Year-End Student Film and Video Screeners: Emerson College Edition

From the Golden Gate to Farallones

Film Still from “From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallones” Courtesy of Jack Bushell and Bushell Film.

Rarely do we ever get to read about the work of students graduating from one of the film and video programs in the Boston area. On Wednesday April 6, the Department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College presented its fifth annual festival of documentary films, featuring work completed by both undergraduate and graduate students at the college. Diverse in scope, the films presented on this evening truly emphasize the great filmmaking talent that is coming out of Emerson College, yet most of us in the blogosphere have barely paid any attention to them.

The evening started off with a journey to China by ways of Cheng Jing and Xianglong Li’s observational-style documentary “A Different New Year,” which follows two girls in China’s Sun Village—a voluntary adoption center for children whose parents are in prison. While the film won the Boston Creative Pro User Group Award for Best Editing, much of the story was difficult to follow and not because of the editing, but because of the subtitles.

Dan Albright and Andy Keyes presented their film “A Living Wage”—an expository-style documentary that chronicles the struggles of two service workers at the forefront of the $15 minimum wage movement in Boston. A Living Wage is one of the dozens of films out there documenting the lives of people trying to survive on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, I just wished the filmmakers had dug deeper into the lives of the two main characters to tell a much more compelling story.

a living wage

Film Still from “A Living Wage” by Dan Albright and Andy Keyes. Courtesy of Dan Albright and Andy Keyes.

With an almost experimental feel to it, undergraduate student Mustapha Kelloud directs an impressionistic and moody portrait of a blind man in “Out of Focus.” Shot using a soft-focus approach, the technique underscores the subject’s blindness and really gets to the heart of the matter, but the first couple of minutes of the film are unnecessarily too uncomfortable to watch—that’s if the sight of needles and blood make you feel slightly squirmish.

John General’s “A Dialogue with Islam,” sets out to investigate the question of whether or not Islam is a violent religion. Through the use of some personal archival video footage and interviews with leaders in the Greater-Boston Muslim community, General has set the stage for a more thorough investigation of this question for his next film.

One of the most breathtaking and refreshingly shot documentaries of the night tells the story of marathon swimmer, Simon Dominguez as he attempts to become the first person to complete a 30-mile swim from Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands. Directed by undergraduate Jack Bushell, with cinematography by Bushell and Alec Rodrigues, “From the Golden Gate to the Farallones,” is both heartwrenching and inspiring.

Closing the night with another inspiring portrait is Hannah Engelson and her film “Jonah Stands Up,” about Jonah Bascle, a New Orleans artist, comedian and political activist born with muscular dystrophy.  Poignant, funny and memorable, the film reminds us all that life is always worth living to its fullest, just as Jonah did.

Lacking the Vision to Creatively Reuse a Brutalist Building, Providence Opts for Its Demolition

Fogarty Building

The Fogarty Building, Courtesy of the City of Providence, archive photo gallery

The Providence Journal is reporting that the Fogarty Building in Providence will finally be torn down and replaced with a high rise hotel. As you may know by reading this blog or by following me on Twitter, I am a big fan of the concrete architecture of the sixties and seventies and an even bigger fan of the Fogarty Building. An outstanding example of Brutalist architecture in Downtown Providence, the John E. Fogarty Memorial Building was designed by the Providence firm of Castellucci, Galli & Planka. It opened in 1968. Unfortunately, the news that it will be torn down is not surprising as no one could find a creative solution that would save the building and some wanted to see its destruction from the beginning.

Occupying an entire city block, the three-story building—reminiscent in many ways to Boston’s great Boston City Hall—ushered in a new era full of optimism for Providence. Constructed using reinforced concrete, the building was originally commissioned to house the state’s welfare services. It then became the home of Department of Human Services until 1999.

While on the city’s watch, the building fell into disrepair and crumbled. It eventually was transformed into an ugly duckling; an eyesore too ugly and too hated to be saved from the wrecking ball.

Ignored by city officials and pedestrians (except those with a deep appreciation for its beauty), The Fogarty Building remained vacant for many years, often inviting unfavorable criticism from the public and even the city’s then architecture critic who favored the Georgian Revival style seen all over Providence over the architecture of the Recent Past that dominates much of the Downtown Arts District (you can read David Brussat’s words here, and here. The list goes on and on).

Over the years, many forms of redevelopment had been proposed, but nothing came to fruition—the building was too hip, too fresh and too young for a city that refused to embrace a forward-looking structure such as this one.

When I lived in Providence, the Fogarty Building was one of my favorite buildings, and still is. This past Fall I traveled to Providence to use the print studios of AS220, a non-profit organization located in Downtown Providence, half a block away from the Fogarty Building. While at AS220, I worked on a print of—wait for it—the Fogarty Building. I’ll miss this building terribly and I know others who appreciated it, will too.


Instagram of my Fogarty Building print.

I’ll be heading down to Providence within the next week or so to say my final goodbye to this Heroic piece of 20th century architecture in Providence. If you would like to learn more about Providence’s Modern and Recent Past architecture, there is a self-guided walking tour of downtown buildings. I highly recommend you take a stroll this Spring and admire works by the likes of Paul Rudolph and I.M. Pei among others.

The American Textile History Museum Announces It Will Close Its Doors as Part of a Restructuring Plan

On November 4, 2015, the American Textile History Museum in Lowell announced that it will close its doors on December 31, 2015 to undergo a “significant transformation.” The announcement, which came in the form of a press release, was posted on the museum’s website. Citing a significant deficit that has been depleting the museum’s shrinking reserves as well as on-going financial problems for almost 20 years, the ATHM is also citing low attendance and high operating costs.

The museum is no stranger to closing its doors and restructuring. In 2005, it permanently closed the Textile Conservation Center and sold part of its Dutton Street building where it is currently located for conversion into mixed-use space. Following a successful fundraising campaign, the museum reopened to the public in 2009.

The Smithsonian Institution affiliate boasts of one of the finest collections of textiles, clothes, tools and machinery as well as books and ephemera in North America. The ATHM has hosted a number of critically acclaimed traveling exhibitions which included Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol and High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture among others. It has also organized some very outstanding exhibits such as Grace and Glamour: 1930s Fashion and Color Revolution: Style Meets Science in the 1960s drawing exclusively from their own renowned collection.

The museum, which is very difficult to get to using public transportation has vowed to keep its research center available on a limited basis. It is unclear when the American Textile History Museum will open its doors once again or exactly how large is the current budget deficit, but with this announcement also comes a new fundraising campaign that will, according to the press release, “help preserve and protect the Museum’s unparalleled collection of American artifacts, as well as enable ATHM to effectively transform and continue to fulfill our mission for generations to come.”

I’ve obviously been a fan of the American Textile History Museum—I’ve written about their exhibits numerous times and have been a cheerleader for them on social media, but as an outsider I sensed their financial struggles which were reflected on their lack of social media presence, outreach and marketing. I wish the museum the best and hope they can come out of this a much leaner and stronger organization. I’ll look forward to visiting the museum before it closes its doors on December 31, 2015.

Featured Image: Evening Gown, Label: Christian Dior, Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, Autumn-Winter 1989-1990, Silk Crepe, Silk Organza. Gift of Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale. FIDM Museum Collection. 2006.116.113 Detail. From the exhibition High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture.

A Conversation: William Cordova at the Boston Center for the Arts

William Cordova, the House that Frank Lloyd Wright built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, 2006 (installation view, Arndt & Partner, Berlin, 2006). Wood, books and suspended drawing, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist; courtesy Arndt & Partner Berlin

Born in Lima, Peru and raised in Miami, Florida, William Cordova is an internationally known artist practicing across multiple disciplines. Having earned his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996 and his MFA from Yale University in 2004, Mr. Cordova has exhibited at MoMA PS1, the 2008 Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial and Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston among many other national and international museums and galleries. Mr. Cordova was just awarded $25,000 as part of the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s 2011 Painters and Sculptors Grant Program.

The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts is currently hosting William Cordova’s first solo exhibition in the city curated by Evan J. Garza—the Exhibitions and Public Programs Coordinator for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  On view until April 15th, this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) brings together new and recent works in sculpture, installation, video and works on paper that give meaning to the past in a contemporary context.

On Friday February 10, 2012 an informal conversation was held at the BCA’s Plaza Theater with William Cordova, Evan J. Garza and Jose Falconi, Curator for the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

Mr. Garza opened the conversation by briefly introducing Cordova’s the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, a structure made of two by fours that remakes the apartment layout of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two Black Panther members killed by the Chicago Police. The work, which is included in the exhibition at The Mills Gallery, formed the foundation for this Boston show.

William on his process and the evolution of the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark:

There are different ways that that piece evolved. In general, I’m interested in architecture and how to represent ideas of resistance through architecture. I’m often gravitating to material history that can represent that or does represent that.

I’m trying to activate certain materials, certain histories for us to reconsider ourselves, how we sometimes are seeing it from a detached perspective. While it may not be happening to us, we assume we have no relationship to that history or that situation, but in actuality, we are probably a lot closer than not.

I tend to create a lot of parallels even in the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Fred Hampton,” “Mark Clark.” Those relationships may not necessarily be obvious. The way I wanted to approach these projects or art making, was not by limiting myself to making a representation of an image or a situation by making a painting and putting it up on a wall. I wanted to provoke or challenge the way we think and painting can do that, I don’t think it would have been enough for what I wanted to do.

I was thinking about building materials, structures, symbols that represent something in transition.

I am sure everyone is familiar seeing a house—half-way built before there are dry walls; before the electrical parts are installed; before the roof. What I wanted to do was show that first part where you have the foundation and stop there; suggest to the viewer, to provoke them questions. What’s next? Are you going to add something else? Why isn’t there something else in here? Why does it suppose to be revealing?  What does that have to do in relationship to the title, to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, to the individuals—the activists.

The piece in a way is a transitional piece, is a labyrinth, it’s also a monument, it’s a shrine.  It has different entry points; it’s also very layered. It isn’t specifically about one thing—it isn’t about Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Frank Lloyd Wright—but about many situations or histories.

The conversation then shifted to the idea of forgotten historical narratives and how we perceive monuments. This part of the discussion focused on the installation the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark. Cordova discussed his interest in language as it develops in his works in particular in the title piece of the exhibition this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros)—a video-sound installation that juxtaposes audio from Federico Garcia Hurtado’s  1984 film Tupac Amaru and video from the documentary by Peter Spirer Thug Angel—about Tupac Amaru Shakur

William Cordova on language, its meaning, and how titles emerge in his works:

I’m interested in language. I am interested in language and how we interpret it. How we communicate. I am interested in presence and how that is represented or how we represent with others. But I am also aware that in our society of the condition of trying to divide things, categorize and separate and so we might not be able to relate to one another because we’re conditioned just to have certain divisions, even though they may not inherently be there.

I’m more interested in the commonalities than the divisions. I am interested in writing and literature; that’s a big influence in my work.

Untitled (geronimo I & II), 2006-2012. Reclaimed paper bag, feathers, aerosol can. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the lyrical quality in his titles:

I try to appeal to many different groups, many different audiences and a lot of it is through written word. Some of it is more abstract, some of it is more literal—in order to appeal to as many people as possible.

I incorporate popular culture imagery to a certain extent. I don’t want to promote it or rely on it when I question it and slow it down—how we consume that type of imagery or any type of imagery. A lot of times visual art is considered entertainment. It’s like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, you get it?—and then you move on. It shouldn’t be about that.

Certain work rely more on certain titles, but I am not relying on the title to do the work for the visual art.

The work that I do is completely installation based, so all the works and all the components are in conversation and isolated they may not function the same way. It is really important that all the ingredients are in the same bowl. Otherwise certain things might not necessarily trigger the initial idea I had in mind, but it is all open for interpretation. It just depends on how we are conditioned to absorb, receive or interpret it.

this is not 4 U (I miss U already…), 2009 Aluminum foil, cardboard, reclaimed Plexiglas, tape 17 x 29.5 x 7 inches 43.2 x 74.9 x 17.8 cm. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Mr. Cordova on the concept of temporality and how he treats the life of the object he creates (there is a work influenced by the Nazca lines in the window space of the gallery that was created specifically for this show and for that space—therefore will not exist in any other gallery or museum):

A lot of times we rely on digital cameras or digital recordings and everything comes really quick. We don’t necessarily take time to value that moment. When we see something, we to start taking pictures with our phones—and there is something that is lost when we have so much access. It’s like always having candy in a bowl–you won’t desire it because it’s always there. I did this site-specific piece on the floor of the institution [Mills Gallery] and I wanted to represent something that is very close to me, but at the same time it is not something that can be transported and displayed somewhere else. I didn’t want to put any type of financial or superficial value to it. I wanted it to exist. It is not something that you see at every installation. It depends on the space.

The conversation ended with the concept of constellations and how we form our own ideas of representations. Mr. Garza commented on William’s ability to take points that exist in different points in time and in space and connect them to create bridges between them. These connections and bridges are observed throughout this exhibition at Mills Gallery.

This talk  illuminated many of the works in this exhibition and allowed those in attendance to search for a deeper meaning in Mr. Cordova’s works. William Cordova provided a framework to not only better understand the House that Frank Lloyd Wright Built for Fred Hampton y Mark Clark, but also invited us to draw our own parallels with this and other works within the exhibition. William Cordova: this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) is on view until April 15, 2012.