January 22, 2018

Freezeframe: Q&A with Thomas Beard, cofounder and director of Light Industry

In celebration of the re-release of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s seminal text Metaphors on Vision, co-editor Thomas Beard will appear at Lightbox Film Center on Thursday, January 25th. The program will include a screening of Brakhage’s epic film Dog Star Man, as well as discussion about his artistic legacy.


Thomas Beard is a founder and director of Light Industry, a venue for film and electronic art in Brooklyn, and a programmer at large for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He was the co-curator for the cinema programs at the 2012 Whitney Biennial and Greater New York 2010 at MoMA PS1, and has organized screenings for Artists Space, BAMcinématek, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, the Centre Pompidou, Harvard Film Archive, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and Tate Modern.


How did you get involved in republishing Brakhage's Metaphors on Vision?


We co-published Metaphors with Anthology Film Archives, and they approached us a few years ago about the idea of bringing it back into circulation. The book originally appeared in 1963 as a special issue of Jonas Mekas' magazine Film Culture, and was last available in full in 1976 when Anthology released a second printing. Ed Halter, the other half of Light Industry, and I had long wanted to make publishing part of our program, and this seemed like an ideal starting point, because we have a special interest in writings by filmmakers. From Sergei Eisenstein to Maya Deren to Brakhage, filmmakers have, rather unsurprisingly, often proven to be among the most perceptive and provocative film theorists, arguing passionately and polemically about what cinema is, and what functions—aesthetic, political, or otherwise—it should serve.

What is the significance of this work for you personally, and more broadly, for artists and audiences?

This is a particularly radical work of film theory because so many of the typical concerns of moving image aesthetics—from acting to mise-en-scene—are just thrown out the window. And what we find instead is a proposal for a cinema emphatically in the first person, a cinema that could articulate the myriad complexities of the subjective phenomena of vision. And I think its lessons still maintain a great relevance. Brakhage tells us, in an early chapter, how he might spit on the lens, how he strains the mechanical underpinnings of his chosen medium. The apparatus, he finds, is everywhere a system of standardization, of supposedly “ideal” focal lengths and frame rates, for instance, and part of his task as an artist is to undermine it. Here is a challenge, one among many, that Brakhage issues to the artists of today: How will they unravel the defaults of our new technologies of vision, and what ways of seeing lay ahead?


What can uninitiated viewers expect from Dog Star Man and Brakhage's work in general?


One can actually find a good indication of what's in store in the opening lines of Metaphors on Vision:

"Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception. How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of 'Green'? How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye? How aware of variations in heat waves can that eye be? Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering with an endless variety of movement and innumerable gradations of color. Imagine a world before the 'beginning was the word.'"

What are you working on now?

Well, there are a number of other books that we'd like to publish, and Light Industry is about to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Our program of screenings for 2018 is coming together, and I'm very excited about the shows we have coming up: a look back at ’90s cable show Dyke TV, a presentation of prints from the personal collection of critic J. Hoberman (Oscar Micheaux's The Girl from Chicago, a Busby Berkeley reel, et al), and a brief history of the stag film, to name just a few.