Cinematic Affects: The Art of Runa Islam; Martin Herbert Surveys the Artist's Films, in Which Coolly Hypnotic, Oblique Narratives-Haunted by the Afterimages of '60S Avant-Garde Auteurs-Straddle the Borders between Cinema and Sculpture, Art House and Art Gallery

By Herbert, Martin | Artforum International, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Cinematic Affects: The Art of Runa Islam; Martin Herbert Surveys the Artist's Films, in Which Coolly Hypnotic, Oblique Narratives-Haunted by the Afterimages of '60S Avant-Garde Auteurs-Straddle the Borders between Cinema and Sculpture, Art House and Art Gallery


Herbert, Martin, Artforum International


I CAN'T HELP IT: I know the female character in Runa Islam's five-minute 16 mm film Dead Time, 2000, is merely a cipher, a manipulated integer in a calculus of cinematic affectivity--but my heart goes out to her anyway. There she is in the first shot, framed against a blank sky, nearly expressionless yet radiating a sense of the kind of authentic interior life it often takes a nonactor to convey. Still, Islam seems to be trying to tell me not to care too much. In short order, the artist underscores the medium's materiality with a couple of Godardian edits, slicing unknowable segments of time away from the film so the woman's movements are repeatedly stopped in midstream, and interjecting overexposed cutaways to a smog-laden cityscape that seems far removed from her position and point of view.

Suddenly, we're indoors, where we find the woman dejectedly spinning a silver ring around a tabletop, cranking up its gyroscopic solo dance over and over. The air of unrelieved ennui adds Michelangelo Antonioni, pioneering theorist of temps mort, to the film's parade of art-house shout-outs, while the sound of plashing water, intermittently seeping into the sound track of dismal pizzicato strings and industrial hum, recalls Robert Bresson's maxim (from his Notes on the Cinematographer [1975]) that "image and sound must not support each other, but must work each in turn through a sort of relay." In fact, the ring's metallic whirr eventually slips wholly out of sync with the images. At the fade to black, after the object has fallen still, its spinning remains audible, echoing the clicks of the film projector's tirelessly turning reel--soon to loop over to the start of the "story"--and cuing memory to linger over something indefinable, now gone.

Dead Time, in the midst of its abundant referentiality, pared-back beauty, and syntactical gamesmanship, suggests a kind of relationship interrupted, whose perpetuation is longed for but refused. But is that connection between the female character and someone she's lost or awaits--the missing owner of the ring, say--or is it, more abstractly, between her and the viewer, or even between structural elements within the work itself? Such questions arise often in Islam's icily formal yet essentially humanist films. Born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and raised in Great Britain, Islam became a cineaste in her teens, drawn particularly to those European auteurs who masterminded film's burgeoning consciousness of itself. She subsequently studied art history and philosophy prior to pursuing studio practice at Amsterdam's Rijksakademie. Given this background, with its blend of youthful fandom and scholarly rigor, it's hardly surprising she ended up with both an enduring fascination for the empathetic mechanisms of filmic narrative--their shadowing, compressing, and tilting of the real--and an analytic bent that leads her to pull apart cinema's tropes, isolating in the process some of the contingencies of movie-trained vision. The result of these dual affinities is an approach that seems equally at home with Antonioni and Jack Goldstein, Alain Resnais and Catherine Sullivan. Indeed, Islam's work evinces an awareness that the stylistics of '60s European cinema, however revolutionary in their time, are now merely another orthodoxy on which to build, recalibrated for the different emphases of the gallery environment and used as a launchpad into more emotive territory. Yet such emotiveness does not mean the pleasures of uncomplicated sentiment: In her densely koanlike works, poignancy continually gets snarled up in a multiplicity of implicated authors, a derailed narrative drive, and an aesthetic that straddles the distinctions between film and sculpture, art and cinema.

Less explicable than Islam's twin inclinations toward deconstruction and enchantment is how mutually reinforcing these parallel impulses have proven to be. The crux of this seemingly contradictory dynamic may lie in the fact that Islam rarely lets viewers forget their own status as subjective observers and interpreters.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Cinematic Affects: The Art of Runa Islam; Martin Herbert Surveys the Artist's Films, in Which Coolly Hypnotic, Oblique Narratives-Haunted by the Afterimages of '60S Avant-Garde Auteurs-Straddle the Borders between Cinema and Sculpture, Art House and Art Gallery
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.