The Cup and the Lip
"The other day, someone asked me, 'How do you define your territory?' I said, 'I work with anything that you can plug in.' In other words, I work with electricity." SFMOMA's new curator of media arts, Benjamin Weil, wasn't being flippant about his first four months on the job; as the distinctions between cinema, the Internet, and television erode at warp speed, "media arts" takes on a new meaning every time you turn on, tune in, or boot up.
The Paris-born Weil's first major show will be "0 10 101: Art in Technological Times," an exhibition that unfolds both online (launching 01/01/01, hence the show's title) and offline (in the museum space next March). "It's a survey that examines the evolving art forms, the hybrids, the new forms that emerge when artists start using technology," Weil, 37, explained as we schmoozed in the museum cafe. "Not that it's a new idea; I mean, a tube of paint is technology, and photography is technology. What we're trying to toy with is how artists today borrow from various resources, how the fluidity of references is increasing, how artists are tempted to use the moving image as a formal expression that's much more readily available than it used to be."
The first digital film series in the SFMOMA theater will follow "0 10 101" next spring, when Weil invites the British producers of the influential onedotzerofestival to bring compilations of work they've shown. Coincidentally, Weil and I spoke the day after he saw Time Code, and he marveled at the possibilities of tiny, light digital cameras. "It's going back to something that is, maybe not as grass roots, but definitely reminiscent of the early days of video, when the Portapak was invented," he noted, and then thought of a prior reference point. "We're almost getting back to the very early stage of cinema when the Lumiere brothers we're going and filming reality and showing it and saying, 'This is what things look like.'"
More immediately, Weil's keen to refocus attention on Bay Area experimental film with "Friendly Witness: The Worlds of Warren Sonbert," a NYMOMA series that'll screen at SFMOMA this fall. "There is some outstanding experimental cinema that has been carried out, particularly in this area of the world, that has tended to be overlooked lately," Weil points out. "This was, at the time it was made, what we are so excited about today regarding DV or nonlinear narrative."
Sadly, Sony Metreon is killing every other theater in town; it was the fourth-best-grossing theater in the country a few weeks back with Gladiator. ... Stanford's documentary film and video program is one of the few film studies curricula that specialize in nonfiction filmmaking. Catch the talent show when 10 grad students screen their thesis films on June 10 at Cubberly Auditorium. ... The San Francisco Cinematheque relocated its offices to the former Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point, a healthy row from its screening outposts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the S.F. Art Institute.
Michael Fox is host of Independent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m. and Saturdays at midnight on KQED (Channel 9).
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