Remembering Jonas Mekas by reposting our interview with him during the 56th biennale in Venice.
Cinema was invented to celebrate life
- We tend to forget this, what cinema can do, we don't pay attention to it and that's why a show like this might be important, the artist Jonas Mekas tells Objektiv outside Zuecca Project Space’s Venice gallery Spazio Ridotto. The gallery is dedicated to digital artistic projects in order to create a connection between the physical exhibition space and the digital world. In all the opening frenzy during the 56th Venice Biennale this small space offers a welcomed break from the overcrowded Arsenale and Giardini. And especially welcome is the opportunity to have a short conversation with the legendary Mekas whom independent film artists have everything to thank. In 1962 he founded the Film-Makers' Cooperative, and in 1964 the Film-Makers' Cinematheque, which eventually grew into Anthology Film Archives, one of the world's largest and most important repositories of avant-garde cinema. During all this time he continued writing poetry, teaching and making films, many giving him credits for being the one who developed the diaristic forms of cinema. Since 2006 the web site www.jonasmekasfilms.com functions like a great multimedia diary where real life becomes cinema.
In Venice, Mekas exhibits at two different places, one part of The Internet Saga features the work Birth of a Nation (1997) shown in the gallery. A piece composed of four simultaneous projections, displaying 170 portraits, appearances and glimpses of directors and friends who, along with the artist himself, have formed the history of independent cinema in the US. This because, according to the short manifest accompaning the list of participants: "The independents of cinema IS a nation in itself. We are surrounded by a commercial cinema Nation same way as the indigenous people of United States or any other country are surrounded by the ruling powers. We are the invisible, but essential nation of cinema. We are Cinema."
- These are friends of delicate taste and experiences, and every film is important, Mekas explains. - This is a collage where you do the editing yourself, you do your own selection. I have seen them many times, I know what's on every one, but different spaces give different reading.
As part of the show Mekas will perform a poetic decleration named To the Internet written especially for the occation.
- I believe this work will be important even in twenty years time as things change as documents.
Another part of the exhibition takes place at the Palazzo Foscari Contarini on the Grand Canal, now housing the only Burger King in Venice. For the next seven months the audience can experience previously unpublished work by Mekas. In an Instant it All Came Back to Me (2015) features monomeric vinyl on 32 windows facing the courtyard of the restaurant. The close to 800 frames are picked from Mekas' films with the intention to registrer the rythm of past times.
- I wanted to show art in an every day setting, and also look at what the film does to the space here in this well known eating place. We don't always pay attention to what's around us.
At Burger King the audience can also enjoy different videoes from Mekas' Online Diary (2006-2015) and in the courtyard they can enjoy their lunch with a back drop from the sound diary To Petrarca (2003).
- My films are made from daily life with my friends, they were not invented in darkness, they intend to celebrate the positive aspects of life.
The curator duo behind The Internet Saga, Francesco Urbano Ragazzi, have high ambitions for this project and have stated: "This is not a normal pavillion of the Biennal and it is not an event. We are at the beginning of a grand narrative which is taking place in the real time of the internet." Their project is dedicated to Mekas, calling him an eternal experimenter, and they were extremely pleased when he accepted to take part of it.
- They came up with the idea and I came along for it. I liked the idea of doing something like this in these terrible times. Everybody is running from something, be it of politcal or religious reasons, people are set against each other, fighting and killing, it is a very demanding century we have embarked on, Mekas says, back in Venice after having exhibited here in 2003 and also in 2005 representing the Lithuania National Pavillion.
- It seems like everybody are pushed to the corner, and we are witnessing a destruction of the planet. Nobody really understands where we are at, and I think we forget that the disaster is close. We are running out of water, and I am sure that while we are doing this interview five species are dying.
Therefore, Mekas says, we must be awoken and this can be done with art.
Saying this, he shares the opinion with many others on this years biennale exhibition titled All the world's futures, curated by Okuwi Enwezor.
- There's no future to be seen in this years show. It is merely leftovers from the past. We must look further back in history for the groundbreaking shows where something happened, where something could be changed.
The Internet Saga might lead to something more as it also can be seen for those outside of Venice. Everyone can go online and see it wherever they are.
- We are in the beginning of a strong digital culture, and it is important to point out beauty, celebrate the little bits of paradise we have in order to maybe change things.
- One must never give up, Mekas says.
- It is our duty not to, we must not be destroyed.
Interview by Nina Strand