The cinema of James Edmonds (1983) explores the complexities of the real not as a mere substance named “reality” but in its most fluctuating and Turnerian correlation, in those uncertainties that make it impossible to fix it in any specific point in space. A splendor in the world. His last film Movement and Stillness (2012-2014) assembles a series of motives and topics that are recurrent in his work and that situate him within a tradition bringing together Peter Gidal, Leighton Pierce and even Jean-Claude Rousseau. A poetics of space. Edmonds composes a poem about inhabited spaces, a dialectics without synthesis between the internal and the external. The almost fixed frame moves as if it were shaken by the wind, in the same way hung up clothes swell, the camera cuts across rooms, the exposure to the light makes the composition of the images iridescent: stains, halos, colours. The immeasurable intimacy of the house, the intimacy of the open space, the flesh of the bodies, the vapors, the stain glasses that evoke the work of Joseph Albers, the chiaroscuro produced by the shutters, the windows from which the trees outside appear – the ramifications of Being – all of this united by the very fast and kaleidoscopic montage. Movement and Stillness is an “aleph” in which the seasons alternate (the snow and the flowers), and with them the day and the night, the lights and the shadows, figuration and abstraction.
Since After Hours (2005) Edmonds intertwines the mobile and the immobile, the internal and the external. In this work an office building is almost like a moving film: the lights from the windows shine in the night as if they were film perforations sliding. Handheld camera, panoramas, still lives and improvised rhythms. Night and day. Space is not just something we simply inhabit. A deserted building is like a film: it has a history that is revealed by the play of light and shadow on the various elements that compose this space. Also Inside/Outside (2008/2015), that begins with a flirtatious interaction between the clear and the blurry, is like the previous film filled with corridors that, through superimpositions, cross over each other – or perhaps only one or just a few. A constellation of internal and external forms, in a continuous return, moving from closed to open form, from one film to another. Overland Collages (2015) is his most fragmented and abstract work, with echoes of Norman McLaren, a string of lines-force, in fact, fromMovement and Stillness.
The segmented and associative montage of Edmonds is not governed by cuts seeking to connect signifier and signified but rather by a lacanian capitoné point (or cushioning). This is an anti-representational and anti-narrative knot, which makes the signifier/signified relation a more dynamic, fluid one, and which does not work with a descriptive language but institutes a topography of desire – a fabric weaving itself with an already existing one. A flux as infinite as desire. A ramification through the frame of windows that open wide the splitting of Being, as a work in progress Sternwarten der Welt. It is not in any case a form of welding – a simple intersection organized around anchor points – but rather a collage inspired by Burroughs’ cut-ups, as it is intimated in another of his works in progress, We all live in the Blue Image Forever. In this case a lyrical quality speaks of another inspiration of the filmmaker, Stan Brakhage. (t.d.)
TONI D'ANGELA: Just to break ice. May I say that your work (in a certain sense always in progress) explores the dimension of reality in all its complexity, not as it was a simple substance, an object, but the real in its most fluctuating patterns and correlations, like in a Turner's painting? The real in its own uncertainties; your work is a way to see and listen to world that never allows to nail world to a (too much) simple, precise and accurate localization. What I called: splendour of world. Not only what is beautiful in the world, and maybe hidden, but its "dimensionality", not simply its space.
JAMES EDMONDS: It's funny that you mention Turner, not someone I honestly think about too much, but he is supposed to have made a painting based on a landscape very close to where I grew up and where I've shot quite a bit of footage for several of my films so far. Perhaps the fluctuation of light and the changing weather in the South of England has left it's mark on me. Indeed what I am working on does seem to be about constant process, and there is of course a huge history to draw on here. Things that are constantly in flux, flow, the unstable world in all it's splendour, as you say, this must form a huge part of art history in terms of a dialectic way of thinking. Perhaps coming back to this simple idea of chaos versus the frame, reality versus art, it's maybe a simple reduction of thought, but it seems so fundamental for me, also when I think of todays conditions for creating art or film or whatever it is. We have seemingly endless technological developments coupled with a volatile world of constant systemic collapse and regeneration, which creates much suffering of course. It seems relevant somehow to speak of order and chaos and perhaps the dialectical impulse in the arts to be constantly deflecting meaning.
But for me, I must relate to all this on a personal level, which is also part of the inability to contain wider meaning. I feel drawn to a very basic questioning of my being in the world as a human. Perhaps this fluctuation you see in my work is my constant awareness of the inability (for me) of images to contain. They resonate, sometimes on a deeper level perhaps, but they only exist in the wider reality of ones perception. And of course this relates to visual theory and the crisis of representation and so on, but my own way of dealing with it is in practice. So when I film, I feel a tension between the desire to capture and contain a feeling or a reality and the awareness of the sheer complexity of the fact of recording. So in a modest way, I'm trying to deal with these questions intuitively and personally – some kind of poetics of paradox.
T.D.: James, you wrote a "love letter" to Stan Brakhage for LFU, but can I ask you if your films have some similarity and affinity with the poetics of space of filmmakers such Peter Gidal, Leighton Pierce and Jean-Claude Rousseau? Or other filmmakers you had in your eyes, brain, hands.
J.E.:I can't say I've consciously been influenced by the three that you mention. For me it began with watching European narrative cinema, some contemporary, and some "classics" – directors like Goddard, Fellini, Tarkovsky and of course lots in between. But it really began with discovering Jonas Mekas. From then on I was aware of another cinema, and that interest grew from there on, particularly with the American Avant Guard. I loved the idea of paying homage to this tradition, one which encourages a very personal sense of cinematic exploration. For me that was where the beauty lay, and I am still convinced by this poetic approach. I also remember the joy of seeing Jeff Keen perform his films when I lived in Brighton. The energy definitely stuck with me.
More recently I've been very positively influenced by Robert Beavers and Ute Aurand, having the pleasure of knowing them personally has been a significant inspiration.
Other influences have been quite diverse. I was very into reading John Cage for some years. His reflections on the nature of chance, the openness to reality and unpredictability, his whole outlook at the world embodies the true spirit of anarchy – what has been called "a complex poetic realism." From this I take film not just as an image in the sense of representation, but also existing intrinsically as itself, as a projection of light phenomenon. It must be considered as the thing itself - the translucence, in varying degrees, of the filmstrip, the light continually shifting colour, the forms of the image in time as a part of this spectrum of change. I've also found Markopolous to reflect something of this this in his notion of film as film.
T.D.: Coming back to Brakhage. He is a sort of reference for you, both for the "lyric" character of your films, both for your editing/montage often "swirling"?
J.E.: Yes I chose to sight Brakhage as a sort of sign-post for me, although its still very hard to explain exactly why. He is of course a very seminal figure of filmmaker/artist.
His sense of rhythm, how he deals in practice with this essence of perception, of consciousness, this feels unique. So for me his work is still very important. It seems to sometimes cut right through to the core of things. I'm definitely thinking a lot about Brakhage recently when editing too. Perhaps not so much in the framing and movements of filming, but certainly in the montages, in camera and afterwards. When filming I am collecting fragments, often quite complex, which are then deconstructed purely by hand in the editing stage into phrases (something also originating from Markopolous and Beavers.) These become collaged together only after individual study and reflection. Then through this process (and through some refining) finally becoming one material again, with the aim of achieving a sort of material unity in feeling, when projected back – one solid, self contained, ephemeral yet concrete duration.
T.D.: About the editing/montage. What can you tell me of Burroughs' cut-up? Another source of inspiration? He has also been important for some American avant-garde filmmakers too (if I can say also for my film criticism and "écriture"), anyway the topic of montage (collage / assemblage) is something that marks the history of art and cinema (Picasso, Eisenstein), a big topic.
J.E.: Burroughs, like Cage, I feel strongly drawn to as a political force, through the fierce "realism" of his art. For me this is not an "approximation" (as Brakhage has suggested about his own work) but a living reality of freedom within the work.. this being both example and methodology by which to live beyond this frame.
Therefore, concerning Brakhage – I am less concerned with expressionism, more with "realism" (as an affect on reality.) A lot of post-internet moving image seems to draw more on the tradition of "an expression of our times" rather than offering anything concrete by which to experience – to really live, through the viewing experience. (Of course there is also a lot of "the times" in Burroughs, but it's the form of the collage that makes this content so radically alive.)
In this sense I am an optimist, at least when it comes to art. By this I mean, I couldn't dedicate my work to expression alone, depicting a psychological (neurotic) vision of reality - this is being done constantly anyway in the day to day circulation of image / politics. The work, for me, even in the most minute way, has to offer some kind of "solution" – or at least a little spiritual antidote to the trappings of discourse.
I think in Burroughs there is a great positive within the (often nightmarish) negative content. He's one of the greatest collagists of this history you mention. Through the utter absurdity it all seems to make sense! As he said himself, he's "creating an imaginary world in which (he) would like to live." His "everything's permitted" approach isn't my approach but theres something there.
T.D.: A (formal) dialectic that arranges and composes your films, is that between internal and external. I thought of the sculpture of Henry Moore named Internal and External Forms. There is not a simple border that states when it starts or ends what we call inside and outside. If I can say, your film seems an endless conversation, as Blanchot would say.
J.E.: This notion of internal and external has been very important for me. At the centre of my thinking and working method is this tension between internal being, and the outer world. I can't say exactly how I got there, but it's always been present. Perhaps the most obvious example is Inside/Outside (2008-2015) where I am filming interior and exterior scenes, with the idea of these representing two very contrasting worlds, or realities. Not only am I taking these depicted scenes as literal opposing spaces, but I was thinking about the impossibility of capturing or even of knowing, ones inner state of being. In this film, the divide is there in subject-metaphor but it is always blurred by the formal compositions of shots and movements of frames. I may have even been thinking of Tarkovsy when I first shot this footage. I was wanting to also deal with memory, and my own experience of past and present, and my inability to comprehend this gap.
So internal worlds can overlap spaces and times simultaneously! With regards to an endless conversation – there is certainly always a dialectic for me – wether this is Hegelian or not, I cannot say! But this fluctuating middle ground, is somehow the driving impetus for my filming, when successful.
T.D.: How do you work with film itself, the medium? What are your treatments? Again, Brakhage is a source of inspiration?
J.E.: I currently shoot on super-8, and have done since I began. Over a few years of shooting, I had many films still physically unedited, and this only fairly recently changed. My method has become very hands on as I mentioned earlier. After getting materials back I take some time, several months usually before cutting up the original material, at least this is how I worked with my most recent film. I then sort through everything and try to arrange pieces of film, in accordance with type of film-stocks, sizes (lengths of shot) and colour or subjects. Then I slowly begin to try to build a beginning, a way in to the film. This is done very simply with a normal super-8 cutter and tape, just looking with the naked eye and working intuitively, building this length of physical material almost like sculpture. Then I would watch back each section that I work on (usually a days work) on a projector in the studio. The it can go on like this for months! Repeating, deconstructing, reconstructing, but trying to mostly sense how the film should be before making more objective decisions, which seem to come later on.
For earlier films it's been more a case of keeping a chronology of filming (they were more diaristic projects) and then finding a form around this, to edit, to space things out and remove or shuffle a few things.
For years I was trying to edit digitally, it wasn't until handling the films directly that I began to really understand the medium.
T.D.: How did you become a filmmaker? Did you go to the movies very often or you have a more artistic training/background? Or both...
J.E.: Having a hunger for film in general, the desire or ambition was always to make a film. I come from a background of painting, with a parallel interest in music. In recent years I've come to focus more on film as the centre of my practice. There is still a strong relationship to painting and also to music, of course. Whilst at university in Brighton, I began to look more towards film as an answer to many problems I had with trying to contain my practice as a medium. I had also grown up with video and photography to a certain degree, and it always held a special mystery for me. One day a friend, a filmmaker called Lara Schroder showed me her film she had recently completed. It was transferred super-8 which we watched I think on video or dvd, but I remember being struck by it's presence, its filmic reality as well as it's emotive qualities. She later also showed me Mekas, and this really alerted me to films potential as a personal medium. I had been looking for a way to communicate things which I could not fully articulate in painting.
T.D.: A personal question. How do you "live"? How is the life of an experimental filmmaker today? You are british but you live in Berlin, no? You are also the author of performances and film programs, if I'm not mistaken, you can tell me something?
J.E.: I was first attracted to Berlin by it's vibrant music scene, people, openness. All the usual cliches. But it has remained a very helpful base for me on and off over the years. I basically try to live on as little income as possible, which is not always to every ones taste, in these times, but I tend to spend any income I have on making films! I think there are many different ways in which people making work on film live today, and each has their reason for doing so. I myself tend to work quite independently, within my own limitations, but I'm also interested what others are doing! I began to organise a series of screenings in January 2015 called Light Movement, partly after discussions with Robert Beavers and Ute Aurand, who have introduced many great filmmakers to the series since. This year it has slowed down a little but I hope it will continue, as it's always so rewarding. Again these are very small scale, self organised events. I hope to connect more with these types of organisations in the future, and to help keep experimental film present for a younger generation.
T.D.: Next projects?
J.E.: I have just completed Overland – my longest film to date at 22mins. It's current state is as a super-8 film original. I would like to find a way to fund a print copy on 16mm, as well as making a digital scan. This film has taken me into many new areas and is also in some ways a culmination of my previous, smaller works. I'm at a point of uncertainty in some ways, as I am only beginning to film again, slowly. Having said that, there are certainly films in my imagination, concerned with combining photographic images next to hand painted sections, something which came up during the last project. I also have some notion of including found materials, which may or may not develop. I have begun filming plants, with the idea of isolating them as objects in a certain framing space which somehow flattens the image – in a painterly way – thinking about them as icons, or signs, as depicted objects on a surface...
I also have a small ongoing piece constructed from older remnants of abandoned films/reels of mine, collaged fragments of forgotten times. Again – following the film-memory spaces into the actuality of material idea.