The Illustrated Talk
In addition to her film screenings within this year’s Focus section of the Olhar de Cinema – Curitiba International Film Festival, the American artist Janie Geiser will present an “Illustrated Talk” that centers on the re-animation of found photographs in her 2012 film Arbor. Obsessed with unearthing possible and impossible narratives from photographs of strangers and unknown geographies, she guides us through a forensic illumination of the space between lost and found. The brief text below gives a description of the event, an earlier version of which took place at FilmFest Dresden in 2016.
“Illustrated Talks” are part of an ancient and modern tradition of picture performance: telling stories with pictures. Picture performance is the ancestor of a multitude of forms from Japanese scrolls to medieval cantastoria to medicine shows, sideshows, “tableaux vivants”, moving pictures, PowerPoint, and newscasts. The “Illustrated Talk” was particularly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a staple form in vaudeville and itinerant performance.
Tonight’s “Illustrated Talk” focuses on Arbor, which arose from a chance find in a thrift store: a group of 8 small photographs, held together with a rubber band. Upon examining the photos, a few things were apparent: a group of people stood or lounged in a field with distant trees. It looked like summer, and the clothes suggested post-war Europe. But who were these people? Why were they gathered that day? Why were so many of them looking away from the camera, at the distant horizon or beyond? Who took these photographs?
Geiser unfolds her process for us, one of experiment, trial and error, discovery, and chance, as she attempts to unearth something essential from the photographs. She poses questions without answers, and suggests a liminal space between representation and abstraction, figure and landscape, fiction and memory.
Starting with the original, unaltered images, Geiser reveals to us her filmic manipulations: reframing, layering, inverting, and merging the photographic images with other material traces, including flowers and shadows. The inhabitants of Arbor cycle through their one elusive afternoon, gradually succumbing to time or dissolving into landscape, reserving for themselves what we can’t know.