George Landow (aka Owen Land) 1944-2011
We can individually identify with absurdist behavior, although, our ability to disregard material, visual or otherwise, is the catalyst to the manifestation and longevity of this human condition. Experimental film-maker George Landow, also known as Owen Land (1944-2011), used mode of “structural film” coupled with satirical wit and self-referential material to expose our trained attention span, given to us by media images and advertising culture, and assisted in locating substance within the “absurdity of all phenomena and the arbitrariness of all information.”
In an early example of Land’s work, a short film Film in Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. from 1965-66, he allows material to dictate the content. It is a brief loop of a Kodak color test showing duplicate images of a young woman’s portrait alongside the edge lettering, outside sprocket holes and dirt particles present on the surface of the film. The composition is quite minimal, however, the subtle shifts in the artists handling of the film, movement created in the repeated cycle of revealed edge lettering and overlaid with the continual ticking of the film in the camera creates a richly dynamic piece with depth and attention.
George Landow aka Owen Land, Film in Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc., 1965-66, screen shot.
Expounding upon the capabilities of early film media, using 16mm and 8mm, Land formed non-linear abstracted content that provides an oddly fascinating combination of obstructed imagery and material residue that confuses time and space. The repeating loop of the edge lettering on the film indicates time in terms of isolated moments rather than a sense of duration while the cropped imagery limits the viewers’ perception of space and context. Ultimately, focus is given over to the presence of the material including dust particles and scratches on the surface of the film that have been intentionally left by the artist.
Land’s presentation of a seemingly banal subject in a very methodic repeated fashion invites an entirely new visceral and visual experience, which reorients the viewers’ response to duplicate media and advertising imagery. Author and friend of the artist, P. Adams Sitney wrote in a recent Artforum article that “Land’s unique contribution was to focus on the detritus of television and advertisement as the signature rerum – the more banal, the more spiritually immanent,” emphasizing the artists capability to augment shifts in perception of the mundane or absurd visual imagery.
Essentially, the impact of Land’s films is facilitated by time. Precision application of time in his work is revealed in the way he chose to make repeated imagery seem part of the composition of Film in Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. rather than any narrative. Simultaneously, Land understood the time and attention afforded by the viewer in order to mock that very same length of time impressed upon them by media and advertising, which is evermore applicable today. Land harnessed brief moments in time with direct visual vigor and gave back to the viewers their own breadth of experience.