Before the screening: lecture Eric de Bruyn: Richard Serra, the Hand and Process Series @Argos

Associated with the emergence of post-minimalism and process art, American sculptor and filmmaker Richard Serra’s (1939) work is the perfect example of the partial coalescence of pictorial, sculptural and film practices in the late 1960’s New York. His films transcend the traditional terms of a métier for they cannot be included in the traditionof any single medium. They are neither purely sculptural, nor do they unequivocally obey the specific formal principles of film. As ‘sculptural films’, they also differ from the general run of films by artists who, until the mid-1960’s, had almost without exception either adopted the traditionalcriteria of a more literary film language or translated their own artisticapproaches literally into film language. What distinguishes Serra’s filmsis that in arriving at a new definition of plastic phenomena through the necessary use of film, they demonstrate their own necessity as films.

Frame, 1969. 22’, 16mm, b/w, sound
The structure of Frame demonstrates the disparity in perception between what is seen by the cameraman looking through the lens and what is seen by a person looking directly at the same space. According to Serra, "perception has its own abstract logic logic and is often necessary to fit verbal and mathematical formulation (in this instance measuring) to things rather than the other way around". In Frame, four sets of measurements are made with a six-inch ruler. In the first, the rectangle of a camera frame is measured and perceived to be untrue from the camera viewpoint. In the second, the camera is placed at an angle, and the trapezoid measured is perceived as a rectangle. In the third, the rectilinear window frame is measured as a rectangle but perceived as a trapezoid. In the fourth, the film image of the window is measured as a trapezoid but perceived as a rectangle (the reverse of the second image).

Hand Catching Lead, 1968, 3’, 16mm, b/w, silent
This is the first film by Serra. He records his right hand, trying to catch pieces of lead as they are falling. The hand opens and closes, trying to get hold of the falling lead. As the film progresses, the effort becomes more apparent, and the hand gets tired.

Hand Lead Fulcrum, 1968, 3’, 16mm, b/w, silent
In this film, the arm of Serra operates as leverage support, whereas his hand holds a lead cylinder in the upper part of the screen. The hand begins to shake because of the weight of the lead; at a certain point it is about to let go. Serra slowly moves his arm from the upper part of the image, and the film comes to an end when it comes down to the bottom part.

Hands Scraping, 968, 3’, 16mm, b/w, silent
Hands Scraping was realised with the assistance of Phil Glass. It reduces the image to a single sequential structure in which the action represents a reduction ad absurdum, because, in the end, the amount of energy it takes to perform what seems like less work, is in fact more considerable. The film uses a particular choreographic style for the hands: the hands of Serra and Glass have different features and they simply interact as they adapt to the movements of the other. Carefully and methodically they clear the ground of a large amount of steel shavings. The rhythm called up by the actions of two pairs of hands creates a performance-like impression, which transcends their practical use.

Hands Tied, 1968, 6’, 16mm, b/w, silent
This film is less of an ordeal than the realisation of an exploit by Richard Serra. The film shows the hands of the artist, tied together with rope, and it goes on as long as it takes for him to get rid of them. The film introduces a dialectic between hands and matter, as these hands try to free themselves from their ties. Similarly to the previous films, the hands turn into protagonists and they take on an expressive physical force in themselves, like the thief in Pickpocket by Bresson.

Paul Revere, 1971 , 9’, 16mm, b/w, silent (with Joan Jonas)
"I had found the idea for the scenario of Paul Revere in Bird-Whistell, that’s where it originates. I had read Bird-Whistell with regards to the work of Joan Jonas. He wrote about the analysis of movement, language and body language. We made use of certain accessories, cards to be read out, lamps that could be switched on or off, to develop what might be referred to as a deconstruction of Joan’s performance. She used cinematographic elements like transitions from one scene to the next, in the structure of the performance. We made the film together. To me it represents a short outline of the possibilities of using theatrical effects, within the framework of a specific language."

Railroad Turnbridge, 1975-76, 17’, 16mm, b/w, silent
If you’ve never been on a turnbridge — we see it as it opens, a boat passes by and it closes again, a train passes underneath the bridge — it is impossible to understand how the editing is in line with the way the bridge operates. «Railroad Turnbridge, the artist confirms, owes its existence to the influence of scenes shot by Snow. This film, a document about a turnbridge, built on the river Willamette in Oregon, records the landscape through the movement of the bridge. Then it turns towards the bridge, to film the bridge itself. The resulting effect raises doubt, or at the very least ambiguity, about the element of movement. Is the camera moving on an immobile bridge, or vice versa? This film clearly revives the basic strategies in the work of both Snow and Gehr, its content also shows Serra’s constant fascination for industrial developments, and in this particular case, for the transitional period between 1905-1906 et 1925, from cast iron construction to rivet assembly, and for the production of steel structures, finding their way to an application in the American bridges, built for efficiency and support, nothing else.» Annette Michelson.

Steelmill/Stahlwerk, 1979, 25’, 16mm, b/w, sound (with Clara Weyergraf)
"The passing of the Railroad Turnbridge at Steelmill/Stahlwerk, realized with the assistance of Clara Weyergraf, shows Serra’s clear interest, arising from his experience as a young metallurgist, for the different stages in industrial production, underlying the realization of major sculptures like the Hattingen factories, built in the valley of the Ruhr. This factory, owned by the Thyssen family, employed several thousands of labourers, and it was devoted to the production of turbines, train wheels and nuclear reactors (…) Stahlwerk examines the extreme physical conditions the labourers had to face in the steel factories, in particular the heat, the unbearable noise and the way in which the workers, isolated one from the other as a result of the noise, were forced to gesticulate or whistle in order to communicate. In this film Serra has finally managed to reconcile his fascination for the industrial production, the work of a sculptor and of a labourer. This is combined with an increased awareness of the surrounding context and issues, as well as the determining circumstances." Annette Michelson.

Tina Turning, 1969, 3’, 16mm, b/w, silent
with Tina Girouard. Tina turns around, finally disappearing off-screen.

Colour Aid, 1971 , 36’, 16mm, colour, sound
Like the three "Hands" films by Richard Serra (1968), the subject of Color Aid are fingers as actors of real time activity. Monochrome colour cards lying on top of each other and filling the whole screen are being pulled away individually with a swishing sound by a single finger, each time bringing a new colour into view. In the extreme close-up, each colour fills the whole picture with a single colour. The fingertip, appearing from several sides in the picture, pulls noisily across the surface of the paper, producing one after the other, colour sequences of yellow, blue, pink, brown, or hues from a different colour palette before the eyes of the viewer. The speed at which they are pulled away and the intervals in which the hand appears for its performance both vary.

The Ecran d’Art series is a monthly screening of artists’ film and/or video jointly organised by argos and Cinema Arenberg, in collaboration with La Cambre Academy.

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Richard Serra,  
  • Thu 14.12.2006
    21:30 - 21:30
  • Practical info

    Cinéma Arenberg
    Koninginnegalerij 26
    1000 Brussel

    Entrance fee:
    7 / 5,20 Euro

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