On Thursday, October 6, The Center for Humanities hosted an event featuring film philosopher D.N. Rodowick’s experimental shorts, created under an artistic name stylized in the lowercase as “d.n. rodowick.” A prolific writer, Rodowick is known mostly for his books on new materialities such as The Virtual Life of Film (2007) and its companion piece Elegy for Theory (2014). And yet, during the introduction, rodowick seemed invested in effacing the published, capital-R-Rodowick as much as possible, passing quickly over his bibliography to emphasize his previous work as a curator and his ambitions as an artist. Still, however much he may have wanted to keep his writerly self out of the room, his decades-long ventures in experimental film are visibly imbued with the same philosophy inscribed in the pages of his books. This disjunctive yet diaphanous double identity came to signify the multitude of troubled dualities under scrutiny in the event proceedings.
One of these critical oppositions was immediately evident as the film program opened with Running Dog (1982), a 16mm silent film, followed by Political Matter (2013), an HD video with sound. Running Dog attempts to capture a moving dog on film but continually fails, the rapid cuts only reveal extreme close-ups of the dog’s fur or a fragment of the dog’s head. Political Matter, too, exists somewhere between abstraction and figuration as the camera blurs slowly through a demonstrating crowd, never quite focusing enough to reveal the subject of protest. Here rodowick offered some explanation and revealed his artistic intention to “erase subjectivity.” Indeed, these two works blur standard subject-object relations, a gesture particularly relevant to a discursive obsession with locating the digital film object.
These blurring gestures, which rodowick identified as painterly, also offer a meditation on stillness and movement. While the camera moved as slowly and deliberately as a paintbrush in Political Matter, a selection of films from the program – Schnell! (2013), Waterloo (2012), Exit (2012), and 15 minutes to Inverness (2013) – generated the same aesthetic from a completely still camera programmed to capture one frame per second. These shorts were all filmed from a train window during rodowick’s travels, in which the train serves to create the movement. Waterloo evokes the light painting of Flavin and Turrell as the camera follows the length of a cable in the London underground. In this piece, movement is discernible as the lighting shifts throughout the journey.
Exit is a longer, more melancholy film in which the camera is pointed upwards to the sky as rain falls on the train window, incrementally blurring the image. Similarly, the static camera in Schnell! blurs those bodies waiting on the train platforms, poised in contrast to the gnostic quality of 15 minutes to Inverness, in which the train makes a circulatory movement around a fixed point on an empty landscape. Though rodowick set the frame rate parameters, it could be said that certain actions of the iPad authored these films as its auto-exposure fluctuates to accommodate the train’s movement through shifting lighting and landscapes. It may be valuable then, to consider the effacement of lower-case d.n. rodowick as artist. As Barthes offers the concept of “a tissue of citations” to complicate a singular Author-god (Barthes 4), the tissue of rodowick’s work may be said to be made up of the painterly gestures of non-human authors – the train, the rain, the iPad, the landscape.
On certain occasions, rodowick’s commentary on his own work served to editorialize on behalf of the interpreting viewer, often erring on the side of overstating his authorial intention. However if, as Barthes says, “the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author” (Barthes 6), then in this case, rodowick becomes the reader of a body of work in which his authorship becomes increasingly marginal. Like in Southcote Road, we may glimpse rodowick’s shadow holding his Super 16 camera, but in 15 minutes to Inverness, the reflection of the iPad’s lens on the train window is omnipresent.
The concluding question from the event might serve to clarify rodowick’s relation to Rodowick and rodowick’s relation to his train films. The question pertained to a tenant of film philosophy supported by such thinkers as Deleuze, Cavell, and Frampton in which film is not the subject of philosophy, but seeks to ask the same questions as philosophy. While rodowick agreed with the premise of the question, he noted that in his experience, while the writing of philosophy remains contained to the philosopher as meaning is declared and transferred to the book-object, his short films tend to evoke and generate meaning from its beholders.
Barthes, Roland. “Death of the Author.”1967.
Rodowick, D.N. “The Force of Small Gestures: d.n. rodowick’s recent videos.” 10/6/2016.
rodowick, d.n. Running Dog. 1982.
rodowick, d.n. Political Matter. 2013.
rodowick, d.n. Schnell! 2013.
rodowick, d.n. Waterloo. 2012.
rodowick, d.n. Exit. 2012.
rodowick, d.n. 15 minutes to Inverness. 2013.
“Waterloo.” 2013. Vimeo. <https://vimeo.com/81893325>