[Written as notes to accompany an installation in The Box, a video exhibition space at the Wexner Center for the Arts in March 2013. Cinema is viewable online here]

Cinema (Eder Santos and Stephen Vitiello, 2009)

Like murky glimpses of indistinct but detailed scenes in a crystal ball, Cinema sees Eder Santos use the eponymous medium to transform the serenity of ordinary countryside environments into charged, gorgeous, and ominous landscapes where time and space seem to fold in on themselves.

Working for over three decades and serving as a mentor and inspiration for countless subsequent artists, Santos has been described as “the best-known name of current Brazilian video artists” whose work is “the most exempt from compromise [and] continually challenges our conventional reading models.” (1) Based in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, in the interior of Brazil, his works often explore the pleasures of the textural and Cinema sees Santos exquisitely exploring the new palates that high-definition digital video provides. With shifting focus, iris-like effects, and suggestive superimpositions, Santos crafts Cinema into a kinetic painting.

For Cinema, Santos partnered once again with Stephen Vitiello, a New York musician and sound artist who has collaborated with filmmakers, musicians and artists including Joan Jonas, Julie Mehretu, Pauline Oliveros, Tony Oursler, Nam June Paik, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Vitiello’s score – awash with guitars, percussive glitches, hypnotic clarinet, and ambient tones – is so entwined with the imagery that Vitiello is credited as the film’s co-curator. The two elements are in such harmony that it’s indistinguishable to tell whether the images are driving the sound or vice versa.

Unexpectedly, the images from Cinema are appropriated from a documentary, The Name Is the Last Thing to Choose (2009), photographed by André Hallak and Leandro Aragão, two partners in Santos’s production company, Trem Chic. The original film features many textured superimpositions and effects of its own to chart an open-ended travelogue of people and cities across Minas Gerais. But Santos extracts a few ordinary and iconic images to explore at length and apart from the ebb and flow of a narrative. Like maestros, Santos and Vitiello cause time to move in fits and starts, or even to seemingly stand still. Space frequently turned inside out with rootless edits, uncanny superimpositions, and plays of focus.

An entranced viewer will discover all manners of visual phenomenon as a simple focus shift can result in raindrops on a windshield ostensibly reconstituting themselves into cars parked on a street and back again. An ordinary village neighborhood is imbued with the fantastic as the sky turns into a sea through the simplest of transformations. Patterns emerge from the simplest gestures as micro-loops of action and sound layer atop each other. The video opens with a figure disappearing down a dirt road as the camera and soundtrack flit and glitch rootlessly, seeming apart from human consciousness. It ends with a lengthy shot of a tower streetlight stretching celestially as moths fleck the screen in cycles of random repetition. Santos’s diverse array of technical interventions on the imagery and Vitiello’s sensual and ominous score fuse together to create the video’s unifying tone. Cinema is a time and place on the brink. It is neither here nor there while being both. It’s over and it never really began. A place of arriving that never comes. Spaces of contemplation are created only to be upended. A viewer is put in a trance for the sole purpose of disrupting that state of mind. An ephemeral state of mind that can be continually returned to, Cinema is a space that only exists while it’s being projected. But if you happen to inhabit these unearthly Minas Gerais landscapes during one of these projections, they’ll become a part of you and can be accessed long after the projector has been shut off. Cinema is a place we carry inside us.

(1) Made in Brazil: Three Decades of Brazilian Video, edited by Arlindo Machado, 2007

Eder Santos, Stephen Vitiello
Cinema, 2009
13 mins, HD video

© The Ohio State University/Wexner Center for the Arts. Reproduced by permission.

 Cinema   (Eder Santos and Stephen Vitiello)