'Jonas Mekas. Under the Shadow of the Tree ' opens at Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau

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'Jonas Mekas. Under the Shadow of the Tree ' opens at Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau
Jonas Mekas, Under the Shadow of the Tree. Exhibition view at Padiglione de l’Espirit Nouveau. Photo Ornella De Carlo courtesy Settore Musei Civici Bologna | MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna.

BOLOGNA.- As part of Jonas Mekas 100!, the exhibition Under the Shadow of the Tree, set up at the Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau in Bologna from 2 February to 26 March 2023, continues the international program of initiatives celebrating the centenary of the birth of Jonas Mekas (Biržai 1922 - New York 2019), a crucial figure in the history of American avant-garde cinema.

The show has been curated by the duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi and promoted by MAMbo - Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, the Lithuanian Culture Institute, and the Embassy of Lithuania in Italy, in collaboration with Home Movies - National Family Film Archive. The exhibition sets up a dialogue between the building - a housing prototype built in 1925 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, with a faithful copy reconstructed in Bologna in 1977 by Giuliano and Glauco Gresleri with José Oubrerie - and a body of works that took off the big screen the film diaries for which Jonas Mekas is known.

The initiative is part of the main program of ART CITY Bologna 2023, an institutional program of exhibitions, events, and special initiatives promoted by the City of Bologna and BolognaFiere on the occasion of Arte Fiera.

As if it were a sound box, the entire Bologna pavilion is filled with the sounds of the audio diaries with which the artist recorded the flow of New York life. Memorable moments, such as discussions about cinema between Peter Kubelka and Stan Brakhage, are interspersed with everyday songs and noises. Everything becomes part of a noisy symphony in which fragments from different eras merge into a single, infinite present.

The tree towering in the center of the building, passing through its ceiling, is instead the element around which, through images, revolves a reflection on the role of nature in the filmmaker’s work. A series of film scans are printed on the large windows that let light into the building, producing the effect of a polychrome stained glass window. Becoming projection surfaces, the flowers, plants, and landscapes immortalized in the photographic series come alive, testifying to the constant attention to which Mekas, with his camera, was committed. By filming the vegetation that miraculously grows in New York, the director, a Lithuanian refugee in the United States since 1949, rediscovered the woods of his village in the metropolis.

The tree, however, is a motif with more than one meaning. Mekas likened cinema to a lush plant of which independent filmmakers represented the tallest leaves. Some documents from the artist’s archive put this metaphor on the page. The branches traced by Mekas’s hand schematize his personal history of avant-garde cinema. Moreover, they describe his efforts to promote it through institutions such as the New American Cinema Group, Filmmakers’ Cooperative, and Anthology Film Archives, of which he was a founder.

Punctuating the exhibition are drawings, films, and videos that reflect Mekas’s multifaceted oeuvre in its interweaving of the poetic and the political. If the filmmaker’s cinema has been described as an act of resistance to Hollywood’s gigantism, these works show it to us as a tireless labor in the ecology of the media and images. In Mekas’s works, the smallest and most insignificant moments of existence are glorified as the essence of the world.

For the ART CITY Cinema program promoted by the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna in occasion of ART CITY Bologna 2023, on Wednesday 1st February at 8 p.m. at the Cinema Lumière the documentary film on the great Lithuanian director Fragments of Paradise (USA/2022) by KD Davison (98') will be screened. Introduced by Sebastian Mekas (The Estate of Jonas Mekas).

From his arrival in New York as a displaced person in 1949 to his death in 2019, Jonas Mekas documented his life in his film-diaries. From the thousands of hours of footage they contained, along with previously unseen footage and recordings, KD Davison offers us an intimate look at the Lithuanian filmmaker's life and work and his unwavering belief in the cathartic power of cinema. “There is something to be gleaned from his almost religious insistence on the importance of momentary, small, fragile things; his focus on mundane experience as the essence of a happy life”.
Original version with Italian subtitles.

Jonas Mekas (Biržai, 1922 - New York, 2019) was a Lithuanian filmmaker, poet, and artist whose films are considered milestones of independent cinema worldwide.
In 1944, Jonas and his brother Adolfas were deported by the Nazis to the Elmshorn labor camp in Germany. At the end of 1949, the International Refugee Organization brought them both to New York, where they settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Thanks to his friendship with fellow countryman George Maciunas, Mekas soon became active in the Fluxus group.

In 1949, two months after he arrived in New York, he bought his first Bolex camera. He soon became deeply immersed in American avant-garde film. In 1954, he founded the magazine Film Culture, which quickly became the most important film publication in the United States. In 1958, he started the legendary “Movie Journal “column in The Village Voice. At the end of 1960, he signed the New American Cinema Manifesto, which brought together an entire generation of independent filmmakers, such as Stan Brakhage, Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, and Andy Warhol. Developing the ideas expressed in the manifesto, Mekas founded the Filmmakers’ Cooperative in 1962 and the Filmmakers’ Cinematheque in 1964. The last organization would eventually become the Anthology Film Archives, one of the world’s largest and most important avant-garde film archives.

Jonas Mekas is widely recognized as one of the initiators of the film-diary genre. His second film, The Brig, received the 1963 Grand Prix Leone di San Marco at the Venice Film Festival. His filmography includes masterpieces such as Walden (1969), Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (1972), Lost, Lost, Lost (1976), As I Was Moving Ahead I saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000), A Letter from Greenpoint (2005), Sleepless Nights Stories (2011), and Out-takes from the Life of a Happy Man (2012).

His works have been exhibited at major international contemporary art events: from Documenta XI and XIV to La Biennale di Venezia (Utopia Station in 2003; Lithuanian Pavilion in 2005). In the last 15 years, retrospective exhibitions on Mekas have been organized in the world’s most important museums, including Museum Ludwig (Cologne 2008), Serpentine Gallery (London 2012), Centre Pompidou (Paris 2012), MUAC (Mexico City 2013), Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg 2013), MMCA (Seoul 2017), Jewish Museum (New York 2021), National Gallery of Art (Vilnius 2021).

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