On the Visual-Pyramid Train
Every filmmaker is basically a one-eyed Cyclops. Oblivious to space, he sees only a plane, while struggling with time. As if on a long voyage by train, he stares out the window and waits to arrive at last.
We are here witness to a true European tradition: the Renaissance pictorial turn, as Brunelleschi demonstrated it, Alberti described it, and the academies taught it for centuries. The essence of linear (central) perspective is that it sees the world from a single fixed point, and attempts to make this illusion visible, to present it as the product of (optical) mapping – like a new kind of image. In the film PiRâMidas (1972-84), our visual pyramid is represented by a pair of tracks; the image rolling forward on the railroad ties – like a strip of film on its perforations – helps us understand what we must see: the central point of the image, where the vanishing point is.
The one-eyed filmmaker's second eye goes into operation when it looks at the raw product on the editing or effects table, and begins to arrange it – what Gábor Bódy once called the "second look." This is where the artist begins to see what is worth seeing, what can be shown to the view of others, the viewers. Remarkable about the train of Galeta is that the viewers – the passengers of "PiRâMidas" – are not sitting in the comfort of a train compartment. Instead, they have no choice but to identify with the perspective of the locomotive itself, as if practicing on a bare-bones flight simulator, driven onto ever-faster spiral loops through the shortening of each successive series of images in four positions (each cut consists of one fewer frame than the previous one). This apparent motion moves forward until a single moment at the invisible midpoint of the film, whose approach is marked by a sound – halftime – when everything reverses. We find ourselves at the back of the last car; the train continues forward, but now we see what we have left behind. From this perspective, Galeta's film (like Miklós Erdély's Train Trip) both recalls and prophesies. We have arrived at our point of departure, having seen the same sights twice from two different perspectives – and still we have seen "nothing," since our destination at the midpoint of the film is one single empty white frame, the light of the projector itself.
The Point and the Sphere
"Before anything else, one must have understood that the point is a sign, so to speak, that in no way can be divided into parts." So writes Alberti, following Euclid, in his essay on painting. The vanishing point of PiRâMidas is occupied by the image of an unmoving orange ball, the focus of his Water Pulu 1869 1896 (1988) in the center of the picture. This happened as Galeta and his effects cameramen located a ball, normally in constant motion, from a frame of film of a water polo match in the center of each image in the series, fixing it there (again). A natural consequence of this is that everything revolves around this center; either we concentrate on the ball, frozen like Zeno's arrow, or we are simply lost. It is a simulation of vision. The circular form in the middle is the pupil of the world's eye, the average of all pupils that have seen or will ever see this sight. To put it another way, just note the twin meanings of "pupil" in English. The notion of the spherical visual field is an ancient one ("the peak of the visual pyramid lies within the pupil, and is the midpoint of the sphere" – Damianus), and may be associated with the spherical shape of the eye, or of the head itself. The notion of the sky as semi-spherical dome is largely a natural result of the scanning movements of the head.
Galeta's other "spherical" film is sfaĩra 1985– 1895 (1984). The sphere of the newer version, dedicated to Pythagoras and Plato, is a public statue from the center of Zagreb. Like the ball of Water Pulu, it often stands at the optical center of the film, but more significant is that, with the remaking of the film, it has become the intellectual center of the work as well. To create the present, final form of the film, Galeta reexposed the material of the original with a 72-frame shift reflected around the image's horizontal axis and symmetrically reversed.
One thinks of the well-known minimalist, regular, and artificial (?) monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey as marking the limits of understanding, as the eternal touchstone of recognition and visual eureka-generator. This is the reference of the ball on the street, as the filmmaker sees it. Yet this very ball – as a Platonic body, as the mirror-image reproduction of the strip of film reimposed upon itself – contains as it were the nested units of a matryoshka doll in the series sun-earth-person-eye. The hands, constantly returning to feel and test, to knock and bump it, only heighten this effect. (As if to reinforce these connections, one segment in the film shows the image of the statue transforming into a closeup of the pupil of a blinking eye.)
Visual fact and optical illusion are exposed one on top of the other; the clearly visible competes for priority with constructed images in the consciousness of the viewer. We may venture to say that Galeta's fundamental compositional technique is to let be the visual objectivity of the illusion captured in the film, then modify it through the widest variety of secondary techniques – re-exposition, inversion, mirror imaging, reproduction, graphic marks, and analogies – to create a condition close to metaphor.
Symmetries and Labyrinths
One of Galeta's favorite authors is Wacław Szpakowski, the Polish amateur who spent virtually his entire life on railroad trains, out of professional necessity, all the while drawing, from a single unbroken line, labyrinths that are today prized treasures in the collection of the Łódz Museum of Modern Art. One of Galeta's Szpakowski models is for example the unbroken labyrinth-line made of the twisted film that unwinds over time: theparallel tracks of PiRâMidas. We travel there and back in that film, just as Forward-Backward Piano (precursor to WAL(L)ZEN) also plays with every possible variation that can be extracted from combinations of the direction of its music, its filming, and its playback. Symmetries and labyrinths, variations, repetitions, and inversions are typical of sfaĩra and WAL(L)ZEN, not to mention Water Pulu. The brownian motion of the multiply-exposed water polo players seems to detach itself from the setting of the pool; it is most readily decodable as a directionless, impenetrably jumbled mix set in some kind of experimental labyrinth. In sfaĩra, though – and this is a stroke worthy of the translator of Béla Hamvas, hence not surprising – it is "as above, so below".
The reversal of time is a paradox of film: the strip can move only forward, yet we still have the illusion that time is moving backwards. The labyrinth of Two Times in One Space (1976-1984) consists of filling the film with its own space by means of a time slippage, a time trap: figures leave their positions only to reoccupy them again. This film too, like sfaĩra, is the product of a delayed double exposure, this time by 216 frames. The original film (In the Kitchen, 1968) was not the work of Galeta, who merely saw in it the possibility of what would happen if the same strip of film were projected onto one screen by two projectors rather than one: this "appropriation art" as we would call it today, his Two Times in One Space, was long shown as an action movie or "expanded cinema" until the obsolescence of traditional projectors resulted in the current "standard" double-exposed version. Hence the 216-frame delay; a decision had to be made, sacrificing the beauty of the unpredictable, aleatoric quality of unique screenings.
The figures that inhabit Kitchen seem truly to rise up from Hades' – as Plato explains it, a-idesz, the world of the invisible ones. They are reflections of ghosts, in the strict sense of the word: projected forms. A real struggle is going on here in this flawlessly-repeated far niente. The struggle of the eidos, the sight or shape itself, and its eidolon, the corresponding figure in the afterlife to become an eikon – an image or representation. These emerge from the film's archetypal deep, just like the finger that pokes up out of the open grave in the final sequence of Metanoia, Galeta's first film. It is an ambiguous directional signal, a metaphysical traffic sign. Two Times in One Space is also, like this film, a vanitas-theme. Its every object stands clear to view while the actors, tangled up in their own forms, serve by contrast to emphasize the immobility of the objects. It is a still life, a memento mori, calling us to remember what in fact comes to pass in the background at the end of the film. Time to reread Kierkegaard, Joyce, Plato, and Homer.
The final sentence above, of course, is in jest – but it is not (always) a joke that Galeta's films are full of references, allusions, and recommendations. These are easy to recognize, since the dedications in the main titles are there to see. But references beyond these are not uncommon either: observe the long, slow fade-in at the beginning of Water Pulu as it recalls Claude Monet's famous Impression: Rising Sun set in a Zagreb swimming pool, with an unmoving, orange ball just before the start of the water polo game. The music of Debussy's La mer enhances the effect, allowing the pool's blue to read as sky before transforming into the area of play. We might also recall Galeta's frequent use of blackboard drawings in his public lectures, drawings that were the methodological aids to the instruction of anatomy in art: the student must use his previous knowledge in a quick, large-scale freehand sketch of a figure or motion on the board. Galeta's own drawings, those almost Cabbalistic diagrams, schemas, and visual scripts, those palimpsest structural diagrams variable in their phases, time-maps, and storyboard graphics with the precision of technical drawings, all reveal the anatomy of his films. The best-known of these is the one displayed on his website as navigational interface. This diagram of a work-inprogress lays out Galeta's films and other works like the visual reflections of Joyce's Ulysses. The sun-metaphor (Oxen of the Sun) suggests this kind of reading for sfaĩra; as for Water Pulu, the Path of the Sun (Napút) recalls the esthetic realm of the great Hungarian painter Tivadar Csontváry- Kosztka: the highest, unexplored metaphor.
Viewing Twice – at Once
Naturally it is not always easy to interpret the chains of allusions in Galeta's films, to divine, among the puzzles or mysteries, whether Ariadne's thread is to be found within the labyrinth of (film) culture. Merely consider the titles: WAL(L)- ZEN is the opening title, while the end title is WEL(L)ZEN. These seem to be wordplays like the Renaissance impresa. Tongue-twisters, perhaps, the forgotten remnants of some (primeval) language in a pre-developed phase, or maybe a mannerism indicating the current, everyday presence of some unknown or barely understood broken (foreign) language – the globalism of not knowing and not understanding. Let us look at this through an example – if not to find an answer, then at least to pose a more precise question.
The allusion peculiar to WAL(L)ZEN (1989) is the superexposure of the title of Duchamp's famous film ANEMIC CINEMA, letter by letter at given points of the film. These flashes of white that appear at intervals might be taken as flaws by the incautious viewer, suspicious that there are too many of them (at least twelve). When reviewing the film, the now more-suspicious viewer might try to focus on this; even though he might not see that these letters fill two frames each, and that there is a third one sandwiched between them depicting the corresponding sign of the zodiac on a white background, still the letter will certainly be visible, and even readable as text.
Galeta's film calls for a bifurcated method of film viewing. One is the usual manner of reception where we look out from our heads, forward in time, unbrokenly, while the film rolls. The other is when we concentrate, perhaps even too hard, on some parallel detail without abandoning the first mode. This latter is the state of active, attentiveand cumulative viewing, where we recognize or discover "hidden" messages. The Nature of Works – The Works of Nature (good husbandry)
Dear Maestro, I wish you fair weather and fruitfulwork, all in strength and health!
— Miklós Peternák
Ivan Ladislav Galeta from Zagreb is the neoPlatonist among European experimental film directors. Galeta hides a true chamber of wonders behind the clear, mathematically abstract structure of his films and videos, meticulously compiled rhythmically frame for frame, each work likewise presenting an analysis of the film medium. Concealed therein, culled from deep in the medium´s prehistory, are hermetic parallel universes in whose number ranges and symbolic spaces, Galeta´s precisely constructed film compositions find a formalist anchor. (Georg Schöllhammer)