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IAIN BAXTER& Super 8 INFORMATION &Contents Introduction

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Super 8 INFORMATION

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"We Move All the Time": An Interview with IAIN BAXTER&

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List of Super 8 films screened at Media City

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Biographical Information

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Media City Film Festival

Media City Editions: 1st printing May 2012


IAIN BAXTER&, Idaho, 1957


“We Move All the Time”: An Interview with IAIN BAXTER& Adam Lauder AL: How did you make the transition from a photographic practice to shooting films? IB&: When I went to teach at Simon Fraser University in 1966, as head of the visual arts division of the Centre for Communication and the Arts I was able to buy a Super 8 Beaulieu camera. As a result, I started to use a Super 8 camera a lot. Another really important thing that happened at Simon Fraser, which became really famous, was a 24-hour class that I did. Here’s what happened: the Centre for Communication and the Arts was a non-credit program, and I was teaching this course that was two hours a week for twelve weeks. One day I realized, oh, that’s really twenty-four hours. I thought that maybe you could learn just as much in twentyfour hours as you could stretching out the class into a twelve-week period. So what I did was to take Super 8 cameras, walkie talkies, still cameras and to pile all that gear into three cars with all the students, and we drove into the city. One of the important movies that we went to that day, which was a really interesting movie at that point in time, was Blow Up. So we saw Blow Up, and it was very stimulating. The main character worked with still photography, but it was also a movie about his perceptions about his environment. That was probably an influence on my films. And then the whole idea of all this multi-media in these cars, driving around the city and using all these pieces of technology — it was a kind of an early social media mobility structure. I’m always open to trying experiments. So that experience was also an energizing way to think about moving action. AL: Some of the Super 8 films are in a more documentary vein, starting with Gas, Plastic & Bagged Works (1965), which documents an early exhibition of your work at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. IB&: That was in ’65. So somehow I got access to a Super 8 camera before arriving at Simon Fraser. In any case, I was wanting to document the environment where these shows were happening. A really important influence on my career was my experience as an undergraduate working with my zoology professor at the University of Idaho, Earl Larrison. Down in southern Idaho, we were documenting the life of mice and other animals in their environment. It brought an ecological perspective and concern to all my subsequent work up to the present. And that’s become my whole way of life — a way of looking at the total world of global connectivity. Similarly, a lot of the Super 8 movies that I shot are just about phenomena that are happening. I’d be driving my truck somewhere and I’d just set up the camera and shoot things as I was driving along. I just like documenting the journey that we all 25


take in life. And recently I’ve adopted a turn of phrase that we’ve all said in our lives as we go along: “life is like a blur.” In a way, documenting these things is documenting the blur of how we go through our experiences. AL: It’s kind of like “flow”? IB&: Yeah, the flow, and the blur. And that’s where I like to play with the word “information,” because today information is flowing… it’s like a tsunami of “in-flowmation,” we don’t even notice it. People don’t realize that with Facebook and twitter, they’re in the waves, churning away. AL: Going back to your work with Earl Larrison, there’s a documentary aspect to some of your still photography as well as in your Super 8 films: can you elaborate on the links between your zoological training and the documentary idiom in your moving image work? IB&: It’s a kind of longer way of looking at something. A still-life way of looking at something that’s not necessarily still. But some of the things were still. I remember doing one of a radio that was just tuned to a station and the radio was just sitting there. It’s just a way of taking a different view of what stillness can be. Because we talk about still life and still waters and everything, but why can’t a movie just be about something still, and the movie doesn’t really move? AL: So the moving image was a way of looking at both stillness and blur? There’s a duality somewhere between the two running through your film work. IB&: Yes, and I know that all of that goes back to a resonance with Zen. Looking at the koans of life and the absurdities that we all deal with. I don’t know, all these things started coming together. AL: There’s also a relationship there with some of your photographs. I remember when we were speaking with Fred Herzog recently, something that he really zeroed in on was your compositional approach to the photograph: a lot of the objects that you’ve chosen to photograph are centred within the frame. IB&: I know that that probably comes out of my real affection for, and research into, Morandi, who had a way of taking still objects and placing them in these interesting compositions—but they’re all centrally-located, as a kind of bull’s eye. AL: And you bring that kind of painterly concern to your moving image work? 26


IB&: Yeah, I do. Centrality is something that interests me because it’s a way to focus stronger. AL: A lot of your representations of blur were shot from a moving car. I’m wondering if we can go back to Zen: what sort of relationship is there between Zen and the automobile and the experience of driving in your films? IB&: It’s like being really aware of the moment. A moment actually involves parts of moments that make this moment up. So, in a way, as you’re driving and filming these series of moments become the blur we all live in. AL: With some of these early uses of a Super 8 camera inside the car, were you consciously developing analogies between the automobile and the movie? IB&: Absolutely. The car’s like a big camera. And it’s rolling down the road and you’re in it. Not too many people shoot movies in cars. I would shoot all the telephone poles going by as I drove. I would just put the camera at the window and be driving down the road, and then just let it go. It’s nice, you see the blur, like [makes whooshing sounds]. There was a nice series once… there’s these farmers that plant rows of trees as wind-breakers—they’ll have them every half acre or so. And I remember somewhere once there was quite a complicated set-up: the guy had many, many of these rows. So when you went by, you just saw this thing coming and then go by — whoosh — and then another one. They’re very minimal. Kind of like minimal paintings, in a way. Minimal experiences. AL: During NETCO’s intervention at the 1970 conventions of the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA) in Vancouver and Seattle — during which Company personnel installed themselves amidst such legitimate, multinational concerns as IBM and Xerox — you screened the abstract films of the Whitney brothers on a portable television set, which you set up at NETCO’s trade booth. I know that one of John Whitney, Sr.’s sons, Mark, also spent time with you in North Vancouver. Did the Whitneys’ animated films influence your unique approach to the moving image as a record of flow? IB&: They were really into computer graphics. Totally animation things. That wasn’t something that I was into from a production standpoint. I appreciated Norman McLaren, the Canadian animator. The Whitneys’ work was a little different, because it was more computerdriven. The father, John Whitney, was one of the pioneers of computer animation. His son, Mark Whitney, visited me in Vancouver. He came up with his father to Simon Fraser. I think the time that we brought them there we had organized a computer conference. I invited John to bring a film component into the conference. And he brought several of his films there and showed them. His son Mark came as a kind of assistant. What happened was that Mark went 27


back to California and then later came back and stayed in Vancouver for a month or two. He worked with me as a kind of assistant. Then, later, he was involved in setting up the National Gallery show [N.E. Thing Co. Environment (1969)]. He was there, travelling in the car to Ottawa and everything. AL: The Whitneys’ films are distinct from your film work, not only because of their use of computer animation, but because they’re also very formal—they’re about line and pattern and so forth. But it strikes me that there is a kind of parallel in terms of capturing the passage or flow of the moving image. IB&: You’re right. That’s something that I appreciated in their work. AL: There’s also a focus on pure movement in their films that suggests parallels with your notion of film as “moving sensitivity information.” An early John Whitney film, Catalog (1961), proposed parallels between cinema and information that looks forward to some of your thinking, although, again, the Whitneys employed this very restricted formal vocabulary. IB&: They were pushing the boundaries of film, and that’s always an inspiration to me, an encouragement. AL: And what about Norman McLaren, did he have an influence? IB&: I actually met him. I went to Montréal and went to his office. I took a chance and went to the National Film Board, and he was just sitting in his office. I used to play his movies in my class as an educational tool. You know what I used to do? I would project the movies on the wall and then have the students come up and lie directly below the films on the floor, a foot or two away from the projection — you would just see lines and forms coming down at you. It’s a whole different way of looking. In my classes I was was always experimenting like that. I’m always wanting to see what’s different and new, but also have the students experience it with me. My classes are always very generative. There’s no rigid lesson plan. The lesson plan is to experiment and to see, which goes for me too. As a teacher you’re growing in the classroom, too. AL: Did you see a kind of parallel in the abstract films of the Whitneys, in their formal flow, with the non-verbal signs of hobos that informed your early conceptual work that set it apart from the more analytical concerns of fellow conceptualists? IB&: I appreciated the formalism that went into the making of those films — which is a kind of sensibility that I have too, for focusing on topics. Their films were totally abstract, and I appreciated that, but I preferred to work with the abstractness of reality and nature. 28


AL: Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) is another reference from your time at Simon Fraser through your screening of it as part of your 24-hr. class. Do you see parallels between the concerns of that work and the relationship between flow and stasis as well as the recurrence of objects filmed in close up in your own Super 8 work? IB&: I’m sure that it influenced me in a certain way, because that’s how I tend to look at things, in a deeper way: looking for other levels that can influence our perception of reality. The Super 8 film Still Life – The American Flag (1968) is a little bit like Blow-Up, because there’s just a little bit of data inside the film image. But it starts to give a whole other exciting reality to the image. The pole and everything is stationary, but the flag is moving just a little bit. The reason I started shooting it is that the flag was so tattered and torn, it’s almost like it shouldn’t have been flying. As in Blow-Up, it’s that detail that starts to animate your thoughts about what’s otherwise a very stationary and clichéd image. AL: Some of the early films were intended to be exhibited in a gallery, and they had specific instructions not to be projected as they would be in a traditional movie theatre. IB&: The first really specific one like that was about vacuum forms: how I hit on the vacuum form as a medium was as a way to make a work of art that was pretty much indestructible. To prove that, three movies were projected together, with three different projectors. The one on the left showed collecting the materials that became the vacuum form. The central one documented the vacuum form manufacturer, and I think maybe it showed the process of its making. But they were all only three or four minutes long. And then I don’t know if we looped them. Then the last one was showing how this vacuum form painting was indestructible. I had it, like, on a table, hammering it, and then drove a car over it. AL: Tell me more about the approach to the moving image that begins with films like that multiple-projection work and ends up with One Canada Video, where the display of the finished product really challenges the idea of watching a movie in a theatre, where spectators are seated inside a car. IB&: Basically, I’m a kind of explorer of information. AL: Are you inviting the viewer to explore along with you? IB&: Yes. It’s not just this traditional way of sitting in the theatre and watching a movie. Still Life – The American Flag was one film that specifically instructed the gallery to project the film by setting up the projector only three to four feet from the wall. AL: There’s a kind of diagram that accompanies that image. The instructions for the gallery 29


become a little piece of information that travels with the film. This seems to be a part of how you were also thinking about the moving image as information. For instance, the 1969 video, Clichés, was described as “visual sensitivity information.” Tell me a little bit more about your thinking about the moving image as information. IB&: Working in the Centre for Communication and the Arts at Simon Fraser really helped to gel my thinking about Moles and McLuhan, Carpenter and Hall, Gideon… because I was looking at all these thinkers and trying to figure out how to operate as this person who didn’t come from a traditional art background, which gave me this more scientific way of just looking at data. That dialogue and experience working with and talking to people from dance, and music, and theatre, and film, and lighting, and communication studies, helped to formulate all my ideas about looking at all the arts as just information. Sound and movies and dance would be movement sensitivity information; visual sensitivity information was for the visual arts; and theatre was experiential sensitivity information — because I think that all of theatre is just us all trying to replay our emotions. AL: In developing a language of sensitivity and an integrated vision of the arts, you create conditions that are conducive to a holistic person, who has the whole sphere of the arts at their disposal …a reintegration of the sensorium, to employ the vocabulary of McLuhan. Is that so? IB&: Yes, for sure. And what’s happening today is that the sensorium… everybody’s into it with Facebook. Facebook has become this method of allowing you to be in everybody’s headspace — and we all are, right? You’re hearing all kinds of strange things about how person X isn’t happy about event Y that’s happened. On the positive side, it’s bringing people together. AL: Today, you’re making video with digital cameras. And you’ve posted some of those videos to YouTube. Do you see that as continuing your earlier efforts to create an expanded cinema — because you’re taking the moving image out of the confines of the gallery or theatre? IB&: People are watching moving images everywhere now. All the videos that are going out onto YouTube and other web platforms are giving viewers a more ecological view of everything — because, all of a sudden, you’re watching events in Thailand, or some other farflung location. AL: Is it also continuing the project of breaking down the barriers between art and life that you pioneered in the 1960s? Today, you could be watching an art movie on your cell phone, or you could post your most personal or intimate event to a public space like Facebook. 30


IB&: Yeah, it’s really exciting. We’re living in a multi-media performance structure in many ways. And more and more people are participating, especially the younger generation. All of these developments are causing revolutions in a number of different senses of the word: from very serious political revolutions to revolutions in social interaction. AL: Does the moving image allow you to approach the blur of experience that informs so much of your work differently than a photograph? IB&: Yes, because it’s the only thing that moves. That’s the uniqueness of film and video. And that movement relates to how we move every day — we move all the time: our hands, our bodies. It’s an affirmation of the fact that we move. AL: So you see the moving image as related to the body? IB&: Yes. It’s an empathetic way to experience another geography or another experience. AL: In the videos that you’re creating now, you utilize a swimming pool as a kind of canvas. IB&: It’s a pool of data and inflowmation. AL: It’s a kind of field, let’s say, and the camera is fixed — you allow things to flow within the frame and invite the audience to experience that… IB&: The styrofoam heads that I’m working with are really interesting, because they shift in the pool in response to the unpredictable effects of wind and other environmental influences. AL: So, for you, at bottom the moving image is related to movement, to the moving body — it’s an “extension” of the body, as McLuhan discusses, an extension of the moving body. Your interest in walking as a way of thinking about perception in sculptural works such as Fahrenheit 450 (2009), does that relate to an expanded notion of the moving image as an experience of motion? IB&: Absolutely. We’ve entered a very interesting time because of mobile devices. They allow you to be mobile in several different ways: you are mobile physically, but they also keep you agile perceptually. It’s a total ambulatory experience of the image. It’s also about the movement of information.

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IAIN BAXTER& Super 8 INFORMATION

Film Curators Writers Project Coordinator Photography Graphic Design

Oona Mosna and Jeremy Rigsby in consultation with Srimoyee Mitra Adam Lauder, Jeremy Rigsby Nadja Pelkey ThenThereWas, IAIN BAXTER& ThenThereWas

Š Media City Film Festival. IAIN BAXTER&: Super 8 INFORMATION is presented in collaboration with the The Art Gallery of Windsor. The festival acknowledges the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the University of Windsor School of Visual Arts. This project was supported by a Media Arts Initiatives Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. All images courtesy of the artist. Printed in Detroit, Michigan

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IAIN BAXTER&: Super 8 INFORMATION Excerpt  

An excerpt of the upcoming publication IAIN BAXTER&: Super 8 INFORMATION published by Media City editions. Edited by Oona Mosna and Jeremy R...