Two Artists Turn Personal Films into Powerful Physical Objects
Cristine Brache, installation view of “Bermuda Triangle,” 2022 at Anonymous Gallery, New York, 2022. © Cristine Brache. Courtesy of Anonymous Gallery.
Digital technology has forever changed our relationship with images and film. Many of our personal images and videos exist as files available on our phones and rarely become physical objects. In this digital environment, where memories live eternally on a device, it is easy to forget film’s material footprint. Thus, it’s striking when we see contemporary artists working with film or having a hybrid practice that sees moving images become physical objects that can sit in a gallery space. Currently, two New York galleries, Anonymous Gallery and Microscope, are showing how film and video work can have a dynamic, physical presence.
Cristine Brache’s current exhibition at Anonymous Gallery, “Bermuda Triangle”—which closes on April 2nd—is centered around a significant memory from her life, which marked the end of her innocence: seeing her parents kissing and embracing one another in a swimming pool. Brache, who had aspired to become a nun until her parents divorced, looks back at this memory as “the last happy union before things fell apart,” she told Artsy.
Cristine Brache, installation view of Goodnight Sweet Thang, 2022 at Anonymous Gallery, New York, 2022. © Cristine Brache. Courtesy of Anonymous Gallery.
That memory has become the centerpiece of the current show: Brache recreated the scene in a new Super 8 film, Bermuda Triangle (2022), and projected it into a kiddie pool. In it, we see an arresting performance of a couple embracing. The provocative work stands alone as a performance/film, yet Brache extends the emotive quality of the film into several performance-laden objects.
Brache used Bermuda Triangle to create 12 digital C-prints and 11 photographic silk prints. The objects are imbued and informed by the emotions the memory incites for Brache. The silk prints look precious and frail on translucent silk with a resin gloss on top that further obscures the original imagery.
Cristine Brache, Wild at Heart, 2022. © Cristine Brache. Courtesy of Anonymous Gallery.
The ink-on-silk prints use stills pulled from the film negative. Seeing this inverted vision of the couple embracing mirrors the critical turn the film takes as the lovers’ embrace shifts form delight to terror: Suddenly, they begin to perform CPR on one another. Across the gallery, the 12 C-prints convey that tension more literally as they feature split film stills that juxtapose the two distinct forms of the film. The individual stills do more than make a photograph from a film as they extend the emotive, illicit gaze present in Bermuda Triangle.
At Microscope Gallery, Tenzin Phuntsog’s “Pure Land” is on view through April 9th. Phuntsog similarly uses film to emphasize the emotive nature of memory and longing. The focus of “Pure Land” lies with the titular 15-minute single-channel video, shot on 35mm film, and the two-channel video Pala Amala (both works 2022).
In Pure Land, Phuntsog creates a loose narrative around a long-distance conversation between himself and his Tibetan-born mother. In Pala Amala, Phuntsog requested for his parents to express love to the camera. What we witness are emotive gestures and movements that convey tenderness and longing for both Tibet and others. The videos do what the artist and his parents cannot: return to Tibet. The camera stands in as a way to return to memories, not just through oneself, but through the family tree.
Several objects also feature in “Pure Land.” Throughout the exhibition, we find videos playing on small screens that reference handcrafted Tibetan prayer boxes. These videos were pulled from clips that Phuntsog and his family would send one another through WeChat, the Chinese social media, messaging, and payment app. WeChat was banned in the United States in 2020; at that time, Phuntsog was unable to communicate with his family and their relatives until it was reinstated in August 2021.
The boxes perform the role as both sacred keepsakes and devices for reliving memories. These images conjure up feelings of intimate connection and displacement. While “Pure Land” does not build objects from the feature film like “Bermuda Triangle” does, the exhibition demonstrates the power of creating objects in dialogue with film and moving image work, while paying close attention to the performances within them.
Our experience with digital technology has created a multi-hyphenated way of watching film that includes our phones, laptops, televisions, theater screens, and everything else in between. The film and object-related work in Brache’s and Phuntsog’s practices shows audiences that it’s possible to feel and experience the physical weight and emotion that films like these encapsulate. Galleries like Microscope and Anonymous Gallery are two key spaces where we see active curation given towards film and performance-laden objects emerging from artists, filmmakers, and performance artists alike.