A bit of press:

"Workin’ for a title"
Phill Niblock – a Retrospective
Dům pánů z Kunštátu, Brno - CZ
25 11 2015 - 24 01 2016
Curated by Mathieu Copeland and Jozef Cseres

For over 50 years, Phill Niblock has produced a multidisciplinary oeuvre through “Intermedia art”. Combining minimalist music, conceptual art, structuralist cinema, systematic or political art, Niblock strives to transform our perception and experience of time.

Admittedly one of the greatest experimental composers of our time, Phill Niblock initiates his career as a photographer. Born in 1933 in Anderson - Indiana, a jazz aficionado, he settles in New York in 1958. Niblock starts photography in 1960 and for four years specialises in portraits of jazz musicians such as Charles Mingus, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington, whom he follows frequently to recording sessions and concerts. In the mid-60s, he shifts from photography to film, and encouraged by Elaine Summers, choreographer and founder of the “Experimental Intermedia”, he starts realising films for dancers and choreographers at the Judson Church Theater, including Yvonne Rainer, Meredith Monk or Lucinda Childs. From 1968 on, Phill Niblock focuses on music and composes his first pieces, which – according to the artist – must be listened to at loud volume in order to explore their overtones. He pursues his film projects independently, including his monumental piece, The Movement of People Working, a series of films lasting over 25 hours, realised between 1973 and 1991, in which the repetitive nature of work movements acts as a direct echo to his minimalist musical compositions.

Since the mid-60s, his analogue photographic work explores New York’s architecture and urban planning. The sequencing and layout of his images offer a mapping of the location and object photographed, such as abandoned buildings on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) (1966), the areas fallen into disuse in South Bronx (1979) or the facades of SoHo Broadway district (1988). Starting in 1966, Phill Niblock engages in a reflexion about the projection of moving images through a series of films and slideshows. Produced between 1966 and 1969, Six Films, a series of short films with sound realised with 16mm film, heralds his experimental method through portraits of artists and musicians such as Sun Ra and Max Neuhaus. His obsession for and celebration of the individual is again at the heart of his series of videos entitled Anecdotes from Childhood. Realised between 1985 and 1992, this series explores the notion of memory and the expression of a personal history through intimate portraits.

Starting in 1968, the artist begins to experiment a combination of his visual productions with his musical scores in order to create architectural and environmental compositions with sound. The Environments series, recreated here by the artist for the first time since it was last shown in 1972, extracts through images the reality of several environments, all the while generating a dense and intense temporary environment of projected images, music and movement throughout the museum space.

Presented for the first time in its entirety, re-edited and remastered by the artist for the retrospective, the series of films The Movement of People Working portray human labour in its most elementary form. Filmed on 16mm colour film, and later on video, in locations including Peru, Mexico, Hungary, Hong Kong, the Arctic, Brazil, Lesotho, Portugal, Sumatra, China and Japan – with more than 25 hours of film footage, The Movement of People Working focuses on work as a choreography of movements and gestures, dignifying the mechanical yet natural repetition of labourers’ actions. Phill Niblock said of these that The Movement of People Working «came out of necessity because I was doing music performances with live dancers, and it was too cumbersome and expensive to tour with so many people. So I started doing those films that I could project when performing».

These films are accompanied by the whole corpus of Niblock’s slowly evolving, harmonically minimalist music, realised between 1968 and 2011. The sound level of these compositions offers a visceral experience of the long drones and inhabits the ringing, beating overtones. These scores, presented in the exhibition as photostats realized for his personal exhibition at London’s ICA in 1982, are the composer’s mixing instructions and are not used by the musician during the performance. While moving through space, he plays with the recorded material, sometimes creating tonalities that coincide with the recording or, on the contrary, that produce dissonances. The result is a constant movement of beat, rhythm and pulsation, as well as changing and continuous harmonics during his own motion through space. The layering of tones echoes the repetitions of the workers’ actions; the evolution of the films on each screen (changing throughout the day), combined with a program that randomly plays back different music pieces, results in a constant renewal of forms, continuously offering an exhibition of new juxtapositions of sound and image.

The Movement of People Working offers a strong social and political comment, as highlighted by the title and represented by the closeness with the workers. In this, the series of film echoes the work of several filmmakers including Jean Luc Godard or Chris Marker who as from 1967 gave workers the cameras and informed them of cinematic techniques so that they could actually make their own films. In a fascinating turn of events, rather than doing fictional or pure documentary film, some workers formed the Groupes Medvekine and decided to film themselves working.

This retrospective was first shown in Lausanne Switzerland in 2013, co-produced by the Musée de l’Elysée and the Centre Circuit for Contemporary Art - Lausanne, and was curated by Mathieu Copeland.

home  |  top  |  concerts   |  xi records  |  phill niblock
ei.be  |  contact us