By Saskia Monshouwer
Cracking the Frame Presents opened yesterday with the film A Space Program: A European premiere, proudly highlighted by artistic director Christian Pazzaglia in his opening speech. Feeling just a tad uneasy, standing behind the lectern in front of the silver screen with art program director Heidi Vogels at his side. “Normally I walk up and down the stage while introducing a film”, he says, holding a big bottle of Champagne he was gifted by Rialto to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Cracking the Frame. “But I hope you enjoy the festival and our opening film, A Space Program.”
I did not know what to expect from this film by Van Neisat about the installation of Tom Sachs and this team, but I was blown away the moment I saw the opening scenes. At a fast pace the main players were introduced: Everyday materials such steel, plywood, and resin, and the people handling them to create the instruments and vehicles for their simulated space adventure.
The storyline is straightforward. Two female astronauts go to Mars in a script that is partially inspired by the first Apollo flights to the Moon in the early 1970s. In one of the scenes you can even spot some writing on the control panel, in which the word ‘Moon’ is crossed out and replaced by ‘Mars’. The women embark on a space mission to Mars in search of other life forms; after they have collected samples they return to Earth. For me, it wasn’t so much the storyline that makes the film remarkable; it’s the film’s masterful storytelling.
The film is about DIY, and low-tech and highly creative film tricks. The film (and Sachs’ installation) is also about making the most of the materials on Earth for a space mission to Mars, like steel — a material so strong that it can be used to keep things upright when you don’t exactly know how strong it should be, it just has to be strong enough. Other essential materials are plywood and Tyvek — the mysterious strong material Fedex envelopes are made of — and an old radio and Atari computer. All of this is set in the immense exhibition space The Park Avenue Armory in New York, where Sachs displayed the Mars rocket and all other space materials and Mars landscapes. A funny mash-up of Hollywood and NASA, playing out several scenarios of the space mission in realtime in front of an amused audience.
Looking at the film, it made me think of German artist Felix Burger (whose work is now exhibited at EYE) who works in the same tradition as Sachs, making films and ingenious low-tech installations. It also reminded me of another German artist, Claus Richter who specialized in film, fan culture, and merchandise. He wrote about the reversed principle of fan objects: A homemade lightsaber will not be made from light but from reddish or bluish plastics. A clever workaround with everyday materials to achieve an effect that resembles the real deal.
The opening film of Cracking the Frame Presents was in many respects what it should be: A surprising, funny, enjoyable and, above all, very well-made film. An impressive and fitting launch of an amazing program with many more impressive works of art to enjoy and reflect upon.