Experimental Universe is a program of events featuring films, music and performances created by Australian artists responding to Yoko Ono’s rarely-visited instructional works, Six Film Scripts (1964) and Imaginary Film Series (1968). Running over two nights (6 February and 13 February) the program also includes two film screenings of early Yoko Ono films, Apotheosis (1970) and Two Virgins (1968). In this second blog post for the MCA, Joel Stern and Danni Zuvela of OtherFilm introduce the artists featured on night one (6 February).
Film scores are blueprints for potential films; unlike traditional/industrial film scripts, which are prescriptive, film scores encourage an “open work”, one which is, arguably, co-created by the score originator and the interpreter. In the mid-1960s, reflecting her contact with fluxus ideas, Yoko Ono produced a number of highly imaginative scores for films which were never translated into film works. For Experimental Universe, OtherFilm offered some of Australia’s most interesting contemporary artists the chance to interpret one of Yoko Ono’s film scores.
Each artist has prepared a new work in response to OtherFilm’s commission that – putatively – takes one of Yoko’s scripts from the Imaginary Film Series as its point of departure. Some of these interpretations stick quite closely to Yoko’s initial prescriptions; others treat her ‘scores’ as suggestions to spark off other creative investigations.
As part of the process of thinking through Yoko Ono’s scores, we asked the artists for their thoughts on the idea of the score – whether it was constrictive or freeing – and how this may have conditioned the creation of their work in Experimental Universes.
Pia Borg: ‘It is difficult to place yourself firmly on the spectrum between spontaneity and score as the restriction of the instruction and the further added predetermined conditions was a freeing process in that certain fundamental decisions were outside of my own control. The act of rephotographing a film frame by frame offers small opportunities for improvisation – in the exposure, the light, the flicker of the film – and by varying the frame rate, this material became my own. The duplication of another filmmaker’s material from YouTube echoes the notion of making a film based on another’s instruction. YouTube seemed to be the ideal resource. Much of its content bears the trademarks of the Fluxus movement: a DIY sensibility, simplicity and humour, playfulness and the incorporation of everyday objects, sounds and images.’
Pia Borg responded to two scripts, Imaginary film series Shi (from the cradle to the grave of Mr So), and Film no 9. Don’t Worry Love. Borg explains, “my approach to the project was to impose a further set of predetermined conditions to Ono’s instructions”. Borg entered key words from each of these Ono instructions into YouTube’s search engine, developing her work via “a combination of Ono’s words and the algorithm of my own search history”. Using 16mm film stop motion camera, Borg then rephotographed the films from the computer screen, frame by frame, to create her two films.
Emile Zile: ‘I have a structure within the walls of the MCA. The technology of the image projection. The design of the seats. We have voice, light, human will. I feel energised by unbridled human energy in tightly controlled environments…. I don’t believe in freedom in art. It can only be given by imposing a structure or rule set upon it. There is no freedom. There is no restraint.’
Emile Zile also chose to work with one of our age’s great repository of user-generated content, extending Ono’s ideas of the scores to Twitter. Zile explains that his work is “taking Yoko Ono’s current day Twitter feed as an unrequited instruction set. I follow Yoko Ono and Yoko Ono follows me.”
Amiel Courtin-Wilson: ‘In terms of the spectrum between predetermined structure and organic improvisation, my work is borne of a constant oscillation between both extremes at different stages of the process. What lies at the heart of the development and production methodology of my short films, installation work, feature length documentaries (Bastardy, Chasing Buddha) and dramatic feature films (Hail, Ruin) is establishing a working method in which rigorous planning, pre-production and rehearsal processes lay the groundwork for a flexibility while shooting that makes truly inventive collaboration possible. This meticulous crafting of a highly orchestrated series of potential thematic triggers is then ideally utilised in all areas of the craft while shooting either fiction or documentary and can include performance, camera work, mise en scene etc – thereby allowing creative instincts to be automatically infused with the underlying thematics of the work. The editing process then necessarily funnels this open field of play and chance back into a series of schematics that are then once again imploded along the way to attain a form that hopefully transcends the works initial structural intentions. The tension of this constant tumble between structure and intuition injects a unique vitality and authenticity to the material that is ultimately the lifeblood of my work.’
Amiel Courtin-Wilson responded to Yoko Ono’s Film Script No. 4 – “ASK THE AUDIENCE TO STARE AT THE SCREEN UNTIL IT BECOMES BLACK.” To explore this proposition, Courtin-Wilson chose to work with footage shot in Cambodia in 2013 during the Cambodia King-Father Norodom Sihanouk’s funeral – which, as he explains, entailed “a week-long period of national mourning in which millions of Cambodians swarmed to Phnom Penh to grieve for the loss of their beloved leader”. For Courtin-Wilson, “the profoundly overwhelming nature of this mass grieving seemed to resonate with the notion of an audience literally collectively willing an image out of existence… rather than something imposed on an audience by the filmmaker/artist”.
Hi-God People: ‘Our work simultaneously runs the gamut of spectrum from structure/score/instruction to spontaneity/intuition/improvisation. Concepts used in the piece have initially been consciously considered but closer to performance an abstract subconscious digestion will also manifest. We’ll also feature ’wild card’ performances from two members who will have been given very little information on what other members have planned.’
Hi God People are primarily responding to Yoko Ono’s 1971 album ‘Fly’, including reference to Joe Jones’ self-composing kinetic sound sculptures and visceral vocalisation. The artists explain that the imagery and themes of Yoko Ono’s recent work, Touch Me (where body parts are exposed/glimpsed through slits in a prepared canvas ‘wall’, and these glimpses are then snapped with a Polaroid camera), “will further inform the performance.”