Although theoreticians refer to Vladimir Havrilla as an iconic figure of Czechoslovak experimental film, few people are familiar with his moving images. Thanks to the Czech Centrum in New York and to the devoted work of the curator, Dusan Broznan, the experimental films of the man mainly famous as a sculptor, writer and sometimes-photographer have been brought back into focus this year.
If the judgment was based on his film oeuvre Havrilla unambiguously belonged to the artists of the Eastern-Central-European underground of the ’70s and ’80s. The movies he put together in his apartment with the help of his friends came out after the big turn in ’68, when the avant-garde was becoming more and more conservative and minimalism became the symbol of the modern technocratic (totalitarian) world. The then 27 year old Havrilla bought his first video camera in 1970 and started producing his own experimental visions. He mainly transformed concept art into the language of film, but some of his work invoke the inventions of contemporary Western artists. The curator of the above mentioned exhibition referred to Havrilla’s work as appropriation art, since many projects of the Czechoslovakian creator „borrow” from the images of Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein or Bruce Nauman.
His 1974 film, Lift belongs to the previous category, so it is rather the moving image manifestation of concept art than an Eastern-European clone of American abstract expressionism or the pop art. In the movie – designed using pixelation technique – two women figures (one wearing black, the other one wearing white) float at the neighbouring ends of a cross painted on the ground. Soon they start approaching the center of the cross, and after evading each other they keep on levitating until they reach the end of their respective lines. After they reach their goal they turn back and, meeting at the intersection of the two lines, they start a clumsy, marionette-like, spinning dance in which the movements are made increasingly suggestive by the framing. The reunion is followed by another separation, but this time the figures leave the frame. The camera is stuck focusing on the central of the cross. When the two women enter the picture again, their levitating figures are distorted into flashing lights, which culminates with the disappearance of the final black and white figures – in that order. In a conclusion the camera pans imperceptibly towards the sky.
According to the corner-stones of the theory of Dr. András Bálint Kovács about „conceptual modernism”, it would be a bit of an overstatement to canonize Havrilla’s film as conscious representative of a trend introducing postmodernism. (Although it might be interesting that it immediately brought to mind Antonioni’s Blow-up.) In several aspects Lift could be interpreted as a political statement, but it does not fulfill the reconstitution of the idea of reality. This notion is also supported by the side note of Andrey J. Horton, who referred to Havrilla’s short as an „almost conceptual work”. Yet even without the compulsory theoretical analysis Lift is an interesting movie, its technique and atmosphere secures its place among the contemporary film experiments of its time.
Although he still produces moving images, Havrilla’s films following the millennium refer to the technical and art-theoretical inventions of the present. It is also a pity that his experimental films which were made before the independence of the Czech and Slovak Republics are not available on his website. Therefore people who are interested in Havrilla’s early work must seek them out on lesser known Slovak internet forums and local film archives.
Written by: Dorottya Szalay
To watch the film click on the picture.