Monday, 23 March 2009


WHEN: 6pm, Wednesday 25 March 2009
WHERE: Room 741, 41 East 11th Street (between University Place and Broadway)
ALL WELCOME. Refreshments provided.

The theme for the Colloquium's fifth season is Information. We present aseries of experimental films that explore the status of film as medium andas information system. These innovative and challenging films explore thefollowing informatic issues: the alphabet as information system; algorithmic aesthetics; the duality of narrative and archive; genetics and bio-information; the energy and entropy of physical systems; cyborgs and the posthuman.

We begin this Wednesday with STRANGE CULTURE, by Lynne Hershmann Leeson. Starring Tilda Swinton, this experimental documentary explores the possibilities of film as a public information system. Hershmann Leeson uses interviews, animation, and dramatic episodes to recreate the case of the artist Steve Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). The CAE use art to explore issues of intellectual property, bio-engineering, and public health.When Kurtz's wife died suddenly in 2004, the Office of Homeland security misinterpreted his materials, which included petri dishes and biological materials, as a bomb making laboratory and arrested him on chanrges of bioterrorism. STRANGE CULTURE explores the limits of free speech in an atmosphere of public hysteria and manufactured emergency.

STRANGE CULTURE will be introduced by Howard Besser. Howard Besser is a Professor of Cinema Studies at NYU and Director of the Masters Program in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation. For more than 20 years he has been working at the intersection of emerging technologies, culture, and policy.

Monday, 9 March 2009


25 September 2008

RAPE (dir. Yoko Ono, 1969), 77 min.

Described by critic Jim Hoberman as “one of the most violent and sexually charged movies ever made – even if flesh never touches flesh”, this proto-stalker narrative features a young woman, a European student living illegally in London, who is tracked and pursued through the streets of the capital and into the bedroom of her apartment. The student, it is important to note, was not an actress and did not know why she was being followed. According to a contemporary reviewer RAPE “does for the age of television what Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ did for the age of totalitarianism.” A pioneering exploration of surveillance aesthetics that anticipates Christopher Nolan’s ‘Following’ (1998) and Chris Petit’s ‘Unrequited Love’ (2006), it dramatizes many of the arguments about the male gaze articulated by Laura Mulvey in her famous essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1973). As for the film’s biographical resonances, the final word should go to Ono herself: “a lot of my works have been a projection of my future fate. It frightens me.”

The screening will be presented by Joshua T. Chambers-Letson from the Department of Performance Studies at NYU. He is currently completing his dissertation on performances of racial exception in contemporary US, as well as editing an issue of ‘Women and Performance’ on women in global politics. His work has also appeared in ‘TDR’, ‘Topic Magazine’, and ‘Dance Research Review’.


9 October 2008

THE VIENNESE AKTIONISTS (1963-2003), 60 min.

"I slowly climbed up a ladder and urinated on the woman and the pig’s heart in the bed below. At that point, a woman’s libber lost control. She rushed the ladder on which I stood and screamed: ‘You pig, you filthy swine!’ I had 1kg of flour and dusted her down with it. A white fog. She screamed again, ‘You swine!’ and she was gone, vanished. In the meantime, someone attempted to pelt me with potatoes.” The passing of time has done nothing to dull the visceral, transgressive impact of the work of Otto Muehl, Gunter Brus, Hermann Nitsch and Rudolf Schwarzkogler, the four artists most readily associated with Viennese Aktionism. Treating human bodies as canvasses that might be splattered, smeared or engorged with a wide range of substances and fluids, they staged a series of experimental performances and blood-rites, as ecstatic as they were perverse, alienating as well as alienated, that sought to provoke, liberate and exorcise their fellow city-dwellers whom they saw as being still in thrall to the tyrannies of Nazified instrumental reason. Their work, according to Amos Vogel, is infused with the “stench of concentration camps, collective guilt, unbridled aggression, hallucinatory violence that ... has the dimensions of an atavistic generalized myth of evil.”

The work of the Aktionists proved to be not uncontroversial. Members were attacked, arrested, jailed, and even forced into exile. They were viewed, in a phrase associated with Throbbing Gristle (a band heavily influenced by the Aktionists’ aesthetic principles and performance strategies), as “wreckers of civilization”. And yet, although documentation of their immolatory, libidinal ceremonies has been notoriously hard to track down, their body of work has held a persistent fascination for scholars interested in the unmooring of performance from its theatrical traditions, in creative Reichianism, and in the kinds of fissile psychotics later showcased at the famous ‘Destruction In Art’ symposium in London in 1966. Its influence on artists, from the The Living Theater’s Julian Beck to renowned body artists such as Ron Athey and Franko B, is also widely acknowledged. The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture is very pleased to be presenting a selection of films by Gunter Brus and Hermann Nitsch, among them WIENER SPAZIERGANG (1965), KUNST AND REVOLUTION (1968) and DAS ORGIEN MYSTERIEN THEATER (1963-2003). Collectively they form, in the words of writer Stephen Barber, “an active detritus with the enduring potential to overturn and transform whatever it comes into contact with.”

The films will be presented by Aaron Levy is the Executive Director of Slought Foundation. As a Senior Curator, his projects topically intervene in contemporary debates around art, architecture, geopolitics, and critical theory. He teaches in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania and his publications include ‘Evasions of Power: On the Architecture of Adjustment’ (2009) and ‘Blood Orgies: Hermann Nitsch in America’.


23 October 2008

Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in Israel (dir. Ari Libsker, 2007), c.60min
+ extra short: Sick Film (dir. Martin Creed, 2006), 20 min

"Stalags" is the name given to a furtive genre of pornographic pocket books that flourished in Israel at the start of the 1960s. These cheaply-produced pulps, written in Hebrew, were set in WW2 concentration camps and described at great and salacious length the torture of Jewish prisoners by gorgeous female Nazi officers wielding whips and wearing little but thigh-high leather boots.The stalags, appearing at a time when public conversations about the Holocaust were scarce, were sold at train-station kiosks and city-center newsstands. They were lapped up both by schoolchildren and adults who exulted in this transgressive reactivation of repressed recent history and collective consciousness. Little did they know that the books, which claimed to be translations of American originals, were actually penned by authors closer to home…

STALAGS is a fascinating documentary, made by young director Ari Libsker, that excavates a perverse stratum of Israeli popular culture that has long been seen as both mystifying and shameful. It tracks down bibliophiles who collect these now covetable titles, sheds light on their obscure origins, and puts them into fascinating dialogue with the Eichmann trial that began in 1961. It is a must-see, not least for anyone interested in the politics of popular culture, the historical relationship between sex and fascism, and the role of pornography in catalyzing social change.

SICK FILM, exclusively screened here, is a short by Turner-Prize-winning artist Martin Creed about - vomit transcendence.


I3 December 2008

MPORT/ EXPORT (dir. Ulrich Seidl, 2007)

"The truth is we are dying. It’s a curious thing, a town dying. A person dying I can understand. But a whole town dying...” “What will happen if the town dies?” “What will happen? Nobody knows. They'll all just run away before that.” (Murakami, ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’, 2003)

The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture is very proud to present the first New York screening of IMPORT/ EXPORT, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s supremely revelatory and breathtakingly fierce panorama of modern-day Europe. Premiered to considerable acclaim at Cannes in 2007 where, according to one critic, it confirmed Seidl’s status not just as the modern-day heir of Fassbinder and Pasolini, but as the “Diane Arbus of world cinema”. It is a film of two journeys: that of Olga, a young mother from Ukraine who moves to Austria where, via stints in housekeeping and internet pornography, she ends up working at a geriatric hospital; and that of Pauli, a vicious-dog loving security guard from Austria who accompanies his stepfather on a bacchanalian trip across Eastern Europe as they try to install gumball machines in Roma slums.

Photographed by American cinematographer and long-time Herzog associate Ed Lachman (‘The Virgin Suicides’, ‘I’m Not There’), IMPORT/ EXPORT features the director’s trademark use of non-professional actors, real environments and visceral tableaux that blur the boundary between fiction and documentary and establish landscapes as visually striking and terrifying as any to be found in a horror movie.IMPORT/ EXPORT is a work of the utmost political importance. It is also, in its rigour and fearlessness, its sorrow and pitilessness, an outstanding artistic achievement.

The screening will be introduced by Fatima Naqvi, Associate Professor and Graduate Director in the Department of Germanic, Russian and East European Languages and Literatures at Rutgers University. She is the author of ‘The Literary and Cultural Rhetoric of Victimhood: Western Europe 1970-2005’ (2007) and of a forthcoming book on Michael Haneke. She has also written on Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý, Elfriede Jelinek, Anselm Kiefer and Thomas Bernhard.


5 February 2008

BORN IN FLAMES (dir. Lizzie Borden, 1983), 80 minutes

“The right to violence is like the right to pee: you’ve gotta have the right place and the right time.” One of the headiest, most fiercely out-there independent films of the 1980s, BORN IN FLAMES is an unclassifiable mash-up of science fiction, post-No Wave docudrama and exercise in radical dialectics. Set ten years after the Social Democratic War of Liberation, it depicts a tumbledown, self-proclaimedly Socialist New York in which competing groups of women, when they’re not pedaling across the city on their bicycles in order to attack macho idiots and discontented hard-hats hitting on their sisters, fight for a braver, more combatively feminist new order.

BORN IN FLAMES is a seething, combustible and strangely joyous time capsule of a film, populated by black separatists, vigilante groups and brusque FBI agents, that was inspired in part by the Italian free-radio movement of the 1970s and 1980. It features a range of downtown luminaries - Adele Bertei (The Contortions, The Bloods), Kathryn Bigelow and, in his first screen appearance, Eric Bogosian – and is accompanied by a terrific soundtrack of post punk, art rock and hip hop. A feminist classic, a piercing critique of the media structures that pervert and betray social reality, as well as a bulletin from the frontline of a still-raging set of ideological conflicts, its scene of the World Trade Center being bombed alone makes it an absolute must see.

The screening will be introduced by Asad Raza, writer and PhD candidate in the English department at NYU.


19 February 2008

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT (dir. Julia Loktev, 2006), 94 minutes

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT, the feature debut of Julia Loktev is a quite extraordinary film, already hailed as a modern classic, that follows a young American woman on her journey across Manhattan in order to blow up Times Square. Who is she? Why is she doing this? These are questions that Loktev keeps hanging in the air as she tracks, with forensic detail, dry wit and a chilly sensuousness, the shifting micro-topographies through which the woman moves. The resulting tour-de-force is a million miles removed from the winsome mumblings and coercive irony of so many American indie films these days. And yet, though it was one of the best received works at Cannes 2006, its apparent subject matter has meant that it has struggled to command the critical attention or the distribution it deserves.

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT abjures all the clichés of suicide-bombing documentaries or of recent apocalyptic-NYC blockbusters. Its handling of questions of race and ethnicity is meticulously oblique, necessarily elliptical. Loktev, a graduate of NYU Film School, has created an ambient essay, meditative and as gripping as a 'Bourne'-trilogy thriller, about female agency, urban performance, the poetics of terror. Beautifully shot and sound-designed, with a remarkable lead performance by newcomer Luisa Williams, the film invites comparison with Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, as well as with the work of Chantal Akerman and Sophie Calle.

The film will be presented by Patrick Deer, Assistant Professor of English literature at NYU and author of the forthcoming 'Culture In Camouflage'.