Materializing life on film

At the LaborBerlin cooperative this summer, an Artist Development Fellowship recipient captures the movements of a synthetic life simulation system on film.

by Sam Wolk ‘17
2016 Artist Development Fellow

Sam Wolk ’17, an affiliate of the Dudley Co-op concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies, was awarded an Artist Development Fellowship for a research internship at the LaborBerlin film cooperative in experimental film technique as well as development of sonic works at the Sonic Code Group at Spektrum Berlin. Wolk, who has been active in the Harvard University Studio for Electro-Acoustic Composition, has presented sonic, visual, or installation works at many locations including Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual ArtsJohn Knowles Paine Concert Hall and Loeb Experimental Theater, and at the Washington Street Art Center (MA), the dA Center for the Arts Pomona (CA), and Perhspace (CA). He has worked as a studio/research assistant for several sound and visual artists including Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, Luke Fowler, and Dániel Péter Biró. Wolk is also an audio engineer and DJ at WHRB 95.3 FM and contributor to The Harvard Advocate. He plans to continue his studies in mixed-media after graduation. In this second of two blog posts about his experience in Berlin this summer, he writes about experiments in filmmaking (click here to read his first post).

Visually, this summer has been exciting. The community at the LaborBerlin 16mm film cooperative has been wonderfully supportive and educational. I have learned and executed the chemical mixing processes for making black and white negative developing agents as well as fixing agents. I have also learned the actual process for developing black and white negative film and black and white reversal film; additionally I have experimented with cross-processing film (i.e. intentionally processing one type of film in chemical solutions intended for other types of film).

I also have begun to study the much more complex techniques for developing color film, though I have yet to complete my first roll. One of the highlights of the summer at LaborBerlin was participating in a workshop led by visiting artist-in-residence Andrew Kim (CalArts, Echo Park Film Center) focusing on creating in-camera special effects as well as learning to cross-process film. Beyond the educational aspect, it has been great to be a part of the LaborBerlin community—I have met lots of artists of all ages and backgrounds who have each developed their own unique practices and relationships with analogue film. Being exposed to such diverse approaches towards working with film material has been very eye-opening for me; the many new ways of thinking about film are surely something which I will carry forward into my various endeavors.

Replica Praesens: A Lecture on Synthetic Life by Sam Wolk
Replica Praesens: A Lecture on Synthetic Life by Sam Wolk
I have also been afforded some exciting new opportunities due to my involvement with LaborBerlin: one of my films was selected to be part of a program at the Austrian Film Museum entitled "The Last Machine: Analoge Filmkunst aus Berlin, Paris, Wien." Furthermore, in my time at LaborBerlin I have finished a short film, "Replica Praesens," which explores the relationship between simulation and reality as it plays out across the surface of film. Traditionally, film is seen as something which removes the physicality of the real world as it dematerializes what is in front of the camera onto a plane. However, for this film, I aimed to invert that relationship by treating the film strip as something which materializes life rather than dematerializing it.

In order to do this, I used film to capture the movements of a synthetic life simulation system which I have been programming for the past six months. The chemical grain of the film became a physical substrate on which I could physicalize the lives of the simulated entities which previously only existed as abstract patterns of voltages evolving (i.e. information in a computer). I also began work on a film which aims to translate the granular synthesis technique from the audio domain into the visual domain.  

I’m sad that the summer is winding down, but it has been incredibly productive and I am extremely grateful for the fellowship that made this all possible!

The Artist Development Fellowship program, jointly administered by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Office of Career Services, awards 10-15 fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. The program is open to all undergraduates currently enrolled in Harvard College, and applications are evaluated by the Council on the Arts, a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit the OFA website or call 617.495.8676.