Matters of Being is a screening series at iii curated by Nele Brökelmann. The series presents documentary films about artists, thinkers, scientists, and experimental films by artists and independent filmmakers. Matters of Being allows our minds to wander and stumble upon new associations in the illuminating darkness of the cinema setting.
15:00 Welcome by Nele Brökelmann
15:10 Tony Conrad: Completely In The Present (2016, Tyler Hubby)
Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present (2016) is a non-fiction film examining the pioneering life and works of artist, musician, and educator, Tony Conrad. The film is Tyler Hubby’s directorial debut.
Tony Conrad was one of the great American artists of our time, yet to the world at large he remains criminally under appreciated. Since the early 1960s, Conrad’s films and compositions have been the stuff of legend for artists and musicians everywhere. His vast, inter-disciplinary repertoire has single-handedly created and influenced major film and compositional movements. He performed in and recorded the soundtrack to Jack Smith’s legendary Flaming Creatures; he turned the paradigms of cinema upside down with The Flicker, a film composed of only black and white frames; his development and practice of Just Intonation and Minimalism through his work with Stockhausen and La Monte Young still has the music establishment scratching their heads; his pivotal role in the formation of The Velvet Underground has directly or indirectly influenced everyone who has picked up a guitar since; as an early adopter of activist public access television he democratized the emerging medium of portable video. In his later years he continued to perform and make work that pushed the boundaries of reason for which he has finally begun to receive worldwide attention.
Utilizing intimate footage of Conrad and his collaborators shot by the director over the last twenty-two years, as well as Tony’s own archive of recordings and films, Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present mirrors Conrad’s own playfully radical approach to art making. The non-linear structure allows Conrad to wildly free associate his streams of consciousness, revealing an honest and humane way of navigating a remarkable, creative life.
Tyler Hubby – Directors Statement
I met Tony Conrad in 1994 just as he was re-emerging as a composer and musician. I was recording with my Hi-8 camera when he played one of his first public shows as a violin soloist and have been recording since.
Tony was electrifying in how he could always find ways to confront establishment ideas and personal belief systems. Not only was his sabre rattling at the foundations of western culture inspiring, it was also just, and deeply resonated with my ideas of the role of art in society.
Over the years as I worked as an editor on films like The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Double Take and The Great Invisible I kept shooting performances and interviews with Tony, amassing a strange, deep archive until in 2010 I proposed to him that we fashion all of this into a feature film, which would be my first as a director.
While a film student at the San Francisco Art Institute (studying with the late George Kuchar who was the other great prankster of cheap, underground cinema) I first saw Tony’s film, The Flicker and was stunned by its power and simplicity in its complete and fundamental reduction of cinema to white and black frames. Shortly after that I discovered his ear splitting and mesmerizing violin drones. And shortly after that I met him.
I have always felt a deep connection to Tony’s work in music, film and video. His early film and music are so total and demand absolute attention, They somehow magically altered the perception of time. As I grew to know his later media and television work I came to see how deeply humane it was in its desire to connect not just with a particular audience but whole communities. Tony had a great desire for his work to be of service to others and promote the agency of the audience in creating their own experience.
It is always a delight to introduce new audiences to Tony’s work, which despite its intense conceptual rigor, is entertaining, playful and eternally inclusive. It can be powerful, opaque, cheap, ridiculous and inspiring. Fans and historians have traced a lineage of influence that moves from the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth, from Mike Kelley to the Yes Men and from Jim O’Rourke to Sunn O))).
In making the film I didn’t want to copy Tony but instead I wanted to take inspiration from him. I wanted to make a film about time and minimalism that played with temporality and was minimal in its approach, avoiding interpretation of his works and allowing the viewer time and space to come at the works on their own terms.
I also wanted to create the experience of spending time with Tony in all of his goofy, freewheeling, intellectualism and keep him alive and in the present not through a simple, biographic summary but a kind of living experience suspended in midair. So much of his work deals with time and is about time, and yet is somehow unbound by time as it will continue to challenge us for generations. I wanted to use time not just as a device but as a thematic subtext.
Although he died just before the film was finished I did not want to eulogize Tony but celebrate his life force and give others a chance to experience his infectious energy and passion for ideas.