Seattle Art Museum
1300 First Avenue
November 19 - May 7
One can circulate around Jennifer West’s latest installation, Film Is Dead . . ., 2016, but it is most potent when you are standing in front of it. A giant static curtain of 70-mm filmstrips comes down to the floor and spreads toward three seamlessly joined horizontal monitors positioned on the ground, creating a peculiar silent landscape. The screens play digitized versions of the filmstrips’ movies, resulting in vibrant, hypnotic, often colorful abstract collages in motion.
Although there is no explicit narrative in these films—made with leftovers from the artist’s hand-manipulated, camera-less films and film stocks—a story lies behind each strip, one that goes beyond the aggressive handling of both the materials and the ideology of Hollywood cinema. Observing how the artist applied salt, a nipple, spray-paint marks, or even stabs, kisses, red splashes, and stripes—all alluding to the movie industry, except for the stripes, which is a wink to Godard—on these ribbons and then translated them to the screen is as fascinating as trying to decipher what is secreted by each of them. Her gestures and multiple references to cinema history, as well as the artist’s own background, are intensely embedded in the celluloid.
The shift from analog to digital is incarnated in this monumental installation, as are the origins of cinema: attraction and spectacle. The obsolescence or death of analog film is clearly the subject here, though, and West is able to convey the melancholy such a passage engenders. It is indeed dying, but it can still enthrall.