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Film Scratches: Tutorials for the Apocalypse – La Fuga (2014)

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Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.

A Review by David Finkelstein.

La Fuga is a suite of many linked short videos by Mexico-based artist Adrián Regnier Chávez. The videos are modular in the sense that they do not have to be viewed in a specific order, although most of them are named after letters of the alphabet. In these works, Regnier uses his fantastically sophisticated graphic skills to create a highly abstract meditation on the state of humanity in the age of nuclear proliferation.

Regnier’s art school training, particularly in drawing, is evident in his mastery of video software such as After Effects. His assured sense of composition, form, and color are much deeper than many artists who have only worked digitally, and his animations often have a look which curiously combines the feeling of a highly advanced computer interface with what look like simple shapes of color made from plastic or paper, which could be parts from a child’s toy. In A. (7 minutes), for example, we see a series of rounded rectangles in pastel tones covered with colored circles, squares and triangles, which quickly form and reform into simplified diagrams which may or may not be illustrations of the accompanying text. These shapes all have muted drop shadows and a slightly rough texture, like construction paper, but their inhumanly rapid way of flying from one graphic position to the next makes them look like a display device on a futuristic spaceship.

regnier-chavez_k._k5The text which accompanies A. is simultaneously in several languages (from any of the “nine nuclear nations”), often printed in subtitles reading backwards and forwards at once, and the computer generated voices are electronically altered to the point where they are unintelligible. Behind the words we hear a sequence of celestial synthesized tones, playing a melody derived from the hymn Amazing Grace. “The eighth step: the total sum of existential suffering experienced by any sentient entity along a terrestrial day, it’s called Painside, and with good reason, sweetheart.” The text suggests that we are watching a kind of training manual, a step by step guide to mastering a kind of existential technology, a complex balancing of human suffering with technological proliferation in an overarmed world. The multiple languages, both visual and aural, suggest that the key skill being taught here is simultaneous translation.

In ˙Λ (3 minutes), on the other hand, we see a cloudy sky crowded with bombs and missiles. The bombs drift slowly and serenely forward from us, to the lilting strains of a slow jazz ballad. Since the bombs are moving horizontally, not falling to earth, the images suggests an ironic illustration of the strange peacefulness that comes from embracing the doctrine of the “balance of terror,” that we will all dance blissfully along, always a hairs-breadth away from total annihilation. The color of the sky is a disturbingly lifeless grey.

In I. (7 minutes), the text posits a series of conditions which are based on the color codes for Threat Advisory Levels. “All is Green. All is right.” One the other hand: “All is Orange. All is Intermittent.” The graphics show forests, houses, celestial maps, bombs, all as they appear under different threat levels. Inevitably, after the holocaust of Red, comes Black, in which video screens from all the nations simultaneously broadcast the apocalypse.

In P. (8 minutes), on the other hand, the text is clear enough to be understood, and the graphics more or less directly illustrate the words. The text is a philosophical treatise on the subject of Man and his Problems. Examining this theme from many angles, it seems that perfect paradise and bliss comes from accepting a universe filled with problems. Problems provoke tension and creativity and thought. Trying to get rid of all the problems is equivalent to blowing up the planet: a way of returning to a state of pure energy, by killing the last remnants of life. Remarkably, Regnier illustrates all of these abstract concepts using variations on a single graphic element: a square of black lines on a white background. The squares constantly unfold themselves to build cubes, and the cubes build walls and other structures. A complex universe of ideas is built up from the most elemental, atomic forms.

The sophisticated graphics of H. (7 minutes) are all 3D objects in 3D space (literally outer space, blackness filled with stars). These objects: toy soldiers, letters, outlines of nations, all have the color and texture of brass, creating a unified visual style. In a complex and dazzling ballet, these forms are constantly flying together and apart around an earth destined to be turned into a nuclear cloud, forming double helixes, electron clouds, gleaming forms that rotate in space. The text is a litany of bombs from the nine nations, adding up the 30,000 bombs on earth. At the end, somberly, the force of the atom has blown everything apart into its constituent atoms.

Regnier3O. (8 minutes) is perhaps the central video of the series: a graphic representation of life in a world of 30,000 nuclear weapons. A text in all the languages of the nine nuclear nations details the history of the nuclear age, expanding on the psychotic logic of total destruction, while simple yet powerful graphics outline the countries and targets on a map, a map that grows denser and blacker as the trajectories of all 30,000 bombs are added. The calm neutrality of the computerized voice and the heavenly chords of music create an ironic mood of anesthetized bliss. In an interview, Regnier claims that these works are ‘nonpolitical,’ and perhaps they are in the sense that they don’t favor one nation over another, but they are also unequivocal in their message that in a nuclear age, the militarized mindset equals the complete loss of our humanity.

These works are not an argument for disarmament; Regnier does not believe we can put the nuclear genie back in the bottle. In a way, these deeply nihilistic works suggest a zen-like acceptance of man’s self-destruction. At their most hopeful, they suggest that we should find our happiness while teetering on the brink of disaster. While I see things differently from him, because disarmament is just as real and as possible as any other outcome, his concern with our dehumanization is deeply humanistic. The penetrating intelligence and sophisticated visual beauty of these works are like beacons of hope for humanity, penetrating through the nuclear clouds.

David Finkelstein is a filmmaker, musician, and critic. For more information on Film Scratches, or to submit an experimental film for review, contact david (at) lakeivan.org.

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