David Lamelas is best known as oneof the pioneers of the Conceptual Artpractice that emerged in the 1960s and1970s. Over the last thirty years, he hasproduced an extraordinary body of ﬁlmsand videos which consistently challengeour conventional understanding of howmeaning is made and information isimparted. In this programme of some of hisearly ﬁlms, Lamelas experiments with boththe elliptical constructs of ﬁction whichframe and contain meaning, and the véritéqualities of durational documentation andstraight to camera testimony.Born in Argentina, Lamelas was originallya sculptor, but came to prominencewhen he represented his country at theVenice Biennale with a piece called
Ofﬁceof Information about the Vietnam war onThree Levels: The Visual Image, Text and Audio
. It was here that he met Antwerp-based gallerists from Wide White Spaceand Marcel Broodthaers, and the contactshe made helped to precipitate his latermove to Europe. After Venice he moved toLondon, where he studied on a scholarshipat St Martins School of Art which was stillin the grip of monolithic abstraction underthe direction of Anthony Caro. But it wasduring his time in England, whilst usingphotographs and text as material, thatLamelas began working in ﬁlm. Througha desire to “produce sculptural formswithout any physical volume”, the coreconcerns of his work emerged : time, spaceand language.During the subsequent years Lamelas haslived and made work across Europe andthe Americas, each location exertingits speciﬁc inﬂuence on his work. And itis this personal experience of dislocationand his efforts to understand andassimilate new cultures that gives hisconceptualist concerns a warmth andhumour. For Lamelas, location and placeare primary: ”Space has a reality, it exists”.Yet about time he asserts, “Time doesn’texist, our consciousness constructs it.Time is a ﬁction.”
Curated by Jacqueline Holt
TIME AS ACTIVITY (DÜSSELDORF)
Germany, 1969, silent, B&W, 13 mins, 16mm
Time as Activity (Düsseldorf), made in1969, is comprised of three four-minutesequences that register real time froma fixed point, at three different placesin the city (in the area surrounding theKunsthalle, a fountain and the city’scommercial centre).Part of the Time As Activity series.
A STUDY OF RELATIONSHIPS BETWEENINNER AND OUTER SPACE
UK, 1969, sound, B&W, 20 mins, 16mm
David Lamelas’ first film, A Study ofRelationships between Inner and OuterSpace, analyses the architectural, social,climatic, or sociological data that makeup the exhibition’s spatial environment,that of the institution and its geographicallocation. Beginning with the emptyexhibition hall, the description is neutraland analytical. It progresses in everlarger circles, placing emphasis on allthe important functional elements, fromthe electronic devices in the exhibitionspace, to the city’s traffic regulation, tothe communication and information mediaand, finally, to the climatic conditionsof the London environment. The filmconcludes with six interviews regardingthe big news item of the day: the future“landing” of the first men on the moon.
THE DESERT PEOPLE
USA, 1974, sound, colour, 48 mins, 16mm
David Lamelas describes it as “a studyon American film production”. The DesertPeople begins like a classic road-movie.The setting is completely familiar to us:a car crossing the desert with a group ofpeople travelling on board. But as soon asthe narration begins, it is interrupted bydocumentary-style interviews. Passing inthis way from one film genre to another,Lamelas manages to blur the boundarybetween fact and fiction.The five passengers describe theirexperience on a North American nativeIndian reservation. Each member of thegroup has his or her own perspectiveon the Papago tribe. One offers ananthropological analysis while another
TO POUR MILK INTO A GLASS
UK, 1972, sound, colour, 8 mins, 16mm
Many of David Lamelas’s works areexercises designed to test how meaningis constructed in film. “I wanted to findsymbols for ‘container’ and ‘contents’– to represent how the camera frames– and what is shown on screen.…I decided to use a glass and milk.The eight sequences end with… the glassbeing shattered and the milk splatteringall over the table, which implies that thereis no way to contain information”.
READING OF AN EXTRACT FROMLABYRINTHS BY J. L. BORGES
UK, 1970, silent, B&W, 5 mins, 16mm
The film Reading of an Extract fromLabyrinths by J. L. Borges shows ayoung woman reading an essay by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borgestitled Nueva refutación del tiempo (NewRefutation of Time) out loud. Her lips canbe seen moving but her voice cannotbe heard. The phrases pronouncedare actually shown in subtitles, butthe length of the presentation is tooshort to permit them to be read andcomprehended. This displacement andthe disorder it generates reveal differentlevels of information de-codificationin the work. The film makes the limitsof our perception manifest, and in thisway echoes Borges’ rejection of bothsimultaneity and succession – in otherwords, of the concatenation of deedswhich make a narrative.discusses writing a feature article fora women’s magazine. They each presenttheir version of the ‘truth’ about howthe Papago live. Whilst they examinethe tribe’s social behaviour, there islittle self-reflection on their own groupdynamic. Ironically, numerous cuts totheir car journey reveal a complete lackof interaction between the travellers.The final interviewee, Manny, aPapago Indian, comments on theway the American influence on Native Americans is leading to the loss of hisown indigenous culture. His Englishdrifts into Spanish and then Papago,as if the meaning of what he wishes tocommunicate would be lost in translation.For the English-speaking viewer thisshift is confusing and demonstrates thedifficulty of knowing another culturefrom the outside. The film endsunexpectedly with a jump cut backto the feature film scenario.
Other ﬁlms by David Lamelas are availableindividually from LUX, including his latestfeature The Light at the Edge of a Nightmare A DVD of David Lamelas’ early ﬁlms will bereleased by Bureau des Videos in summer 2005
David Lamelas is featured in Issue 11 ofthe journal Afterall. Out now!
I m a g e o v e r l e a f : s t i l l f r o m D e s e r t P e o p l e b y D a v i d L a m e l a s . D e s i g n b y A l e x C z i n c z e l
TIME IS A FICTION