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A Happy Man: Jonas Mekas

The Godfather of Avant-Garde Cinema Celebrates His 90th With a Major Retrospective and World Premiere

Jonas Mekas reflects on the relationship between memory and image in this clip from his feature-length film, Outtakes From the Life of a Happy Man, which premieres this week at London's Serpentine Gallery. The Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet and avant-garde instigator assembled this visual diary from the over 50 years of footage shot since his emigration to the US in 1949. Upon arriving in Brooklyn Mekas borrowed money to buy his first Bolex camera, and so began to capture every aspect of his life, recording intimate moments with family and extended circles of friends in pastoral landscapes in addition to the urban sprawl of his adopted city. Using previously unseen footage, here the director creates an impressionistic vision of his autobiography, accompanied by his own poetic voiceover. The film jumps forward non-chronologically, formally enacting Mekas’ dictum that life is unknowable, memory transient and the image the only reliable manifestation of the past. Old footage is spliced with recent shots of the auteur at work on the film as we watch it, hunched over reels late into the night, physically cutting and pasting narratives together. Mekas was instrumental in the underground culture of 1950s and 1960s New York, screening at small galleries on the Lower East Side and working with the likes of Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol. In 1970, he co-founded the Anthology Film Archives, a groundbreaking center for the preservation and exhibition of experimental film. His work has since been exhibited at such major venues as the Venice Biennale, PS1 Contemporary Art Centre and the Centre Georges Pompidou. 

Jonas Mekas’ 90th birthday is marked by three separate shows across London and Paris. In London, an exhibition of work opens today and runs through January 27 at the Serpentine Gallery and BFI Southbank's season of Mekas films begins December 6. A retrospective runs at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris until January 7.

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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Notes on Blindness: Rainfall

    A Close Look at Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Multi-Disciplinary Memory Marathon

    New sensory experiences are explored in this exclusive clip from Rainfall, Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s dramatization of an audio diary entry made by John Hull, just four months after going blind. As part of the Memory Marathon at the Serpentine Gallery, London, the short explores Hull’s understanding of the world through means other than sight, touching on the notion of consciousness and how immersive elements such as rain give the world depth, detail and contour. The weekend-long event devoted to remembrance in all its forms brings together over 60 luminaries, from the world of art to those of science, literature, music and even scent. Contributors include artist duo Gilbert and George, former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, writer Douglas Coupland and filmmaker David Lynch. Now in its seventh year, this edition of the pioneering program is dedicated to the late historian Eric Hobsbawm, who curated part of the programming. Here Serpentine co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist discusses synaesthesia and the role of memory in the digital age.

    What was the initial curatorial inspiration behind the unique “live” format of the Marathon series?
    Hans Ulrich Obrist: I was inspired by Sergei Diaghilev, the Russian impresario who delved into “living art” when he founded the Ballets Russes, bringing together the greatest composers, choreographers, dancers and artists of his time. I wouldn’t say it is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art”, but it is definitely an exhibition where we curate space and we curate time.

    Past themes have included the “Garden” and the “Interview”––why "Memory", and why now?
    HUO: We live in an age where there is more and more information, but not necessarily more memory. Memory plays a role in neuroscience, in music, in literature, in architecture and now obviously in the realm of the digital. It is a multi-sensory topic. Take smell, for example: in art we don’t talk or think about smell very often, but the cork construction of the Herzog & de Meuron Serpentine Pavilion this year has such a strong smell. So, I invited Sissel Tolaas, an inventor of scents, to participate. Perhaps a new “Marathon Fragrance” will grow out of it!

    How is the digital age impacting memory and sensory experience?
    HUO: The Marathon will obviously appear online, but at the end of the day it is all about real-time engagement. Concerts, for instance, are becoming important again in this age of digital listening. The Marathon toys with the idea of the live experience; it began with a simple conversation and soon grew to involve performance, even physical experience. Last year, Rodney Graham threw potatoes at the audience. Things will happen unexpectedly, and that is the joy of memory now.

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  • MOST SHARED IN FASHION
    MOST SHARED IN FASHION

    Beware of a Man's Shadow

    Illustrator Tara Dougans' Buzzing Short Film Celebrates the Debut Men's Fashion Week in London

    Inspired by the Burmese proverb "beware of a man's shadow and of a bee's sting,” Canadian-born, London-based illustrator Tara Dougans juxtaposes the graphic beauty of the honey-making insect with a selection of striking menswear designs from the F/W12 season. In anticipation of the first ever London Men’s Fashion Week, which kicks off June 15, Dougans illustrated some of her favorite designs, including Alber Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver's striped three-piece suit for Lanvin, Riccardo Tisci's star-emblazoned sweater for Givenchy, Walter Van Beirendonck's trompe l'oeil prints, and Kim Jones's travel blanket-inspired bomber jackets for Louis Vuitton. “Menswear somehow feels more open to interpretation,” explains Dougans. “Visually its delivery tends to be more subtle than womenswear, so a little twist of playfulness goes a long way.” Executed in her trademark hand-drawn style, Dougans’ works are brought to life with subtle movements and a haunting soundtrack by London-based composer Johnston Sheard. “I wanted to explore something multisensory while retaining my original craftsmanship of hand,” the artist says of working with moving image. “I love the idea of subtle, unexpected movement—a playful wink.” 

    Credits, in order of appearance: Dries Van Noten, Juun.J, Lanvin, Thom Browne, Givenchy, Walter Van Beirendonck, Louis Vuitton


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