Re:Voir has recently released a modest gem of a set: selected works from The Angel Cycle, by Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki – the first-ever home video release which samples from the duo’s vast body of work.
Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki are Greek artists who have been based in Paris since 1975. While Klonaris passed away in 2014, Thomadaki is alive and well, still living in Paris. They have written several manifestos and their work often engages directly with the body:
“Leading figures of the French experimental film scene since the late 70’s, they introduce the concept of “cinéma corporel” (cinema of the body) and produce subversive works on body, female and androgynous identity, sexuality and the unconscious.” 1
While their work extends across various media – fixed length moving image works, photography, writing, installations and exhibitions – they all exist within a framework of several overarching cycles.
“In 1985 they started creating The Angel Cycle, an on-going vast media mutation piece, based on the medical photograph of an intersexual subject that they associated with an Angel.”
The selected works from their Angel Cycle presented in this package include Requiem for the 20th Century (1994), Personal Statement (1994), Pulsar (2001) and Quasar (2003). Thematically, aesthetically, and chronologically, these are two pairs – the first two titles with a closer, more direct focus on the image of the Angel confronted by Earthly conflicts, and the latter two titles looking beyond our planet and into the space beyond the heavens, the Angel as cosmic message.
Requiem for the 20th Century opens with bombastic music and a short loop of large capitalized words such as GENOCIDE, TORTURE, INDIFFERENCE, and EXTERMINATION in French, English and Greek superimposed over the image of the intersex hermaphrodite Angel streaming by vertically in the background. This is shortly followed by silence over the opening title cards. Beginning in black and white, we witness deeply over-saturated and often inverted archival footage of historical conflicts set to descending and repetitious orchestral synth music – a soundtrack of the downfall of man. Behind the archival footage we frequently spot the Angel, who brings with her/him the occasional flash of blue and orange, images of particle dust. Though always static, the Angel moves constantly through time. Though always blinded by an eye-covering cloth, she/he is ever watchful, monitoring the crises of a planet whose leading species has run amok.
At one point Klonaris and Thomadaki seem to hold a virtual wake, with flowers introducing vibrant new colors otherwise absent from the film as they are superimposed over the collateral victims – women and children killed despite their distance from most sites of direct combat. As the images of war continue, the Angel moves from background to foreground before we return to the civilian crowds, vast movements of people, suffering, trying to escape, the war planes which traverse the cosmos, and their grainy intangibility in the face of such larger existence. In closing, photographic variations of the Angel float by vertically, each presented with a different label, once again in French, Greek and English; THE STRANGER, THE WITNESS, THE VICTIM, THE JUDGE, BODY OF DIFFERENCE, BODY OF HOLOCAUST, IRRADIATED BODY, HE/SHE THE ANGEL. I read this to suggest that the Angel is not a single godhead, but an army of overseers and protectors; Christly martyrs who endure alongside us. However, Katerina Thomadaki stated instead that the Angel remains a single human being:
“In fact, our “Angel” is not “a heavenly overseer”, but a human being, a person we met in medical archives, someone who has lived on this earth and suffered from her/his gender difference. What we found astonishing in the medical photo is the beauty of this blindfolded person, the pride of the posture, the aura: this led us to associate her/him with an Angel. In Requiem for the 20th Century, this “body of difference” is a gender martyr rather than a Christly one.”
A turquoise-teal hand floats sensuously left and right over the flattened images of the various Angels scrolling vertically. “This is a personal statement about you, about your body,” narrates Klonaris. This is Personal Statement. An“erotic mutant” she calls the Angel. Over the film’s seven minutes, Thomadaki’s hand fades and returns, just as ghostly in its opacity as it is in skin tone – a cold virtual cadaver, ever struggling to hold on to the elusive and ever-moving Angel. Of the four films, it is the most understated and repetitive, yet also the most serene – a moment to breathe and express pure love.
Pulsar deals mostly in the images of inverted fireworks and a performance by Klonaris; black and spectral blue uniformly paired against a white background, Klonaris flashing in still images and slow motion while the fireworks move in real time. As the film progresses, the fireworks turn nearly golden. Then Klonaris comes into full being, opacity increased. In the process we see her hair begin to move far more rapidly, though the empty space between glimpses of these still images increase. The fireworks disappear. Without giving way to a fully black screen at any point, the white background begins to flicker. The fireworks return. Klonaris grows more dramatic in her gestures. Eventually, in place of flickering in and out of existence, she begins to layer on top of herself horizontally, small glitches of old computational loading screens.
In the grand finale of Quasar, we travel across the universe. As with Pulsar, there’s something of a slow start before the rhythm of the visuals kick into hyperdrive. First a focus on the eyes, eyes superimposed in space, the space of a breathing, bellowing image of white noise, a pixelated corral reef, a collection of paint splotches, the feeling of being re-mediated through various screens. An alternating between slowly inflating images of space and rapid cutting between eyes. Our vision is cloudy, yet we see clearly. Gradually, the images of space come more and more to establish a visual simile with the close-ups of eyes. For my personal taste, Quasar contains the most sophisticated soundscape of the four pieces – subtle and tightly woven into the fabric of the images as we descend deeper into their void and montage. The white noise of unknowable galaxies.
“The macrocosm present in QUASAR is a non colonized outer space. A non science-fictionalized outer space. It is a space of fantasized stars and galaxies, black holes and light particles. It is a space of hypnotic contemplation and dissociation of the subject from the self. Immersion into macrocosmic vibrations, rotations, contractions, into slow and curved time patterns. Non linear, non climactic time. Outer-inner skies. QUASAR is still another cosmologic project in the chain of our female and intersex cosmogonies. And still another project on gaze.” 2
While one might pine for rarer works by this legendary filmmaking duo to receive home video releases, Klonaris and Thomadaki firmly believed in the importance of their largely silent celluloid works being seen under the right conditions: projected in a cinema. For now, The Angel Cycle: Selected Works will have to tide you over.
Included as two modest bonus features are video documents of the installations XXYX and Pulsar, captured by the artists themselves on Hi-8 Video and MiniDV.
“The Angel Cycle is one of our major creations and the films of the DVD are central pieces of this cycle. The bonus documents of two installations were added to show how we extend our time based pieces in space, creating immersive environments.”
The handsomely designed digipack also includes (as most Re:Voir releases do) a bilingual booklet of insightful commentary and impressions of the work.
DVD type: PAL
Total runtime: 85 min