Contemporary American artist (born 1965) Bill Morrison became famous for his feature footage movie Decasia (2002), a self-reflexive audiovisual symphony with music by Michael Gordon.
However, he has shown various forms of recontextualization and montage of in-celluloid materials in over thirty short projects. The 20th Ji.hlava IDFF presents his retrospective selection and master class.
Your selected films will be screened at the festival in Jihlava in a classic situation – at the cinema. Is it typical for you to see your films in this traditional context? What do you expect of the projections?
Yes, of course, this is a typical way for me (and others) to see my films. My films have been shown in traditional cinemas at film festivals for the last 25 years. I expect that there will be adequate HD projection and audio, as befits a film festival of Ji.hlava’s stature.
Could you say that the frequent opportunity to present your projects in galleries (and their interest) worldwide, can influence the method and reality of your work?
I have made a few pieces for gallery presentation, but I would not say there have been frequent opportunities. I have no gallery representation. The few pieces that I have made for gallery exhibition have used more text, and less music. Or they are loops. But a far more frequent non-traditional format is for live musical performance, in a theatrical setting. For some of my titles there are extended sequences that breathe with the music. I think that is more of a determining factor than the possibility that the same piece may also one day be shown in a gallery.
What is your attitude towards the concept of “archaism”? Do you conceive your work in relation to such aesthetics (aesthetics of archaism)? Or how would you personally call the concept in an ideal way?
I do not consider the style that I work in “archaic”, nor the images themselves necessarily archaic. The images have often transformed over time to appear exactly the way they do today. An extraordinary confluence of events occurred that made them available to me now, and in turn to you, the audience. They are therefore contemporary images, of today. Furthermore, they have been chosen for either their universal themes, or their resonance with contemporary issues. They have been scanned digitally, and are projected digitally. My films are not a conversation with the past as much as how that past has aged to become part of the present.
The artists of the recent “avant-garde” cinema, who work with the found-footage or ready-made materials (eg. Ben Rivers), escape from the “archaism” by adapting their work for the new media possibilities. Are you also tempted to work with the new media? Or do you use it somehow?
I make the films I make according to my own sensibilities. And I don’t consider my methodology, style, or content archaic, so quite naturally I am not looking for ways to escape from “archaism”. The digital scans you see of original decaying nitrate prints is new media. And you can’t see those images anywhere else but in my films.
Generally, the best-known project of your filmography, Decasia (2002), highlighted the work of the found-footage re-edits as a new way to reborn the media (film) history. Is this success essential for you? Or do you count it as a result of the long way, opened by your previous short films?
Decasia certainly came out of my long-standing attraction to archival footage – especially visibly distressed archival footage. It was a natural step for me to make a longer film, and I feel it was of the moment at the time, coming as it did at the turn of the 21st century. I have no way of knowing whether the success of that film was essential for me. I certainly did not expect it, I would have continued to make films without its success, and I have made twenty or more films since then. I will say that it did make my subsequent work with archives easier, as I am no longer regarded by the archives as that strange guy asking to see their dirty laundry.
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