4th Friday 6Pack: MFA|EDA Alex Cunningham (’16)

Welcome to the eighth installment of MFA|EDA’s 4th Friday Alumni 6Pack. We are pleased to begin the year with a dispatch from Alex Cunningham from the Class of 2016.

 

Simplicity and Gratitude and Silence.

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1.

From “There Is No Ithaca”, “Reminiscences no. 8”
New York, 1951, Jonas Mekas:

“…. Now go on falling, white

snow of times gone by, while I keep on

going wherever my journeys lead, to whatever strange

new horizons, cities and people –

moving on and on, each time

without knowing what for, or where to –

not knowing, and not knowing – just the heart

pushing on, eyes squinting into the distance

for each blue smoke trail, each

new tree and face:

but no

it’s not that tree, not the blue of that sky,

no not the face,

no not the smoke,

Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow.”

From Jonas Mekas’ “Movie Journal”
January 14, 1971

On Marie Menken and Willard Maas, Now Dead

“…. So there we are. Two beautiful human beings and two of the most important and most colorful figures of the American avant-garde film gone. Only their work will remain with us. The day Marie was buried, her show took place at the Anthology. We watched the films from a different perspective. Before, there were her films, and there was Marie Menken herself, the artist, exuberant, joyful, stormy, and unpredictable, and very, very kind; and there was Willard, as unpredictable as Marie, and spouting, and puffing, and always concerned, always fighting, always in trouble, and always very, very kind, at the end. So now we looked at the films, and the films now were all there was, and they were beautiful, and pure, and a world in itself, the essence of Marie Menken which now will always be with us, thes films will be our Marie, and the films of Willard will be our Willard.

…. Here are the movies are Marie Menken and Willard, and they are like a flower garden, completely useless, nothing to report in Variety or Business Week. Eh, but you can sit in it, you can sit among the flowers of Marie Menken, and they’ll fill you with sweetness and heavenly smells, and a certain rare happiness, a joy in life–yes, and maybe sadness, too, but it’s all like sitting among flowers and seeing your own life very, very close to you, feeling your own life, and all other lives, and having some insight into what it may be all about, and you are touched by the smells of these flowers, and you feel refreshed and very, very fine, and looking forward–

…. Marie’s work and that of Willard will be for those few who will feel a need for an occasional meditation, or dreaming, in a flower garden. They will come, quietly, and by themselves, maybe almost secretly, and they will sit among the flowers of Marie. The years will go, the world will keep changing, there will be more disasters, and more wars, and more anger, and more grief. The floor and the seats and the screens of all the theatres of New York will rot away, including those of Anthology. But the work of Marie will remain, for a long, long time, to remind us of something else, of one part of ourselves which is, or could be, so much much finer, as we thought it would be at some silent secret moments of our lives–we thought maybe we could all be like gods. Both Marie and Willard brought down from the heavens a touch of godliness and left it in their work for us. And then they went back to the gods, as did Maya Deren, as did David Brooks, as did Ron Rice.”

As has Jonas Mekas, who died on Wednesday at the age of 96.


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2.

These two quotes from Jonas Mekas – one an excerpt from a poem and the other an excerpt from his journal – are from two books given to me by two friends. Today I feel very grateful for these two books and those two friends.

I remember standing in one of these friends’ office in the last month of 2016 talking about how we couldn’t wait for 2017. The previous year had been rough. “At least 2017 can’t be worse than this year”. The next December, we found ourselves willingly acting out a sort of déjà vu dark comedy. “Can’t wait for 2017 to be over… 2018 can’t be worse!”

Now here we are, on the shore of what will surely be another exhausting year as citizens of this planet. Personally, I’m in for a big one: marriage, moving, not to mention little Tito’s first birthday!

And in the face of all of that action, I have (consciously or not) opted for the path of simplicity when one exists. In my work and in my dreams.

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3.

Early in my relationship with a mentor and friend, this established and inspiring filmmaker and professor told me that he had very recently come close to abandoning his current practice and profession so that he could apprentice as a cabinet maker. Then confused, I later wrote it off as another one of his magical exaggerations. But I realize now that it wasn’t exaggeration. And I totally get it.

I come from a line of woodworkers, and though I have never seriously dabbled myself, I now suddenly find myself spending hours reading about and online watching simple, beautiful woodworking projects. I daydream of building a kitchen table or a bookshelf or other practical and simple things out of wood and nails and saws and hammers and glue. It’s all I want to do! Maybe the ritual of it all attracts me, or the physical and practical nature of the process and results. Either way, it sings of a simplicity I yearn for.

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4.

For the moment, however, I remain a filmmaker. I found that my last project relied a lot more on forces besides myself to do a lot of the work a film does. In other words, it was simple.

Reading the entirety of Frank Stanford’s epic 15,283 line unpunctuated poem, The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You, was just not happening for me, though I tried. I’d flip to random pages, reading a dozen lines, then flip again. And yet it still worked and narratives emerged.

So I created Lovemoon Battlefield, wherein the audience members pick at random and already randomized selection of lines from the original poem, which are then loaded into a 35mm slide projector. These selections act as subtitles as an improvised montage of several 30 foot rolls (~1 minute) of 16mm film provide the visuals. This highly random combination and sequence of images and text still ends up allowing our brains to read meaning and narrative into it, when none was intended. In other words, I executed the very simple work of gathering the pieces. The pieces themselves then did the heavy lifting. Not unlike the aforementioned hypothetical kitchen table.

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5.

My next work will test just how much the maker can transfer their power to the material.

We can all relate to witnessing the strangeness and, dare I say, campy nature of the billboards that grace our highways. Billboards reveal the priorities, fears, desires, values of us in their own weird way. They have limited time to make an impression as we zoom past, and so resort to what they hope is catchy and memorable persuasions. If the effort is pushed to extreme edges of the bizarre and uncanny, the result is an almost Dada reflection of ourselves.

So I’d like to film some billboards. And I don’t want to try too hard; I want the billboards to do the work. So I’ll film the billboards and splice them together and that’s it. I think it will make for a more enlightening viewing experience than it would seem to. And I’d like to call the film, For A Good Sign Call.

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6.

The transition to embracing simplicity seems more and more necessary as time marches forward. Whether it’s possible or not may not even matter. It’s hard… “time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us”, and it doesn’t stop for us to minimize, declutter, or organize; the emails keep coming and you still have bills to pay. But that striving for the simple may be an embodiment of something greater: of acceptance and contentment with life and all its strangeness. So I’ll continue binging on Marie Kondo and lustily paging through my bi-monthly Dwell magazine and reading Thich Nhat Hanh on silence and working to brew a perfect pour over. All in hopes of and faith in the simple.

Here’s to a simpler 2019. Happy New Year.

*still from As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, Jonas Mekas (2000).

Now over to my Lightship co-captain, Anna.


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Next up
Anna Kipervaser
(’15)
See you then.