Black Sun Cinema - White Noise programme notes

Photograph by Loreto

Full Notes for last Saturday's WHITE NOISE Black Sun Cinema Screening

Here are the full programme notes by curator Florian Wüst for last Saturday's Black Sun Cinema screening:

Cork Film Centre presents

Black Sun Cinema:

White Noise

a film programme curated by Florian Wüst

in association with Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, and Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Berlin

22 September 2012, 7pm

TDC, Triskel Arts Centre, Tobin St., Cork

"The small boy remained at the TV set, within inches of the dark screen, crying softly, uncertainly, in low heaves and swells." (Don DeLillo, White Noise)

In Don DeLillo's 1984 novel White Noise, Jack Gladney and his wife Babette, who live in a small university town and head a loose-knit family, are both obsessed with death. They try to overcome their fear, which is constantly fueled by the eerie, media saturated world of rampant consumerism and manmade disasters they live in, through the search for regenerative forces. What sets the book apart from the postmodern trends of the period is the notion of infant insight, the child being gifted with an intuitive perception of truth. Consequently, White Noise abounds with extensive discussions about death and afterlife, a concern that is symptomatic of a nostalgia for a mode of experience that lies beyond the stereotyping and banalizing powers of the media, a mode of experience not subject to simulation. "In a culture marked by an implosive de-differentiation of the image and its referent, the nonfigurability of death seems like a guarantee of a domain of human experience that can transcend hyperreality." (Paul Maltby)

In communication theory, "white noise" describes the superimposition of frequencies over a wide spectrum that renders signals unintelligible. This applies to sound as well as to the field of the electronic image. In analogue video and television, noise is a random pattern of black and white dots or "snow" that appears on the screen when no transmission signal is obtained by the antenna receiver and other display devices. By referring to the metaphor of "white noise", DeLillo illustrates, on the one hand, the entropic state of postmodern culture, where communications are degraded by triviality and irrelevance, yet, on the other hand, he seems to suggest that in the incoherent mix of frequencies there is, as it were, a certain wavelength that carries a flow of spiritually charged meaning—an undercurrent of "nameless energies".

The significance of "white noise", both as an unintelligible composition of signals and as a pure experience, provides the vantage point from which to view this homonymous programme of experimental short films. The early work of German experimental filmmakers Wilhelm and Birgit Hein is therefore central to it. The Heins were not only known for their own, largely self-made films, but also for their Cologne based cinema activities and exhibition making. The four films presented in White Noise range from 1968 to 1977 and cover the period during which the Heins concentrated on structural film. By examining the primary material nature of the medium, they broke with the illusionist impression of reality in film.

White Noise reflects the deconstruction of cinema and television not only as a monolithic system of representation and a dream factory, but also as an instrument of corporate power and social control. Images of (human) disfigurement and the mysteries of childhood mix with the penetration of the senses on different levels. The combination of poetic collage, critical analysis, and radical abstraction intends to challenge the emotional as well as physical capacities of the audience.

The screening is divided into two parts of one hour each, interrupted by a short break and followed by a Q&A with Florian Wüst, the curator of the programme. Wüst is currently artist-in-residence at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh. On October 16, 2012, White Noise will also show at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin, on invitation by the Experimental Film Club.

Short descriptions of the films

My Name is Oona

Gunvor Nelson, USA 1969, 16mm, 10'

"My Name is Oona captures in haunting, intensely lyrical images fragments of the coming to consciousness of a child girl. A series of extremely brief flashes of her moving through night-lit space or woods in sensuous negative, separated by rapid fades into blackness, burst upon us like a fairy-tale princess, with a late sun only partially outlining her and the animal [a horse] in silvery filigree against the encroaching darkness; one of the most perfect recent examples of poetic cinema. Throughout the entire film, the girl, compulsively and as if in awe, repeats her name, until it becomes a magic incantation of self-realization." (Amos Vogel)


Wilhelm & Birgit Hein, West Germany 1968, 16mm, 22'

"For Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, it wasn't a question of more, but of different images, and so the first thing to be done was to destroy the film image. In 1968, Rohfilm (Raw Film) was created, a pure material film, for which a strip of film stock was scratched and spliced with fragments of found images, film perforations, ashes and other trash. The result was put through a projector—during which pieces of the film also burnt—and refilmed from the screen. The indignation that this film caused at the time is almost unimaginable today, and can be explained above all by the fact that Rohfilm only allows a subjective experience as memory and in no way objectivizable images." (Stefanie Schulte Strathaus)

Sun in Your Head

Wolf Vostell, West Germany 1963, DVD, 7'

Sun in Your Head was first screened on September 14, 1963, as part of a larger happening by Wolf Vostell entitled 9 Nein-Décollagen, which took place in nine different locations in Wuppertal, Germany. The audience was ferried by bus from location to location, including a cinema that showed Sun in Your Head. The film is based on Vostell’s principle of "décollage": single frame sequences of periodically distorted TV or film images. Since no video equipment was available in 1963, Vostell had instructed cameraman Edo Jansen to shoot the images off the TV screen. Sun in Your Head is part of Fluxfilm, an anthology of 37 short films, compiled by George Maciunas throughout the 1960s.

Khalil, Shaun, A Woman under the Influence

Sharon Lockhart, USA 1994, 16mm, 16'

Sharon Lockhart's debut film is divided into three parts. The first two sections refer to make-up tests, which are often used in the making of Hollywood movies, and the third section is a dramatic sequence based on a scene from the 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes. Lockhart refrains from reproducing the scene literally. Instead, she conflates and collapses several moments into one, amplifying the main theme of Cassavetes's film: the attempt to pretend that everything is okay. Each part of Khalil, Shaun, A Woman under the Influence is linked by showing the progression of a devastating skin disease on a ten-year-old boy, which is successively revealed to be the progression of skilfully applied special effects make-up.

Charles Manson

Wilhelm & Birgit Hein, West Germany 1970, DVD, 5'

A newspaper image of serial killer Charles Manson was filmed one frame at a time. Through slight repositioning of the still photo between shots, as well as through the discrepancy in alignment of the strips of negatives during hand development of the film, the likeness of Manson appears to tremble in the moving image. Obscuring flashes, frequent focus shifts, and manipulated sounds of laughing hyenas serve to underscore the disconcerting feeling provoked by Manson's penetrating gaze. Charles Manson is usually shown—under the title Porträts—together with a portrait of British criminal Ronald Biggs and a portrait of Wilhelm Hein that each underwent distinct processes of reproduction in being transferred to film.

--- short interval ---

Television Delivers People

Richard Serra & Carlota Fay Schoolman, USA 1973, DVD, 6'

Television Delivers People consists of a text that unrolls, to the accompaniment of muzak, on the screen before the spectators. Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman's seminal work criticizes popular media as an instrument of social control that asserts itself subtly on the populace through "entertainments", for the benefit of those in power—the corporations that maintain and profit from the status quo. Television emerges as little more than an insidious sponsor for the corporate engines of the world.


Wilhelm & Birgit Hein, West Germany 1969, DVD, 34'

"Shooting TV images with a Bolex 16mm camera produces a visible, thick black roll bar as a result of the difference in frames per second between analog video and film. With 625 the Heins simply thematize this product of the cinematic reproduction process by altering the speed with which they record television static or snow." (Marc Siegel) The materiality of video is subjected to the materiality of film. In fact, the film images change constantly, the roll bar runs faster or slower, forward or backward against the grainy, flickering background; additionally, the sequences vary in brightness due to deliberate alterations in the hand development of the film strips, which was done in a bucket in the artist's bathroom in Cologne.


Thorsten Fleisch, Germany 2007, DVD, 5'

Conventional TV screens are brought to life by a controlled beam of electrons in the cathode ray tube. Thorsten Fleisch‘s video Energie! (Energy!), however, shows an uncontrolled electron discharge that is exposed to photographic paper at a high voltage, around 30,000 volts. Approximately 100 electric discharges were conducted. The resulting photograms—stunning in their beauty—are arranged according to their visual aspects to make of this uncontrolled electronic picture generation a new order in the cinematic reproduction process.


Christoph Girardet & Matthias Müller, Germany 2009, DVD, 11'

"The look with which we comprehend the world and which the world casts back at us in response breaks up in Contre-Jour into disquieting fragments. Blurs, flashes and stroboscope montages disintegrate reality into shadowy images that inflict pain on the eye. A spotlight precisely cuts the individual out of the darkness. 'I wish you could see what I see' remains a futile hope. Blind spots gape between self-perception and the perception of others." (Kristina Tieke)


Wilhelm & Birgit Hein, West Germany 1977, 16mm, 5'

With Weissfilm (White Film) the Heins ended a ten-year period of producing structural films: works that drew attention to the mediating presence and function of the film material itself. This comparatively short film consists of strips of transparent film leader, which are roughly spliced together. There is no negative; the film only exists in this one original print. Neither copies on film or video, nor a conversion into a digital format were ever made. With each screening that adds dust and scratches to the material, Weissfilm changes its entity.