Close Up

7 June 2019: On the Various Nature of Things: Deborah Stratman


Deborah Stratman is a Chicago-based artist and filmmaker interested in landscapes and systems. Much of her work points to the relationships between physical environments and human struggles for power and control that play out on the land. Recent projects have addressed freedom, expansionism, surveillance, sonic warfare, public speech, ghosts, sinkholes, levitation, propagation, orthoptera, raptors, comets and faith. Close-Up is thrilled to welcome Deborah Stratman to present a programme centred around her 1995 short, On the Various Nature of Things – presented here in its original 16mm format.

Deborah will be in conversation with scholar and critic Erika Balsom following the screening. 

Ray's Birds
Deborah Stratman, 2010, 7'07 min, 16mm

Ray Lowden keeps seventy-two large birds of prey, five deer and some wallabies at his place in Northumberland, England. He’s had ten days off in twelve years and loves what he does. The film is a little homage to his variously coy, imperious, curious, stubborn and comic raptor menagerie.

On the Various Nature of Things
Deborah Stratman, 1995, 25 min, 16mm

A 24-figure exploration of the natural forces at work in the world, based on Scottish physicist Michael Faraday's 1859 Christmas lectures to the public. The film literally, metaphorically and whimsically reinterprets scientific convention to illustrate physical concepts. Faraday felt people needed to be more aware of the everyday reality of physics and how its laws affected their simplest actions. So in the late 1850s, he addressed the English public on the subject. He arranged for a series of lectures to be held, as a tradition, on Christmas day. As Faraday put it, "We come into this world, we live, and depart from it, without our thoughts being called specifically to consider how all this takes place.” The filmmaker takes up his challenge and considers the world around her with an infectiously playful, yet sometimes dark, curiosity. The film is an homage to Faraday's enthusiasm and his tactile approach to science. He was also a filmic forefather, having invented and experimented with one of the first kinematascopic devices. The film challenges the viewer to see beauty in the small details which surround us but go unnoticed or are taken for granted. "I say apparently," says the physicist, "for you must not imagine that, because you cannot perceive any action, none has taken place".

Hacked Circuit
Deborah Stratman, 2014, 15'05 min

A single-shot, choreographed portrait of the Foley process, revealing multiple layers of fabrication and imposition. The circular camera path moves us inside and back out of a Foley stage in Burbank, CA. While portraying sound artists at work, typically invisible support mechanisms of filmmaking are exposed, as are, by extension and quotation, governmental violations of individual privacy. The scene being foleyed is the final sequence from The Conversation where Gene Hackman's character Harry Caul tears apart his room searching for a 'bug' that he suspects has been covertly planted. The look of Caul's apartment as he tears it apart mirrors the visual chaos of the Foley stage. This mirroring is also evident in the dual portraits of sonic espionage expert Caul and Foley artist Gregg Barbanell, for whom professionalism is marked by an invisibility of craft. And in the doubling produced by Hackman's second appearance as a surveillance hack, twenty-four years later in Enemy of the State. These filmic quotations ground Hacked Circuit, evoking paranoia, and a sense of conviction alongside a lack of certainty about what is visible. The complication of the seen, the known, the heard and the undetectable provides thematic parallels between the stagecraft of Foley and a pervasive climate of government surveillance.

Musical Insects
Deborah Stratman, 2013, 6'30 min

The temporality of film takes on the temporality of a printed work.  In homage to a Bette J. Davis’ illustrated book of the same title, itself an homage to the small music makers of the insect world.

Second Sighted
Deborah Stratman, 2014, 5'05 min

Obscure signs portend a looming, indecipherable slump. An oracular decoding of the landscape.  Made in collaboration with composer Olivia Block, and by invitation of the Chicago Film Archives, utilising solely films from their collection.

Vever (For Barbara)
Deborah Stratman, 2019, 12 min

A cross generational binding of three filmmakers seeking alternative possibilities to power structures they’re inherently part of. The film grew out of abandoned film projects of Maya Deren and Barbara Hammer. Shot at the furthest point of a motorcycle trip Hammer took to Guatemala in 1975, and passed through with Deren’s reflections of failure, encounter and initiation in 1950s Haiti. A vever is a symbolic drawing used in Haitian Voodoo to invoke a Loa, or god. 

"Calling something "political" and thinking of it as separate is just an excuse for not thinking about it at all." – Vicki Aspinall, The Raincoats

Curated by Jessica Sarah Rinland and Deborah Stratman.

Erika Balsom is a scholar and critic based in London, working on cinema, art, and their intersection. She is a senior lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London and holds a PhD in Modern Culture and Media from Brown University.

Artist and filmmaker, Jessica Sarah Rinland has exhibited work in galleries, cinemas, film festivals and universities internationally including New York Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Rotterdam, Oberhausen, Edinburgh International Film Festival and Bloomberg New Contemporaries. She has received grants from Arts Council England, Wellcome Trust, Elephant Trust and elsewhere. Residencies include MacDowell Colony, Kingston University, Locarno Academy and Berlinale Talents.

Deborah Stratman has exhibited internationally at venues including the MoMA (NY), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Hammer Museum (LA), Mercer Union (Toronto), Witte de With (Rotterdam), Tabakalera (San Sebastian), Film Museum (Vienna), Whitney Biennial (NY) and festivals including Sundance, Viennale, Berlinale, CPH/DOX, Toronto, Oberhausen, True/False, and Rotterdam. Stratman is the recipient of Fulbright, Guggenheim and USA Collins Fellowships, an Alpert Award, Sundance Art of Nonfiction Award and grants from Creative Capital, Graham Foundation, and Wexner Center for the Arts. She lives in Chicago where she teaches at the University of Illinois / UIC.

More info: