This month students and faculty are invited to stop by Sloan Gallery to see the work of Michael Moshe Dahan’s in the exhibit “Two Points of Failure”.
The show consists of print work and video and will be on display until Nov. 20. Dahan is based out of LA and has a notable film career as a producer on big-budget films including the Mel Gibson film “The Patriot”. He is currently an MFA candidate at the University of California/ Irvine.
Upon entering the gallery, you will hear ambient noise, perhaps hard to place until you realize it is emanating from a screen at the far end of the room. The video is the centerpiece of the exhibit. At 13 minutes, the film is short enough for the casual viewer, offering a more temporal vision of Dahan’s physical pieces. It appeared at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014.
The film begins with a photo-negative of director Jean-Luc Godard, pioneer of the French New Wave of cinema, staring through a film camera prototype. The fixed camera shows the negative moving within the bath, the image dissolving slowly. The film transitions between the dissolving negative and an inversion of the footage which shows its reconstruction.
In the beginning, there is the blinding whiteness of the light table, then the negative is slapped garishly into the corrosive solution. After a few minutes, the medium becomes more apparent, the grain of the negative shows through and the subject loses its power. The maroon residue has the viscosity and movement of blood in water and the experience of watching the entire film is threatening. The viewer is reminded of the natural processes, and perhaps their own discomfort with decay. The image gives way to its reverse and teals and purples mix with the reds in engaging patterns, making for an entertaining viewing experience if the viewer has a trained eye.
Dahan’s film reflects the Structuralist films of the 1960s with a fixed camera and sound taken directly from the filming process. When asked whether he considered the film a structuralist piece, the Dahan said that the movement was certainly an inspiration for the work, but that it is not derivative. The film takes on the tradition of Hollis Frampton’s “(nostalgia)” in which the filmmaker talks about personal photos while burning them on a hot-plate. Dahan says that the work is a performance of cinema death, quite literally commemorating the switch from film to digital in the movie industry.
The works on paper are subtle, and it was surprising to learn that they were not deliberate. They are in fact the residue left over from the dissolution process. Though they were not planned, many have striking compositions and fine use of blank space. The soft contrast of gray against white gives the works a less aggressive tone, but effectively evokes age and memory. The chemical splashes again resemble a natural process, and indicate mold growth and other signs of age in nature, though they were created in a highly curated environment.
Dahan also have several drawings in ink on several layers of transparent material. The effect of the layers is indirect, but adds depth to the works, which are mainly of small film cameras. The red and blue palette connote technical drafts, but the cameras are loosely drawn upon closer inspection, and the mark making is expressive. Dahan says he is touching on the same concepts as Freud’s short essay “The Mystic Writing Pad” which purports that the mind has an unconscious and a protective layer. Freud describes a sheet of celluloid, a sheet of translucent wax paper and a wax slab. When one writes upon the pad, an inscription is left on the celluloid, made possible by its contact with the wax paper. To remove the inscription, one merely needs to lift the sheets. This metaphor for the mind’s way of capturing memory is tied to artist’s use of layering, and the idea of decay.
Dahan talked during his lecture about the theoretical role of the camera and explores this idea with the works which could almost be called portraits. The importance of the character of the camera is apparent in the film as well. The narrative that the work is built around is about Jean-Luc Godard and his need for a smaller camera. In the 1960s, when Godard was at his height, film cameras were gigantic and Godard felt removed from the action. The negative dissolving in the video depicts Godard and a prototype of the 35 mm camera he commissioned. Unfortunately, the camera never worked. Dahan is playing with the idea of seeing and the mechanics of looking, something Godard was reimagining at the time the photo was taken.