Welcome to Down Time: a new series in which we ask our favourite artists for their cultural recommendations. This can be anything – but music.
For the latest edition, we’ve tapped Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran for his cultural highlights.
Inspired by Italian minimalism, fourth world concepts and Japanese electronic music from the 80s, the tranquil sound of Portland duo Visible Cloaks can’t quite be so easily defined; their soothing compositions utilising digital software to sound like virtual, ambient spaces. Today (5 April), their collaborative LP with pioneering artists Yoshio Ojima and Satsuki Shibano, entitled serenitatem, lands on RVNG Intl. Outside of Visible Cloaks, Doran is an expert curator and known for being a music scholar, having worked on the compilation Kankyō Ongaku. Alongside Maxwell August Croy, he also co-runs the reissue label Empire of Signs.
We asked Doran for some tips on what to watch this weekend. So if you’re staying in to enjoy some down time, flick through Doran’s recommendations below – which cover Dutch surrealism, Japanese architecture and docu-fiction.
On Top of the WhaleDir. Raul Ruiz
I’ve been reading Ruiz’s Poetics of Cinema (which is great, and should be better known) and it made me go back to this extremely strange 80s film of his which has always stuck with me.
Set in Patagonia but filmed in Rotterdam during Ruiz’s Pinochet-induced European exile, it follows a group of Dutch ethnographers who set out to study the linguistics of a (fictional) South American tribe, amidst a speculative future where the Soviet Union has begun to absorb Europe. It shifts between five or six different languages (including bizarre phonetic English and an invented language for the tribe), lots of literary and philosophical references – supposedly the work of ethnolinguist Jaime de Angulo was a big inspiration for the script.
The whole thing is very hallucinatory and dream-like, shot by legendary French cinematographer Henri Alekan (who Ruiz had coaxed out of retirement a couple years prior) with this hazy, extreme use of colourisation that magnifies all the surreal qualities. It all makes for a loose framework for Ruiz to mock the European gaze towards Latin America and wage war on notions of meaning in language. Sounds abstruse on paper but it plays out quite hilariously.
Japan: 3 Generations of Avant-Garde ArchitectsDir. Michael Blackwood
Finally got Kanopy in our local library system and have been devouring all of these Michael Blackwood Productions architecture docs which are all on there. This one from 1989 is probably my favourite, showcasing Japan’s vibrant postmodern building boom at the peak of the asset bubble with Kenneth Frampton narrating and interviewing all of the architects.
It has well-known folks like Arata Isozaki, Tadao Ando and Fumihiko Maki (some great footage/analysis of the Spiral building just after it was built), but it’s even more incredible to see figures I knew less about – like Itsuko Hasegawa and Toyo Ito – along with vividly shot period footage of all their buildings (especially since the Ito buildings featured have all since been destroyed, as I learned when trying to find them in Tokyo earlier this year).
Introduzione All’oscuroDir. Gastón Solnick
Kékszakállú was one of my favourites in recent years so I was excited to catch this – there’s no one else making films quite like Solnick right now. Whereas Kékszakállú felt like a truncated and gracefully-framed take on Weerasethakul-ish slow cinema, this one is an interesting hybrid essay film/dramatisation/travelogue that also feels quite unique.
The impetus is the sudden death of Solnick’s Austrian friend Hans Hurch, and is structured around the director travelling to Hurch’s home of Vienna, retracing his haunts and inspecting meaningful objects from his life. Solnick awkwardly interacts with locals (at times it’s hard to tell if the interactions are staged or entirely spontaneous) and previously recorded conversations between the two play as audio, postcards between them are lovingly scanned on screen, etc. I was worried it would play out like film fest inside baseball (Hurch was the director of the Venice Film Festival and also a former assistant to Straub/Huillet), and while there’s a bit of that it still has a very universal communication of love for a lost friend.
Strangers in Good CompanyDir. Cynthia Scott
Another one on Kanopy – I don’t know much about Cynthia Scott but this is masterful. With a super loose fictional premise (a group of elderly women from all walks of life, who don’t know each other, on a bus trip get stranded in the middle of the Canadian wilderness) it unfolds as what the director calls “docu-fiction”, which creates a space for the characters (playing themselves) to recall stories from their actual lives in a natural setting. It features an entirely non-professional cast so it ends up feeling very understated and honest, each character reflecting their reality to each other, touching on the process of ageing, identity and gender with no pretension.