Ghost Algebra: Gorgeously Unsettling Animated Film by Janie Geiser


This is a brilliant animation from Janie Geiser who is a renowned theater and film artist specializing in the use of inanimate objects and toys to create unsettling and evocative films and performances. Her work has been screened worldwide, including at the Whitney, Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The film investigates the origins of the word ‘algebra,’ which turn out to be somewhat interesting. Frankly, I had never once even considered the word before watching this film.


It’s a subtle film. A beautiful but difficult film. Let’s think about this experimental film, shall we? What do we see in this film? Holes. Lots of them. Holes for looking through. There’s a little plastic doll who looks very 1940s, some birds, numerals, trees, and lots of grass. Blades of grass. When I see a little plastic girl doll looking into holes I see a filmmaker looking into a camera to investigate the world, or rather the mind, or perhaps the unconscious. This doll approaches an odd stone bunker on a hill and she peers into a small opening into darkness. It looks a bit like an old Nazi gun bunker. Carl Jung would approve! All experimental films should dig into the unconscious mind, I think. People throw ‘dreamlike’ around quite often these days when talking about films. There are very few dreamlike films. What most people mean by dreamlike is simply blurry. Anyway, our plastic doll sees things in storybook fashion that suggest nature and Nazis. There’s warfare going on. The precision of battle maps. The doll’s vision puts conflicting images of tamed nature description together with extreme violence. Nothing is attached properly to anything. Ideas do not lead to logical conclusions. Instead, they lead to odd constructions, more like what is required by the creative mind.

Geiser’s ‘algebra’ theme seems to peek through at times in images of severed limbs or broken bones, teeth, spilled blood, and of course the various number machines that pop up. The word algebra apparently used to have a meaning related to restoration or reunion, sometimes applying to the setting of broken bones which was often done in medieval times by a dentist who also performed bloodlettings. Interesting. But this film is not really about mathematics. At least not the usual kind. It’s about piecing together a vision of the world. Immersion.


1964 Bell Labs Film About How to Make Films with a Computer


This fascinating film was produced at AT&T’s Bell Labs in 1964. It was made by Ken Knowlton to describe the use of computers to make animated films. The film itself was created entirely on a computer. This is a glimpse into the groundbreaking work that led to the computer graphics we all enjoy so frequently today. Knowlton was both an artist and a computer graphics programmer who developed several programming languages for producing bitmap animations.

Interestingly, Ken Knowlton worked closely with pioneering experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek at the Bell Labs on many early computer animations. Vanderbeek is the subject of my prior post about his short film, ‘Science Friction.’


Science Friction: 1959 Experimental Film by Stan Vanderbeek


This is an amazing and beautiful film by pioneering American experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek. His work encompassed collage animations, live events, and early experiments with computer graphics.

The technological explosion of this last half-century, and the implied future are overwhelming, man is running the machines of his own invention… while the machine that is man… runs the risk of running wild. Technological research, development, and involvement of the world community has almost completely out-distanced the emotional-sociological (socio-“logical”) comprehension of this technology. The “technique-power” and “culture-over-reach” that is just beginning to explode in many parts of the earth, is happening so quickly that it has put the logical fulcrum of man’s intelligence so far outside himself that he cannot judge or estimate the results of his acts before he commits them…

Stan Vanderbeek


Jeff Keen’s Dreams of the Archduke Sketchbook


This is a short film made for a gallery showing of works by the late great British artist and filmmaker, Jeff Keen. It’s a soundless page turn through a series of brilliant and inspiring pages in a sketchbook. If you are at all familiar with his amazing film work, you will see how directly connected to that work these pages really are.



If you are unfamiliar with Keen’s incredible and very influential film work, here is a treat for you. It’s his ‘Marvo Movie’ from 1967.


Paris Photo Does Los Angeles

Taschen book publishers had a store on the Paramount backlot.

Recognizing Los Angeles as the world art center that it is, Paris Photo brought its world famous exposition of photography to the Paramount Studios lot for three days (April 26 – 28). The expo featured sixty international galleries and twelve book publishers, all given mini-gallery spaces that temporarily converted two giant Paramount sound stages into world class museums complete with screening rooms for the moving image portion of the expo.

I paid $40 to get a day pass and a copy of the catalog which provided information on all the presenting galleries and publishers. Each gallery had a page to offer one of its offered images. The book turned out to be a small but handsome little paperback. I wanted something bigger and better than that. A grand show like this needs a nice hardback catalog with pristine prints inside. I would certainly have been willing to pay much more for such a program book. As it was, I felt like we were given something on the slight side and it did not do justice to the depth and breadth of the exposition's still photography offerings.

Backlot storefronts became small galleries.

There was a lot to see and to be inspired by. World famous photographers covering decades of the art were shown. I'm always struck by the boredom turned to perception beauty of William Eggleston's pictures, a few of which were there. I saw some unsettling landscapes by Hiroyuki Masuyama that looked like 19th century Italian paintings. There was a mysterious dark image from Sally Mann, 1960s images of street life by Fred Herzog, ghostly disorienting photos and videos by Marion Tampon-Lajarriette, impossible industrial/medieval structures by Filip Dujardin, experimental videos by Gabor Osz, mixed media by filmmaker Bruce Conner, and photographs by Wallace Berman, to name but a small handful of the artists on display.

Soundstage 32 was one of two converted to galleries.

I was curious about how artists are using light boxes and videos. I am normally rather unimpressed with the lightbox format as it seems to try to artificially pump up a photograph. There were quite a few of those hanging around. However, one artist used the lightbox combined with inserted areas of high definition video to really intelligent and hilarious effect. This guy, Gregory Scott, builds up a scene by surrounding an inserted video element that meshes seamlessly with the still areas to create an intricate, well-timed commentary on both the creation and consumption of art. Imagine an image of a museum with paintings on the wall. Inside each painting we see the artist at work building the image. But his work extends to the deconstruction and reconstruction of the museum itself. These pieces were fascinating, entertaining and very expensive.

My big criticism of Paris Photo comes in the area of the moving image screenings. That segment was grossly inferior. I was able to watch precisely two films all day long at the Sound and Vision screenings. They were the classic experimental film, 'La Jetee' by Chris Marker and 'Breakaway' by Bruce Conner. They are both films from the 1960s and they are brilliant works. But I wanted films man! Lots of them. Don't try to show me how photography blends into film by throwing two films from the sixties at me! Make your case. Overwhelm me. And do it every day of the expo. What you spread out over three days is cheating. Sure, there were some other moving image offerings at mini-galleries, but this was a supposedly major element of Paris Photo and they just got stingy with it. I almost felt as if perhaps the organizers didn't want me sitting too long in a dark screening room where I would not be purchasing anything. Big weak spot here. It is significant and needs to be fixed. Really this shouldn't be hard. In a world where we can get educated on experimental film via YouTube a curator must do a hell of a lot better than this.

Paris Photo, despite its moving image shortcomings, is a welcome addition to the Los Angeles scene. It's inspiring because, unlike the studio that hosted the expo, it treats images seriously. You know, the way things are done in grown up places like New York and Paris. Everything about L.A. is sort of covert and most serious things are required to exist on the fringe. But it's not a bad thing for serious art to orbit a grotesquely commercial and vapid center. One can feed off of fantastic absurdity and consider it part of what a city has to offer (see photo below).

If one wandered, one encountered security.