Laida Lertxundi: WORDS, PLANETS
21 June – 1 July 2018
Review by Alex Hetherington
In a discussion about his work the late Chilean experimental filmmaker, Raúl Ruíz, said that his ‘films would have to be seen many times, like objects in the house, like a painting…’, that ‘landscape is used as a story’ and that he sought to draw upon ‘connections between film, installation, writing, theatre’ that in his extensive body of works, including the theoretical text ‘Poetics of Cinema’, made between 1963 and 2010, could be described as a nesting of stories, residing within each other, and of stories co-existing; of narratives, often fragmented and elliptical, and their layering together.
A lexicon of filmic, musical and literary references from Ruíz, and others, find form, explicitly and tangentially, in the filmic practice of Los Angeles-based Spanish artist Laida Lertxundi, whose new installation ‘Words, Planets’, curated by Nicole Yip, is presented simultaneously in Tramway’s principal performance space with a sister screening at LUX in London. Working with this dual theatrical and fragmented spatial and temporal shift Lertxundi composes a sensitive, performative imagining. It is a mesmerizing, meditative elegy that pays deferential respect to Ruíz’s poetic notations, building upon them, all the while bringing in the light and heat of California, describing its serenity, the senses and shapes of its landscape, its distances and explorations, its colours and sensuous materials - desert flowers and vegetation in particular - and of its bodies and its voices. She expresses a playful knowing of the properties of 16mm as a medium, of its tolerances and reactivity to light, its precariousness and examines the material quality of film like the material qualities of the body.
‘Words, Planets’ inhabits the world of structural film yet deviates from it. Its construction makes reference to the principles of composition as described in ‘Opinions on Painting by the Monk of the Green Pumpkin’ by 18th century Chinese painter Shih-T’ao, as referenced in Raúl Ruíz’s essay ‘For the Shamanic Cinema’, but in layered, open enigmatic gestures applies them to lived, personal, feminist experiences. These are ‘emotional cartographies’ and ‘self-observant memoirs’. These are meditations on the formation of language, of sight, watching, and understanding, described through the gurgling of the artist’s baby daughter, an innocent to the camera; of non-native English speakers reading, writing and speaking passages from literature; of finding attachment and detachment, belonging and care in these tremendous desert spaces. Some of which brought to mind the work of San Francisco-based British artist Richard T. Walker, and his sculptural, filmic explorations of outsiderness, solitude, perception and landscape.
Vistas are interrupted and texts appear at crucial moments - as subtitles, in English and Spanish - appearing off-screen, sculptural and solid in front of a floating white projection screen. Passages are taken from R.D. Laing’s ‘Knots’, composed of dialogue-scenarios on the impasses of human relationships and curator and critic Lucy Lippard’s experimental novel ‘I see/You mean’ weaving together fragmented passages of overheard dialogue, personal thoughts, Tarot readings and palmistry. These texts generate tension within Lertxundi’s sensuous screen forms and its vivid colour palette, especially yellow, in close-ups of cacti, its piercing spines becoming pierced film, to entwining fingers with luscious red nail polish, hands and shapes and shadows, through to crushed lemons and lemon-coloured fabric.
‘Words, Planets’ offers up a shimmering contradictory experience. Simultaneously dazzled by the Californian heat, mythology, space and light while rationally seeking out literature, structure and substantive philosophy that might enable her and us to describe it adequately. In this incongruent process a revelatory moment is made evident - something about scale, between words and the meanings they inhabit; and landscapes, planets and nature, between control and chaos. That somethings will always remain outside of sight, outside of language.