Film Grain and the Queer Body: Tom Chomont
Lecture by Juan Suárez
In his lecture accompanying the exhibition „Accomplices. The photographer and the artist around 1970” Juan Suárez will explore how the grainy texture of a number of 1960s experimental films queers the representation of the body.
He will start by revising the graininess of a number of films by Jack Smith (Overstimulated, Flaming Creatures) and Andy Warhol (Empire, Sleep), to focus on the seldom studied 1960s work of Tom Chomont, who started to make films in the ferment of underground cinema under the mentorship of Gregory Markopoulos.
Grain produces a discontinuous, spectral corporeality that oscillates between presence and absence. Film grain is analogous in this respect to other „discontinuous media” (half-tone printing; Ben-Day dots; strobe light) pervasive in the contemporary avant-garde at the time. An early part of the lecture will relate the effect of film grain to the contemporary use of these media by experimental artists.
A second section will relate the fascination with „discontinuous representation” to the pervasive influence of cybernetics at the time, that is, the binary coding of information formalized by Shannon and Weaver during the post-war years, and the subsequent articulation of probabilistic, information-based models of explanation in science and sociology by Norbert Wiener and Gregory Bateson.
These models were often applied to the understanding of image production and dissemination by experimental musicians (John Cage, David Tudor), video (Nam June Paik) and performance artists, filmmakers (Stan Vanderbeek), and engineers working in tandem with artists (Billy Kluver). And as this lecture will try to show, they had a subterranean influence on queer filmmakers as well. Except that in queer experimental film, grain”the dissolution of the image into its minimal components” and the oscillation of these components between presence and absence does not contribute to formalizing information, as was the goal of „orthodox” cybernetics.
Examination of Chomont's films will show that grain casts on the image a shadow of noise, thus heightening the indeterminacy of embodiment and the ultimate impregnability of queer bodies on the screen to clear-cut conceptualities.
The lecture will be accompanied by a screening of Tom Chomont's films.
Juan Suárez is an associate professor of American studies and English at the University of Murcia, Spain. He is the author of Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema (1997) and Pop Modernism: Noise and the Reinvention of the Everyday (2007).