An Immersive Practice: Conversations with Christopher Harris, Crystal Z. Campbell & Paige Taul [Audio]

Over three nights, Block Cinema organized a series of talks and screenings with three leading video artists and filmmakers.

These wide-ranging conversations touched on everything from landscape representation to abstraction, and from environmental segregation to racial violence.

I don’t think experimental films in and of themselves are accessible or inaccessible. I think the apparatus around the works is. Hollywood has a whole marketing machine that’s been working for about a hundred years now. And so it has the appearance and the illusion of accessibility; but really it has just been creating its audience with investments of millions of dollars. If you invested a hundred million dollars into this program, everybody would get it. It’s not the work. It’s the culture. It’s our culture that creates accessibility and inaccessibility.

—Christopher Harris on making accessible experimental films.

Notes from Black Wall Street with Crystal Z. Campbell

Oklahoma-based artist, filmmaker, and curator Crystal Z Campbell confronts the “public secrets” of American life, such as racism, gentrification, and resource extraction, by interrogating layers of history and erasure. In her first of two nights of screenings and talks at the Block, Campbell discussed their recent body of work, NOTES FROM BLACK WALL STREET, a group of paintings, videos, and installations exploring the rebuilding of the Greenwood district following the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. In this cycle of works, Campbell activates diverse materials such paint, archival photography, and fired clay to excavate the tactile histories of Tulsa’s African American community, using techniques of assemblage and abstraction to bring these histories to life in the present.

Following the presentation, Crystal Z Campbell was in discussion with Rikki Byrd,  Ph.D. Candidate, African American Studies. Rikki Byrd is a writer, educator and scholar, with research interests in black studies, performance studies, fashion studies and art history. Presented in conjunction with Northwestern’s Art, Theory, and Practice department.

Listen to Notes from Black Wall Street

Crystal Z Campbell & Christopher Harris

Environments of Struggle: The Slow Violence of Environmental Racism with Christopher Harris & Crystal Z. Campbell

Environments of Struggle: The Slow Violence of Environmental Racism, the second night’s program focused on landscapes of decay and the material traces of structural neglect. Films by Crystal Z. Campbell and Christopher Harris challenged our perception of American injustice. Campbell’s films GO-RILLA MEANS WAR (2017) and A MEDITATION ON NATURE IN THE ABSENCE OF AN ECLIPSE (2021) use found footage to trace fraught histories, from gentrification in Bed-Stuy to the water crisis in Flint, MI. Christopher Harris’ STILL/HERE (2001) bracingly documents the derelict architecture of North St. Louis, an open monument to systemic disinvestment in Black communities. Harris and Campbell appeared after the screening to discuss the ways their films offer techniques for visualizing and challenging the “slow violence” of environmental racism.

Listen to discussion on Environments of Struggle

Flesh to Spirit: Materiality and Abstraction in Black Experimental Film with Paige Taul

The third program, Flesh to Spirit: Materiality and Abstraction in Black Experimental Film, showcased twelve brilliant works in 16mm and 35mm film, analog and digital video. Charting connections between several generations of moving-image makers, the program explored the manifold ways that film artists have embraced abstract techniques and explored the materiality of film and video to represent Black experience from the 1960s to the present. Christopher Harris was joined by fellow filmmaker Paige Taul for a wide-ranging conversation on film, history and representation.

Listen to Flesh to Spirit conversation below.

Program lineup

  • After DeCarava (Paige Taul, 2018, 2 min, digital)
  • Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts (Edward Owens, 1966, 6 min, digital)
  • Flesh to Spirit (alima lee, 2019, 9 min, digital)
  • Maman Brigitte (Ayanna Dozier, 2021, 3 min, digital)
  • Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification (Barbara McCullough, 1979, 4 min, 35mm)
  • Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (Cauleen Smith, 1992, 6 min, 16mm)
  • MPG: Motion Picture Genocide (Robert Banks, 1997, 4 min, 35mm)
  • Reckless Eyeballing (Christopher Harris, 2004, 13 min, 16mm)
  • cavity (ariella tai, 2019, 6 min, digital)
  • An Ecstatic Experience (Ja’Tovia Gary, 2015, 6 min, digital)
  • Planet X (Ulysses Jenkins, 2006, 7 min, digital)
  • 28.IV.81 (Bedouin Spark) (Christopher Harris, 2009, 3 min, 16mm)

Artists Biographies

Christopher Harris is a filmmaker whose films and video installations read African American historiography through the poetics and aesthetics of experimental cinema. His work employs manually and photo-chemically altered appropriated moving images, staged re-enactments of archival artifacts and interrogations of documentary conventions. His award-winning experimental films include a long-take look at a post-industrial urban landscape, an optically printed and hand-processed film about black outlaws, a pinhole film about the cosmic consequences of the sun’s collapse, a macro lens close up of a child’s nightlight and a double-projection film about a theme park performance of Christ’s Passion. His work has been exhibited at festivals, museums and cinematheques throughout North America and Europe.

Crystal Z Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker, and writer of Black, Filipino, and Chinese descents. Campbell finds complexity in public secrets— fragments of information known by many but untold or unspoken. Recent works revisit questions of immortality and medical ethics with Henrietta Lacks’ “immortal” cell line, ponder the role of a political monument and displacement in a Swedish coastal landscape, and salvage a 35mm film from a demolished Black activist theater in Brooklyn as a relic of gentrification. Sonic, material, and archival traces of the witness informs their work in film, performance, installation, sound, painting, and writing.

Paige Taul‘s work engages with and challenges assumptions of black cultural expression and notions of belonging through experimental cinematography. As a part of her filmmaking practice, she test the boundaries of identity and self-identification through autoethnography to examine notions of racial authenticity.  Her interests lie in tying environmental and familial connections to concepts of race craft to expose the boundaries of identity through religion, style, and language.

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