Film as Material

Storm de Hirsch & Jennifer West

A still from Jennifer West's "Paintball Film". A round splotch of bright yellow paint over a deep sky blue, visible around the top and right-hand edges. The edges of the yellow splotch have splatter marks, and the blue has seeped through the yellow in some patches, creating a delicate, deep-green crackle-effect.
Still from Paintball Film (16MM film leader "shot" with paintballs by me and a bunch of 12 yr old boys), by Jennifer West (2006)

In-house screening captioned for d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing viewers
Optional SDH captions available when watching online

On Sat 7 and Sun 8 August (in-house), and from Sun 8 August for one week (online), we were delighted to present a series of four short films exploring the theme of ‘film as material’ by two key experimental filmmakers that have inspired Laura Aldridge’s own work, Storm de Hirsch and Jennifer West.

The films played on a loop within our building over the weekend. 

Third Eye Butterfly (Storm de Hirsch, 1968, 10’) is a double 16mm projection piece in which the two screens – at times divided into additional “mini-screens” within – create textured kaleidoscopic effects, combining to form a third wider frame, encouraging the viewer to extend their vision beyond ordinary sight. Casey Charness of Columbia University has said of the film that it “encourages the mind to work as a third eye by fusing the two side-by-side screens into a third meaning, just as Eisenstein caused the meanings of two juxateposed shots to result in a third implied meaning.”

De Hirsch herself described Third Eye Butterfly as: “Where is the light coming from? The flavor of the colors are succulent to the long vision in the soul. How can dust cover the arrows of light? How can darkness favor oblivion in the face of light? The variations of soul-touch exist in the auras of illuminations. The Great Eye dominates.”

Comfort Food Film (“unprocessed” 16MM film negative cooked in mashed potatoes & gravy, macaroni & cheese, guacamole, ketchup,mustard & pickle relish, hot oatmeal, applesauce and spaghetti & meatballs) (Jennifer West, 2006, 1’23, silent)16mm film transferred to digital video

Paintball Film (16MM film leader “shot” with paintballs by me and a bunch of 12 yr old boys), (Jennifer West, 2006, 2’22, silent)16mm film transferred to digital video

Nirvana Alchemy Film (16mm black & white film soaked in lithium mineral hot springs, pennyroyal tea, doused in mud, sopped in bleach, cherry antacid and laxatives – jumping by Finn West & Jwest), (Jennifer West, 2007, 2’51, silent)16mm film transferred to digital video

Storm de Hirsch (1912–2000) was an American filmmaker, poet and painter. She was a key figure in the New York avant-garde film scene of the 1960s, and one of the founding members of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative. Despite her extensive presence and influence in the avant-garde film scene of New York in the 1960’s, De Hirsch’s work and history has largely remained obscure, though in recent she has gained wider recognition. 

“I don’t want to put any labels on my films… I never impose on you; you need to find what you have to find.” – Storm De Hirsch

Clearly influenced by her poetic background, de Hirsch’s pioneering films are abstract in style and employ a number of experimental techniques, such as frame-by-frame etching, direct scratching, colouring, painting on film and animation applied to imagery shot in everyday life. In an interview with Jonas Mekas on the making of one of her first films, Divinations, she said, “I wanted badly to make an animated short and had no camera available. I did have some old, unused film stock and several rolls of 16mm sound tape. So I used that — plus a variety of discarded surgical instruments and the sharp edge of a screwdriver — by cutting, etching, and painting directly on both film and [sound] tape.”

Storm de Hirsch’s films were screened during her lifetime at the Museum of Modern Art, the Cannes Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and the Whitney Museum of American Art among others. De Hirsch has several published books of poetry, including “Alleh Lulleh Cockatoo and Other Poems” (Brigant Press, 1955), “Twilight Massacre and Other Poems” (Folder Editions, 1964), “The Shape of Change”, and “The Atlantean Poems”. She has also received several awards, including the first independent film grant from the American Film Institute for “The Tattooed Man”, and the New York Women in Film & Television’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund in 2000 for “Divinations”. De Hirsch also taught courses at School of Visual Arts and Bard College.

Jennifer West is an American artist who lives and works in Los Angeles, and has gained international recognition for her unique explorations of materialism in film. Subjecting the 16mm, 35mm and 70mm celluloid in her films to a series of unorthodox – and at times bizarre – procedures, West has sprayed them with perfume, skateboarded over them, doused them with makeup, pepper spray, household chemicals and even dragged them through tar pits. Through this physical manipulation of her film negatives, the artist underlines the performative aspect to her work—simultaneously highlighting the unintentional visual results of her interventions. She has produced over 70 films since she started working this way in 2004.

“the intermingling of materiality, feeling and identity creates a wild blend of synaesthetic experience wherein the substances of life literally and figuratively colour the film.” – Joanna Kleinberg (Frieze, 2010)

West explains her approach as a product of Pacific Northwest art of the ’90s, adding that “it’s more DIY than Heroic Sublime.” She also feels very much part of a tradition of visceral film-making and painting, citing Tony Conrad’s electrocuting and pickling of film, Carolee Schneemann’s emulsion handworking, Ed Ruscha’s use of beet juice and Pepto-Bismol in his paintings, and Stan Brakhage spitting on and scratching his negatives with his fingernails.

West is also known for the Zine booklets that she produces featuring the production stills showing the making of the films, that she gives away at her exhibitions.

In 2008, Jennifer and Laura Aldridge met when Jennifer exhibited a solo show “Lemon Juice and Lithium & New Work” at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow. They each describe themselves as ‘big fans’ of one another’s work.

Born in Topanga, California, West lives and works in Los Angeles. She received an MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and a BA with film and video emphasis from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. She has lectured widely on her ideas of the “Analogital” and is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Fine Arts at USC’s Roski School of Art and Design. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, Frieze and Mousse Magazine. West has produced eleven Zine artist books which were recently acquired by the Getty Museum. Her work is in museum and public collections such as and the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China; Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kadist Foundation (San Francisco/Paris), Zabludowicz Collection (London); Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Depart Foundation (Rome); Museum of Old and New Art, Tasmania; Henry Art Gallery (Seattle); Rubell Collection (Florida); Saatchi Collection (London), among others. Significant commissions include Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, 2016-2017; Institute of Contemporary Arts, Art Night, London, 2016; High Line Art, New York, 2012; Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2010; and Turbine Hall at TATE Modern, London, 2009. Her solo exhibitions include: “ Future Forgetting“, JOAN Los Angeles (2020); Emoji Piss Film, Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis, 2018; “ Is Film Over?, Yuz Museum, Shanghai, China (2017); Film is Dead…, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, 2017; Action Movies, Painted Films and History Collage, Museo d’Arte Provincia di Nuoro, Nuoro, 2017; Flashlights Filmstrips Projections, Tramway, Glasgow, 2016; Aloe Vera and Butter, S1 Artspace, Sheffield, UK (2012); Paintballs and Pickle Juice, Kunstverein Nürnberg, Nuremberg, (2010); Perspectives 171: Jennifer West, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, (2010); Lemon Juice and Lithium, Transmission Gallery, Glasgow (2008); White Room: Jennifer West, White Columns, New York, (2007).

A programme of short films by two pioneering avant-garde filmmakers working with ‘film as material’, Storm de Hirsch and Jennifer West

Total programme duration 17 mins
Subtitles for d/Deaf & Hard of Hearing available

Watch at Cample: SAT 7 - SUN 8 AUGUST

Open 11am – 4pm
Film programme screening at quarter past each hour
Drop in 1-2pm either day, or book one of our timed slots

Watch Online:

Sun 8 - Sat 14 AUGUST

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