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Jonas Mekas

Today there are at least half-a-billion tools and gadgets for making motion pictures: film cameras,
video cameras, computers, mobile phones, even Google glasses. Which means that practically
anybody can make movies; just as anybody can write, dance, or sing.
While most singing, dancing, writing and, now, moving picture-taking/sending is just a part of
normal social activity, there are always some of us who want, or are inexplicably driven, to go a
step further and pursue the tradition established by the so-called Seven Arts, to which the art of
motion pictures has now been added.

If youve been bitten by the bug of cinema, Id like to share with you the following thoughts that
may be of some use upon embarking on that perilous journey that is your life.

Cinema, like literature or painting, or any other art, can be envisioned as a big tree with many
branches. Some are large, and some are small, and some are very small. Whats important is not to
forget that, large or small, they all have their function and together make up the tree. Thus we have
a large narrative or story-telling branch, itself branching out into still smaller branches such as
western, film noir, musical, comedy, slapstick, etc.; and several branches that split into varieties of
real life: journalism, cinma vrit, television documentaries, and reports, even real-life serials
and docudramas. Then there are different varieties of autobiographical and diaristic cinema (which I
practice myself), and a branch known as home movies and a branch of essayistic cinema
(practiced, say, by Chris Marker, Marcel Hanoun, and Peter Greenaway). And then theres a cluster
of smaller branches that deal with the non-narrative; one could call them poetic forms of cinema
that in more ways than one correspond to the various different forms of poetry in literature (for
example, the lyrical films of Marie Menken, Stan Brakhages Songs (196469), the films of Bruce
Baillie); and branches that could be compared to letters and postcards that make up most of the
output on YouTube, Facebook, and personal sites.

Holy Fools (Salvador Dali), 2012

I believe that the two best ways to begin the journey are: one, to work with another filmmaker
whose work you admire, and learn the art and craft the way the old Renaissance artists did or two,
by acquiring a camera, any camera, and beginning to film/tape as a daily practice. Only by filming
or taping will you begin to discover what kind of movies you want to make, towards which branch
of the cinema tree youre being pulled.

Just as the reading of other poets is the best teacher for a young poet, in cinema the best school for a
film-maker is to see films, both classic and contemporary, from all branches of the cinema tree.
Find your closest venue screening the classics. And get to know the other young people who have

the same dreams as you. Meet them at local film venues where they show their films/videos: dont
get lost in purely commercial, public cinema venues. Its at the small independent venues that
the excitement is generated, that new ideas are born.

Read! Dont ignore the history of your art. Dont waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. Although
its true that cinema begins anew with every buzz of our cameras, its also true that weve inherited
an exciting body of cinema, representing all branches of the cinema tree. In a way, were branches
of it, and we can grow only forwards, not backwards. I wouldnt read the film magazines; theyve
all become very pedestrian. Id say the same about most of the contemporary books on cinema.
Read the early books, such as Paul Rothas The Film Till Now, Lewis Jacobs The Rise of the
American Film, the writings of Hans Richter, Jean Epstein, Dulac, the early (190015) Prague
writers (if you can find them), Pudovkin, Arnheim. From the contemporaries, read Stan Brakhages
Metaphors on Vision, P. Adams Sitneys Visionary Film, Steve Dwoskins Film Is, Dominique
Noguez, and my own Movie Journal. I recommend the early writings on cinema above the
contemporary books for the boundless enthusiasm that the early writers had for the art of motion
pictures, their passion, their visions, dreams that have been lost in the contemporary writings on

Learn everything about the tools and technologies that go into the making and presentation of your
art. Like musicians or painters, film/video makers have to have a thorough knowledge of what their
chosen tool for making moving images can do, its capabilities, its limits, in order to use it to its
maximum potential. (See Harmony Korines Trash Humpers (2009)a movie badly made,
badly edited, with horrible camera work, everything badbut a masterpiece; and my own
Notes on the Circus (1966)for the vocabulary of what a Bolex camera can do.)

MOVEMENT: Movement in cinema can now go from complete immobility (Andy Warhols
Empire, 1964) to a blurred swish (Michael Snows Back and Forth, 1969), to a million
unpredictable speeds and ecstasies (Brakhages work, for example). The classic film vocabulary
allows only respectably paced camera movements, the steadiness, the immobility that is called a
good, clear image. But filmmakers have freed the camera motion. Camera movements can now
go anywhere, from a clear, idyllic peacefulness to a frenetic ecstasy of motion. The full scale of our
emotions can be registered and reflectedfor ourselves, if for nobody else. The camera can be as
feverish as our minds. Theres no such thing as normal movement or a normal image; theres no
good image or bad image. I dont have to tell you that what Im saying here goes radically
against the accepted aesthetics of the classical and professional contemporary public cinema.

Collection of 40 Film Stills from Scenes of the Life of Andy Warhol (Andy Warhol at the first public
appearance of the Velvet Underground on January 14, 1966), 2008

LIGHTING/EXPOSURE: You can go from the properly exposed and lit image (as measured by
the light meter) to the complete destruction of the proper; from a total whiteness (wash-out) to a
total blackness. Endless nuances are now open to us, the poetry of shades, or over- and underexposures. (See Apichatpong Weerasethakuls Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,

We now know that theres no such thing as one way of exposing (seeing) things; that the steadiness
or sharpness or clarity (and all their opposites) arent virtues or absolute properties in themselves;
that the cinema language, like any other language or syntax, is in constant flux, as our tools for
making moving images and our ways of seeing reality change in complex mysterious and
unpredictable ways. (See Harmony Korines Trash Humpers, George Kuchars The Weather

Diaries, 198690, Isidore Isous Trait de bave et dternit, 1951.)

And please, do not listen to those who say that analogue film is dead and long live the digital
technologies! No, no, no! In Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, there are many, I repeat, many young
people who still believe in what these days they call analogue cinema: the film, celluloid cinema,
and they practice it. They know where to find 8-mm and 16-mm film stock, they create their own
film-processing labs, they save old projection equipment, they encourage producers of film stocks
to continue making 8-mm and 16-mm film. And they exchange their works through noncommercial
film-makers cooperativesLight Cone in Paris, Film-makers Cooperative in New York, Canyon
Cinema in San Francisco, LUX in London, etc. Youll find a lot of information on this subject by
contacting Re:Voir in Paris. Film as film is here to stay!

And lastly: honor your image format and your camera as you honor your mother and your father. A
film made on 8-mm or 16-mm should always be shown as 8-mm and 16-mm, never transferred to
any other format. The same goes for 35-mm and all other formats. A video work should be shown as
a video, not molested by transferring it to film. Just as watercolors and oils come with their own
particular, untranslatable properties, or a saxophone cannot be translated into a violin, film and
digital formats come with their own untranslatable unique properties of technique, style and
content. What you can do with your mobile phone youll never be able to do with your 35-mm
Im writing these notes in Brooklyn, New York, and I think theyre perfectly sane and, if followed,
would be profitable to anyone who wants to make movies. But I write them will full knowledge that
in another place, known as Olympus, far away from Brooklyn, there are eight muses who have their
own plans and one never knows who theyll choose to enter you and drive you crazy: because once
they enter you, you have no choice. Nor do you need any guidebooks. Journalists will ask you: how
did you start and why? And youll have no answer.

Elvis Presley, Madison Square Garden, New York, June 9, 1972. Last New York Concert, 2010
I suggest that you keep away from theoretical books on cinema, at least for the first ten years of
your work in film. They can mess you up and it will take long time to return back to yourself. My
list includes books only where the authors, including myself, write about cinema like poets, with
enthusiasm and excitement about the possibilities of cinema as an art and a discovery.
Grierson, John. Grierson on Documentary. London: Collins, 1946.
I chose this book for its visionary dreams of real-life cinemacinema as a record of the reality
around us.
Mekas, Jonas. Movie Journal. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
I am including this volume of my own selected columns from the Village Voice so that you can
understand where my mind and heart are regarding the art of moving images. Im not a historian,

nor a critic of cinema: Im a lover of cinema!

Richter, Hans. A History of the Avant Garde. San Francisco: Art in Cinema, 1947.
I chose this book for Hans Richters unrestrained, contagious enthusiasm for the possibilities of
non-narrative, poetic, and abstract forms of cinema.
Rotha, Paul. The Film Till Now. London: Spring Books, 1967.
This book was written when writers of film histories still wrote with a dreamers innocence
about the young art of moving images.
Brakhage, Stan, dir. Metaphors on Vision. Film Culture, 1963. Film.
This book by the great film poet presents his visionary insight into the workings of the human
eye, human vision, as it struggles to record what it sees through art.

You were 17 when Soviet soldiers invaded Lithuania in 1940, and 18 when the Nazis replaced
them. You fled your hometown with your brother Adolfas in secret, fearing persecution for
your anti-Nazi writings, and later wound up escaping a forced-labor camp only to spend the
next several years moving between displaced-persons camps before getting shipped to New
York in 1949. When, in this almost unthinkable tumult, did you first realize that you wanted
to be a filmmaker?
There was no moment when I realized. Like in every art or in any other activity or profession, its a
slow fading-in. The crucial moment for me was landing in New York, where I could find a job and
have some money to buy a camera and film. Until then it was my postwar displaced-person period,
where I was interested in cinema and poetry but could not do anything myself.
I landed in New York in late 1949, which opened all the possibilities. New York was already
moving into maybe its most productive period, the 50s and 60sI had landed at a very good
moment in time.
Many of the people that you met at that moment have since become central to American art
history. What was it like to experience the creative ferment of this time?
It was happening in every art: John Cages music, drastic changes in the theater moving into the
advent of the Happenings, et cetera. The classic period had ended, and new styles and content
started coming in.

Still of Hans Richter from Walden: Diaries, Notes, and Sketches, 1969. Image courtesy of the artist.
What do you think it was about that time specifically that proved so fertile for artists and
Many have tried to theorize and rationalize this postwar period in terms of Eisenhower or what was
happening in the world or in America, but theres no real answer. Look at all the art movements
Futurists, Dadaists, Surrealists. There are certain times or circumstances where everything comes
together to produce this moment. It was the same here in America, where Abstract Expressionists
developed at a very specific time.
My thinking is that the classical approach, the old styles and content, came to an end somewhere
around 1945, 1950. There was a need to move somewhere else. Sensibilities began changing,
technologies were moving forward faster. Look at architecture, Buckminster Fullers buildings. All
of these new ideas begin to enter the culture at this time, and only now are we realizing the effects
of all that.
Was there a sense at that early stage that you or the friends and collaborators you filmed were
up to something important?
No, but there was excitement. Each one of us was obsessed with doing what we were doing and
going intensely in that direction, whatever that direction was. None of us thought that our work was
important, that it might affect anyone or continue on past us. That is not why one does anything in
science or art. One just does it, without thinking. Otherwise, one would be in a later, conscious
stage where one would do things for effect, for the future [laughs]. That is not how life is.

What was the market for these kinds of films like in the early years?
There was no market, and I dont think there is a market for poetic, non-commercial, non-narrative
cinema. There is no market, just like poetry. Poetry and literature has no marketonly prose,
novelistic literature has a market. You dont find poetry in the airport bookstores. It's the same
endeavor with film.
When I came to New York, there were three or four film societiesCinema 16, the New York
Film Society, a couple othersbut then five years later there were already six or seven. It grew
very, very fast as we moved towards the 60s. It was aligned with the changes in film technology
the rise of cinema verite and portable equipment, et cetera. It changed rapidly, but it was still very
limited. Thats why I began organizing and curating screenings in 53, in a place that nobody knows
now. It was the first downtown gallery, called Gallery East, on Avenue A and Houston. It was a
cooperative gallery of local artists, and they said Why dont you show some films here? Thats
where I began my screenings in 53.

Stills from Walden: Diaries, Notes, and Sketches, 1969. Image courtesy of the artist.
Your screenings of avant-garde films are now recognized for introducing many people
including a young Andy Warhol, who you helped to film Empire in 1964to a certain kind of
experimental cinematic idiom. In some cases, though, your events proved too radical for their
time, as exemplified in your arrests on charges of obscenity for a then-radical double bill
featuring Jack Smiths Flaming Creatures and Jean Genets Un chant damour. What can you
tell me about that event?
The first arrest was at the St. Marks Theater on the corner of Bowery, and the second was at the

Writers Stage on 4th Street. This was in March 64. It was connected to licensingthat was the
excuse that they used. Every film shown publically in New York had to be submitted to the license
board, where they looked and said what had to be cut out. Many, many films had to trim something
out. There were certain parts of the human body that you just could not show, and they wouldnt
give you a license if you did show them. If you showed without a license you could be arrested and
the film could be seized, and then you would have an obscenity case. Thats what happened with
me. I refused to submit films for licensingI did not submit any, I just screened them.
While I can imagine your answer, I have to ask: why did you to forgo this legal requirement?
Who are they to censor, to pass judgment on the works of anybody? Who are they? Self-appointed
censors. To me, it was absurd, illegal, and stupid. I could not accept that.
Of course, my case was not the only one. Three or four years later licensing was abandoned in New
York, because there was so much discussion of the cases in the press. The same applied to Lenny
Bruce, to cabaret and cafes, to humorists of that time, period. You could not make jokes on certain

Stills from As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, 2000. Image
courtesy of the artist.
You're perhaps best known for starting Anthology Film Archives. What other organizations
did you have a hand in starting?
In the 50s I had Film Forum, then the Filmmakers Cinematheque in the 60s, which then led into

the Anthology Film Archives that opened in 1970. There was a series of different organizations for
different reasons.
Even as youve worked to create your extensive body of work over the past 60 years, youve
put just as much energy into building organizations and outlets for other artists and
filmmakers. What do you see as the importance of creating groups that serve the artistic
Its a way of directly supporting their efforts, creating something like the Filmmakers
Cinematheque so they could screen their films or the Filmmakers Cooperative so they could
distribute them. Even writing my "Movie Journal" column in the Village Voice was part of this, in
that I was bringing their work to the attention of others. Thats in my natureif I like something, I
want others to know about it. If I like a film, I want others to see it. To me, its normal to do that.
Its nothing special.
Youve cultivated a very specific visual style for your films over the years. How would you
describe your process?
I just keep notes on life around me. The term is a diarist, usually, but I make notes. I don't make
films, so to speak. I just film. Later I put some of those notes together, organized either thematically
or in general about my life, and I release them. Ill collect all the material, lets say on Andy Warhol,
and I release them as Scenes From the Life of Andy Warhol, et cetera.

Stills from Scenes From the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections, 1990. Image
courtesy of the artist.

How do you go about stitching these filmed notes together? What are you thinking about as
youre going through and editing?
Sometimes its thematically, when somebody asks me to do something for a special occasion. Thats
how Scenes From the Life of Andy Warhol came into existence. The Pompidou had a retrospective
on Warhol, and they asked if I had any footage of him to be presented at the same time. I said, Yes,
sure I have some, so I put it all together and that was how that film originated. The same happened
with Scenes From the Life of George Maciunas, on Fluxus and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its
a six-hour long movie, I had all the footage, so I just strung it together for the occasion. Now Im
doing the same thing for a show about the Velvet Underground that goes up in Paris in 2016, so Im
collecting all my footage related to that period, to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. This is a
huge exhibition that involves a lot of people, and my film will be presented as a part of it.
I have a five-hour long movie about my life, As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief
Glimpses of Beauty. That came up in Avignon, France, where the theme for one of the festivals was
beauty. They asked me if I had any film on that subject, and I said If you give me money, I will
make you a movie on that subject, because thats what I think what I film is all about. They said
they would cover all expenses, so I did it thanks to them.
Actually, Buffalo, New York, sponsored the very first film that I finished in this diaristic style,
Walden from 1968. They had an arts festival, with music by John Cage and plays by Edward Albee,
and they said they wanted have a film at the festival also and asked me to do it. I said yes, and they
sponsored the finishing of Walden.

Stills from As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, 2000. Image

courtesy of the artist.

For the last 20 or so years youve been making prints from bits of your film and video works
in addtion to your ongoing film and video projects. What prompted this shift to making
physical objects?
I will tell you how it originated: when I put two filmstrips together, the ends of those strips are
sometimes damaged or have dirt in them. I usually cut off three or four frames and throw them
away. What I cut off these strips do not exist in films, since I cut them out of the finished product.
At some point about 20 years ago I looked at those little bits and said, Why am I throwing these
out? I realized that I could make printsthey are like photographic negatives, or in this case
When I grew up, my older brothers and my father used to slaughter a pig, for Christmas or
whatever. My mother used to dissect it and put it in pots, and she used everything. There was
nothing thrown out. She made rillettes from the scrapsit was terrific. I said to myself, My
mother used everything, and Im throwing these on the floor, so I began collecting and studying
my own scraps to make prints. Later, I also started to photograph stills from the middle of the shot,
not only the ends. Since I use a lot of single-frames in my films, very often in the span of five
frames there is a lot of different activity. A lot can happen even between three or four frames, so I
began printing them and exhibiting them.
Youve worked with so many notables over the years, from your storied collaborations with
Andy Warhol to your employment as the Kennedy childrens private film tutor. What was it
like working with people that are so recognizable yet mysterious to the public?
I did not know them in their public livesI knew them only in private, so they were like anybody
else in their own situation. Whenever people ask me about these peopleJohn Lennon, Andy
Warhol, Yoko Ono, the KennedysI always say that theyre like anybody else, because I knew
them only as people, privately, not how they are perceived in the public eye. Its a completely
different relationship, and it becomes normal. Theres nothing much to say.

The New York avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s has become a kind of golden era in the minds
of many contemporary art world denizens. As someone who was integral to the development
of this fecund period in art history, what do you make of the art world of today?
I think we are now in such a period. The center of it is digital arts and digital technology, and we all
do things now without thinking, Oh this could be the stuff of history. How will people look back
on this? Its just being done because somebody has to do it, because they are obsessed, possessed,
and do it. Looking at my own 365 Day Project, I just did it because I wanted to. Now, eight years
later, I look back and say, Why did I do it? It was crazy to do it. But that is how things are done.
There is a lot happening that were not really aware of. Poetry on the internet, for examplethere is
a lot happening in that area. A number of people are exploring the possibilities of the digital, and it
has nothing to do with written poetry or even film or video. Its already different, because you
cannot do with film what you can do with digital technologies.

Unlike many artists from your generation, you seem to have fully embraced digital techniques
in your art making. How do you think about these new technologies?
I would call it invisible technology. We see the results, but the technology itself is almost
invisible. In film, video, cassette recordings, you can still see and touch the material. They can
disintegrate in front of your eyes. Not so for digital technology. Its like watching a spiritthere are
results, but you dont see how they got there.
How do you think the loss of that physical dimension changes the way you approach
I dont think we really know how to talk about it yet. We know that it works, we see the results, but
how to talk about it? We need a new vocabulary. Some of the achievements, the best or most
interesting things, are not always immediately visible. So much is done that disappears or is seen
only by friends.
Its the same as the 60s. When I was running the Filmmakers Cinematheque there was a
community of maybe 100 interested people in New York. Sometimes we had 20 people show up,
sometimes all 100 came, but always the same people even though New York already had a
population of over 7 million at the time. The digital community is similarwe exchange with some
people whose interests are similar, but it's limited despite the number of people. There are different
people, different centers, different activitiesif you know where they are you can access them, if
not you cant see it. Its invisible.

Still from 365 Day Project, January 21. Image courtesy of the artist.

Is that one of the main differences between the artistic community then and now, that there
are so many more people that are so much more distantly connected?
Yes, because it became more personal. We were in a stage of writing letters, a civilization where
people communicated by hand. One inhabited personal, small circles. Now if you want you can
make yourself available to all, in a way written letters were not. Now you can put it online and
ideally there will be millions who see it, or else just your friends. You have the possibility to make
things easily open to the public, available to everyone. In the early periods of film and video, access
was restricted to the galleries and the places that had a projector, which drastically affects how those
works were disseminated. Video works online have become more like newspapersyou go to a
newsstand and see 30 magazines. Its a lot of junk, but you follow those that you like.
Your 365 Day Project was a massive undertaking, one that saw you uploading a new short
video piece to your site every day of 2007. What was the most difficult part of that process?
It was a challengewhat can be done in one day, every day, without missing a single day? Very
often I would have to tape and release on the same day. It was a challenge to find what one could do
with the new technologies available today. That year I was travelling a lot, so wherever I was I had
to be ready. When I add all the footage together from that year, I produced the equivalent of 20
feature length films. I continue making these digital shorts even now, but only upload them once or
twice a week.
Youve been posting your video diary pieces to your site since 2006, well before you started on
the 365 Day Project. To put that in context, YouTube was founded in 2005, ushering in the era
of the online vernacular video in which people document and share their lives without
claiming their efforts as art. Do you see your work and the output of so-called non-artists as
being similar?
I think Im not very different from them. Maybe I am more obsessed or more intense, but were
working in the same direction. Im working in the home movie making tradition.
I dont even have time to watch YouTubeI really only watch when someone sends me something
they think I should look at, usually some funny thing. Now this kind of filmmaking is normal.
Everybody, almost, has their own site. I see it as the equivalent of exchanging letters or keeping a
diary. There has always been a need that some people have to keep a notebook or diaries. Its

Still from 365 Day Project, February 21. Image courtesy of the artist.
Your screenings of radical films provoked the ire of the censors when they were shown in
1964. Do you see similar forms of repression at work today?
We have the same thing now, in a different way. Political correctness is worse than that kind of
stupid censorship, because political correctness can be used to forbid anything. Who knows what
will insult whom? I think we are in a worse state now. If you dont know what joke youre allowed
to tell, where are we? Political correctness extends into discussions of race, sex, religion,
everything. Its not just telling certain jokes or not showing some parts of the human body. Its
much worse.
The Anthology Film Archives, the internationally renowned center for experimental film
studies and preservation that you founded in 1970, is undergoing some major renovations
soon. What can you tell me about this endeavor?
My project for this year and next year will be working on updating the Anthology Film Archives
building. We have films, but very few people know that we also have the largest print library of
materials on cinema in the United States. We have thousands and thousands of periodicals and
books, but were also getting more contributions from the estates of filmmakers who have died with
things like journals and other kinds of documents. We have boxes and boxes of materials, and they
are not available to scholars.
My project is to build an additional floor on top of the original building, which will be the library
floor. This will be a place to display all of the original materials and also accept new materials that
are being donated. At the same time, were building a caf accessible to our patrons and the local

community to help us financially. Were also building another floor for performance pieces, in
addition to the paper materials library. It's a $6 million projectno fun, but thats what Im on. To
anybody who will give me money to build a library: I will happily put their name in the library.
Everybody is welcome to help me build this library.
There are files on individual filmmakers, so we are beginning with this documentationtheir
scripts, their production notes. Those who write books and students who write dissertations come to
do research at Anthology, so well be expanding that part of our operation after we build the library.
There are smaller collections here and there, and MoMA has something on cinema although their
emphasis is on art in general, but nothing as extensive as Anthology.
The library will serve not only the neighborhood and New Yorkwere digitizing the collection.
There are requests from China, from Brussels, from everywhere, so soon well be able to serve the
rest of the world. We have the largest collection of information on independent and avant-garde
filmmakers, but also on better-known figures. If you want to find books on Pasolini, come to
Anthology and there will be a whole shelf dedicated on him, not just one little volume. The same is
true for any filmmaker.

Still from 365 Day Project, March 1. Image courtesy of the artist.
You also have an exhibition of your work opening in Italy in May, during this years Venice
Biennale (The Internet Saga, curated by Francesco Urbano Ragazzi). What will this entail?
There will be 768 slides made into transparencies covering the windows of the Palazzo Foscari
Contarini, which is actually now a Burger King. Its a beautiful old building with large windows,
but at the same time there will also be some people having lunch [laughs]. Its a challenging to do

something with it, but its spacious enough for both. There will be screens running images
continuously, in addition to these stained-glass windows of my slides. There will also be a sound
installation outside in the garden. Its a 90-minute piece that consists of about 70 different sounds
from my life, a variety of different sounds of life in New York.
Youre constantly referred to as an avant-garde filmmaker. Is it still meaningful to speak of
the avant-garde in terms of 21st century art making?
I go by the dictionary meaning of the avant-garde: the front line. In technology, in style, whatever it
is, its content that has never been touched, something that people dont know how to take when
they see it. Theres always that front line, and thats what the avant-garde is.
In cinema, for instance, there is what we call independent or non-narrative films or poetic forms of
cinema. In the 20s, 30s, 40s, and into the 50s it was called avant-garde. Even today we
sometimes refer to those films as avant-garde, which we connect to time, to a certain period. If you
talk seriously about cinema, you discuss it in terms of different forms, not these broad categories
like experimental, personal, non-Hollywood. When we discuss literature, we discuss novels, short
stories, sonnets, haikudifferent forms of literature. We are not there yet in cinema. We do not
discuss cinema in those specific termswe are still discussing cinema in fashionable terms.
Why do you think that is?
It's the immaturity of film history, how we discuss and present the history of cinema. It will come.
Right now, we go by how much it will cost. We say things like commercial films. We are entering
a period when commercial film is losing its meaning. We used to say that we werent interested in
making commercial films, but now, because of the Internet, what is commercial? Do you judge by
how much it costs? The number of people it reaches? What is this term, commercial? Some films
made for 15,000 suddenly hit every theater in the country, and one made for 115 million becomes a
dead duck. It makes no sense anymore.
Now you start to ask whether its a narrative, or whether it fits into a certain genre like a Western
thats legitimate. But to lump almost half of cinema, almost all the non-narrative forms under
independent or experimental or avant-garde is total nonsense.

Still from 365 Day Project, April 19. Image courtesy of the artist.
In an earlier interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, you said that The oppositional stance [of the
avant-garde] is needed only psychologically; it is like an excuse to make a drastic change in
their practices. Does this still seem to be the case?
Its dictated by the society. There will always be political cinema taking various formsthere
always was and there always will be. A position could also develop against certain styles that
become overused. When George Maciunas and others said they were against art, they did not really
mean it. You can see what they produced as art today, but it was a legitimate stance, to rebel against
certain established forms or content. Now, people are beginning to rebel against how art is exhibited
and sold, against the commercial galleries that reduce art to how much it can sell for. There are
smaller galleries emerging in Brooklyn that are very much against the system. Some of them get
caught in the same game, but there is an oppositional move in the gallery world against Gagosian
and the art fairs.
Speaking of the system, what do you make of the explosion of the art market in the past 10
or 20 years?
Its a transitional stage. Maybe we are at the end. I was in St. Petersburg at the Hermitage, which
had just opened its contemporary art wing. While I was there the director Mikhail Piotrovsky
showed me this new wing, and there it was: Malevichs Black Square. It was displayed along with a
Fluxus show and my own 365 Day Project for the opening of the wing. It was made exactly 100
years ago this yearto them, thats where Modern art begins.
But now we are 100 years later, and I think that Modern art has exhausted itself, just as

Postmodernism has exhausted itself. We may be in some kind of dead spot now, where all thats left
is money. Whatever you make you can sell, if you put money into selling it. When you go to the
Whitney Biennials, which Ive stopped going to, its all the same. My feeling is that were in a
transitional period. What will come, I dont know, but I think it will of course be affected by new
technologies. I crave the smell of paint and colors, not the new technological colors but real paint
produced by ground stones.
Its interesting to hear you say that, because youve clearly embraced digital filmmaking.
Yes, but when I see a physical film projected on a digital screen, one that had no silver crystals in it,
I get angry, almost. Film should be projected only on silver screens that were made reflective
specially for film, because it is a reflective medium. You have to love it for what it is, for what its
all about. Video is different, and you love video for what video is. Each medium has its charms. You
love watercolors for the special properties of what watercolors can do. Oils cannot do what
watercolors can do, just as 16mm film cannot produce the effects of 8mm film, and so on down the
line. We are now in a very complex period and I think it will last for some time. Were still in the
digital era, and I cannot predict whats next. The digital will have a big effect, unless there is a
return to wood, to ground stone pigments [laughs]. There I stopI leave it to the future.
What about the present? Do you have any further thoughts on the state of artistic production
This moment is just an extension of the last 100 years, just watching and rewatching. In the
introduction to his book The Shadow Line, Joseph Conrad writes that there is a time when one is
very young and does everything without thinking, where one does not care who says whatone just
does it. Then, in time, the shadow line comes in, usually when we are 27 or so, when we begin to
look back and listen to who says what, where we begin to pay attention to what people are saying.
The real creation comes before the shadow line. What we have now in the arts is already beyond the
shadow line. We repeat, we look back, we recreate, we make comments on it, we redo the same
thing in a different waythats where we are. There is very little new.
I may just be missing itthere may be someone somewhere already doing something new that we
dont know about. I dont go out that much, but there may be. I hope there is. There must be,
somewhere, the first emerging buds of something new. There must be.