press release

Robert Breer: Films Exhibition: 28 June - 8 Aug 2008 Robert Breer’s work runs the gamut of experimental, animated film: from painting on celluloid to experiments with single frames, to abstract minimalist structures with graphic lines in constant, morphous flux. A hallmark of his films is the static and presence of a single image that rhythmically drives the film outside of a linear or narrative structure.

Breer started his artistic career as neo-plastic painter in the late 1940s. In 1949, he moved to Paris and developed his concrete painting under influence of Piet Mondrian. The first flip-books and slide projections (drawing and painting on colour negatives) were filmed and choreographed - frame by frame - with his 16mm camera. They formed the basis of his early animated film series of abstract, morphing shapes: the Form Phases I-IV. This exhibition presents Form Phases IV (1954). In 1958, the same year Robert Breer abandoned "absolute" painting in favour of film, he started working with Kodachrome film material, absorbing the abstract elements of his purist style. The progression and variation of form in his animated films such as Recreation (1956-57) and A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957), play, as Laura Hoptman points out, with the moving and static image on the one hand, or a "concentration on unforgotten territories between two elements or notions, between abstraction and figuration, between his films and his painting and his later sculpture", and Marcel Duchamp’s idea of the "gauzy", the "infra-mince" on the other. (ex.cat. Breer, 2006)

Although Breer was in close contact with many artists of his generation - among them Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Victor Vasarely and Agnès Varda, during his Paris years and Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, George Brecht, Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman in the early 1960s in New York - he never aligned himself with any particular movement or art form. Later on, he met filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger or Jonas Mekas, and stressed in a 1983 interview that his most important influences were John Cage, Hans Richter’s film Rhythmus 21 and films by Len Lye and Jean Vigo. In the sixties, Breer developed his Float sculptures, slowly moving into space. He sees them less as kinetic objects than as sculptures that either isolate movement or activate the surrounding space. They became key elements in his number films, varying the vocabulary of forms in Fuji (1974) and Bang! (1986). His often heterogeneous combination of single images, drawing, photo collages and sound elements resembles the pattern in a woven carpet, blending elements into and out of each other to form a larger whole. Robert Breer’s work runs the gamut of experimental, animated film: from painting on celluloid to experiments with single frames, to abstract minimalist structures with graphic lines in constant, morphous flux. A hallmark of his films is the static and presence of a single image that rhythmically drives the film outside of a linear or narrative structure.

Breer started his artistic career as neo-plastic painter in the late 1940s. In 1949, he moved to Paris and developed his concrete painting under influence of Piet Mondrian. The first flip-books and slide projections (drawing and painting on colour negatives) were filmed and choreographed - frame by frame - with his 16mm camera. They formed the basis of his early animated film series of abstract, morphing shapes: the Form Phases I-IV. This exhibition presents Form Phases IV (1954). In 1958, the same year Robert Breer abandoned "absolute" painting in favour of film, he started working with Kodachrome film material, absorbing the abstract elements of his purist style. The progression and variation of form in his animated films such as Recreation (1956-57) and A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957), play, as Laura Hoptman points out, with the moving and static image on the one hand, or a "concentration on unforgotten territories between two elements or notions, between abstraction and figuration, between his films and his painting and his later sculpture", and Marcel Duchamp’s idea of the "gauzy", the "infra-mince" on the other. (ex.cat. Breer, 2006)

Although Breer was in close contact with many artists of his generation - among them Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Victor Vasarely and Agnès Varda, during his Paris years and Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, George Brecht, Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman in the early 1960s in New York - he never aligned himself with any particular movement or art form. Later on, he met filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger or Jonas Mekas, and stressed in a 1983 interview that his most important influences were John Cage, Hans Richter’s film Rhythmus 21 and films by Len Lye and Jean Vigo. In the sixties, Breer developed his Float sculptures, slowly moving into space. He sees them less as kinetic objects than as sculptures that either isolate movement or activate the surrounding space. They became key elements in his number films, varying the vocabulary of forms in Fuji (1974) and Bang! (1986). His often heterogeneous combination of single images, drawing, photo collages and sound elements resembles the pattern in a woven carpet, blending elements into and out of each other to form a larger whole. Supported by the Kulturamt (Arts Department), Stadt Köln

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Henning Engelke: Explosive Force of the Aesthetic. Underground Film and the Nuclear Bomb Lecture: 4 July 2008 The fascination with the visual aspects of technological modernity can be seen in a number of avant-garde films from the early 1960s, reflecting the anxiety of a time when nuclear war seemed an imminent reality. At the same time, avant-garde filmmakers adopted an increasingly political attitude, challenging commonly-held opinions on the relationship between art and society. Stan Vanderbeek’s animated film collages Science Friction (1959) and Breathdeath (1963) satirically undermine predominant media attitudes towards nuclear arms while aestheticising the technological landscape. The Hole (1963), a film by John and Faith Hubley, takes an entirely different approach, telling the story of two construction workers as they discuss the laws of chance before turning to questions of nuclear security.

Despite its traditional linear narrative structure, the animated drawings bring a number of associations to mind. While Vanderbeek’s films are situated within anti-cultural movement of the 1960s, Hubley’s more pedagogically-inclined films show the influence of the socially-engaged films of the 1930s. The lecture compares these varying filmic approaches on basis of changing concepts of the avant-garde, of animation techniques and debates on technology, science and media. In this context, the nuclear bomb becomes symbolic of the interface between aesthetic, ethical and academic discourses.

Film examples presented during the lecture: Stan Vanderbeek Science Friction 1959, 10’, colour, sound

"If this film has a social ambition, it is to help disarm the social fuse of people living in anxiety, to point out the insidious folly of competitive suicide (by way of rockets). In this film and others I am trying to evolve a ‘litera-graphic’ image, an international sign language of fantasy and satire. There is a social literature through filmic pantomime, that is, non-verbal comedy satire; a ‘comic-ominous’ image that pertains to our time and interests which Hollywood and the commercial cinema are ignoring. Juxtaposition and mistaken identity are two important factors in experimental comedy; what is the comic image? What is the comic catalyst? What about experimental comedy along the borders of dream and reality?" - Stan Vanderbeek, 1964

Breathdeath 1963, 15’, b/w, sound "Dedicated to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. A surrealistic fantasy based on the 15th century woodcuts of the dance of the dead. ... a film experiment that deals with the photo reality and the surrealism of life. It is a collage-animation that cuts up photos and newsreel film and reassembles them, producing an image that is a mixture of unexplainable facts (Why is Harpo Marx playing harp in the middle of the battlefield?) with the inexplicable act (Why is there a battlefield?). It is a black comedy, a fantasy that mocks death ... a parabolic parable." - Stan Vanderbeek

Faith Hubley und John Hubley The Hole 1962, 58’, colour, sound This animated film takes place deep inside the earth, where two construction workers are arguing about the opportunity, laws and dangers of nuclear destruction. An errant rat suddenly sounds the alarm for an air attack while a crane drops a load of debris with a deafening thud. Afraid that the "bomb" has been dropped, one of the construction workers climbs to the earth’s surface to have a look. The dialogue was improvised by Dizzy Gillespie and George Matthew. The Hole brought Faith and John Hubley their second Oscar in 1962.

Supported b the Kulturamt (Arts Department), Stadt Köln

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Robert Breer: Filme