Blood, Shame, Pain, and Ecstasy is the first installment of Contemplative Cinema, a new screening series of experimental and alternative film and video that will take place at LaGrange in Deep Ellum on the first Friday of every month starting on March 4th. This first screening is a group of short films and videos programmed around a film entitled A Fire In My Belly, made by artist David Wojnarowicz in 1986-87, that was at the center of the recent controversy brought on by its removal from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery after comments by Catholic League president William Donahue and U.S. Representative John Boehner. This screening is one of many being staged worldwide in response to this insulting act of censorship. Included in the program will be two separate cuts of footage shot and edited by Wojnarowicz for this film, which was in fact never completed before his death in 1992, and 5 other pieces by artists including Dani Leventhal, Doug Ischar, George and Mike Kuchar, and Richard Kern. The title is drawn from The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto, a document published by Nick Zedd in 1985 that embodied the reaction of a young generation of filmmakers to the dominant trends of the day’s avant-garde film and the stiflingly conservative cultural atmosphere. Loosely associated with the New York No Wave music scene, this group of transgressive filmmakers included Wojnarowicz, though his films represent only one aspect of his large body of work that includes photography, painting, sculpture, and performance. This screening seeks to address this attitude of transgression and to reinterpret it through the present controversy around A Fire In My Belly. One claim is that the piece is an attack on religion, as in the words of Donahue when he called the piece “hate speech, pure and simple.” In fact, the religious imagery in the piece is far from simple or hateful. One iconic image in the film depicts a pair of hands trying to sew a broken loaf of bread back together, recalling Jesus’ words “Take, eat: this is my body which is broken for you.” It’s difficult not to interpret this imagery through the lens of the AIDS crisis that was breaking so many bodies and claiming so many lives during the time of the film’s making, and which would soon claim Wojnarowicz and his partner. We ought to remember the way in which religious leaders and politicians alike turned their backs on this suffering. Still, this image and others in the film suggest that Wojnarowicz felt art could play a redemptive role. As Zedd’s manifesto concludes: “We propose transformation through transgression - to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.” The films and videos in this program, while not all addressing AIDS specifically, gaze into the face of mortality. In interpreting transgression, this selection does not dwell exclusively on shock, but opens up to include quieter meditations on the boundary lines of life and how moving images mediate the crossing of those lines and transform the painful into the sublime.
Upcoming programs will include group and solo screenings of emerging and established film and video artists from around the country. These will be announced soon. Contemplative Cinema, with support from The Video Association of Dallas, seeks to give exposure to works of art that challenge viewers to contemplate the relationship of moving images to their daily lives. It is our goal to enrich the local community by showing works that might not otherwise be seen and to encourage dialogue around the possibilities of film and video being made outside of a commercial setting.
LaGrange is located in Deep Ellum at 2704 Elm Street. The screening will take place Friday, March 4th, beginning at 6:30 pm. There will be a suggested donation of $7. 21+ only.