Deborah Stratman is a Chicago-based artist and filmmaker interested in landscapes and systems. Much of her work points to the relationships between physical environments and human struggles for power and control that play out on the land. Recent projects have addressed freedom, expansionism, surveillance, sonic warfare, public speech, ghosts, sinkholes, levitation, propagation, Orthoptera, raptors, comets, and faith. She has exhibited internationally at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Centre Pompidou, Hammer Museum, Mercer Union, Witte de With, and the Whitney Biennial. Her work has also been featured in festivals, including at Sundance, Viennale, CPH/DOX, Oberhausen, Ann Arbor, Full Frame, Rotterdam, and Berlinale. Stratman is the recipient of Fulbright, Guggenheim, and USA Collins fellowships, a Creative Capital grant, an Alpert Award, and Harvard University’s Robert Gardner Fellowship.
The artist will be on-hand to introduce her films and will participate in a brief conversation/Q&A with Ernst Karel, lab manager of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, at the end of the program.
About today’’s program:
Village, silenced, 2012 (video; 7 min.)
This video is a re-working of Humphrey Jennings’s seminal 36-minute 1943 docudrama The Silent Village, wherein Welsh coal miners from the village of Cwmgiedd collectively re-enact the Nazi invasion and annihilation of the resisting Czech mining village of Lidice. The focus in this iteration is on sound as a mode of social control and the larger historical implications of repetition. Stratman’s film is an homage to Jennings’s lucid address of labor solidarity, power, and commemoration.
In Order Not To Be Here, 2002 (16mm; 33 min.)
This film offers an uncompromising look at the ways privacy, safety, convenience, and surveillance determine our environment. Shot entirely at night, the film confronts the hermetic nature of white-collar communities, dissecting the fear behind contemporary suburban design: an isolation-based fear (protect us from people not like us), a fear of irregularity (eat at McDonalds, you know what to expect), a fear of thought (turn on the television), a fear of self (don’t stop moving). By examining evacuated suburban and corporate landscapes, the film reveals a peculiarly 21st-century hollowness . . . an emptiness born of our collective faith in safety and technology. This is a new genre of horror movie, attempting to portray suburban locations as states of mind.
Second Sighted, 2014 (SD video; 5 min., 5 sec.)
Obscure signs portend a looming, indecipherable slump, an oracular decoding of the landscape.
. . . These Blazeing Starrs!, 2011 (16mm; 14 min., 16 sec.)
Since comets have been recorded, they’ve augured disaster: catastrophe, messiahs, upheaval, and end times. This short film about these meteoric ice-cored fireballs and their historic ties to divination combines imagery of 15th–18th century European broadsides with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory footage.
. . . These Blazeing Starrs! juxtaposes a modern empirical desire to probe and measure against older methods, when stargazers were translators, explicating the sky intuitively for predictions of human folly. Comets are now understood as time capsules that harbor elemental information about the formation of our solar system. Today, we smash rockets into them to read spectral signatures. In a sense, they remain oracles—it’s just the manner of divining that has changed.
How Among The Frozen Words, 2005 (video; 44 sec.)
PART 1 of THE PARANORMAL TRILOGY
This film is inspired by a chapter in Francois Rabelais’s 1653 epic novel Gargantua & Pantagruel. In that text, Pantagruel discovers that the explosions, cries, and other sounds generated from a battle that had occurred the year before have been frozen into discernable shapes; he also finds out that the sounds can be released upon the breaking or melting of the frozen forms.
It Will Die Out In The Mind, 2006 (video; 3 min., 50 sec.)
PART 2 of THE PARANORMAL TRILOGY
A short meditation on the possibility of spiritual existence and the paranormal in our information age. Texts are lifted from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, in which the main character’s daughter redeems his otherwise doomed spiritual journey. She offers him something more expansive and less explicable than logic or technology as the conceptual pillar of the human spirit.
The Magician’s House, 2007 (16mm; 5 min., 45 sec.)
PART 3 of THE PARANORMAL TRILOGY
Sometimes the supernatural lingers plainly in the most ordinary places, secret only insomuch as its trace goes unnoticed. Both a letter to a cancer-stricken alchemist-filmmaker friend and a quiet tribute to the vanishing art of celluloid, The Magician’s House is full of ghosts, among them is Athanasius Kircher, inventor of the Magic Lantern or the “Sorcerer’s Lamp.” The music, “La lutte des Mages” (The Struggle of the Magicians), was composed by Thomas De Hartmann and Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, who thought man was a “transmitting station of forces.” To him, most people move around in a state of waking sleep, so he sought to provide aural conditions that would induce awareness.
Total run time: 71 minutes