What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

April 14, 2022

Sabrina Gschwandtner
Scarce Material
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
March 12 - April 19, 2022

Sabrina Gschwandtner

To create the works for Scarce Material, Sabrina Gschwandtner has mined historical film archives looking for works made by women during the silent era (1890s-1920s). Her process is to scrutinize the original footage, and then select specific scenes to reproduce. These clips are reprinted onto new black and white 35mm film stock and the reproductions cut into strips and sewn together following the designs of classic quilt patterns. The works are presented backlit with LEDs to illuminate the walls of the darkened gallery. Gschwandtner is interested in the materiality and transparency of the film stock, as well as in the content of the films. For this exhibition, she researched the early works of filmmakers Alice Guy-Blaché, Marion E. Wong, Germaine Dulac and Lotte Reiniger, choosing aspects from their ouevres to use in her collages and quilts.

Cinema Sanctuary Study 2: Alice Guy-Blaché's 1897 Serpentine Dance By Mrs. Bob Walter (2019), is a large film quilt — six groups of concentric squares in a three by two grid — made from footage from Guy-Blaché's Serpentine Dance in which the dancer (Mrs. Bob Walter) performs for the camera. As the dancer moves, she fills the frame. Her costumed arms and body become animated shapes that echo her billowing dress. Each work comes with a story and Gschwandtner provides extensive notes about many of the pieces, describing the films history and the concerns of the filmmaker, as well as her choice of pattern for the quilt. In Cinema Sanctuary Study 1: Marion E. Wong's 1917 'The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles With the West' (2019), Gschwandtner began with a one minute sequence of the original film that featured a bride looking into a mirror and created her quilt based on what was happening in successive frames. The resulting work is a diamond-shaped quadrilateral that extends from the center out to become a complex pattern of alternating film footage and leader (black and transparent sections of the film). She states, "The center square replicates the mirror. I built out either side of the center square with the other shots from the sequence, in chronological order: first an establishing shot of the room, then the bride sitting down, then looking in the mirror, next having her hair brushed, then signaling she wants to do her own hair, then finishing her hair, and finally a cut back out to show the whole room."

Gschwandtner's backlit imagery draws viewers in, begging them to not only look at the overall shapes she has sewn together, but to notice the specifics of each tiny frame of film. Knowing the standard frame rate in motion pictures was 20-24 frames per second, Gschwandtner understands that in each strip she collages, there is little change in the imagery. These works are more about pattern, quilting and the material of film than the original narrative.

Hand-painted Serpentine Dance Video (2021) is the only timed based work in the exhibition. Here, Gschwandtner has created a short loop (1:12") that zooms in on fragments of the dancer's dress from the film Serpentine Dance. Using digital technologies, Gschwandtner has colorized and mirrored segments from the film to focus on the kaleidoscopic patterns of the oscillating fabric. This mesmerizing work pays homage to the genre of early experimental film, as well as to Alice Guy-Blaché's achievement.

While the front space is filled with Gschwandtner's film quilts, the middle and back galleries also include smaller photographic prints that collage together film fragments and Gschwandtner's hand written notes that encapsulate her research and celebrate other under-recognized women filmmakers. There is much to see and think about in Gschwandtner's compelling exhibition. Her process combines digital media and traditional craft and while the individual pieces are extremely contemporary, they are also rooted in history. The exhibition celebrates female filmmakers who, according to Gschwandtner should be, but are not widely known. She filters their work through her inventive process to create a thoughtful collaboration between past and present.