Failure Machines is five films by five artists: Nick Flessa, Karissa Hahn, Ilana Harris-Babou, Ren Ebel, and Weston Lyon.
8.8.19 Now Instant Image Hall – Los Angeles, CA
12.12.19 Spectacle Theater – New York, NY
The first thought that came to me while watching Nick Flessa’s If I Forget You, Jerusalem was whether he made the film using a video camera from his childhood, possibly one belonging to his deceased mother. The pallid, low-res video image floats above a Flessa burial plaque just before we’re shown the film’s main title card. Most of us grew up with these consumer-grade cameras sitting around at home in black nylon bags with unruly straps, dead batteries, miniature tapes full of youth gymnastics footage. They are inextricably tied to Al Bundy’s America, channel surfing itself into the next century. To pick one up nowadays and go filming is to reawaken a cultural desire which welcomed the reproducibility of “magic moments, forever”, to quote a JVC ad.
Through the film’s intro–a nightscape of housing construction, so dark that the video image nearly collapses on screen–I became fixated on this concept of adopting a bygone camera if for no other reason than to raise the dead. If you’re an artist returning to the neighborhood of your teenage years to shoot a film, it would make a lot of sense to use the technology of that time. Moreover, the very idea of shooting the burbs in Hi8 was a way for Nick to get closer to his characters and maybe even synchronize with some kind of memory he holds of the place. A generational vision built upon the technology of the 90s and baby boomer ideals–which would manifest themselves in sprawling subdivisions, four-sided dining room tables, 10pm bedtimes to the sound of Peter Jennings’ voice. Raising the dead, in this case, could then mean something much more than a seance for fallen parents.
Note the date on Janna Flessa’s inscription: 2010. Peculiar, given this outlives nearly any indication of the Obama, nay Bush years in the film. As apparent as Flessa’s travels in time create an artifact of beginnings, the foregrounding of his mother amidst an older suburban Cincinnati points to our shared, slippery present.
Tonight’s program developed from this idea of the ‘home movie’. That is, those images which frame together family and documentation, youth and boredom, amateur cameramen and driveway entertainers. It extends its focus to include the bordering line between America’s middle-class and nature. The threshold of wooded land at the edge of vast housing communities marks both the beginning and end of the nuclear family, where shingle roofs become leafy canopy and the smell of microwaved steak and potatoes disappears, allowing something new to take control. Life is in a state of near suspension at these sites–a relationship between old and young sharing time across the humid redolence of cut lawns, carpeted living rooms and under-lit basements.