Brooklyn-based artist film-maker Jem Cohen (b. 1962) is one of cinema’s pre-eminent essay and diary makers. Working with renowned independent musicians such as Patti Smith and Vic Chesnutt, Cohen has made more than seventy works over three decades.
Amber City (1999) presents a strikingly impressionistic take on an un-named city in Italy, while Buried in Light (1994) offers a cinematic collage on profound change in Central and Eastern Europe. Plus a second programme of New York films.
The Whitechapel Gallery presents six screenings in Cohen’s first UK retrospective film season with Barbican and Hackney Picturehouse.
For full season listings for Jem Cohen: Compass and Magnet (31 March – 28 May) click here
2.35pm Buried in Light (1999) 60 mins
A meditation on history, memory, and change in Central and Eastern Europe, Buried in Light is a non-narrative journey, a cinematic collage. Cohen’s “search for images” began at a time of extraordinary flux, as the Berlin Wall was dismantled—opening borders yet ushering in a nascent wave of consumer capitalism. What he saw struck him as a profound paradox: the moment Eastern Europe was revealed was simultaneously the moment it was hidden by the blinding light of commercialism. Cohen’s images are neither the tourist’s roster of picturesque vistas and monuments, nor the mass media’s definitive catalogue of dramatic moments. Instead, he focuses on details, ordinary objects, and forgotten places—filming daily life as seen on the street. – Linda Dubler, from Art at the Edge (Atlanta: High Museum of Art)
3.50pm NYC Shorts Programme / 55 mins
One Minute Movies / 5mins
Little Flags / 6mins
NYC Weights and Measures /6.5mins
One Bright Day / 18mins
Long for the City / 9mins
Night Scene New York / 10mins
4.50pm Amber City (1999) 48 mins
A portrait of an unnamed city in Italy. Sidestepping the tourist attractions that make the city famous, the film/video posits an almost-imaginary place that draws closer to the reality of its inhabitants. Using a voice-over narration that collages direct observation, literary texts, historical fact, local folklore, and a bit of sheer fabrication, the film/video melds documentary and narrative, past and present. Visuals range from verité street footage, to formal portraits of residents, to an unusual type of time lapse cinematography that allows filming in the low-intensity light of night landscapes and museum interiors. Made in collaboration with local residents and institutions, Amber City reflects on the “in-betweenness” of places whose historical and geographical location renders their reality strangely invisible.
With its delicately sombre tones and meandering pace, Amber City not only underscores Cohen’s complete self-assurance as a film-maker who knows his art, but reminds us that ‘fast, cheap, and out of control’ are not the only components for a contemporary aesthetic. – Holly Willis, The Independent