Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler’s recent filmic explorations into the southwestern United States are psychological, layered works that delve into film industry history and unearth the traces it has left on people and places in its wake. Following Grand Paris Texas in 2009 and Movie Mountain (Méliès) in 2011, the duo now complete their trilogy on this subject with the final installment, Giant, which premieres this month at Ballroom Marfa in “Sound Speed Marker,” a presentation that will include the full trilogy and related photography.
Frequently recognized for their masterful mise-en-scènes, Birchler and Hubbard are interested in cinema, particularly staging and theatricality, a concern that dates back to their early performance works in the 1990s. To document these early works—like Horse, a slapstick piece where the pair dressed in a makeshift, 2-person horse costume—they habitually photographed their performances. These images have become artworks in their own right, and have been compared to Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills. This progression continued with “Noah’s Ark,” a narrative photography series following the pair as they acted as museum conservators going through their daily routine.
The duo’s interest in cinematic history dates back to 2000, when Birchler and Hubbard began their “Filmstills” series—photographs of old, dilapidated movie theaters, decayed cinematic institutions. Grand Paris Texas directly continues this theme, referencing director and artist Wim Wenders’ 1984 film Paris, Texas and focusing on the town’s abandoned theater, through scenes of the film crew excavating the forlorn site, juxtaposed with footage of locals speaking about the theater’s former grandeur. Movie Mountain (Méliès) returns to the site of the original film’s monumental production location, near Sierra Blanca, and also collects accounts from locals, piecing together facts to create a picture of its creator, Gaston Méliès, little-known brother of George Méliès.
The new and final film, Giant, travels to a three-sided film set outside of Marfa, which was left behind following the 1956 Warner Bros. film of the same name. Over five decades after the ephemeral site was used for the original production, Birchler and Hubbard documented it, capturing its subtle decay with the passing of time. Layering physical and psychological explorations into film sites, with verbal and visual accounts from the present, these three films build complex, engaging narratives that address the effects of cinematic production.