I recently discovered the work of Luther Price at the LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images in London, where the curators of Light Industry, NY put on a programme of nine of Price's short films. These thoughts appeared as part of a report on the Biennial for The Quietus Film.
Luther Price engages with the physicality of film, though not out of preciousness or nostalgia. Rather, Price has a sculptor's relationship with the medium – indeed, he previously trained in this craft. The curators of Light Industry in New York, Thomas Beard and Ed Halter, who also screened Price's work at the Whitney earlier this year, described his meticulous ways of reworking old film stock. Collecting and appropriating found footage, from ethnographic documentary to home video and porn, Price carves, cuts and overpaints film strips on a light box. While the work of Price's hand is at times intricate, at others it is crudely visceral, as much about effacing images as producing them.
The visual results of Price's techniques range from the kaleidoscopic, as with his Inkblot series (2007), which involved painting and scratching off layers of colour, to the formally filmic - for A Patch Of Green (2004/2005), he placed pieces of 8mm film within a 16mm leader, so that scenes appear naively within a negative border. For his After The Garden series (2007), Price buried films in his garden until they decomposed in the soil, willing the aesthetic effects of decay. Played back on the projector, his reels often leave behind shards of their disintegration.
For traditionalists, then, Price's executions represent filmic abuse – a sentiment that is carried through to the experience of the viewer, who is at turns sonically and visually bludgeoned by flashing abstraction and white noise. Price's films provide a physical exploration of form and matter, and how form might then fuse with feeling. Unlike the work of Stan Brakhage or the Structural-Materialists, there is an emotional import to the artist's work, as he pushes the viewer to feel, be this in positive or negative ways. Curators speak of an "ecstatic violence" in the work of Price; there is a kind of orgasmic throb to the images as they pulse in and out of focus, coupled with the staccato assault of exposed sprocket holes as the filmstrip passes through the projector.
Price is anti-preservation. He wants his films to play out until they play no more, and it is worth any opportunity to experience them before they fade. Ed Halter expresses the artist's ethos as such: "Film is only going to die once: we might as well enjoy it."