Karel Doing: Circadian Maps
26 February – 9 April, 2016
Karel Doing is an experimental filmmaker who has been making films since the late 1980s. His early work was informed by the historical practice and experimentation of Dada filmmaking and he has acknowledged reference to the handmade manipulation of the material surface of film by the post-war American avant-garde. Since 2000, the significant themes in Doing’s work distil Dutch colonial histories through the lens of personal connection, and present the outcome of experiments with the processing and handling the material surface of film. The relationship of landscape, place and family history to the materiality of film is explored.
In this series of processed 35 mm film frames, the wide, cinemascope format is used and then subsequently printed and mounted on to aluminium. Doing has brought the time of the motion picture film to the processing and handling of material film. These printed frames are unique, single artworks, each different from the other.
Doing has processed, mostly black and white, and occasionally colour, 16mm and 35 mm film for many years. Processing becomes process as this technical skill became a significant part of his creative working method. Doing’s approach is resolutely analogue, and is more handmade and less mechanical than previous industrial film processes. This application of film processing techniques in recent work plays with concepts of science and scientific experimentation. Using the organic chemicals and minerals derived and collected from nature – such as salt, yeast, copper, iron, and the acid from pine needles and seaweed, Doing applied these elements to the wet emulsion of the film surface and allowed them to affect the surface of the film. The experimental nature of the processing film emulsion in this way, as with the field of scientific experimentation, sets up the possibility of failure, of unexpected consequences and of the unforeseen. Over time the emulsion has reacted to the incursion of the organic chemicals producing blooms of physical reaction, which become and obliterate the image. These visual and material effects are both reminiscent of the glass slides prepared to go under the microscope, and of the abstract paintings of Abstract Expressionism.
The material that Doing has used to create his films since 2000 was taken from still photographic material as well as letters from family collections. The archive of images made by family members who have since died has fallen to Doing as inheritance, personal archive and memorial. These archive photographs and letters have been scrutinised and studied and the places where they were made have been mapped and explored. The experimental process of using organic chemicals and minerals to affect the photographic emulsion has accelerated the time of deterioration of the photographs. A question arises as to how and what one should do with the burden of inherited visual material. The legacy of visual material also means that the present holder will ultimately have to hand it on to someone else, and that in the meantime the chemical compounds in the photographic material will continue to change and break down in time. Doing’s work encapsulates a sense of preservation and protection suggested by the responsibility of the archive and the inevitable decomposition of the photographs and films.
These processes occur in time, and they parallel the attribute of motion picture film itself, which is a time-based medium. The images on the frames of film are generative. They are made and develop through and in time, and are analogous to the process of developing and fixing film. These images are generated through the degradation and loss of the surface of the photograph on the frame of film. This loss of the image corresponds to the impending fate of celluloid film as it lies in a precarious position in the twenty-first century.
Exhibition essay by Jane Madsen, 2016