How do you follow a dancing chicken? This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, I know, but after the previous Kick-About’s riffing on a theme of performing poultry, where next for our fearless community of creatives? Fortunately, we have Marie Menken’s Lights to illuminate the workings of our respective imaginations, as this week we showcase new works created in response to Menken’s 1966 experimental film. Enjoy.
“A Light in the Night.1”. Crayon on watercolour paper.10 cm X 9 cm
“ A Light in the Night.2” Watercolour on watercolour paper. 10cm X 7cm
“I love the prompt for the Kick About this week. Ever since I can remember I’ve been excited by Christmas lights and decorations, things that only have one purpose and that’s to be lovely to look at. As a kid I yearned for Christmas as it was a time of the year when the beige colour palette of 70’s life was momentarily broken and you didn’t need any excuse to cover things in glitter and garishly-coloured baubles. Marie Menken’s film makes me quite wistful for those childhood Christmases. It’s summer and still sweltering here in Berlin, though, and Christmas trees feel a very long way off. So, for my response, I’ve filmed some Alder trees which overhang one of our favourite bathing lakes in the Grunewald forest to the south east of the city. In the late afternoon the sunlight is reflected off the rippling surface of the lake onto the undersides of the Alder leaves and the effect is like being in a giant green disco ball. It’s rather lovely, relaxing and cheering at the same time.”
“The theme of lights made me think of city lights and as I was enraptured with the Olympics I managed to find a wonderful photograph of the city of Tokyo. It’s so dazzling and vibrant I feel that you would need to wear sunglasses permanantly if you lived or worked there. I just love the contrast of the vivid reds and neon oranges against the blue of the skyscraper buildings. You can just imagine the crowds of onlookers gazing up in awe and wonderment. Not so sure what they would think of my Japanese lettering however!”
“There is something so emancipating about Menken’s experimental short film, Lights; it expresses a sort of child-like wonder in the way in which the camera transforms what it sees – municipal Christmas decorations into streaking discs of glowing colour and traffic into living electrified scribbles. You get a sense of Menken playing and exploring, embracing the ‘failure’ of the technology at her disposal to cope with light, time and motion, producing vibrant smears and patterns from otherwise rather ubiquitous components.
With this playfulness very much in mind, I tried something quick and dirty: painting a sheet of glass with black acrylic, before scratching parts of the painted surface away in the form of lines of irregular dots and dashes. Very simply, the painted sheet of glass was then positioned in front of windows, bright environments and television screens, and the surface of the glass photographed. Sometimes, during one exposure, I would push the focus from pin-prick sharp to diffuse, which had the satisfying effect of ‘spherizing’ the scratched patterns on the surface of the glass, producing the illusion of strings of lights or illuminated bubbles. I don’t mind admitting some of the resulting images had me laughing out loud with pleasure, so closely did they recall the aesthetic of mid-century avant-garde animations and the like. It gave me a secret squizz of pleasure too – the trick of it, the very fact of me not, in fact, photographing strings of fairy-lights or pastel-coloured Christmas baubles, or those long balloons out of which you might fashion a poodle: no, just a sheet of glass, painted black, with marks scratched into it using the end of a matchstick and a zester swiped from the kitchen drawer.
After that, there was no stopping me, and for days afterwards, I was lying on different floors around my house trying a bunch of different things with this same sheet of hurriedly painted glass. There have been moments over this last fortnight when I have been completely at peace creatively, just trying stuff out and worrying not at all about the other things a man of my age and responsibilities should probably be thinking about.”
“I wanted the capture the potential that experimental filmmakers like Marie Menken saw in the mediums of their era, and just make something that moved and tickled the senses, without being overly narrative driven or thematic. I’ve always been inspired by the directness of film, and the lack of control, so when using modern software, I try to look for ways of losing control to get the kind of happy accidents that occur when you use analogue formats.
The lights and camera effects in this animation were all generated semi-randomly so seeing the final visuals in this animation made me feel in the same way that Menken and her peers probably felt when they got their processed film back, and marveled at the bizarre and wonderful things they had captured. In the spirit of that, I named the animation after her.”
“This prompt was perfect for an idea I’ve wanted to try for awhile. I did a layered collage with a drawing and a map with circles cut out on top awhile ago, but I wanted to try it with two layers of pattern, and the lights were a good inspiration. It took me a while to figure out how to do the watercolor to get the effect I wanted, but finally I got two paintings I thought would work well as layers. I cut circles out of one of them, and made different arrangements of all 3 components–ground, cut circle painting, and the circles themselves. I’ve photographed both the original elements and some different layerings. I was pleased with the way it managed to evoke the flashing and moving lights of the film.”
“I See The Lights: I’ve been taking a lot of iPhone shots of light through windows landing on walls – through palm trees outside and through screens so I used those as a basis for this KA. Layered them in different colours then added some charcoal scribbles and a few shapes from previous Illustrator files. Not exactly cheery again – maybe therapy!”
Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett
“Evelyn is being ‘Guided by the Lights’ in her painting. I am noodling on ‘Always on your Mind’ by Elvis (today I bought a motorbike, which is the same as Elvis used in ‘Roustabout’). Evelyn was wearing a cowboy hat, as she was feeling Mexican. Alf Rutter did the filming. Loved the last Kick-About…”
“I did not know the work of Marie Menken so as often with the Kick- About, I have to do some research and to enter an unknown realm. It led me to wander round with my camera to my garden. It sent me back to childhood and watching the sparkle of sun through trees and fences near the cherry tree that supported my swing. I have tried to recreate this feeling by moving the camera in that lulling motion.’
“After watching Marie Menken’s ‘Lights’, I found myself walking around muttering ‘lights, lights, lights, lights’ over and over in a sort of chant. As I did, I became very aware of the number of lights, large and small, significant and insignificant, that fill our modern lives. This poem is my attempt to express that awareness.”
“These long exposure photographs were taken a while ago, situated in one of the turrets in our home and framed by its long theatrical curtains. One day I would like to try and make an animation out of these techniques and mimic Menken’s inspirational film more.”
And for our 35th run-around together, coming as it does in the final days of August, a single evocative word…