Boulder filmmaker Stacey Steers is a patient artist who animates the old-fashioned way: shot by shot on a stationary animation frame. On Friday at the Denver Art Museum, DAM Contemporaries hosted a screening of her works, including the world premiere of her latest, Night Hunter. It takes one aback to realize that the evening's program -- three lean yet impenetrably overgrown films by Steers, created over a span of eleven or twelve years -- represented so many months and years of creating individual collages and filming their minute movements.
The program began with Totem, a lovely unwinding jungle of an animation that stoicly raises awareness about the disappearance of endangered species in an unthinking modern world; Phantom Canyon, visually a precursor in style and theme to Night Hunter, followed. Next up was the premiere.
In his opening remarks before the screening of Night Hunter, DAM modern and contemporary curator Christoph Heinrich started off by reveling in the fact that it was the first time he's hosted a world premiere at the DAM. But his interest in Steers even predates his Denver appointment: He related how, during a trip to Denver while still curating at Hamburg Kunsthalle in Germany, he spied the filmmaker's previous work at the old MCA Denver ("It was in a supermarket or a bank building, I think," he recalled). He wanted to, and did, buy the film for the Hamburg museum. And Heinrich has, he intimated, been bugging Steers ever since to finish the next one.
Heinrich explained that it took Stacey 4 ½ years and 4,000 painstakingly formed collages to make Night Hunter (Want your mind blown? That translates into eight collages per second), hypothesized that the film's "surreal stream of images" are about time and its passage, noting that it's "almost as if the artist is conquering time." And in the process, he added, Steers forgets time by reviving a star: "She brings Lillian Gish back to life in a movie she never actually made." The ghost image of Gish powers the film throughout.
Night Hunter turned out to be visually deep, a collaged, static drama that flickers in and out of the dense crosshatch of Victorian etchings, much like the silent films Gish starred in, all of it made eerier by a score infused with strange sound effects by composer Larry Polansky. Its insect buzzing and boxed-in sense of nameless fear put me in mind, strangely yet obviously, of Catherine Deneuve's turn in Repulsion, with Gish's persona frozen in and out of time and stigmatized by the encroaching prison of its fluttering reproduction themes, hatching eggs and slithering worms. Dreamlike, yes, and surreal, it was both beautiful and creepy at the same time. As Heinrich posed, it's that very "dreamlike quality that makes it fresh."
After the screenings, the crowd moved upstairs to the Fuse Box, where Night Hunter will live until the end of August as part of the exciting upcoming exhibition, Blink! Light, Sound and the Moving Image, which officially opens at the DAM in March. There, in addition to a looped projection of Night Hunter in the Fuse Box, is a fascinating model of a large black Victorian house that's been installed with tiny video monitors flashing segments from the film. Viewers peep through the windows to watch these eerily moving pictures, and it's a delight to behold.
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Stacey Steers will speak further on the new film during a May 18 Logan Lecture hosted by DAM Contemporaries.