|Ken Jacobs (b.1933) has been active as a filmmaker, performer and teacher for the past five decades. Rigorous and dedicated, his work is characterised by a keen eye for formal composition and a fierce political consciousness.
As a central figure of the generation that defined independent filmmaking during the post-War era, Jacobs contributed to the liberation of cinema from technical and ideological conventions. Beginning in the 1950s, he developed an ‘urban guerrilla cinema’ out of poverty and desperation, shooting improvised routines on city streets. The early works Star Spangled to Death, Little Stabs at Happiness and Blonde Cobra feature a nascent Jack Smith, years before the renegade artist produced his own films.
|[flv:http://www.tank.tv/askken/kenwhirled.flv 240 180]Ken Jacobs / The Whirled / 1956-63 / (excerpt) 08.09 min. of 27.00 min. /
info / © tank.tv
[flv:http://www.tank.tv/askken/kensstd.flv 240 180] Ken Jacobs / Star Spangled to Death / 1957-59/2004 /
(excerpt) 10.22 min. of 375 min / info / © tank.tv
|Having lived in New York all his life, the changing character of t he city has been a strong presence throughout Jacobs’ work, from his manipulation of vintage street scenes in New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903, through to the diaristic video Circling Zero: We See Absence, which observes the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks away from Jacobs’ home. The Sky Socialist was shot in a deserted neighbourhood (long since decommissioned) below the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1960s, and Perfect Film uses raw television news reports on the assassination of Malcolm X.
Found or archival footage is a source for much of Jacobs’ work. In Star Spangled to Death, entire appropriated films contribute to an accumulative denunciation of American politics, religion, war and racism, whereas an analytical approach to reclaiming cinema’s past was originated in Tom, Tom the Pipers’ Son by re-filming selected details of a theatrical production dating from 1905. This same footage has lately been digitally excavated in Return to the Scene of the Crime.
The technique of unlocking aspects of film material that would otherwise pass unnoticed is the essence of the live Nervous System pieces that Jacobs has performed with two adapted projectors since the mid-1970s. Repetition and pulsing flicker teases frozen images into impossible depth and perpetual motion (demonstrated in New York Street Trolleys 1900), a process further developed by the Eternalism system of editing used in many recent videos. The previously ephemeral live performances Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy; Bye Molly! and Two Wrenching Departures are amongst the works that take on new life in their digital form.
A contemporary of Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner and Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs is one of the true innovators of the moving image, who continues his radical practice in the present. Though his images frequently depict bygone eras, the works are resolutely contemporary, displaying a vitality and ingenuity that is rarely matched.
The exhibition at tank.tv presents a portfolio of 20 works covering 50 years of Ken Jacobs’ artistic production from 1957 to the present day. (text via expcinema.com)