Sterling Ruby, still from Transient Trilogy, 2005-9 (via CATE)

Amy Beste is a woman of many hats. “She is the director of public programming for the department of Film, Video & New Media at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she organizes the visiting artist series ‘Conversations at the Edge’ at the Gene Siskel Film Center.” Has curated numerous screenings across the country; and is “currently working on a PhD at Northwestern University where she is writing a history of experimental and industrial/educational filmmaking in Chicago.” Amy was kind enough to take the out of her schedule and answer some of my questions about Conversations at the Edge’s current season.

There has been a lot of press about individual screenings from Conversations at the Edge but not very much about the program itself. Could you give a little background on how the series came to be?

Sure, the series Conversations at the Edge started in 2001 as an effort between the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s department of Film, Video, & New Media, the Gene Siskel Film Center, and the Video Data Bank to showcase innovative and experimental media and makers. The Film Center had long screened experimental film and video (its roots are, in fact, in an experimental film series from the 1960s called the Magick Lantern Society) and the Video Data Bank, and the Film and Video departments (now the Film, Video, & New Media department) had been hosting important media makers as visiting faculty from their inceptions. The series presented an opportunity for these different groups who were associated with SAIC to join forces and present a very dynamic series that showcased a range of aesthetic approaches, histories, and politics, while also providing a unique opportunity for direct conversation between media artists and a broad public audience.

How is the series curated? There is such a great balance of work. You have very well known artists such as Dara Birnbaum, up and coming artists such as Ryan Tricartin, but also artists that are not well known.

Thanks–we work hard to get that balance. I organize the series in very close consultation with the Video Data Bank and the department of Film, Video, & New Media which serve as the series’ curatorial advisory board–making suggestions for artists and programs-as well as a sounding board for each season’s overall shape.

Because the series is programmed, in part, out of a school department, one of its objectives is to augment and extend SAIC’s curriculum. Its greater purpose, however, is to represent a broad range of the moving image arts–contemporary and historical–and to present a number of different kinds of artists and approaches under the same roof week after week.

So, for example, in this season, we featured the work of Dara Birnbaum, who established herself in the late 1970s and early 1980s with a series of ironic, scratch-like videos that called attention to television’s ideological subtexts, and who, as you noted, is now very well established in the art world. On different notes, we’ll also be bringing in Naomi Uman, an accomplished maker whose handmade 16mm films combine personal and documentary approaches and whose work circulates largely within experimental film circles, and the works of Russian filmmaker Pavel Medvedev, whose documentaries draw from the storied traditions of the St. Petersburg Film Studio (which began documenting the lives of citizens throughout the Soviet Union in the 1910s), and attract awards from around the international film festival circuit.

The aim is to begin “conversations”, if you will, that continue across these different approaches, historical moments, and traditions, as well as between makers and the audience.

It is already a couple of weeks into your current season. This coming week you will have Sterling Ruby. Could you discuss his work a little bit for people that are not familiar?

Ruby is known for the variety and aggressiveness of his work–from organic-form ceramics to purposefully defaced minimalist plinths.
His videos are similarly varied-and similarly potent–drawing from performance art, ritual, pornography, and the writings of the French social theorist Roger Caillois. We’ll be screening five pieces from 2002 to 2009, including Hole (2002), Transient Trilogy (2005-09), Dihedral (2006), Triviality (2009), and Cartographic Yard Work: Dog Behavior (2009). This is just a small selection of his work in the medium–one can view a number of his earlier videos, including his 2002 Landscape Annihilates Consciousness, a hypnotic revision of Bob Ross’ television program, The Joy of Painting, at the Video Data Bank.

What are some of the highlights for this season?

It’s always difficult for me to pick individual artists or programs from the season to highlight. We only mount 10-12 programs per season, so I view what we do end up programming as already “highlighting” a number of different approaches, histories, scenes, and artists themselves. That said, I’m really looking forward to photographer and essayist Moyra Davey’s show here–her videos combine her keen eye with a literary voice. I’m also looking forward to Takeshi Murata and Robert Beatty’s live performance, which is our first-ever collaboration with Lampo, Chicago’s renowned experimental music series, and British artist Emily Wardill’s visit (her first to Chicago)-her 16mm films are at once heady and playful inquiries into vision, representation, and how we come to know ourselves.

For more information or to view a schedule of upcoming screenings please visit Conversations at the Edge.

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