Dóra Maurer

Relative Swingings

1973

Not on display
Artist
Dóra Maurer born 1937
Medium
Film, 16mm, transferred to 35mm, shown as video, projection, black and white, sound (mono)
Dimensions
Duration: 11min
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Russia and Eastern Europe Acquisitions Committee 2015
Reference
T14285

Summary

Relative Swingings 1973 is a composite of two 16mm black and white films printed in unequal proportion to a single 35mm film with sound and later transferred onto Digibeta. It is eleven minutes long. The two reels of film comprising the final image were shot simultaneously on two cameras: Maurer designated one the ‘active’ camera – participating in a sequence of filming exercises; and the other the ‘passive’ camera – documenting these exercises from a stationary position at a short distance. The exercises are divided into three parts. The first sequence involves various combinations of movement between a suspended conical lamp and the active camera situated in front of it. In the second sequence, the active camera is placed under the lamp and films its round contour, which is seen on the screen as a circular shape moving dynamically across the black background. The last part of the film shows a paper cylinder suspended on a small platform and lit from different angles by the lamp above as different combinations of movement among the three elements are recorded.

The footage from the active camera reveals the peculiar movements of the objects and shadows resulting from these exercises, while the footage from the passive camera shows how each representation was created. In the composite film this documentation appears in a smaller frame for a few seconds towards the end of each exercise. By allowing viewers to see the footage from the active camera first, Maurer prompts viewers to guess which and how the elements were moving in each variation before revealing the mechanism. The film’s soundtrack consists of the noises made by the swinging lamp or moving camera. The camera operator was János Gulyás and the sound effects are by Zoltán Jeney. Tate’s copy is number four in an edition of five. The two sets of footage produced from the cameras were initially edited for double projection. Maurer showed the work in this form several times in 1973 until she was encouraged to print the two films into a single 35mm film for ease of distribution.

The film was produced by the Béla Balázs Studio (BBS). The BBS was a Hungarian state-sponsored organisation that began as a film club in 1958 as a film studio that worked both inside and outside the structure of Socialist state film production. In 1973, the year after Maurer first started sketching plans for Relative Swingings, the BBS announced a ‘Film Language Series’ and opened its doors for representatives of different art disciplines to investigate the tools of expression in cinema. These decisions turned the BBS into a centre of experimentation, with Maurer working under its umbrella alongside many other conceptual artists of the time. Devised for the ‘Film Language Series’, Relative Swingings is an experiment in the analysis of the relativity of the movement seen on the screen. Curator and critic László Beke has described the film as follows:

In Relative Swingings… we witness the relativisation of meaning related to motion. The leitmotif of the film is a lamp hanging from the ceiling. The ‘action’ is given by the swinging or still standing of the lamp – in relation with the standing or moving camera. We can easily imagine all the variations, from the ‘unmoved lamp + unmoved camera = unmoved image’ through ‘unmoved lamp + swinging camera = swinging image’ up to ‘swinging lamp + swinging camera = unmoved image’.
(László Beke, ‘Objective Tenderness’, in Dieter Ronte and Laszlo Beke (eds.), Dóra Maurer: Arbeiten, Munkak, Works 1970–1993, Budapest 1994, pp.87–8.)

Beke’s description stresses features that are typical of Maurer’s work – the exploration of repetitive movement, its variations, and the different combinations of a set of gestures. The work also uses sound in a way that is characteristic of other films by the artist. The amplified sound of a swinging lamp and a moving camera fulfils the structural role of integrating both images on the screen. By juxtaposing the footage from two cameras, the artist unveils the act of making a film, exposing cinematic mechanisms and tricks by showing the process alongside the visual effect it generates. Relative Swingings is an analysis of the language of film and the potential of the medium. The film allows for prediction and anticipation as well as continual surprise.

Maurer, who trained as a graphic artist, initially worked mainly in printmaking (see, for instance, Seven Foldings 1975, Tate P77124, and Traces of a Circle 1974, Tate P77125). Since the late 1960s her practice has also incorporated photography and film (see Timing 1973/1980, Tate T14284, and Triolets 1981, Tate T14286). She has been a major figure in the Hungarian art scene since the 1970s, both through her art and her influence as a professor at the Hungarian Fine Arts Academy, where she began teaching in 1990.

Further reading
Dóra Maurer, Filmek/Films 1973–83, trans. by Komárik Vera, Pécs Gallery, Pécs 1983, pp.12–13.
Dóra Maurer (ed.), Dóra Maurer: Traces 1970–1980, Krakow 2011.
Zoltán Prosek (ed.), Maurer Dóra: Folded Time – Film Retrospective, Rómer Flóris Art and History Museum, Gyor 2018, pp. 104–7.

Kasia Redzisz
January 2014
Carly Whitefield
January 2019

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