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Anna Scime's Spore Print Series in Artvoice

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Anna Scime's New Film at the Burchfield Penney - Plus the Front Yard by Jack Foran
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Cast of Millions

Filmmaker Anna Scime’s new movie on view in the Project Room of the Burchfield Penney Art Center features a cast of thousands. No, millions, zillions. Mushroom spores, so infinitesimally small you can’t see them individually with the naked eye, but only in aggregate, as when if you place a mushroom cap, gills down, on a white sheet of paper, and leave it for 24 hours or so, in the patterns the spores that shed from the cap over that period create on the white paper. Mirror facsimiles of the feathery delicate gill structures.

To make her movie—Scime has made a numerous spore movies, each using a different species of mushroom—she starts with a section of 16-millimeter clear film acetate a few feet in length, lays the film out on a flat surface, coats it with an adhesive, then lays down mushrooms on it so that the spores shed onto the film, onto the adhesive, then after 24 hours removes the mushrooms, and coats the film, adhesive, and spores with a further adhesive layer protective coat.

A typical spore movie might consist of 150 feet of film or so—so with a run time of just a couple of minutes—that gets projected in a continuous loop in the Project Room exhibit. The imagery a rapid-fire sequence of organic lattice structure variations to what can look like soot on melting snow. And sound—from the spores captured on the sound track along the edge of the film strip—a kind of white noise mild static.

Scime said she’s been making the spore movies since 2010, when she was in graduate school working on her MFA. And why does she make them? What are the spore movies all about? The marriage of nature and technology for one thing, she says, and ancient and modern ways of reproduction. (Spores being a notably ancient mode of reproduction—spore species were dominant for a hundred million years or so before seed plants more or less took over—and film being a technological/aesthetic mode of reproduction.) And exploration of the technology. And entropy. Gradually, over a two-week or so projection period, a spore movie will disintegrate, as a precisely kinetic effect. The adhesive and protective coatings are imperfect, and due to running the film loop over and over through the projector, the spores will detach and disperse in the atmosphere. (Back again to something like clear film acetate.) Meanwhile, Scime will have archived the whole fresh film and entropy process on extended-run video.

Then there’s the John Cage connection. Cage was an avid mushroom hunter and consumer, who even taught a course on mushrooms at the New School. Mushroom hunting tied in with his central aleatory theoretical principle in several ways. In the chance character—as to success or failure—of the mushroom hunt. But also in the life or death hazard in consuming wild mushrooms. In one of his Indeterminacy prose poems, Cage quotes a dictum of his one-time personal mushroom guru that “all mushroom experts die from mushroom poisoning.” In another, he expresses that “the dangers of lion hunting [are] largely imaginary, those of mushroom hunting perfectly real.”

Not to mention the beautiful, wistful imagery. Fern-like, ultimately.

The spore movies exhibit continues through October 27.

Another kinetic work by the same artist—video this time—is scheduled as part of the Burchfield Penney’s so-called Turning On series of triptych projections against the building façade. (You would have thought the piece on mushrooms would have been perfect for the Turning On series.) The Turning On videos—or sequence of videos, really—will be on water flow volumes over Niagara Falls. The work will consist of time-lapse footage showing water level fluctuations that occur due to seasonal variations in flow volumes in the river and water diversions for hydropower production, which are varied by time of day or night, allowing for greater volume over the falls—so more resembling natural flow volume, which hasn’t actually occurred in a hundred years or more—when tourists are observing. The footage will be changed—updated—three times during the year, corresponding to different annual and tourist seasons. The three sequential presentations are scheduled for September 16 through October 31, November 1 through March 31, and April 1 through September 15.