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Curating Non-Cinema: Inside Museum of the Moving Image's Experimental Film Festival

We talked to Jason Eppink who curated the digital section at the fourth-ever First Look festival.

by Benoit Palop
Jan 5 2015, 10:10pm

Devils Reign by Yoshi Sodeoka

On Friday, the Museum of the Moving Image will launch the 4th edition of First Look, an international festival that merges daring and experimental films with one-of-a-kind artworks and other motion picture mediums. Deconstructing both conventions and approaches towards traditional filmmaking, the 2015 edition offers the public a deep exploration into a selection of cutting-edge creations which redefine the boundaries between fiction and reality.

"Whether by emerging artists or established masters, the films in First Look are deeply engaged, not only with the medium but with such essential subjects as work, revolution, romantic obsession, aging, and the clash between tradition and modern life," explains Chief Curator David Schwartz in the event's press release. "Distinctly idiosyncratic, the films share an artisan approach; they feel intimate and hand-crafted." This year, the festival expands in both size and scope, offering no less than 40 international films including premieres and facilities with special digital media capabilities.

Leather by Jimmy Joe Roche

Assembled and curated by Jason Eppink, Associate Curator of Digital Media at the Museum of Moving Image, the event's digital section not only introduces emerging scenes and practices in the digital age, but also features some new non-film pieces including Common Areas, a large-scale office lobby by Montreal-based video artist Sabrina Ratté, a selection of commissioned GIFs by Mert Keskin a.k.a. Haydiroket, Lacey Micallef, A. Bill Miller, Lorna Mills, Eva Papamargariti, Milos Rajkovic a.k.a. Sholim, and Gustavo Torres a.k.a. Kidmograph, and a video projection by the Undervolt & Co label (with founder Johnny Woods on-site on January 10 and 11).

The Creators Project spoke to Jason Eppink about curating the young new media festival:

The Urgency by Extreme Animals 

The Creators Project: Could you give us a little summary about the evolution of the festival since its inception?

Jason Eppink: When the Museum opened its newly renovated building in 2011, it also expanded the scope of its programming, especially increasing its focus on contemporary international cinema. First Look was created as a showcase for innovative, unclassifiable new work that hasn’t shown in New York City. 

Dazzling Odysseys by Johnny Woods

Have digital practices had an important place in First Look since the beginning ?

First Look is expanding this year, introducing a non-cinema component, with a commissioned video installation and series of GIFs. This is partly to reflect the way that moving image artists are breaking down traditional boundaries between “film” and “digital,” words which are becoming increasingly meaningless. We also wanted to be open to work that is not traditionally theatrical.

Littoral Zones by 
Sabrina Ratté

Regarding the part of the festival you curated, how did you make your choice of artists and what were your criteria?  

First Look is about new, experimental, challenging work, and the Undervolt & Co. program pushes at those seams nicely. The label is only a year old but boasts an impressive roster of artists. It's an important part of the program that this comes from a self-organized group (as opposed to being a selection of individual works I programmed completely on my own).

Sabrina's work evokes electric landscapes and architectures, often very horizontal subjects, and I knew she would intuitively understand how to engage with the 50-foot wide video panorama in the Museum's lobby. She marries analog and digital processes seamlessly, which I think is a nice metaphor both for the inclusion of digital practices in this year's festival and a general agnosticism toward the materiality of media we have today. (i.e. What is analog? What is digital? Does it matter?)

Vortex by Sssound Object via Cristopher Cichocki

I've organized several exhibitions of GIFs at the Museum in the last couple years, but they've all been about the GIF as a cultural phenomenon rather than an artistic form. For our first foray into that territory, we commissioned a GIF each from seven artists who represent the breadth of the form to sort of put down a flag that says "this is what the GIF can be." I'm really psyched by the diversity of both the artists we commissioned and their approach to the form. There's been a lot of hype about "GIF as Art" and I want to make sure we engage with that idea meaningfully.

Sunken buildings, oily bubbles, floating plants by Eva Papamargariti

Why are these selections relevant to the programming? What will they bring to the debates and discussion provoked by the festival?

Including more moving image practices, not just cinema, is in line with our mission to address the moving image in all its forms. 

Volare, oh oh by Lorna Mills

How do you see the evolution of these types of creativity affecting the experimental video/film scenes and markets at large?

Scarcity is something you have to think about when making natively digital works: do you decide to set artificial limits to increase a work's value or do you embrace the affordance of the form that allows for free, infinite copies? I think more artists and creators (e.g. Undervolt and GIF-makers) are opting for the latter

It's too early to predict the future of next year's festival, but I think this issue of scarcity suggests the role of a museum and festival (with the digital practices we've been discussing, at least) be one that commissions new works.

Green Red by Peter Burr

First Look 2015 will be on display at the Museum of the Moving Image from January 9–18. Click here for tickets and info.

Related: 

The Mother Of All Supercuts: "Cut Up" Brings The Best of YouTube To The Museum

What To Expect From The World's First Music Video Exhibition

Adventures In The Moving Image: Our Favorite Experimental Filmmakers

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