“What is a poetic cinema? It’s a question I was thinking about, a question I haven’t answered yet. It’s not just that it’s not linear. He must propose another type of language and another type of thought. And therefore, logic,” American artist and educator Cathy Lee Crane offered when I recently caught up with her from multiple time zones to find out what she’s been up to since our last conversation in 2018 about The Manhattan Front (his first narrative feature inspired by a bizarre true story involving German WWI saboteur, ACLU founding member Elisabeth Gurley Flynn, and the Industrial Workers of the World).
The self-described “resolutely non-linear filmmaker” is also a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow whose more than two decades of work, much of it combining archival footage with staged material, was presented in 2015 as part of the series American Original Now at the National Art Gallery. And the Vet’s award-winning multimedia films (including the intriguingly titled “Experimental Biographies”) Pasolini’s last words and Unoccupied Zone: The Impossible Life of Simone Weil) also played far abroad; from the BFI to the Viennale, via the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma and the Cinémathèque Française, and the Cinéma Arsenal in Berlin.
This is where Crane is now based, having become the latest recipient of the Harun Farocki residency (sponsored by the Goethe-Institut). Throughout July, HaFI is hosting several events to showcase the fruits of Crane’s current herculean labor – starting with his most epic project, Draw the line (July 15-24). “I’ve always thought of those 14 channels in Draw the line like each seeding a chapter in a documentary series – in reality they might even be smaller profiles for Field of Vision or The New Yorker- looking at the contemporary lives of people in borderlands, contact zone communities,” Crane went on to explain this ongoing multi-channel work that confronts the legacy of the United States/Mexico Border Commission of Inquiry from the middle of the 19th century (and its maddeningly arbitrary determination that literally drew a line in the sand across an entire continent). “Contact zone” being a phrase that linguist and critical theorist “Mary Louise Pratt spent a lot of time thinking about,” Crane continued. “(It’s about) difference and finding ways to coexist without assimilation or compromise.”
“I also thought about this particular line – or the problem of territorial lines in particular – that Deleuze and Guattari evoke in On the line, a book that has obsessed me since the 80s”, she enthuses. “Thinking through deterritorialization and the means by which thought itself need not be stuck in a comparative conflict, a logic of obstacles of subject and object; that we can construct new ways of reasoning. Which for Crane is not entirely theoretical. “You really see it in the art world everywhere right now,” she added. “Decentralization is necessary. We need to go beyond or outside of the type of hierarchical structure of conservative king-making. »
An artist’s job continues to be, I think, to never let go
And the spirit of the collective is also at the center of the (X)-trACTION collaborative film program (screening July 29), which features Crane’s 2022 short terrestrial sea. As for his own relationship to the concept, Crane explained, “Personally, I think of extraction in terms of the archive – in terms of going out in the field and asking a question. You then take a response. And if you save that, you take it with you. And what is this cultural practice, and what are its implications? I mean, that hasn’t been fully answered.
“Because everyone’s practice is constantly changing as we come to terms with our own sorts of ethical blind spots, or formal legacies that are themselves part of an extractive logic”, underlines- she. “Language is insidious that way. We inherit a whole host of naming processes, ways of framing things that are rehearsals for the reifications of racism, sexism, capitalism – all “isms”. The job of an artist continues to be, I think, to never let go. Because if you’re honest in what you’re doing, you’re going to come up against your own complicity in the issues that you want to try to unpack and explore conceptually, speculatively.
As for the future of his work of “speculative history”, and of Draw the line more specifically, it’s “the kind of project that may never be finished.” It’s a Borges library when you think about iterability and how many ways the exact same material can be used or considered.
In other words, Crane’s quest for knowledge, in all its multi-faceted forms, may never truly end.
Image: Harun Farocki Institute