in praise of the ordinary
Jonas Mekas in Montreal, 2013
Now in his nineties, Jonas Mekas is at full creative strength. He is celebrating life with a series of major events, including a complete retrospective at the Pompidou centre in Paris, the release of key films on DVD and the publication of the first catalogue raisonné of his work. Born in Lithuania, deported in 1944 to a German labour camp and arriving in New York in 1949 as a refugee, today Jonas Mekas lives and works in Brooklyn. Founder of the journal Film Culture and columnist for the Village Voice, he was instrumental in establishing the landmark Anthology Film Archives.
Throughout the various periods of his work, Jonas Mekas has always drawn on the concrete aspects of his daily life, constantly capturing in fragmentary form the events unfolding around him. This uninterrupted daily activity was confronted with the new technologies he began to take up, qualitatively altering the appearance and structure of his films. The era when he used a Bolex camera and edited celluloid film was one of flowing forms broken down to the individual film frame. The Festival du Nouveau Cinéma presents us with an opportunity to revisit some of these historical pearls. The subsequent period, working with video, gradually brought Mekas closer to the events records and, more remarkable still, saw the photogram extended considerably to become a sequence shot. Sleepless Nights Stories, projected at the Phi Centre, introduces this phase. While the third and most recent period has preserved and perhaps even accentuated the accomplishments of Mekas’ video work, it has resolutely adopted the multimedia specificities of the Internet with respect to both its production and its dissemination, or rather its consultation. 365 Day Project and First 40, two works designed for the web, take the form of an installation in the Phi Centre’s exhibition gallery.
365 Day Project is made up of a series of short films and videos joined to form a calendar. Beginning January 1, 2007, Mekas invited the general public (both the people around him and complete strangers) to screen a new short film each day, as its title indicates. These films, whose length varies between one and twenty minutes, were shown online. Each day a new capsule was unveiled, adding to those already available and reaching in the end nearly thirty-eight hours of moving images. The Phi Centre is presenting these images on twelve screens in a manner that follows the project’s chronology. Each monitor, coming to life on the centre’s walls, represents one month of the year, while together they create a complete chronicle of the life of the artist.
The series First 40, made up of portraits based on previous works by Jonas Mekas, is being shown alongside this installation. First 40 is a tribute to the artists and places that have left their mark on Mekas. Presented on a touch screen, this work is broadcast directly from the artist’s site jonasmekas.com.
These most recent works by Jonas Mekas continue on from all of his previous work by giving praise to the ordinary in a manner faithful to his filmed diary practice, a genre he adopted at the outset of his career. At the same time, however, they take this everyday practice a step further, under the influence of video broadcast technology and web sharing.