Esther Ferrer: Threads of Time, 2020
Documentary, 71', 2020
(in conjunction with Begoña Vicario, Raúl Ibáñez, Marta Macho and Patxi Azpillaga)
MULTIVERSO Grants for Video Art Creation
BBVA Foundation/Bilbao Fine Arts Museum
2018 call for applications
The documentary Esther Ferrer: Threads of Time—made thanks to one of the Multiverso Grants for Video Art Creation of the BBVA Foundation/Bilbao Fine Arts Museum in the 2018 call for applications— surveys the career of the artist Esther Ferrer (San Sebastián, 1937), one of the great Spanish creators in the performance genre and winner of the 2008 National Fine Arts Award and the 2014 Velázquez Award.
The film was made by a multidisciplinary team coordinated by Josu Rekalde (Amorebieta-Etxano, Bizkaia, 1959), an artist, full professor at the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of the Basque Country and expert in the works of Esther Ferrer, with whom he has also been close friends since the early 1980s.
The audiovisual primarily focuses on Ferrer's pioneering work in action art and performance, and particularly on those artistic actions in which geometric and scientific space figures prominently. It is not a run-of-the-mill documentary as it transcends its pure form and inches towards the sphere of creation.
Its point of departure is one of the artist's most unique actions made in 1978 along with her fellow members of the Zaj group—Juan Hidalgo and Walter Marchetti—within the context of a collective event organised in Bologna (Italy) by the composer John Cage (Los Angeles, 1912–New York, 1992), perhaps one of the leading referents in Ferrer's work.
The project, entitled John Cage's Train. In Search of Lost Silence, takes place over the course of three days (26, 27 and 28 June) inside a train that departed from Bologna with a different destination every day.
Ferrer worked in one of the railway cars writing numbers on the ground with chalk and filling the space with thread. She thus generated a spatial installation which got the participating public involved and traced a course which interrelated time and its representation. She entitled this action The Thread of Time.
Forty years later, with this performance as the focal point, Josu Rekalde assembled a team to spotlight Esther Ferrer as a person and professional from different disciplines such as audiovisual creation (himself and Begoña Vicario), research and scholarly dissemination (Raúl Ibáñez and Marta Macho) and cultural management (Patxi Azpillaga).
With this goal in mind, they asked the artist to reactivate the performance from Italy in order to use it as the leitmotif of this documentary, which examines her artistic career and especially its relationship with mathematics and geometry, as well as her radical position as a woman: "I'm a feminist from when I get up until I go to bed", claims Ferrer.
Thus, the train—in this case one of the old trains from the Railway Museum of Azpeitia (Gipuzkoa)—once again becomes the site of a performance on a real journey that reactivated the memory of many previous performances, almost always related to the measurement of time, the measurement of the body, the measurement of age, the gender perspective and especially the vision of a feminist and artist who has always approached creation freely.
Esther Ferrer: Threads of Time is a "hybrid" audiovisual, somewhere between documentary and performance, between record and creation, which uses elements and techniques common to the documentary (such as archival materials and the inclusion of recordings of Ferrer's artistic practice and her opinions on specific aspects of it) superimposed with animated elements and new creations specifically for the film. In this sense, in Rekalde's words, it is not "a historicist, biographical or hagiographic look but is planned as an interplay of dialogues between present and past, between art and science, between art and society and between art and its time…".
It includes images of Ferrer herself on the train in the 1978 performance, along with animations and graphics created during the editing process, interviews with the artist in different locations around Bilbao and her Paris studio, remakes of several of her performances (in conjunction with the performers Inés Bermejo and Ángela Corbacho) and images from her personal archive.
As the report on the documentary states, its interest was not to merely record but to "integrate the audiovisual device into the very development of the performative action, such that the new train journey and the threads that Esther unravels within the space of the railway car activate the memory of many previous works and performances and become the leitmotifs of her thinking and her way of approaching artistic creation, which is characterised by the uttermost freedom".
The soundtrack of this film is by the composer Tom Johnson (Greeley, Colorado, 1939), Ferrer's romantic partner with whom she has shared her way of addressing artistic creation over the years, and especially its relationship with mathematics. In a nimble, effective visual narration, the film offers an intriguing examination of the ideas that have guided the artist's work from the late 1960s until today, as well as her commitment to many of the social concerns of her day, such as feminism.
In short, it is a journey through art in the company of Esther Ferrer, a voyage in which the painstaking balance between the documentary approach and audiovisual creation seeks to reach different audiences, both expert and general, who may not be familiar with Ferrer's work and can discover it here in a story that seeks to share it.
Esther Ferrer: Threads of Time (2020) lasts 71 minutes and has been made in versions with subtitles in Basque, English and French.
NEW SCREENINGS: Thursday 14 and 28 January 2021. 7 pm.
The documentary will premiere at the 62nd edition of ZINEBI, the International Festival of Documentary and Short Film of Bilbao, on Thursday 19 November at 7 pm in the museum auditorium.
Likewise, as part of its partnership with the BBVA Foundation, the museum will also screen the document at the following times:
Friday 27 November; 4, 11 and 18 December 2020, 7 pm Museum auditorium. Free of charge. Limited seating