The Body Electronic, An Evening with Jesse Malmed

Jesse Malmed, The Body Electronic. NW Film Center.


The Northwest Film Center‘s Northwest Tracking program of contemporary works “looks at the edges of cinema.” And  Wednesday night, the viewat the edge is interesting indeed — out toward the horizons where video meets performance meets poem — with The Body Electronic, An Evening with Jesse Malmed.

Anyone could do some word play on Walt Whitman’s “I sing the body electric” to develop a title (Rush has), but  Malmed makes a good case why he can justifiably lay claim to that lineage.  Much of Malmed’s video and performance work comes through words, whether the mistranslation of the subtitles of a French film (directly translating the sound rather than sense of the words) or more often, the accompaniment of images with his own robust voice as in “SeeScape,”  in which the live sound track is a vocalization of Morse code.  More, Malmed’s engagement with the poem focuses on the kind of renegade poets who are in one way or another Whitman’s kin.

In a similar vein with projects by artists such as Sapideh Saii (whose work was recently part of a show at U of O’s White Box) and Miranda July, Malmed occasionally physically enters the frame the video makes on the wall. Unlike Saii, Malmed has a good dose of humor running through his work, as if to say, “this is not so serious, sing along.”

Malmed does ask the audience to “sing” and invites some to participate in his “Conversational Karaoke,” which takes the performance format of karaoke and applies it to promote and confound expression, narrative, and one-to-one communication. The evening will also feature works that are more straight-up expanded cinema, as in the hectic and riveting collage of “Inthreedia.”

I had the chance to ask Jesse a few questions about this body (electronic) of work.

Lisa Radon: Your spinning together the threads of experimental poetry and film is unusual. How did you come to this body of work?

Jesse Malmed: I went to Bard where that kind of cross-disciplinary exploration is encouraged. And of course there’s a long history of intertwining connections between poets and filmmakers.

You engage language in a number of different ways in this work from mishearings to codes. And this in a medium that’s typically more about the image and less about the word.

Yes, I’m interested in denaturing language in some ways, in taking it for its visual or sonic capacities outside the realm of the purely communicative.

Communication is confounded for sure in your “Conversational Karaoke.” It’s funny to use the word conversation when it’s so awkward and halting because of the way the words come at you on the screen.

“Conversational Karaoke” interests me because of how we conceive of interactivity. Any experience is interactive; your presence creates meaning for a painting. But the way people have been talking about interactivity, you are supposed to have complete agency. “Conversational Karaoke” questions that.

Can you talk about how or why you began inserting your live presence into your video screenings? Did you come at this from spoken word?

Well, I experienced this difficulty of being part of a screening, where you press play and then aren’t able to respond to room. I wanted to be able to be more responsive. And I’m interested in my presence as being part of shaping the experience.

Northwest Film Center presents
The Body Electronic, An Evening with Jesse Malmed
Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum
7 p.m. Wednesday, July 20

From the NW Film Center:

Whip smart, blissfully dense and multipronged cinema and performance; conceptual poetics, direct address, participatory movie song.

Jesse Malmed presents a fascinating and manifold mix of conceptually rich video L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics, process-intensive bi-fidelity abstractedelia and participatory installations such as the multiple iterations of CONVERSATIONAL KARAOKE!! (in which audience members perform dizzying, strange and incisive texts of the artist’s design). Works include the depth-defying and propulsive “memo-dromatic” IN3DIA (over 1200 images collected on a trip to India morphing, melding and merging in stereographic Cyan and Red), Love Is Like (an experiment in Direct Address Cinema disguised as a music video) and Mazel (an existential love story enacted and narrated live before the audience’s eyes). Since moving to Portland in 2009, Jesse has performed and screened his work across the country in galleries, microcinemas, DIY art spaces, universities, bars and barns. In addition to his creative work in video, performance, text and installation, Jesse serves on the board of the Creative Music Guild (bringing experimental and improvised music to Portland), is a collective member of Cinema Project (bringing international and historical experimental and critical film to Portland), is the founder and director of the Deep Leap Microcinema(pairing thematically-curated video art with commissioned performance; casual observers may recall the exhibition of art video games at Place Gallery in Pioneer Place), co-runs the independent media label Lasercave (tapes, DVDs, CDs, zines and records) and works at the School of Film at the Northwest Film Center. Additionally, Jesse has provided video accompaniment to musical artists such as Brainstorm, Jeffrey Jerusalem, Keyboard, Dallas County Potential, Pan de Sal and Powernap.

Briefest bio: Jesse Malmed is an artist and curator whose work in video, film, installation, performance and text has been shown across the country in venues such as Light Industry, Artists’ Television Access, The Center for Contemporary Arts, Pacific Cinémathèque, the Echo Park Film Center, Bard College, Skidmore College, the University of New Mexico, the University of Oregon and Microscope Gallery. His work in video, film, performance, text and installation is typified by a strong interest in the sonic, visual and (extra-)communicative potentials of language, a keen eye toward the history of experimental media art and an interest in the transcendent power of pure cinema. Equal parts conceptual and instinctual, the work bears a zany levity that helps to buoy sometimes-incomprehensible blissmash visuals and dense textwork. Originally from Santa Fe, he earned a BA in Film & Electronic Arts from Bard College.

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