Ken Jacobs (b.1933) has been active as a filmmaker, performer and teacher for the past five decades. Rigorous and dedicated, his work is characterised by a keen eye for formal composition and a fierce political consciousness.
As a central figure of the generation that defined independent filmmaking during the post-War era, Jacobs contributed to the liberation of cinema from technical and ideological conventions. Beginning in the 1950s, he developed an ‘urban guerrilla cinema’ out of poverty and desperation, shooting improvised routines on city streets. The early works ‘Star Spangled to Death’, ‘Little Stabs at Happiness’ and ‘Blonde Cobra’ feature a nascent Jack Smith, years before the renegade artist produced his own films.
Having lived in New York all his life, the changing character of t he city has been a strong presence throughout Jacobs’ work, from his manipulation of vintage street scenes in ‘New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903’, through to the diaristic video ‘Circling Zero: We See Absence‘, which observes the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, a few blocks away from Jacobs’ home. ‘The Sky Socialist’ was shot in a deserted neighbourhood (long since decommissioned) below the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1960s, and ‘Perfect Film’ uses raw television news reports on the assassination of Malcolm X.
Found or archival footage is a source for much of Jacobs’ work. In ‘Star Spangled to Death’, entire appropriated films contribute to an accumulative denunciation of American politics, religion, war and racism, whereas an analytical approach to reclaiming cinema’s past was originated in ‘Tom, Tom the Pipers’ Son’ by re-filming selected details of a theatrical production dating from 1905. This same footage has lately been digitally excavated in ‘Return to the Scene of the Crime’.
The technique of unlocking aspects of film material that would otherwise pass unnoticed is the essence of the live Nervous System pieces that Jacobs has performed with two adapted projectors since the mid-1970s. Repetition and pulsing flicker teases frozen images into impossible depth and perpetual motion (demonstrated in ‘New York Street Trolleys 1900’), a process further developed by the Eternalism system of editing used in many recent videos. The previously ephemeral live performances ‘Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and Hardy; Bye Molly! ‘ and ‘Two Wrenching Departures’ are amongst the works that take on new life in their digital form.
A contemporary of Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner and Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs is one of the true innovators of the moving image, who continues his radical practice in the present. Though his images frequently depict bygone eras, the works are resolutely contemporary, displaying a vitality and ingenuity that is rarely matched. The exhibition at tank.tv presents a portfolio of 20 works covering 50 years of Ken Jacobs’ artistic production from 1957 to the present day.
Curated by Mark Webber.
Programme on www.tank.tv
The Whirled, 1956-63
Star Spangled To Death, 1957-59/2004
Little Stabs At Happiness, 1958-63
Blonde Cobra, 1959-63
The Sky Socialist, 1964-65
Tom, Tom, The Piper’s Son, 1969-71
The Doctor’s Dream, 1978
Perfect Film, 1985
Flo Rounds A Corner, 1999
New York Street Trolleys 1900, 1999
Circling Zero: We See Absence, 2002
Krypton Is Doomed, 2005
Let There Be Whistleblowers, 2005
Ontic Antics Starring Laurel And Hardy; Bye, Molly!, 2005
The Surging Sea Of Humanity, 2006
Capitalism: Child Labor, 2006
New York Ghetto Fishmarket 1903, 2006
Two Wrenching Departures, 2006
Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World, 2006
Return To The Scene Of The Crime, 2008
For the duration of the online show, tank.tv offers a unique opportunity for discussion with Ken Jacobs in an extended Q+A session. Email your questions to the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org. A regularly updated transcript of the dialogue will be online at www.tank.tv/askken
Thursday 16 October 2008 , at 9pm, BFI Southbank & Sunday 19 October, at 5pm, ICA, London.
Momma’s Man (2008, 77 min).
A feature film by Azazel Jacobs, starring and shot in the loft of his parents, Ken and Flo Jacobs.
Screening in The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival.
Capitalism: Child Labor (2006 , 14 min).
An animated deconstruction of a Victorian stereo photograph
W will be regularly presented on the CASZ Contemporary Art Screen Zuidas on the Zuidplein in Amsterdam.
Sunday 2 November 2008 , from 2 – 10pm, Chisenhale Gallery, London
Star Spangled to Death (1957-59/2004, 375 min).
Celebrate the end of the Bush regime with a free screening of Ken Jacobs episodic indictment of American politics, religion, war, racism and stupidity.
Starring Jack Smith, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, Al Jolson and a cast of thousands. Refreshments available.
Presented by Whitechapel at the Chisenhale.
Saturday 29 November 2008 , at 10:15pm, BFI IMAX, London
Ken Jacobs Ne rvous Magic Lantern live performance in collaboration with Eric La Casa
Using pre-cinematic techniques to conjure abstract 3D forms on the immense IMAX screen.
Part of the Kill Your Timid Notion tour (also performing in Bristol and Liverpool).
Sunday 30 November 2008 , at 12:30pm, BFI Southbank, London
Ken Jacobs in Conversation.
Kill Your Timid Notion presents a discussion with the artist to follow on from the previous night’s performance.