Cineinfinito #17: Agnes Martin

Jueves 13 de Julio de 2017, 19:30h, Círculo de Bellas Arte
Calle Alcalá, 42
42 28014 Madrid



Gabriel (1976) 16mm/ sound / colour / 78′

Formato de proyección: 16mm transferred to digital video (Pace Gallery)

(Agradecimiento especial a Pace Gallery)

Gabriel (1976) es la única película de la pintora canadiense-americana Agnes Martin. Tiene una duración de 78 minutos, y describe el paseo de un niño a través de un paisaje.

La película comienza con un plano de una montaña, y a continuación muestra las olas rompiendo en la orilla. Un niño, con el mismo nombre de Gabriel, se muestra de pie de espaldas a la cámara, mirando hacia el mar. Lleva pantalones cortos, camiseta blanca y botas marrones. En el siguiente plano, aparece sentado sobre una roca mirando hacia el océano: este plano posee un intenso filtro rojo. Los colores naturales vuelven, y entonces la película sigue a Gabriel en su paseo, mientras él atraviesa en primer lugar un sendero al borde de la orilla, después un camino en la montaña. En la parte central de la película en niño no aparece: durante unos veinte minutos la película consiste sólo en primeros planos de flores y agua. Transcurridos unos cincuenta minutos de la película, Gabriel aparece de nuevo, caminando por bosques poco densos. Le sigue una secuencia de planos cercanos de árboles de abedul. Los minutos finales de la película intercalan el paseo de Gabriel con planos de flores y agua. Él termina su paseo sentado en una colina, mirando hacia el horizonte. La película finaliza con un plano de una roca en el mar y las olas golpeando sobre ella.

Todos los planos están rodados cámara en mano. La película es silente, excepto siete momentos en los que los extractos de las variaciones de Goldberg de Bach pueden escucharse durante dos o tres minutos.

Gabriel fue filmada en película en color de 16 mm usando una cámara Arriflex. Martin la filmó en un periodo de entre tres y cinco meses y no utilizó ningún guión ni storyboards. .

El niño fue interpretado por Peter Mayne, originario de la localidad de Cuba (Nuevo México), donde vivía Martin en ese momento. Martin se refirió a Mayne como «un niño hippie» y señaló que aunque parecía que tenía alrededor de diez años de edad, realmente tenía catorce.

Martin dijo en una ocasión que quería hacer una película sobre felicidad e inocencia. “Nunca he visto una película ni leído una historia absolutamente libre de miseria. Y así, pensé que haría una”.

Trata de un niño pequeño que disfruta de un día de libertad, durante el cual él se siente libre. También apuntó que hizo la película «en protesta contra las películas comerciales que versan sobre la destrucción y el engaño. Se han vendido a los efectos especiales. “Ir al cine se ha convertido sólo en experimentar una serie de sacudidas físicas”.

Arne Glimcher, amigo y galerista de Martin, señala que inicialmente Martin deseaba que la película fuese distribuida a través de canales comerciales de Hollywood, aunque no logró este objetivo.

Sobre el título de la película, la artista señaló que eligió el nombre de un ángel para representar la inocencia.

Gabriel ha tenido una recepción desigual, y se ha visto a menudo como una anomalía en la obra de Agnes Martin. Después de que la película se proyectase en Anthology Film Archives en Nueva York, el cineasta Jonas Mekas hizo una reseña en su columna ‘Movie Journal’ del diario Soho Weekly News. Escribió que «Agnes Martin es una gran pintora y todo lo que hace tiene su importancia. Pero he de decir que su película no es gran cine. Aunque es una película muy hermosa. […] la película de Agnes Martin versa sobre el agua, sobre el campo, las flores, la naturaleza y el misterio «.

La crítica de arte Rosalind Krauss escribió sobre la película en su ensayo para el catálogo de la retrospectiva de 1993 de la obra de Agnes Martin (en el Whitney Museum of American Art de Nueva York). Ella escribe que «no es una obra en la que Martin dé ningún indicio de querer separarse del resto de su arte. Sin embargo, debe ser. Porque Gabriel construye una lectura de la propia obra de Martín como cripto-paisaje, una lectura que, como es producida por la propia artista, tiende a cargar el peso de la prueba interpretativa «.

Gabriel (1976)

WHAT THEY WERE ABOUT, Agnes Martin would never quite say. Up close, their surface resolves in iterated lines that skim or settle into the canvas’s tooth; at mid-distance, their right- angled spread becomes a quivering moiré; a few steps further back and their flutter freezes in an aquarelle plane. Abstract nouns like “beauty,” “perfection,” “surrender,” “happiness,” and “freedom” thread through the artist’s sibylline statements, which less cohere than uneasily coexist, hinting at a grand, overarching significance while never settling on a singular meaning. Theirs is a cadenced, continual slide between opposed poles: flickering and stable, hazy and material, congested and spare.

“They” are, of course, grids, Martin’s great subject, rendered in subtle permutations of graphite and paint. Her decision in 1976 to make a film thus seems a digression, an eccentric footnote to a body of work singularly obsessed with line. It was her only foray into the medium; a later attempt to stage an epic about the Mongols’ conquest of China ended only in reels of destroyed footage. Martin’s choice to take up a 16-mm camera came just two years after her storied return to painting, following a seven-year hiatus and a flight from Coenties Slip to Cuba, New Mexico. Yet Martin insisted that Gabriel, screening this Sunday at Anthology Film Archives in a vivid new print, plumbed the same themes as her canvases. “It’s about happiness,” she announced in Art News the year of its release. “Exact thing with my paintings. It’s about happiness and innocence.”

Gabriel follows its titular protagonist, a ten-year-old boy who lived near Martin on the mesa, as he ambles through an untouched landscape of hushed meadows and softly banked streams. A picturesque vista of purple-gray mountains furnishes its opening shot. The camera’s frame is fixed but ever so shaky, betraying the presence of Martin’s hand behind its lens. Cut to a medium shot of water swelling and ebbing along a pebbled shore at a legato lilt. The title intervenes atop a stretch of sand, then Gabriel appears before the Pacific Ocean, perfectly still, his back turned to the camera. Sand, water, and sky divide the frame into six stretches of color: mauve, dimmed purple, spumy white, slate, turquoise, and slate again. Bach’s Goldberg aria plays, its notes pleasantly trilled by the record player’s needle. Motion slows, the air wafts: a perfectly lovely day.

For the film’s remaining seventy-odd minutes, Martin’s camera loosely observes Gabriel’s hike. His journey appears in fragments—here he advances up a hill, there he idles in a grove— interspersed with fleet shots of nature (flowers ruffled by the breeze, lily pads patterning a pond) that fail to cohere in space or in time. In a recurring sequence, Martin cuts between various views of flowing water, each held long enough to arrest our gaze without letting it linger. Purling streams and sun-specked riverbeds appear in swift succession, each a non sequitur to the image that precedes. Martin approaches these shots as she might a painting, her fixed framing recalling the obdurate dimensions of her signature six-foot-square canvases. (Tellingly, at Gabriel’s close, she credits herself not with direction but with “camera composition.”) At moments, she films in slight unfocus, abstracting tussling waves into a turquoise haze. Such effects seem less nurtured than accidental. For an artist who thought in graphite and gouache, the camera must have seemed a foreign object, and Martin handles it awkwardly. As Gabriel traverses the frame, she zooms in, then rapidly retracts the camera’s focus, as if unsure how best to render movement in a space removed from the canvas’s plane.

While point of view shots occasionally intrude—the boy looks skyward and a single wispy cloud fills the frame—Gabriel’s economy remains doggedly external: a translation to celluloid of Martin’s desire to make painting “as unsubjective as possible.” While she lavishes nature with repeated close-ups, Gabriel’s face is never privileged with the same. Martin prefers to capture him from behind, her camera steady as he recedes. No motive is offered for his hike, and he expresses little, if any, emotion, doing no more than impassively, dutifully walking—often, it seems, at Martin’s express command. Sketched in the vaguest of contours, Gabriel becomes a symbol: “innocence,” writ large. His ruminative detachment suggests an “untroubled mind,” that vacant yet focused state which Martin so exalted, and which she associated with children.

“Classicists are people that look out with their back to the world,” Martin averred in a series of statements published in 1972. Her words summed the tradition with which she insistently identified her art. Yet, while Martin aligned classicism with the exultant emotions elicited by nature, she denied that her canvases were abstracted landscapes—mappings of the fields of her father’s wheat farm or the fluent flats of the Southwest. Never mind her suggestive titling (White Flower, Falling Blue, Leaf in the Wind), or her intimation of the grid’s connection with the plain. Recall the shot of Gabriel stilled at the water’s edge, and you’ll see the bands of muted color that characterize Martin’s paintings from the mid-1970s onward.

“It is not a work Martin herself gives any indication of wanting to bracket away from the rest of her art. Yet it should be,” Rosalind Krauss cautioned in her catalogue essay for the artist’s 1992 Whitney retrospective. Her fear was that Gabriel would congeal Martin’s grids as “crypto- landscape[s],” the subtleties of their facture lost in the drive to identify this field or that parched expanse. Krauss wanted to claim Martin as a modernist of the classical sort, her paintings an inquiry into the objective ground and subjective experience of perception. Yet, while Gabriel does not concern vision in the abstract, it does deal with a certain perceptual attitude: “a patience to look and look again,” as photographer Zoe Leonard described. It is that same sensitive, iterative gaze that so defined Martin’s paintings. Faced with Gabriel’s nature montage, one cannot help but see Martin behind the lens, her hand lightly trembling as it did when she drew graphite across canvas.

The isolated figure, back facing the frame, is not simply the classicist turned away from “the turmoil” (to use Martin’s phrase), but the rückenfigur of Romantic landscape painting. When Gabriel stands at the shore, we see not only Martin’s banded canvases but Caspar David Friedrich’s Monk by the Sea, 1809. Martin’s classical pursuit of “order,” “rightness,” and “structure” was tinged with a romantic longing for dissolution: “merging,” “formlessness,” and “breaking down,” as she divulged. For all its emotional cool, Gabriel evokes the sublimity that dwells in the everyday: William Blake’s “To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower.” Rather than an aberrant, and potentially harmful, addendum to an otherwise faultless oeuvre, Martin’s film illumes the contradictions that structure her art and the anxiety (both the artist’s own and that of her interpreters) that attends its relationship to nature. It’s a film, like her paintings, at once elusive and concrete, that interests us precisely because it is irreconcilable. — Courtney Fiske, ‘Off the Grid’, Artforum (2013)