the global vision of the Seattle Art fair, this 22,000 square-foot survey of contemporary art read like a who's-who of the best work seen about the Pacific Northwest in the past decade. While no longer shepherding Out of Sight, Anderson's gallery space will be active this month with Roq La Rue's group exhibition, “Death and the Maiden 2", held concurrently with a Femke Hiemstra solo show in the loft gallery. This will be the final show at the long-running contemporary art space, its focus the pop surrealism of New Contemporary art scene, as detailed in their 2004 collection "Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art" edited by Anderson and Published by San Francisco's Last Gasp. In her interview form Hi-Fructose, "Gallery Spotlight: Exclusive Interview with Kirsten Anderson of Roq La Rue", Anderson maps the genesis of this new generation inspired as much by the urban and street art of the 1980s, as the kitschy, provocative work of Robert Williams, Anthony Ausgang, Isabelle Samaras, Lisa Petrucci and The Pizz. Particularly that these players in Southern California's Low Brow scene embodied a post-Punk ethos that made divestment in gallery culture and art academia central to their position.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Noir City Festival: Film Noir from A to B at SIFF Cinema: Jul 22 - 28 | UCLA Film Archive & Festival of Preservation: Jan 16 - Jul 19

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation return to Seattle after a two year hiatus following their International Edition in 2014 with bold new 35mm prints courtesy of their collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The Preservation Society and it's annual touring festival, offering one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The work of the restorationists at the archive feature prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling". Their work will again be on display after the selections from the UCLA Festival of Preservation featured at Northwest Film Forum this past May. Next week's Noir City 2016: Film Noir from A to B screens exclusively on 35mm, comprising nine double bills that present a chronological excursion through the classic Noir era, with themed pairs of "A"-list and "B" titles playing together. Highlights from this year's program include a new restoration of Norman Foster's once thought lost, "Woman on the Run", a breakneck thriller about a search for a husband in hiding, set in mid-20th Century blue collar San Francisco. We also see the characteristic atmospheric nature of the genre highlighted in the haunting chiaroscuro of cinematographer Nick Musuraca. Accentuating another notable Val Lewton production for RKO, his camerawork highlights the Greenwich Village missing person (and secret society) mystery of Mark Robson's "The 7th Victim". Hitchcock protege, screenwriter and producer Joan Harrison's stamp is all over Robert Siodmak's tense thriller, "Phantom Lady". The film pivoting around Ella Raines' enchanting lead role as savvy urbanite and amateur investigator, as she gets in deep in an attempt to exonerate an innocent man of the murder of his wife.

In addition to Siodmak, other great German expat directors of the era also put in entries, like Fritz Lang in the classic Edward G. Robinson vehicle, "Scarlet Street" in which Robinson gets rolled by Joan Bennett's streetwise lady of the night. And Max Ophüls adaptation of Elizabeth Saxnay Holding’s novel "The Blank Wall" about the lengths one woman will go to protect her daughter from a scheming blackmailer. Star power also features with Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott in John Cromwell's post-War twisted tale of fake identities and murder set in Florida, "Dead Reckoning". And a second serving of Lizabeth Scott's smokey charm, staring again in Lewis Allen's Technicolor love triangle melodrama, "Desert Fury" set against lowlife gamblers, duplicitous deputies, and rebellious kin. The weeklong program also features Frank Tuttle's seminal revenge film, "This Gun for Hire" based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, and Bruce Humberstone's unjustly overlooked harbinger of the film noir movement, "I Wake Up Screaming" starring a young Betty Grable in one of her first dramatic roles. Cornell Woolrich might be Noir's most prolific screenwriter, and when you can consistently deliver works like the unreliable narrator featured in John Reinhardt's "The Guilty" practically by rote, there's little wonder why. The festival also hosts rare pulp entries like Henry Levin's clandestine release of one of the most sexually suggestive and psychologically lurid B-movies of the 1940s onto the American screen with "Night Editor". Intended as the first in a trilogy of thrillers about about graveyard-shift police beat reporters, and the crimes in which they become entangled, the film stands as the single entry due to the Motion Picture Production Code crackdown of the Breen era.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

King Hu's restored "Dragon Inn" & "Touch of Zen" at SIFF Cinema: Jul 22 - 24

This month SIFF Cinema brings some of the finest in genre cinema to the big screen with restorations of legendary Chinese director King Hu's expressively mystical, atmospheric, physical martial arts masterpieces. More referenced and revered than seen, these seminal works have influence countless Wuxia films in the ensuing decades since their release, most notably Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Zhang Yimou’s “House of Flying Daggers". In the west there are of course the works of Quentin Tarantino, who has copped from them (and Toshiya Fujita's "Lady Snowblood" also playing this month at Grand Illusion Cinema) generously, lifting sequences and setting wholesale. The arthouse isn't immune to his spell, with a new generation of filmmakers from Hong Kong and mainland China offering reflections on Hu's legacy, as literally seen in Taiwanese Second Wave director Tsai Ming-Liang's elegiac ode to moviegoing and the city of Taipei, "Goodbye, Dragon Inn". Befitting a body of work of this influence and stature, and in a rare move for genre works Senses of Cinema have dedicated a Great Directors feature on Hu's warping and reformatting of the three tenets of 20th Century Wuxia cinema: the political world of the Jianghu, bewildering martial arts action, and thirdly, and most artfully in Hu's case, abstraction in representing Buddhist concepts. Janus Films and Criterion have produced new 4k restorations in a domestic theatrical run that will be the first opportunity to see these films in the west for most filmgoers, particularly in the case of "A Touch of Zen". Celebrated upon it's release as the first non-mainland Chinese film to receive the Technical Grand Prize and nomination for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Hu's epic emerged as an exemplary representation of the genre-form much in the same way that Sergio Leone’s stylized reimagining of pioneer America once brought critical attention to the Italian Western. While we can now see his work against a very necessary and relevant context, via the wider distribution and availability of mid-Century Wuxia film, there can be no denial of Hu’s preeminence as a "Martial-arts Pioneer Who Brought Dynamic Grace to the Genre", and "A Touch of Zen"'s broader achievement and status as a masterpiece of world cinema.

As well as containing references to the totality of Hu Jinquan's past and future films, Tony Williams details for Senses of Cinema, how it is that this work operates as a singular compilation of Eastern and Western stylistic features familiar to contemporary audiences. In Hu's more sparing use of the obligatory Shaw Brothers Studio gestures, reigning in choker close-ups and zoom lenses, he instead accentuated slow motion shots of nature and landscape. These were often set against tightly framed indoor scenes of persona drama, tension and comedy from Hu's own repertory company of familiar faces such as his onscreen avatar Shih Chun, the captivating Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Han Hsieh, and Tsao Chien. The action playing out in whirlwind set pieces on isolated mountaintop roads and bamboo forest swordfights, delivered with visually beautiful compositions reminiscent of the director's passion for the theatre arts. The Beijing Opera-style musical introductions to Eastern Group representatives in "Dragon Inn" that punctuate each appearance of Bai Ying’s villainous albino eunuch are an obvious point of reference in this technical bridging of the stage and the screen. The more overtly poetic elements in Hu's films are glimpsed in the intermingling of slow-motion depiction of high-flying martial arts choreography, which cut to shots of nature; the movement of reeds, water and trees suggestive of the combat moving into the realm of the supernatural. These gestures would come to characterize the director's later work, becoming more and more explicit as Hu began to emerge as a "Martial-arts Filmmaking Master, Bending Light and Arrows to His Will". As is the case made in Grady Hendrix's Kaiju Shakedown column for Film Comment focusing on the late, lost film "The Battle of Ono", the shift to the supernatural plane is what most defines the closing passages of "A Touch of Zen's Masterful Concoction of Cinematic Flavors". In it's climax, where any fixed interpretation proves elusive, we see the mythic destination of the Buddhist monastery vanish, and it's luminescent, golden background remain. Hu seeming to suggest that in continuing one's quest to find refuge, whether from the intrigues and deceptions of the Ming Dynasty, or the turbulent political climate of the China of his time, one is on the path of a life-spanning journey, punctuated by fleeting glimpses of the distant horizons of transcendence.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Motor presents Ancient Methods & Diagonal Records Showcase with Russell Haswell, Powell and Not Waving at Kremwerk: Jul 14 & Aug 11

In lieu of the more expansive festival forums like those previously offered by Decibel and Substrata, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature and MOTOR, have produced a string of memorable one-off events over the course of the past year. Foremost among them, Elevator's expansion this past winter into exhibition curation with their first annual Corridor Festival. Hailed as a unmitigated success, it's day-long meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance may be the city's best new hope in filling the festival void. The apogee of the collective endeavors of these monthlies resulted in the anti-euclidean rhythmic exercises of PAN recording artist M.E.S.H., the dissonant drone and synth onslaught of Room40 label founder Lawrence English, and the elusive minimalist techno of Giegling who Resident Advisor rated label of the month in their detailing of the collective's slippery characteristics. We were also witness to the Spectrum Spools label showcase featuring Container and Sebastian Gainsborough under his Vessel moniker, representing for the Tri-Angle label. Their night at Kremwerk showcasing another of the label's roster of colliding melodicism, smeared noise and folded rhythm structures, a sound inspired as much by hip-hop as by the distorted abstractions of shoegaze. For Resident Advisor's Label of the Month feature on MOTOR, Samuel Melancon details the imprint's focus on hardware produced music that is as much "semi-danceable, while remaining deep-listening, with a focus on psychedelic tones and textures". Timm Mason who releases on the label under the Mood Organ moniker, could be considered the quintessential representative of this sound. His own volume for the label's Mix Series makes for an ideal primer to the MOTOR's aesthetic vein. In it minimalist techno rubs shoulders with vintage noise and industrial, and the progressive rock of Sand and Goblin shares company with the likes of Tod Dockstader's magnetic tape constructions and Pan Sonic's brutalist experiments in rhythm.

This same scope is representative of the programming offered by Decibel's Rachel Glasgow, Melancon and Debacle Records Nathaniel Young every month, as "MOTOR Invites Seattle into the Wormhole with an Ambitious Summer Series" hosted by the done-right underground venue that is Kremwerk. Both this season's July and August installments bring the global vanguard of experimental sound design and warped dancefloor exercises in broken techno. Arriving in the mid-2000s as the duo of Michael Wollenhaupt and Conrad Protzmann, out of the gate their "Method" trilogy resonated in a post-Chain Reaction dub-space of thunderous, yet subtly layered full-frontal electronic music. The dou's influences worn clearly on their sleeve for all to hear in their multiple installments for the MNML SSGS mix series. Now solo, Wollenhaupt's live PA hardware set for MOTOR will be one of only four Ancient Methods dates on his first ever US tour. Of a shared ethos with the bleeding edge in dancefloor experimentation heard in the recent forays by Pete Swanson, the unhinged mathematics of SND's Mark Fell, and Kouhei Matsunaga's fragmented techno exercises as NHK, over the course of some scant 25 releases, Diagonal Records' pedigree is incontestable. Their stated objective a repurposing of the most challenging voices in contemporary abstract electronic music to the codified gestures of dance music. One need only hear the buoyant sea of dissonant miasma obscuring the depths of disorienting rhythmic melee in Russell Haswell's "37 Minute Workout" and "As Sure As Night Follows Day", the new wave meets rueful machine abstractions of Not Waving's "Animals" and the warped "Club Music" of label founder Oscar Powell to judge Diagonal's success. What else would one anticipate from a label who christened their first release, "The Ongoing Significance of Steel & Flesh"? Photo credit: Scott Simpson

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The films of Paul Clipson with live score by Grouper's Liz Harris at Northwest Film Forum & Washington Hall: Jul 29 - 30

Later this month the Northwest Film Forum and Elevator host two nights, in different arrangements, of experimental filmwork by Paul Clipson with sonic accompaniment from Portland's Liz Harris. Her most recent sequence of albums spanning the last decade as Grouper embrace early folk traditions as much as contemporary electronic and sound sculpting sequences involving controlled feedback, reverb and delay. One can see a line of progression and intermingling of themes and process through, "The Man Who Died in His Boat" a mirroring companion album to 2008's "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" and 2015's more explicitly folkish "Ruins", the latter assembled over a more protracted span of time during a residency in Portugal. The album's extended recording process, an attempt to escape the hectic rush of contemporary life and enter a slower slipstream, was realized during a stay at Lisbon’s Galeria Zé dos Bois. Which Harris details for FACT Mag, “Liz Harris: I Felt Incapable of Finding Love”; "Starting to process a relationship that had ended a couple years prior. Being alone and near the water started drawing some of it out. Emotions built up over years emerged. I felt incapable of being in a relationship, of finding love. Bad at taking care of people, no one taking care of me. Governments not taking care of their own people, world economy taking a nose-dive cause of shortcuts and greed.” In a more personal look, The Quietus enlisted Harris as our guide through her musical life, "Listening & Playing Alone: The Strange World Of Grouper", from the (literal) ghosts of her early years, being a party vagrant in Los Angeles, to years of relative isolation in the rural coastal expanses of the Pacific Northwest, finding music via the echoing of former industrial spaces, to risk-taking and sleep deprivation.

Their "Through The Looking Glass: An Interview With Grouper" also explores the concurrent underground pop project, Helen released on Harris' longtime home, Kranky Records who themselves recently relocated to Portland in the year following their 20th Anniversary festival in Chicago. Redirecting the energy of garage rock's distorted vein, Helen's "The Original Faces" with percussionist Jed Bindeman and Scott Simmons on bass and guitar, channels a decidedly more upbeat groove reminiscent of the classic New Zealand weirdo pop sound from the late 1980's/90's centered around Flying Run Records and the early more raw, fuzz-infused emanations from the Creation label roster. For her evening at Northwest Film Forum, Harris will be supplying accompaniment to the Super 8 and 16mm projection assemblies of film-art, experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson. Clipson's previous performance in Seattle as counterpoint to Dan Abrams enveloping synthesis was one of the highlights of Substrata Festival's final Northwest installment. Clipson's real-time improvisational dialog with Abram's sound saw densely layered, in-camera edited studies of figurative and abstract environments woven into a richly entrancing chiaroscuro of image, pattern, color and light. Not the first of Clipson and Harris' collaborative works, the two previously produced a "Mesmerizing feature-length Work Exploring Themes of the American Landscape", by the title of Hypnosis Display, which they discuss for NPR. Along with the music of Grouper, the evening's program also features prerecorded soundtracks by an extended global cavalcade of abstract electronic music and sonic experimentation from Gregg Kowalsky, Tarantel's Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Tashi Wada, Room40 label maven Lawrence English, and Kevin Martin's King Midas Sound collaboration with Christian Fennesz.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Jia Zhang-ke's new film "Mountains May Depart" at SIFF Cinema: Jul 1 - 7

In dedicating one of their Great Directors features to mainland China’s most prominent arthouse director, "A Guy From Fenyang" by the name of Jia Zhang-ke, Senses of Cinema predicated the recognition that would later come for the quietly controversial, deeply humanistic vision alive in his body of work. Zhang-ke's earliest acclaim originating from his string of first features, "The Pickpocket", "Platform" and "Unknown Pleasures" spanning the years 1998-2002. It was his examination of Globalization and China's absorption of western market and consumer values in 2004's "The World" that he gained attention outside the European cinema festivals. Becoming in a short succession of years a internationally recognized filmmaking voice that strode a very precarious balance with China's censorship and state-run cinema funding. So that much more startling then, that when his next film set within the otherworldly landscape of the Three Gorges Damn Project. A film of lives changed, homes lost and cultural legacy literally washed away, 2006's masterwork "Still Life" not only winning him top prize at the Berlin and Venice Film Festivals, but paradoxically earning praise from China's then vice-President, Xi Jinping. With Jia's own perspective on the current state of his country offered in the pages of The Guardian, "China Must End Silence on Injustice, Warns Film Director Jia Zhang-ke" on the growing wealth inequality, worker exploitation and eroding social cohesion. That year saw him blending of his usual documentary aptitude with a newfound flare for bloodletting. His "A Touch of Sin" can be seen as the director's response to the growing backlash of mass protest, worker suicides, public violence, labor riots, upheaval against for-profit land seizures and the growing extremity of corruption of state and local officials. Jia's depiction of the rising occurrence of mainland China's explosive public response to social injustice explored in Tony Rayns' "A Touch of Sin: New China’s Loss of Social Cohesion Leads to Violence" and the New York Times, "Filmmaker Giving Voice to Acts of Rage in Today’s China".

Detailed in Kent Jones' "Wonders to Behold" coverage of it's premier at Cannes in 2015, Zhang-ke returned last year with a statement on the "Status of Love in the Age of Consumerism". What is incontestably his most purely emotional work, "Mountains May Depart" shares a explicitly political bent in it's "Showing the Human Stakes in a Changing China". Delivered as a trilogy of eras in the lives of the film's protagonists, the film exists on two temporal planes; that of the interlocking lives of the characters and that of the world, the first of which always moves more slowly than the latter. The film begins as the millennial cusp dawns and China enters into a embrace with capitalism. While simultaneously retaining the monolithic state structures of the past, it's more wealthy entrepreneurial citizens exhibit their newfound worship of consumer goods and brash materialism as status symbol. In this passage it most resembles a classic studio melodrama, with the love interests established that would later define the following decades of estrangement and heartbreak. Tao, a young woman involved with a childhood friend and coal-miner by the name of Liang, is being courted by the wealthy and conceited Jingsheng. After the purchase of the coalmine as yet another of his cache of investments, Jingsheng manipulates Liang out of the picture, ensnaring Tao. They later marry and have a child, which Jingsheng grotesquely names “Dollar”, so great is his belief in the child symbolizing China's influence in a new era of prosperous global capitalism. The film's second chapter centers around Tao, who assumes a tragic dimension in light of her marital disaster and the death of her beloved father. We witness her transformation into a troubled melancholy figure, further wounded by her son's encouragement to abandon his past, family and country of origin. As Peter Bradshaw cites in his review from Cannes, it is in this accumulating of the weight of time and remorse over the span of decades that Jia's film "Scales New Heights as a Futurist Drama". In it's final chapter "Mountains May Depart" transforms into a science fiction essay on China's global diaspora and it's potential imminent destiny of profound class stratification, the fallout from which seen as the ensuing generation's emotional and cultural alienation. Audacity of vision alone doesn't answer for the uneven nature of the film's maligned third-part foray into the English language. But to quote Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review for Film Comment; "This is by nature a film of broad strokes; a melodrama in the grand manner, about the passing of time, the waning of love, the enduring tensions of a triangle, all against a global socio-economic backdrop."