Blog: Striking experiences in black and white

By Saskia Monshouwer

Cracking the Frame Presents offers a playful mix of black box (i.e. cinema) and white box (i.e. art space) experiences, of locations Rialto, SMBA and W139, and many other things. But the past couple of days, after CTFP kicked off on 5 May, we mainly sat in the cool dark. 

Of course the opening film A Space Program was a work of art in itself, and Phil Collins made quite a few exhibitions. But with the screening of Episode of the Sea (2013) by artist couple Lonnie van Brummelen and Siebren de Haan the first art production enters the scene. Lonnie and her partner are visual artists, educated at the best Dutch art institutions, and with an academic degree in Philosophy.

It seems a detour to mention this before describing their work. But in this case it provides an important context: While I was particularly impressed with the aesthetics and the photography of their work when I spotted it for the first time in SMBA in Amsterdam some years ago, the way they explore social phenomena is what truly distinguishes them from other artists. I know the artists strive to be direct, and to reach the audience with the images they carefully make and love so much. However, until they entered the black box of the cinema room their work didn’t really seem to reach their desired audience.

Episode of the Sea is a lovely film about an isolated small IJsselmeer population. A particular successful fishing community strives to survive after Europe and the Netherlands enter the global trade community. Van Brummelen and De Haan did something very brave: They put on their water-resistant garments and boots, their 35 mm camera, and went to Urk to join the fishermen that lived there at sea. The result was screened Sunday in the late afternoon: a black and white film in which the soft structures of the wrinkling water, the complex interwoven structures of the sisal ropes, the rusty surface of the steel hull and the shiny patina of the wooden decks of the ships, polished by many feet, leave a big impression. The rhythmic moves and waves of the images stay with you, as did the black and white photographs of previous installations and films.

In a short introduction to the film Lonnie van Brummelen tells how happy she is to be introduced in the world of film. Filmmakers share the knowledge of the camera, and they know that to make a film you need to be in contact with a lot of different people in often awkward situations. What is quit a normal working condition for filmmakers — going out and holding up your gear to random strangers in the outside world — is new to many visual artists that usually work alone. So the artists were happy to share their experiences with the vintage analogue camera they use, and they were happily surprised by the acclaim from film critics and film fans.   

Filming in a classical tradition even became one of the narrative principles of their film by stressing the parallel between the traditions in fishing and those in film. Both love their work, both are physically strained by the techniques they use, both have to change if they want or not, when economical situations change and open up. And this is the bigger theme of their artworks: social and economic change or the escapades and consequences  of globalization

An interesting field in which they make their own paths. Following the routes of a bale of sugar, ending up in the presentation of 304 sugar modules a silent film of 67 minutes in the installation Monument of Sugar.  Exploring the Pergamon Frieze, an archeological piece about a Classical war fought in a region that now is Turkey. The exploration resulted in a piece called Monument to Another Man's Fatherland, which is also connected to the theme of globalization because the artists question the way borders are formed. People respond to these changing borders with disbelieve, wars, exclusion, inclusion and thoughts about identity and nationality. 

There is much more to say about the interwoven worlds of visual arts and film. About the production process — Van Brummelen and the Haan financed their film with money from the arts, which forced them to make many more installation than they would have done otherwise. About the narratives — Van Brummelen and the Haan follow Bertolt Brecht, instead of Hollywood rules. About the way they approach objects and working processes in their films — I think this special eye for just things make their films so special. But I have to leave it here. 

Up to the next film session in a white box this Wednesday in M4gastatelier, the screening of another Ben Rivers film.