James Fuentes presents Jonas Mekas, Notes from Downtown. The exhibition includes Mekas’ 1990 video work, A Walk, alongside a set of film-still photographs, and portraits of the artist by his peer, John Lennon.
Jonas Mekas (b. 1922 in Lithuania) is an artist, critic, poet, and progenitor of experimental filmmaking. Surviving a labor camp and postwar displacement, Mekas arrived to New York in 1949. Within months he acquired a Bolex camera and began making diaristic recordings of the city, its people, and the small, even undetectable forms around him. Mekas saw the United States as the land of cinema. Embarking on a career dedicated to what he describes as “poetic” and “personal” film-making, he also avidly celebrated and distributed the work of his contemporaries.
Made at the end of 1990, Mekas begins A Walk with his lens pointed to the ground, intent on filming the raindrops falling into a puddle. An early exercise in the unedited, single-take video form, the work journeys from 80 Wooster Street in Soho, moving at the speed of Mekas’ meandering stroll. “A displaced person is a voyeur, is a walker,” he relates in the midst of this wet cityscape, “Nobody really knows where their roots are, what home is. Drop me in a desert, come back in a few days and I will have roots.” A Walk is classic Mekas, grasping at the textures of the world closest at hand. Occasionally, he walks right up to an object with his camera, zooming in an attempt to get closer to its edges. Moving in even farther, the image is so close as to be made far—an unfocused blur. As he travels and speaks behind the camera, Mekas mingles with the atmospheric noise of the city. The sound of everything is made that much louder by a thick film of water left by the rain, the rubber of car tires peeling high pitched against it.