The reality of experience

Past and present collide at the 2018 Brakhage Center Symposium

Animator and drawer Karen Yasinsky turned to filmmaking as a way to expand her art.

“Say it, no ideas but in things”

—William Carlos Williams, Paterson

As the legend goes, when poet William Carlos Williams sat down to pen what would become his five-book opus, Paterson, he sought to do for his New Jersey city what James Joyce had done for Dublin in Ulysses: to look deeply into the everyday and find the eternal.

And, like Joyce’s desire to transport the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus to 20th-century Ireland, Williams’s poem transports Joyce’s quotidian approach to the Garden State with great success — infamous, even. Because nestled on page six of Paterson, comes the signature line, “no ideas but in things,” a dictum that would spur poets to explore the concrete and the here and now, rather than abstract thoughts and theories.

One such poet, armed with a 16-mm camera, was famed filmmaker and CU-Boulder professor, Stan Brakhage; a man who spent his life trying to bring Williams’s charge to the moving image.

Now, 15 years after Brakhage’s passing, the 14th annual Brakhage Center Symposium (March 10-11) explores filmmakers who have picked up the baton and seek to encounter the reality of experience: Karen Yasinsky, Christopher Harris and Jean-Paul Kelly.

Specializing in animation and drawing, Karen Yasinsky turned to filmmaking when painting proved to be too limiting. Like Williams pulling from Joyce and Brakhage pulling from Williams, several of Yasinsky’s films draw inspiration from the films and teachings of Robert Bresson — himself a filmmaker who sought to express the extraordinary through rigorous photography of the ordinary. Eleven of her films, including one work-in-progress, will be presented March 10 at 2 p.m.

History is fodder for every artist, but for Christopher Harris, the history expressed is a history repressed. Take Reckless Eyeballing, which uses images of Pam Grier and Angela Davis to explore the deep chasm separating fantasy and reality. Of the seven works featured (4 p.m.), three have been edited in-camera, a technique that gives viewers the impression that what they are watching is not so much composed as it is snatched from the river of time.

The work of Jean-Paul Kelly (7:30 p.m.) also deals heavily with representation and perception, but Kelly looks to rework the notion of authorship with re-creations and re-enactments morphing previous works into something wholly new. Be it a Truman Capote interview turned into a stream of images in The Innocent or characters wearing Charlie Brown ghost sheets and restaging scenes from Fredrick Wiseman documentaries in Service of the Goods, Kelly’s films playfully transform the past into something new.

The Brakhage Center Symposium continues March 11 at 2 p.m. with a collection of Brazilian documentary and experimental works curated by Chris Stults of the Wexner Center for the Arts. The back half of the program, starting at 4 p.m., features the work of Cao Guimarães, Brazil’s renowned documentarian whose work celebrates the poetry of the everyday, just like Brakhage, Williams and Joyce before him. 

On the Bill: Brackage Center Symposium. 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 10 through 4 p.m. Sunday, March 11. CU Boulder, ATLAS 100. Free.