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Flaherty NYC Fall 2019 Opening Night

Saturday evening, October 5, 2019, was the opening night to Flaherty NYC’s Fall 2019 program SURFACE KNOWLEDGE, presented with one of our new screening partners Metrograph in the Lower East Side. The program’s theme, ELECTRIC NARCISSUS, was remarkably curated by co-curators Courtney Stephens and Mathilde Walker-Billaud. Following the screening, art historian and media theorist Kris Paulsen and artist Joan Jonas engaged in an insightful discussion in which the audience was exposed to Joan and how she considers her formal process and work in relation to the present day. ELECTRIC NARCISSUS was presented in partnership with Electric Arts Intermix (EAI) and co-presented with Triple Canopy.

The series explores the conflict between personal beliefs and ideologies, and how these aspects are expressed through different interfaces, and the ELECTRIC NARCISSUS program played with perspective and proximity, leading the viewer to accept rather than merely dissect the power of the unconscious in the images performed on screen.

film still from  Electric Honey  (1972, dir. Joan Jonas)

film still from Electric Honey (1972, dir. Joan Jonas)

Dealing with themes of ego, naturalism, astrology, and self-identification, ELECTRIC NARCISSUS was successful in creating a methodically heightened state with within the dark room. Heavily inspired by the writing of Kris Paulsen, the program was in dialogue with her book Here/There, in which Paulsen states, “Rather than locking itself off in a formal tautology of self-regard, video, like all other arts, “needs witnesses.” It is not “self-absorptive,” she argues, but “coercive”: it aims to aggressively “summon the viewer present.”. Paulsen goes on to say “Video is both narcissistic and relational at once.” This is evident in, but not limited to, the first film Descartes and the two works that followed by Joan Jonas, Left Side Right Side and Organic Honeys Visual Telepathy.

Screened in chronological order, the technologies used to make each film were very different, yet contextually embodied major similarities when viewed in dialogue with one another. The bookends of the program, Descartes and Onward Lossless Follows were made decades apart but intersected at multiple points in form and content, both using poetic audio recordings to move images forward. The first utilizes a literal poem (included as a readable printed handout with the evening’s brochure), and the later played audio of a preacher calling attention to the falsehood of science and its influence over personhood. Both speak to the undeniable perfection of nature as the being in which to place our mortal faith rather than the technologies and cultural norms of modernity.

 The crucial films of the program were the works of Joan Jonas, who sat in the audience watching her performance from almost 50 years ago. Playing back to back, Left Side Right Side and Organic Honey’s Visual Therapy confused the senses and disorientated perception of the external as well as internal. Reflective and transparent surfaces such as mirrors and glass are used by Joan in both films to explore the construction of personal identification with the physical world around us, and the tangible things we possess and collect throughout our lives. These objects seems at first meaningless when put in comparison to our own physicality, as we watch Joan simply touch her left and right eyes with her index finger over and over.


The discussion that followed between Joan, Kris, and the audience was rich in consideration as Joan walked us through her thought process behind each film and how she understands the “characters” she personifies within them. When asked what it’s like to go back and watch her video work Joan jokingly mentioned that she hasn’t viewed the works that were shown in a very long time and she was both touched and pained by the experience, which consequently made her “thoughtful about the present”. Joan went on to explain that because Organic Honey’s Visual Therapy was created in a closed circuit space that she had to push herself beyond the physicality of her surroundings and “invent characters using masks and costumes” and that she never wanted to play herself or be autobiographical in any way. Joan says her early works “are references to myth, which is not visible on the surface.” And although she is right, one could possibly draw comparisons between Organic Honey via Joan’s use of objects and dress wear and cultural rituals and mythology. After speaking more on how her role as a woman in her work corresponded with ancient myth itself, that women were once believed to be witches, Joan also admitted to “smoking a lot of grass” during this time of her artistic journey.  

Join us on October 28, 7pm at Anthology Film Archives as Flaherty NYC screens the second program, THE FACE OF THE PLANET, as part of the six-part programed series, SURFACE KNOWLEDGE. This program poses a very simple question – What can films about nature do in this time of ecological crisis? A special live performance by Jerome Ellis will be held during a portion of the screening and Jennifer Peterson will be narrating in person as well. The discussion following will be moderated by Flaherty NYC Co-Programmer Courtney Stephens, filmmaker and curator. We look forward to seeing you there. 

- Krystalle MacQueen

Photos: Abby Lord


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