Films by Robert Breer

at the STADTKINO BASEL (Klostergasse 5)

Form Phases IV, 1954, color, silent, 3’30’’
Recreation, 1956-57, color, silent, 2’
A Man and his Dog Out for Air, 1957, b/w, optical sound, 3’
Pat’s Birthday, 1962, b/w, sound, 13’
66, 1966, color, sound, 6’10’’
69, 1968, color, optical sound, 5’
Gulls and Buoys, 1972, color, sound, 7’05’’
Bang, 1986, color, optical sound, 8’
What Goes Up, 2003, color, sound back by Jacob Burkhardt, 4’46’’

All films 16mm transferred onto DVD. Courtesy the artist and gb agency, Paris.

With an introduction by film-maker and curator Yann Beauvais (Paris), founder of the art-house film distribution „Light Cone”.
In English.

On the occasion of the group exhibition POOR THING, the Kunsthalle Basel is organising a screening of short films by the American artist Robert Breer (*1926) at the Stadtkino Basel. Breer has been working with the medium of film since the 1950s and has developed an experimental type of animated film in which abstract images by him alternate with drawings, collages and photographs in swift pictorial sequences.

The programme includes selected films by Robert Breer dating from 1954 to 2003 and concentrates on their artistic link with the abstract motorised sculptures by him on show in the exhibition POOR THING.

Since the 1950s the American artist Robert Breer has been working with the media of painting, film and sculpture. Around 1953 in Paris he started his artistic career as a painter when he was dealing with neo-plasticist painting. Breer developed a personal language of geometrical forms which collided and overlapped on the canvas. In his early paintings the artist did not so much follow a strictly geometrical abstraction – they were neither static nor pulsating compositions – but rather depicted the states of a movement brought to a standstill. Around the same time Robert Breer’s interest in the combination of forms and movement lead him to the time-based medium of film. He began to develop animated films himself, such as Form Phases IV, 1954, which he produced by means of an experimental technique which he had invented himself. Projections of slides which the artist cut into individual shapes were shot slide after slide with a 16mm camera. In the succession of single images in the film resulting from this procedure, comic-strip-like and quickly changing sequences of abstract forms came into existence. Later Breer combined these with drawings, collages and photographs which were repeated in rapid sequences. Yet the repetition of single images does not come across as monotonous because the eye – through the images’ precise and rhythmical succession – permanently discovers new images or recognizes already familiar ones. That way, Breer’s films visualize associative narrative strategies with fragmented and subjectively connected images. In the complex but also humorous relationships which the images engage in with one another abstraction and figuration is combined with items and events of everyday life as well as with social observations.
In the mid-sixties, after returning to America, Breer developed three-dimensional animated sculptures, the Floats, which continued his close investigation of the psychological and physiological aspects of the real-time perception of moving shapes in space. Back in 1959 Breer had met Jean Arp and Jean Tinguely among other artists in Paris. These two artists’ working methods influenced Breer’s new works of moving, animated objects which mostly involved geometrical forms that were cut out of plain Styrofoam. Driven by invisible motors they are creating altered spatial and corporeal relationships to space in their free movement. Yet no spectacular situations can arise because the Floats are changing their positions only slowly and not directly visibly and that way they are slowly modifying the hitherto fixed and safe territory of the gallery space. In their gliding and in their often modest sizes the objects also reveal anthropomorphic characteristics which – in the direct encounter – might trigger off emotional reactions in the viewer. In contrast to the sculptures of 1960s Minimal Art, Breer’s objects do not develop a dominant relationship towards the space and the viewer but playfully open up unexpected situations and abstract compositions. In this manner they reformulate the involvement of the viewer, which became an important issue in the heyday of Minimal Art – and still is – in an autonomous way: As futile but at the same time heroic things in the gallery space they alter our familiar perception of space and time and demand an extraordinarily great amount of attention from the viewer.

Simone Neuenschwander