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Masters of conceptual art


Which comes first - form or feeling?
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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Cinema, like any other art is the... is technology, the content and form. And they're all completely interconnected. This question where, what dominates more, there's those who are so in... in just... in form and they sort of don't care, and the reason is not that important. Those are formalists. I... I could, I think... in my case I think very... there is a lot of stress on the subject that is, you know, technology, subject and form. On the subject, for some reason, I think, there are film-makers where the technology dominates. I would consider myself a romantic because I think pay much attention, a lot of attention to the people. I am never really abstract because if... if you deal with the people and emotions and feelings in... totally abstraction, that disappears. Some even... when I'm in single frame but immediately there is a few seconds moment when there are no single frames, maybe a second, there is a face, there is hand and there is some relationships, feelings, I'm interested in feelings. So I'm not a formalist and there is some kind of balance maybe, but the form does not... maybe does not dominate, does not come out on very top, but... but without form, it would not... again, it would not exist. It... I form it that way; otherwise, it would not work. What is form? I mean, how you shape the thing that you are putting together, a film.

[Q] A formalist would say that form itself creates feelings.

No, you... form... you have to does not you have to it has to be on something to make form, it will be air. It has to be the clay or film or in itself form is abstraction, there is no such thing.

[Q] No, I don't mean that, that's complicated. Yeah. I mean, my...

I mean, take Otto Malevitch still there is like OK, nothing, they're minimal, they're just white. But still you know you have to put it in a certain shape on that canvas and there it is. If you say just white and there is nothing, so what, it's white. It had to be on canvas, there had to be material and the shape is then visible and the then what is the subject? The subject is, of course, the white.

Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), Lithuanian-born poet, philosopher and film-maker, set up film collectives, the Anthology Film Archive, published filmzines and made hundreds of films, all contributing to his title as 'the godfather of American avant-garde cinema'. He emigrated to America after escaping from a forced labour camp in Germany in 1945.

Listeners: Amy Taubin

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor for "Film Comment" magazine and "Sight and Sound" magazine. Her book, "Taxi Driver", was published in 2000 in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series. Her chapter on "America: The Modern Era" is part of "The Critics Choice" published by Billboard Press, 2001, and her critical essays are included in many anthologies, mostly recently in "Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank" published by Scalo.

She wrote for "The Village Voice" weekly from 1987 into 2001 both as a film and a television critic. She also wrote a column for the "Village Voice" titled "Art and Industry" which covered American independent filmmaking. Her first weekly film criticism job was at the "SoHo Weekly News". Her writing has also appeared in "Art Forum", the "New York Times", the "New York Daily News", the "LA Weekly", "Millennium Film Journal", "US Harpers Bazaar" and many other magazines. She is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online.

She started her professional life as an actress, appearing most notably on Broadway in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and in avant-garde films, among them Michael Snow's "Wavelength", Andy Warhol's "Couch", and Jonas Mekas' "Diaries, Notebooks and Sketches".

Her own avant-garde film, "In the Bag" (1981) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Friends of Young Cinema Archives in Berlin.

She was the video and film curator of "The Kitchen" from 1983-1987.

She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from N.Y.U. in cinema studies. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in both the undergraduate and the MFA graduate programs, and lectures frequently at museums, media centers, and academic institutions. In 2003, she received the School of Visual Arts' art historian teaching award.

Tags: Otto Malevitch

Duration: 3 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 29 September 2010