An experimental filmmaker comes into focus
BRATTLEBORO -- Experimental filmmaker and media artist Walter Ungerer has trained his lens -- and his muse -- on a variety of subjects in a variety of creative ways for nearly 50 years.
Now, he comes into focus in Brattleboro through a two-day celebration of his work at the Center for Digital Art in the Cotton Mill on Friday and Saturday and an video-art installation which is on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center through June 22.
A fixture of The Village underground film and art scenes in New York City, Ungerer made films using some of the earliest experimental techniques, combining layered and blended images, abstraction, animation and photography. He left New York for Vermont in 1969 to teach at Goddard College, and by the early 1990s had begun to see, ahead of the curve, the creative possibilities of digital video and computer editing.
His work changed, and it is that journey as an artist that the Center for Digital Art is exploring with screenings of Ungerer's work on Friday and Saturday. Each evening begins with a reception at 6 p.m., followed by screenings at 7 p.m. Ungerer will also discuss his work and his evolution as an artist.
In an interview from his home in Maine Monday morning, Ungerer explained that his earlier, celluloid work in the 1960s and ‘70s manifested itself in longer works -- feature-length, running 75-90 minutes or more.
Two forces in play in the ‘'90s -- the advent of digital technology and the loss of funding sources for the longer work -- changed the way he worked. In essence, he began working in shorter form -- video and media artworks that might run five to 15 minutes.
"With the longer films, there's a script of some sort. If you have a crew and actors and pay them next to nothing, you have to let them know you know what you're doing," said Ungerer. "With this shorter form, it's a lot like poetry. It's much more condensed.
"The way I approach the shorter form, I get up in the morning and whatever idea comes into my head, that's the project. The spontaneous approach didn't work in my longer films," added Ungerer. "Hopefully that excitement comes back out when I produce it and show it."
For the screenings Friday and Saturday at the Center for Digital Art, Ungerer and CDA's Michel Moyse have selected shorter and mostly recent films from Ungerer's body of work.
Friday's program includes the films: "A Warm Day Comes After a Cold Winter" (1994, 5:42), "Ubi Est Terram Oobiae (1969, 5:00), "Kingsbury Beach" (1999, 6:21), "Parva Sed Apta Mihi" (2012, 17:02), "Epitaph" (2008, 9:37), "Blue Parrot" (2009, 12:23), "Green Eye" (2012, 6:36) and "And All This Madness" (Trailer, 2004, 6:33).
Saturday's program includes: "The Syracuse Tapes" (1990, 9:00), "Monarda" (2010, 10:07), "Clouds" (2012, 6:47), "Mauvais Garçon/Bad Boy" (2012, 17:41), "The Bird Feeders" (2008, 14:00), "City of the Angels" (2013, 11:35) and "ICI" (2013, 11:35).
Admission to the CDA programs is by suggested donation of $10.
"I want to show people what I'm doing now," Ungerer said. "As someone progresses as a person, as an artist, change occurs. And I say there is growth, if you put effort into it."
While Ungerer's work has changed a lot from his the heady, celluloid work of the 1960s, in some ways, working digitally, in shorter form marks a return to his artistic roots.
Ungerer originally attended art school to be a painter or sculptor.
"Going back to when I was a painter, I would directly apply paint and charcoal to the material. The direct act that was going on was something I did enjoy," he said. "I'm working very much with a computer screen and a Wacom tablet and a stylus drawn directly onto the screen. I'm going back to my experience of physically working with a surface, and then I manipulate it that material with a program.
"The experience that I have ... what I call ‘a real joy in creating' ... I think I get these ideas from some tapping into my internal soul. I don't try to understand it. I don't try to have a message there," he said. "I'm having faith in what comes out of me that goes into each film. I'm hoping that the viewer can approach watching my work the same way."
Ungerer's work spans many styles from cinema verite documentaries, to narrative films, to digital computer-generated works. The Metropolitan Museum of Art included "Ubi Est Terram Oobiae" in a program that toured the world for a year. In the next few years, his "Oobieland" films (there are five parts) won awards at several experimental film festivals. He spent more than 30 years living in Vermont, teaching at Goodard Collage, working on films and running a film festival in Montpelier.
He's pleased to coming back to Vermont for the events at the CDA.
"I think Vermont is one of the greatest states in the United States. It's a wonderful place. That I'm not there, it's painful," he said.
People interested in Ungerer's work should also stop by the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center to check out Ungerer's video installation "All the Days of the Year."
"All the Days of the Year" is a visual and aural meditation on place. Ungerer recorded 13-second segments describing a 360-degree view from a single point on a hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. Filming at different times of day and night, in all seasons, in varying weather, simply taking in the sights that entered the camera's eye for a year, Ungerer draws attention to the often overlooked everyday beauty of a place.
For information on this and all the exhibits at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.
For information on Friday's and Saturday's events at the Center for Digital Art, visit www.centerfordigitalart.com or call 802-254-7390.
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