Exhibition Preview: Jonas Mekas at The Serpentine Gallery, London until January 27 2013.When Jonas Mekas escaped the war-ravaged landscape of Lithuania in 1949 for the bright lights of New York, one of the first things he did was buy a cheap movie camera.
A constant companion ever since, his Bolex 16mm has accompanied him on a journey from beatnik movie snapshots of New York’s Lower East Side in the fifties to the immersive multi part movie installations and iPod experiments of recent years.
The mediums may have evolved, but another constant in this sixty year trajectory of avant garde film making has been the transitory poetry of the short film.
“I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema, the lyrical forms, the
poem, the watercolour, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, bagatelle and
little 8mm songs,” says Mekas, who turns 90 on December 24.
This welcome retrospective features the world premiere of a new feature-length film, Outtakes From the Life of a Happy Man. A kind of collage of captured fragments and moments, there is perhaps no better summation of the career of this veteran champion of avant garde film who has collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg and film-makersKenneth Anger and Maya Deren.
Mekas’ love of life, his spirit of adventure and his commitment to experimental artforms can be explored across the gallery walls via stills, film portraits of friends, family and ephemera and in the many films which flicker into life – like haikus offering transitory glimpses into a beautiful whole.
“I am standing in the middle of the information highway and laughing, because a butterfly on a little flower somewhere just fluttered its wings, and I know that the whole course of history will drastically change because of that flutter," adds Mekas.
camera just made a little soft buzz somewhere, on New York’s Lower East
Side, and the world will never be the same.”
A personal, transitory celebration of the moment, Mekas' approach has made him a hero to successive generations of film-makers, from Martin Scorcese and Jim Jarmusch to Mike Figgis and Harmony Korine.
A visit to the Serpentine reveals why he continues to exert a powerful influence on the
film world and beyond.