Is the invisible visible? – Martin Blažíček: Test

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“Is the invisible visible?” – was the first question addressed to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in the only interview the German physicist granted after his 1885 discovery of X-radiation.[1]  Recycling radiographs and incorporating them into his 1997 short film Test, Martin Blažíček repeats this question in an updated form extending it to the medium of the film itself.

Soon after its discovery the X-ray became a widely used visual attraction, beyond the scope of medicine and health. Its potential to visually penetrate opaque objects has been exploited by advertisements or even magic tricks, and quickly reached the avant-garde, showing its influence in the technical approach of the Futurists and the Cubists and earning great emphasis in the artistic work of Marcel Duchamp and František Kupka. One of Kupka’s first images utilizing the transparency of the X-ray plate (The Dream) shows overlapping, spirit-like forms, floating free of gravity as in an apparition of a dream.[2] He was the one who interested Duchamp in the possible artistic relevance of X-rays. Duchamp’s 1910 painting of his brothers playing chess is considered as the most emblematic of all X-ray influenced work.[3] In it he presents the interiors of the men’s heads, where ideographs are shown of the chess pieces on which they are focusing.  For them “X-rays produced a new kind of shadow, one that revealed the invisible.”[4] Both Kupka and Duchamp and the Cubist circle around the poet Alexandre Mercerau, who was known for his spiritualist orientation, were mainly focusing on the occult interpretation of X-rays. This association, the connection between the supernatural or ethereal and the X-ray images, remained inherent in the artistic representation of the technology. Even James Sibley Watson’s medical avant-garde (X-ray) films transmit something intangibly haunting.

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Blažíček takes a different approach and stresses another attribute of X-ray imagery. Depriving it from any spiritual charge he utilizes its ability to unveil the inner construction of the body, to show its components and the way they function. The presented radiographs have a strong, referential meaning, as the images stripping the human body work parallel with the images stripping the filmic body. Blažíček juxtaposes images of internal organs with images of film perforations melting different found footage materials together. The most relevant metaphors involve the heart and the light bulb as they both represent the core of their respective bodies. The beating heart keeps the human body moving, the light does the same for the film. As this metaphor indicates, besides decomposing two bodies in one frame, Test works as an artistic credo, presenting Blažíček’s philosophy on the representation of film in this period of his life.

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According to Martin Čihák the appearance of Czech structural film is connected mainly to two filmmakers from the nineties, Blažíček and Martin Ježek,[5] and Test is a milestone of the trend. Exploiting the synthetic power of the optical printer it creates a collage of moving images and varies different techniques to stress the materiality of the film. It makes several parts of the filmic body visible: besides the perforations it shows the numbers on the stock and the space between the frames. When re-photographing the different stocks, Blažíček kept sliding them on each other to keep the distortion steady. To support the various methods of unveiling, Blažíček also starts a dialogue between the depicted objects and the movements of the images and light. The rhythm of the heartbeat is reflected in the rhythm of the images moving and the glimmering of the light bulb turns into an extended flickering effect. The film ends with an inscription, the letters appearing rapidly on separated frames: ORIGINAL KOPIE (original copy) emphasizing and finalizing the “message’.

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In the second half of the nineties when film technology was in a transitional state and both the old and the new technologies were in some kind of an identity crisis, Blažíček took a stand on analog film and its quality of being unrepeatable. Test works as an artistic X-ray test examining the body of its subjects (human and film) drawing parallels between their operation. In Test film is presented as a living organism depending on the life-giving power of light. Test is one of the few of Blažíček’s films he decided to digitize, most of his works are only available in their original 16mm format and are shown in occasional screenings, each time a bit altered. Therefore in the end even Blažíček might have adopted something from the spiritual quality of the artistic representation of the X-ray, by creating a ghostlike film appearing each time in a different form.

Written by: Dorottya Szalay


 

[1] Natale, Simone (2011) „The Invisible Made Visible. X-rays as Attraction and Visual Medium at the End of the Nineteenth Century” in. Media History, vol. 17. no. 4, p. 345.
[2] Henderson, Linda Dalrymple (1988) “X Rays and the Quest for Invisible Reality in the Art of Kupka, Duchamp and the Cubists” in. Art Journal, 1988/Winter, p.328.
[3] Kevles, Bettyann (1997) Naked to the Bone: Medical Imaging in the Twentieth Century. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, p.127.
[4] Henderson (1988), p. 329.
[5] Čihák, Martin (2013) Ponorná řeka kinematografie (The Subterranean River of Cinema), Prague: NAMU, p. 62.

 

 

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