PREVIEW: Across Realities - The Films of Wojciech Bruszewski Review

During the 1980s the London Film-Makers’ Co-Op made a short film for the Museum of the Moving Image designed to showcase avant-garde cinema. Using the LFMC’s offices, it involved a camera prowling around the place and having its attention grabbed by various posters and index cards. Each of these would relate to key title and trigger a film clip: Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising; Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon; Bruce Conner’s A Movie; Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls; and so on. As well as the US figureheads, there was also a strong British contingent too (Jeff Keen, Derek Jarman, Malcolm Le Grice, et al) plus a tiny handful of European players. The sole representative of Poland was Wojciech Bruszewski.

Bruszewski, who died in 2009 aged 62, was both a pioneer and an everyman of the Polish avant-garde. He was among the graduates of the Łódź Film School who formed the Workshop of Film Form in 1970 that would help define the country’s particular brand of experimental cinema. (Co-founders included Pawel Kwiek, Jósef Robakowski – subject to a superb overview by the Austrian label Index DVD – and Oscar-winning animator Zbigniew Rybczyński.) He also set up his own radio station, published novels, curated exhibitions and film festivals, received the title of Professor of the Fine Arts by Poland’s President, directed television commercials and was a multimedia artist in the true sense, working variously with celluloid, computer-generated imagery and, in a first for Polish filmmakers, videotape.

Tuesday’s event at the Tate, entitled Across Realities, provides what the programme notes refer to as “a compact yet comprehensive presentation of the most important of [Bruszewski’s] moving image practice.” The total running time of these works may be less than an hour, but they nevertheless represent some of the key output between 1972 and 1982. 10 Works compiles four celluloid and six videotape pieces, including YYAA (which featured in the MOMI film). Der Sternmusik, TV-Music, TV-Hen and Behavoir Musik supply a quartet of acoustic-centric installations. Plus there is the standalone Apnoea (aka Bezdech), which is also the earliest of the titles to feature in this programme.

Scripted, shot on 35mm black and white film stock and performed by actors, Apnoea is, on the surface, a conventional short film. Yet Bruszewski subverts traditional narrative expectations in the manner in which he delivers what should be conventional exposition. He would refer to such an approach as causing “disturbances” or “setting traps” – the audience pre-supposes a certain ‘reality’ as taught by however many years of watching visual images onscreen, only for Bruszewski to reveal something else. In some cases, as with Apnoea, the set-up will be quite elaborate; in others it’s remarkably simple, as seen in a number of the video works.

Much like his compatriot and contemporary Robakowski, there’s a wonderful playfulness to much of Bruszewski’s output and a great deal of charm. Video art, admittedly, has a tendency to look quite quaint nowadays, though arguably that adds to the appeal too. Whilst there are serious issues at work, the simplicity of the execution makes these highly accessible works: the audio manipulations of Spoon and Time-Structure; the creaking door re-invented as a pictorial alphabet in Text-Door; the use of Stern magazine (a weekly German news publication) to create the soundtrack – each page dictating the harmony, page-turning controlling the rhythm – in Der Sternmusik. Ideas in abundance, and never at the expense of our enjoyment.

As well as the screenings, Across Realities will also feature a panel discussion on Bruszewski, his contemporaries and how his work relates to that of the British structural filmmakers. The event is being held at Tate Modern, commencing at 7.00pm, as part of this year’s Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. For further information click the link.

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