Marta Miś, Found – Assembled – Recovered

Everything has been done before – a postmodern catch-phrase often used when trying to describe contemporary culture. Quotations, repetitions and reinterpretations have been used for years by artists who show well-known ideas, works and images in new context. “The Dump project – the recycling of ideas” is, on the one hand, a response to the existing phenomenon in contemporary art and on the other – refers to a culture of excess and overproduction of ideas and images, using the widely available medium, the Internet. The warehouse of ideas proposed by Maurice Benayoun gives open access to the intrinsic secondary raw materials of art from which new things may arise. In this perspective, the found footage technique as a recycling of film images seems to be closely related to the idea of “The Dump”.

The technique of creating films using excerpts of works by other authors has been known since the 20’s of the 20th century (Dziga Vertov, Esfir Shub, Joseph Cornell). Found footage, being the domain of experimental cinema, is very often used in documentary films and, since the 90’s, has been widely used as an important means of expression for visual artists. In the era of electronic media, artists are inspired not only by images derived from the cinema, but also from television and advertising materials. The artists using found footage, drawing on the large number and variety of mass-produced images, create movies which are original and formally innovative. Their works often have a critical nature – both in relation to the medium, as well as to visual culture in the broadest sense of the term.

The diversity of found footage films and the reasons for which they are created is quite large. Metafiction is an interesting theme, which refers directly to the subject of cinema. For over 100 years, film frames have functioned in the pop culture domain, becoming part of a collective memory. You do not need to know “Casablanca” to associate the picture of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart with this classic melodrama. Charlie Chaplin will always be recognized as the tramp with the black mustache. However, for many found footage artists, the use classic film references derive from their fascination with cinema and its history.

The love for cinema was the starting point for the creators of the French New Wave. As cinephiles (the term cinephilia, translation of the word cinéphilie, introduced into Polish literature by Tadeusz Lubelski) they spent time in the Cinematheque in Paris and “consumed” films. A natural consequence of their passion and film erudition was a deliberate reference to the essence of the medium – by using conventions, as well as auto- thematic strategies. Mentioning the representatives of the New Wave in the context of found footage seems justified because of the famous representative of this group, Jean-Luc Godard, who created his “signature pieces” using collage and assembling film-essays from existing images. An example of found footage which stems from the cinephile fascination is the film essay by Claudio Pazienza “The Celluloid Archipelago” (“Archipels Nitrate”, 2009). The starting point for the Italian director became the film in its material form – as an image recorded on celluloid tape, which decays over time. Editing film clips – from the silent film era, through the works of the New Wave to experimental films – Pazienza considers the phenomenon of instability of the material and the durability of film images rooted in our memory.

The search for inspiration in the film archives, recovering images from the “rubbish dump of cinematography” can be a lesson on the history of cinema, as well as an unbridled game played with movie genres. A full-length found footage by Craig Baldwin “Mock Up on Mu” (2009) refers to science fiction films. Using clips from sci-fi films ranging from the 40’s to the 70’s, the American filmmaker created a crazy but coherent story of a colony on the planet Mu. Images of space travel, distant planets and alien civilizations are mixed with occult theories. By using quotes and pop culture clichés, Baldwin begins to approach the postmodern strategies.

In the case of works by Austrian artists Gustav Deutsch, found footage allows viewers to decipher the hidden cultural patterns rooted in cinema. The starting point for the movie “FILM IST. a girl and a gun” (2009) was Godard’s maxim that “everything you need to make a film is a girl and a gun.” Deutsch, using hundreds of pieces of pre-war images – romances, pornographic or even propaganda films – assembles a collage which shows the hidden topoi in cinema: sex, lust and violence. “A girl and a gun”, the inherent figures of film iconography are, according to the Austrian artists take, a part of a critical analysis of the medium and its culture-creating strength.

A similarly critical dimension can be seen in the short found footage films by Martin Arnold. For years, the Austrian artist has been deconstructing classic Hollywood films, revealing their hidden meanings through montage. For Arnold, scenes which lasts only a few seconds, such as “Pièce touchée” (1989) and “Passage à l’acte” (1993, a classic adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” with Gregory Peck) or single, mixed shots from movies about teenagers with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (“Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy”, 1998) can become an inspiration. Through the techniques of copying and re-pasting film frames, movement repetition, sound and video looping, the artist disrupts the coherence of time and space appropriate for Hollywood zero style films. The end result brings Arnold’s films closer to sampling-based music productions which resemble a visual and audible scratch.

Found footage as a technique which reuses complete images seems to be the perfect method of expressing the spirit of modern times. On the one hand, it draws on the achievements of visual media (cinema, TV, home movies, photography, advertising) and on the other – puts existing images into new contexts, analyzes them through the experiences of modern times. It also gives artists the freedom to experiment with the capabilities of the medium. Used and found footage receives a second life.


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