"The Best Art In The World"
© Luisa Lambri, Untitled (Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, #18, 2008, Laserchrome print, Edition of 5 and 1 Artist's Proof, 29 1/2 X 25 inches (74.93 X 63.5 cm)
Luisa Lambri at the Luhring Augustine Gallery
New York, NY 10011
January 10th through Feb 7th, 2009
I made abstract and conceptual films for twenty years. I'm on a hiatus from filmmaking and it affords me time to reassess the work that I did and why I did it and what the contexts were in which I did it.
Throughout the two decades there were, really, only about ten years of filmmaking, all told, that I would consider "productive". The rest of the time, of course, was spent procuring equipment, working on my chops, procuring more equipment and looking for work which may have afforded me the time and money required for the tackling of celluloid. The first four or five years were incredibly productive, and some of that time was at school. I made more mistakes than I could imagine, fought the medium tooth and nail and fought the artists and professors around me who were also engaged in fighting the medium tooth and nail. It was great fun, and it was, for the age I was at, quite satisfying.
Then came the dry spell, i.e. my twenties. Moving around the country, not working at jobs that paid all that much and the usual trials and tribulations of being that age all added up to much creative frustration and wheel-spinning. Which was exactly the impetus needed to slingshot me into actually making film again, as my 30s rolled around. And I made film. At one point I was shooting several rolls per week. Every morning in the warmer months I'd be out at the nearby park, Bolex in hand, picking off images like I was a tailgunner during wartime and I had virtually everything around me in my sights. It was wildly fruitful and I dove headlong into the making of these abstract and conceptual visual feasts. From the years 2000 through 2005 I made films that I'm still quite proud of and have shown many of these around the U.S., Canada, South America and Europe.
I also shot still-photos during this time, especially towards the end; it was a medium I used as somewhat of a "sketchbook" for my moving-image projects.
After all is said and done, in the end, there is only the image. It boils down to this image/these images, the actual focus of all of this scratching and scrambling and shelling out of cash. I was obsessed, of course. How else could one work in cinema and not be obsessed? I was gleefully obsessed, ultimately, by that goddamned image. It felt like the image never let me sleep, never let me dream about anything else...I was seeing these images, these still images forced to "move" via fades, cross-fades, pans, tilts, rack-focuses and more each night as I tried to sleep, each morning upon waking and throughout each day.
Having since stopped making films, it goes without saying that it's something I do, in fact, think about but, at least for now, still do not allow myself to get too close to. I cannot afford it at this point, in more ways than one, and I need my focus to be on other things at the moment.
After the holiday season it was with great interest and relief that I returned to the galleries this week and last. It's been highly profitable. I've seen more work that genuinely excites me than I've seen which leaves me cold. Traipsing through the district earlier today, I happened upon the Luhring Autustine gallery. The space is, like many Chelsea galleries, quite large and perfectly suited to view artwork-on-a-wall. Sparse. The gallery "allows" one to focus intently upon the work at hand. And to take one's time.
The photographs of Luisa Lambri were on display. I've never seen her work before now. I walked in and looked at the first one, facing the entranceway. I nearly didn't see it. I don't think I could have. It was too close to me, much like the psychological remnants of filmmaking still are. I'd sought after images like this one, for twenty years. I looked for them and the entire time I kept seeing them in my viewfinder, in the back of my head, in my sock drawer, in the shower. And here is one of them, or at least the same "ideal" image, staring me in the face. It took me a while but I began to allow myself to gaze at these pictures, simply stand there like an idiot and look at them. Up close, far away, from this side, from that side. They are, in fact, as nearly perfect as I've ever seen. I was, in my own mind, absolutely speechless. These images of hers had kicked back all linquistic urges and had forced me to shut up. I'm still speechless. I don't know what I'm going to write next. There's no plan, no project, no narrative. There is only image. The ideal image. And they were all spread out before me, each and every one of these ideals.
Each picture of each set is slightly different from the others. What makes each so imperceptibly different is the light. And of course there are no images without light. These images are as close to perfect-textbook examples of how to sculpt light as anything I've seen since John Alton, Nestor Almendros and John A. Alonzo. The light differences between each picture in each set are so slight, so subtle, that one's intelligence is not insulted. The infinitesimal variations draw one in, draw the differences around the viewer and begin to breathe with the viewer himself. Each picture has its own weight, velocity, its own reason for existing. Each one can exist on its own; however, each image, belonging to a set, co-exists alongside its peers and does not steal the attention from them; rather, each reinforces the others' importance. Gazing at singular images and then at each set offers a balance that leaves me, as a viewer, sated.
The experience of witnessing Luisa Lambri's work at Luhring Augustine Gallery brings me dangerously close to considering making film again. Beyond all considerations of practicality, responsibility, devotion, obsession and inspiration, work that is as singularly stunning as Ms. Lambri's is nothing less than a gift.
Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.
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