When I started producing art in the early 2000s, I immediately gravitated to the figure of Stan Brakhage as inspiration.
The aesthetics of his films, produced from the 1950s until his death in 2003, can be summed up as a series of detonations of color and form that go beyond the references of the real world and effectively animate the language of abstract expressionism. To make his pieces, Brakhage scratched and painted directly on the surface of the film he was working on, creating patterns, textures, and rich rhythmic chromatic qualities.
In 2005, I produced a video piece titled Homage a Brakhage and a number of others to comprise the series titled Machinations, which was presented alongside a lineup of other contemporary Puerto Rican artists in the now-defunct TagRom space, led by artist Carlos Reyes. The series was shown in its entirety at the opening exhibition of that space in August 2005.
The engine of these pieces was a series of comments made by Brakhage, discovered between interviews included in the filmmaker’s compilation of works by Criterion. In a series of interviews, Brakhage expresses his problem with video technology, emerging at the time that he was producing his first experimental film work. His words express mistrust and doubt about the possibilities of the medium. These comments greatly frustrated my interest in him, and pushed my relationship with his theories to the limit.
In my studio on McArthur Street in Old San Juan, my process of exploring the medium of video began. I still retained many of Brakhage’s notions, specifically his emphasis on the use of technologies that make the documentation of day-to-day life possible, without worrying about “official” artwork. Brakhage produced many of his works using only 8mm and 16mm cameras that he could get commercially.
To produce “Homage a Brakhage” I raised a plate of plexiglass on an easel and made a painting with bright colors and rich textures. Then, I took the painting on the plexiglass to the terrace, I raised it towards the sun, and standing behind the painting I caught the sunlight that filtered through the painted sheet with a digital camera. I took over 200 photos, which I then converted into short video clips, and manipulated using several video editing programs. The process was long and meticulous, just like the process that Brakhage imprinted on me, and embracing what he rejected I was able to create a series of works that sought to prove that he was wrong about the possibilities of video, that in video there was and still is great potential to comment and develop abstraction.
Apart from being exhibited at TagRom, the piece “Homage a Brakhage” was selected by the organizers of the Puerto Rico Queer Film Festival to be used as part of the promotion of the event in 2010. This work is also slated to be part of an exhibition researched and curated by Abdiel Segarra, a group show of Puerto Rican abstract art opening at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in early in 2021.
Below is the aforementioned Homage to Brakhage, and a number of other videos included in the collection titled Machinations, made in 2005.