“Los Cinema Lost”

In “Lost Cinema Lost,” the Galleria Civica in Modena brought together recent works by two artists in a unified presentation. Runa Islam showed four recent films, two made for this occasion, while Tobias Putrih created a pair of environments that functioned as screening rooms for two of Islam’s films, as well as a light installation presented in tandem with another of her films.

The show began with Putrih’s Screening Space Related to What’s a Thought Experiment, Anyhow? by Runa Islam, 2007–2008, a structure created from simple cardboard walls held together by colored tape, illuminated from above by a light source made from polystyrene circles overlapping to form an upside-down cone; the installation led into the space where the first section of Islam’s two-part film What’s a Thought Experiment, Anyhow?, 2005–2006, was projected. Here visitors could watch while sitting on polystyrene parallelepipeds. In the film, colored balloons hover against a dark background, then burst loudly, some of them emitting a white powder. Later we glimpse the hands that caused the explosions by piercing the balloons. More balloons soon appear in an atrium with elegant old staircases and replicas of classical statues; the camera moves slowly through the space to show balloons tied to the statues, while others lie still against the ceiling, creating a colorful and ironic counterpoint to the nearly monochrome walls and courtly sculptures. The second part of the film was shown in a corridor nearby. A small-scale projection on the ceiling depicted a more modest and less luxuriant version of the same imagery: young people in an empty space, silently tossing balloons into the air.

Auditorium for CINEMATOGRAPHY by Runa Islam, 2007– 2008, the second of the environments created by Putrih, was an imposing structure, made of steel scaffolding. Inside, steps made from wide wooden planks served as seating for viewers. Here Islam’s film CINEMATOGRAPHY, 2007, was projected. In it, the movements of the movie camera itself delineate each letter in the word cinematography, one after another, as it passes through a multistory warehouse used to store film equipment: machinery, spotlights, cables, theatrical costumes, and so on. The camera moves rapidly at times and sometimes more slowly, often in Islam’s typically vertiginous style, exposing the linguistic tools and materials that are used to make movies.

Today, perhaps, cinema has lost its ability to form a collective identity, a community, though community was perhaps the theme of Islam’s latest film, Merchants of Venice, 2008, shown as digital video, in which images of roses alternate with scenes of Bangladeshi and Senegalese men selling flowers to passersby in the tourist-filled city of Venice. But cinema’s capacity to create imaginary worlds remains its forte, and both Islam and Putrih, in different ways, insist upon this. In The Restless Subject, 2008, Islam speaks with simplicity about the illusion that the camera creates: A bird and an insect are painted on an elegantly carved surface, connected to an antique optical machine, while a cage is painted on the opposite wall. The elementary action of rapidly rotating the surface on an axis allows viewers to glimpse the bird and the insect enclosed in the cage, and the capturing of this event by a fixed camera multiplies the effect ad infinitum. In the same room, Putrih created what was perhaps his finest work in the show, Re-projection (Modena), 2008: Fishing lines illuminated by a spotlight crossed the room, expanding outward from a single focal point and intersecting the opposite wall to form what looked like an immaterial cone made of threads of light. Here, too, was a form of controlled and simple illusionism, a volume in a fictitious and shining space.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.