"Tuned to a Shifting Ground: Film by Leslie Thornton"


WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2016 @ Electric Arts Intermix
535 W 22nd Street #5, New York, NY, 10011
7:00 - 9:30 PM


+ Tuned to a Shifting Ground - 90 minutes

"I want to spark the imagination into sensing something of a past, while at the same time giving a place for the images to have a full, awesome present. Not to privilege the past, but to experience wonder that it exists, like looking at stars."

Working for over four decades, Leslie Thornton has created an incredibly deep and complex body of films, videos and installations. For this event she will present some her earliest works and influences, and touch upon stages of her development as an artist and participant in the shifting ground of technological image making. Leslie Thornton studied with Brakhage, Sharits, Frampton and Leacock and locates her work as squarely emanating from avant-garde and verite cinematic traditions. She will trace her own aesthetic shifts from the coolness of structural film to a current interest in the strategies of engagement essential to narrative form. The evening will conclude with the premiere of a new work produced under the auspices of Mono No Aware. Entitled “Fog Fog Fog Ants,” the work combines a clash of hand-made film and digital imagery, with a beguiling and assaultive monologue performed by Thornton.


"I started watching experimental films at the Unitarian Church in Schenectady, New York when I was fifteen. Then I went to college and had the extreme good fortune of taking classes with many of the great American avant-garde filmmakers. I was beholden to their work, but I knew that I would find my own way and that is what I have done ever since, no end in sight. Each work is a new beginning.

I dig into emotional states and hidden histories. I am interested in textures of speech and gesture, in-and-of-themselves. I work as anthropologist of our own time and culture, and I explore dimensions offered by a variety of technological means, from contemporary to historical. In many ways technology shapes the dimensions and aesthetics of the voice and reflects its potential. This is my eternal concern and starting point. 

There is always a kind of electricity that arises in people when they get to do something with their hands, an energetic and contagious engagement with a task or project. It is an irony of our times that we would name such an instinctive and reflexive drive DIY. I do believe it is in our cultural, and perhaps our genetic makeup, to do things ourselves, to make things, starting with tools. And to engage with the knowledge, skill and wonder required by celluloid based filmmaking is one of the most perfect embodiments of this instinctive pleasure.

Mono No Aware is an organization predicated on and committed to this sense of wonder; conceptually, materially, technically, ethically it opens up a space for exploration, production, exchange and community, from the most direct, concrete, forms of making to the abstract immaterialities of the digital. The remarkable histories of the projected image are explored, discussed and practiced—a rare forum in our contemporary milieu.

Founded and directed by Steve Cossman, Mono No Aware has a visionary, rather than a nostalgic approach to media. Every aspect of the technical image can be examined and researched, historical and contemporary; the intimate relationships and affinities, as well as the differences and resistances between different modes of production—and thinking—come to stand out clearly, and as an inspiration. In 2015 Mono No Aware conducted a hand-processing workshop in my introductory class on filmmaking at Brown University— it electrified the class and profoundly changed the way that they will work, and how I will teach from here on out. As an artist and a teacher who has experienced the shift from 16mm to digital tech over the course of many years, I am still amazed, every year, when I ask my students why they want to learn to use a camera that they wind up with a spring, and that is so expensive for a few minutes of imagery. The answer is always the same, and it is the reason I continue to teach 16mm filmmaking. It is the discipline and the depth of knowledge required. They know it will help them down the road. Surprisingly, few say that it is the beauty of projected light. That changed this year for them and for me as well, in response to a workshop conducted by Mono No Aware. In the course of a few hours we went from unprocessed film rolls we had shot the previous week to films projected in the classroom that were, simply exquisite. Hand-made film. From that day on there were students running into the classroom with film stock draped across their arms or wrapped around their bodies, still drying. It changed the entire dynamic of the class, just those few hours. It put power into our hands, and offered aesthetic possibilities that were unimagined, beyond the scope of digital effects and plug-ins. What really struck me and was a surprise was the recognition that film really is made up of still photographs. Watching these progressions of flickering, pulsing light, the irregularities characteristic of our wet and wild hand-processing, we were experiencing a simultaneity - stillness and the illusion of movement, the 24 frames per second of film. It did not seem old; it seemed vital, this imagery. Alive and organic. The beauty of a technology so long lived and so stabile from its birth onward. Film cameras all work the same way, minus any bells and whistles. How many technologies this basic have produced so much in the world? Wheels, sewing machines, and a few others, seriously.

Among the great many laudatory comments concerning the activities of Mono No Aware. I would only add that their range is not constrained to celluloid; while that is their baseline and focus, they are also engaged in all aspects of the most contemporary technologies, from the digital, streaming, online presentation, teaching, to conducting seminars, promoting and producing programs, festivals, retrospectives, and similar activities. Mono No Aware also has a refined and effective internship program, giving ‘hands on’ experience to a wide variety of projects, developing skills from creative to administrative on a global scale.

Mono No Aware, under the visionary and tireless guidance of its founder, Steve Cossman, is a gift to us all, and its influence grows daily. It has a magnetic reach that draws students and audiences from around the world. Cossman is building a sanctuary for film that will not fade away. In part this is true because he uses any and all means, from the most original to the most current digital technologies, whatever is suitable, to teach and spread a love of image making that is truly in the hands, hearts and minds of its makers. No corporations need apply. There is mystery, but it is the mystery of the image, not of the machine without moving parts that arrives in a styrofoam box. Mono No Aware functions on a human scale dimension. We respond well to that.

Steve Cossman is also a bit of an urban legend, and what he has built and shaped with Mono No Aware is a vital and energetic community that is undaunted by thinking the contemporary, or rethinking the past, and doing so with creative inventiveness. Mono No Aware sets itself apart from other cinema/media organizations (Millennium Film Workshop, Filmmaker’s Cooperative, Anthology Film Archives, Spectacle, Light Industry) in a complementary fashion. Nonetheless Mono No Aware is absolutely unique in its varied approaches to media production and presentation. From classroom situations (Brown, Cooper Union) to on-site workshops (the Black Maria at the Edison Museum in New Jersey) to its home office/studio in Brooklyn, Mono No Aware is as impressive as it is necessary.” - Leslie Thornton