Jonas Mekas

Jonas Mekas, frame sequence from Reminiscenes of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), 16mm film, color and black-and-white, sound, 82 min.

In the latter half of the 1940s, following the end of the Second World War, Jonas Mekas and his brother Adolfas found themselves settled in a displaced persons camp in Wiesbaden, Germany. Previously, Jonas had lived a simple life in a quiet farming village in Lithuania named Semeniskiai, where he was born on Christmas Eve, 1922. Enchanted with poetry from a young age, Jonas’s penchant for language received public recognition, and his first collections were published at the early age of twelve. Although rooted in humble beginnings, he admits in an interview with the Brooklyn Rail that it was evident to his parents his future would not be restricted to the land on which he was raised. 

En route to university in Vienna, his train was stopped in Germany. For the next eight months Jonas and his brother were imprisoned in Hamburg at the Elmshorn forced labour camp, before escaping. Shortly after their escape the war ended, and Jonas relocated through a series of German displacement camps before finally immigrating to Williamsburg, New York in 1949. 

Jonas made great strides upon his introduction to New York City. Almost immediately he acquired an 8mm Bolex camera, and became an imminent figure in New York’s burgeoning film culture. Accordingly, starting in 1954 alongside his brother, Jonas founded Film Culture – a journal that critically discussed the avant-garde, Hollywood, and European art film. Having established his critical presence, Mekas also began writing for the Village Voice in 1958. Though his ambitions as a critic were soon superseded by a philosophy that would set the stage for what would later be coined as New American Cinema. In his Movie Journal, a collection of writings Jonas produced while at the Village Voice, he writes “I had to pull out…to protect all the beautiful things that I saw happening in the cinema, and that were either being butchered or ignored by my colleague writers and by the public.” It was this shift that marked the turning point away from feature film-making to a non-narrative kind of cinema.

Resembling more like collage than movie, Mekas’s irreverence for narrative structure appeals to one’s memory. This method neglects narrative for a more accurate reflection of how memory operates. Having circumvented the application of an overarching context, the collection of images are composed in a way that feels like they exist in a place outside of time’s grasp – the difference between past and present becomes irrelevant as it all becomes memory. Effectively evading the rigidity of cause-and-effect, Mekas’s films unfold more like poetry than a conventionally scripted film. From this canon, time – and its passing – is already understood. Thus, no further diction is necessary. Such is the nature of poetry; to reveal the essential without the burden of thesis. From this perspective, the images Mekas presents are given space to speak for themselves. 

World Trade Center Haikus (2010). Single channel video. Betacam SP / DigiBeta Master. 13 minutes, 58 seconds. Edition of 3 + 2 AP

Take World Trade Center Haikus (2010) for instance. This short film has no discernible dramatic structure. There is no rising action or resolution to draw from, but meaning persists all the same. As the tape unwinds in tandem with a melodic piano score, a tone reminiscent of a home movie is fostered. However, it seems that the way in which the imagery is treated takes precedence over what the imagery actually shows. Appearing like disjointed fragments of film caught in quick succession, the whole of the film feels more like bearing witness to Mekas’s stream of consciousness. Although it isn’t quite intelligible what may have been said, the viewer is left feeling like something intimate has been exchanged. As for a haiku, it also tends to lack the breadth necessary to generate a narrative, yet it is not uncommon for simple things to yield lasting impressions. Though probably the most important aspect of poetry is not what a poem is saying, but rather the impulse behind saying something in the first place.

Written by Grayson Chandler

All Jonas Mekas works and  films are available through Deborah Colton Gallery

Jonas Mekas

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions

I’m sitting in an arts venue which I’ve become quite intimately familiar with over the recent years… Thinking about introductions…\n\nDeborah Colton Gallery is presenting a special pop-up exhibition in between it’s regular program of full scale exhibitions, illness which opens this weekend. The show will be up for two weeks and celebrates some standout moments in the gallery’s 12+ year history, and is the first time that the gallery-sponsored IMAGINE PEACE billboard from artist Yoko Ono will be presented on-site.\n\nI’m in the gallery as I type, in and out of writing and watching this billboard go up, as I begin work on a very special project. In this moment, surrounded by the preparation for celebration and altruistic intention, I find myself thinking of how intricately connected lives and timelines can be, and more faithful than ever that it is by no accident that we find ourselves in our present condition…\n\n\n\nI first saw this billboard while driving along I-45 in 2011. I wouldn’t say I was immediately struck in my tracks, I mean, I kept driving… but it did leave a subtle impression whose rememberance grew, and has grown, over time. The message is an important one and its expression was succinct – simplistic in its sophistication. I can still see the billboard from the freeway now in the vignette of my mind’s eye… And since then I have indeed imagined peace.\n\nLater that year, enjoying a free day with a new friend, I suggested we visit a gallery unknown to either of us, as it was the last day of an exhibitions of artworks by Yoko Ono. I’m not sure what we were expecting to encounter, but what we did take away was something neither of us could have anticipated.\n\nThat visit introduced us to Deborah Colton Gallery’s leader, Deborah Colton, and in the almost-five years since, that friend, Jessica Crute, and I have both worked for a time at the gallery and have also presented the most significant creative projects of our early careers. And for myself, that first encounter was the start of a series of many significant introductions in my life.\n\nIn 2014, as Assistant Director of the gallery,  I worked very closely with gallery artist Angelbert Metoyer in the co-curation and execution of Seasons of Heavena survey of recent works from the career of Angelbert Metoyer. In 2015 Deborah extended to me an opportunity to curate Collective Solid from concept to exhibition for the final iteration of ArtHouston, whose mission was to showcase emerging Houston talent city-wide.\n\n\n\nI must give credit where it is due: in my time working for and with the gallery, I’ve been exposed and come to know some outstanding artistic talent, from across a great many international borders. However, the artist whose work I find myself most sensitive to is a native Houstonian and a pioneering female photographer whose work chronicled the budding art scene in the city in the 70s and its evolution over the two consecutive decades. Suzanne Paul thoroughly documented the artists of her social experience – of her real life – and those influential in our artistic community, and in working with some of the artists she’s captured in my time at Deborah Colton Gallery I’ve come to realize the significance of her life’s work. Through pure creative impetus and for love of her craft and the pursuit of photography, she was able to document a broad cultural aspect of our city’s history. A large part of her life’s work now serves as a resource to draw from, critically, historically, and creatively.\n\n\n\nAt the end of last year, I stepped down from my full-time position and tackled an ambitions special project as an independent curator in partnership with Deborah Colton Gallery to present Proofan exhibition that shared a select few portraits of creatives significant to the Houston arts community and featured some work never-before seen from the archive of Suzanne Paul, which the artist left in the possession of the gallery at the time of her passing. The hope was that the exhibition might pique the interest of our community and ultimately lead to the preservation of Suzanne’s archive and the acquisition of her work by collecting institutions. It also just scratched the surface of examining her unique approach to photography, especially portraiture.\n\n\n\nIt’s funny how one thing leads to another – and to another – and on and on… and here’s where things come full circle…\n\nBecause of the positive feedback Proof received, we have been encouraged to continue with this special project and I have been commissioned by Deborah Colton to pursue this undertaking to ends we cannot yet know. There is a sense that as we work to digitize, catalogue, and archive the collected works of Paul’s, opportunities to expose her work to a broader and growing audience will reveal themselves. This is why I find myself again in the main space at Deborah Colton Gallery, in the beginning stages of a project dear to my heart and dear to my city, entitled Focus: Suzanne Paul.\n\nThis post is the first of many that aims to document this pursuit and shares the unique finds and critical moments we come to in this process, and I hope that a readership develops with me as I look more closely into the treasure left to us by Suzanne Paul.\n\n \n


\nContent originally published by Theresa Escobedo, here, on 8.26.16

Focus : Suzanne Paul: Introductions