Marfa Dialogues Part II: “text”

Michael Tracy, Christopher Rincon, Julia Meltzer, David Gatten, Christian Gerstheimer

11-12 April 2008

In December 2007, Ballroom Marfa launched, a two-part program organized by Ralph McKay, pairing seemingly disparate areas of contemporary cinematic practice and bringing together a diverse roster of artists with established international reputations rooted in either filmic performance or visual text. Live cinema as experienced in December gives way to the projected word in April with Part II: text. Normally consumed as a solitary, interior experience, words will be amplified and magnified for contemplation by a theater audience.

In 1921 Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand collaborated on the short film Manhatta, which intercuts images of Manhattan with lines lifted from a Walt Whitman poem. The goal was not to tell a story, but to create a new cine-poetry of text and image. From this early instance, poetic cinema has evolved over epochal rifts and mergers, from Surrealism and the advent of sound in movies, through Structuralism and Postmodernism. Contemporary artists interested in the intersection of text and image, whether they take the digital road or detour around it, are defining what this tradition looks and sounds like in a time when information saturation, not to mention distortion, challenges the very meaning of word and image.

Assembling in Marfa will be a faction of contemporary artists who are peeling the page one frame-at-a-time in an inquiry into the visual dimension of language, ranging from David Gatten’s reflection on the role of documents and Michael Tracy’s secret, worldly recitations to Julia Meltzer and David Thorne’s digital archives where images become a fault-line between world views and hidden narratives.

Friday 11 April, Goode Crowley Theater

Michael Tracy (Director) and Christopher Rincon (Cinematographer & Editor)

Ultramarine (work in progress, 59 min. An allegory about aesthetic crisis finds two characters, Sculpture and Music, separated by emotional and geographic distance, the alienation of urban space. Architectural settings from Mumbai and St. Petersburg are woven into a bleak pinnacle of gripping remembrance from times of final empire, creating a universe of anxiety in which neither society’s decadence, nor its burden of consumption, is sustainable.

Saturday 12 April, Goode Crowley Theater

Julia Meltzer and David Thorne (

It’s Not My Memory of It (2003, 25 min) is a documentary about secrecy, memory, and documents. Mobilizing specific historical records as memories, which flash up in moments of danger, the tape addresses the logic of the bureaucracy of secrecy.

We Will Live to See These Things, or, Five Pictures of What May Come to Pass (2007, 47 min. Competing visions of an uncertain future shot in Damascus, Syria —the chronicle of a building in downtown Damascus, a recitation anticipating the arrival of a perfect leader, an interview with a dissident intellectual, a portrait of a Qur’an school for young girls, and an imagining of the world made anew.

David Gatten

Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002, 20 min). Paired texts as dueling histories. A journey imagined and remembered. 57 mileage markers produce an equal number of prospects.

The Great Art of Knowing (2004, 37 min). Find yourself resting uneasily half way up the stairs: Something has left the body, yet the body remains: what has left is on its way Elsewhere but cannot help but look back: this look animates the world

How To Conduct a Love Affair (2007, 8 min). An unexpected letter leads to an unanticipated encounter. Have a cup of tea dear. I’ll trade you a stitch from the past in return for a leaf from the future.

Panel discussion with moderator Christian Gerstheimer, El Paso Museum of Art


Michael Tracy (b. Ohio, 1943) is included in major museums and art collections, among them The Menil Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He sustains an ongoing dialog with Latin America and the cultural influences of Europe and Asia. Tracy has produced work in bronze, painting, sculpture, and architectural environments. His first work in video Xochitl Tlayecouani (Flower Warrior) premiered in 1993 at Pacific Film Archive.

Christopher Rincon (b. Texas, 1970,) has worked in video since 1995. He has edited for television broadcast and cinematic exhibition with Tracy, including Culture, Water, and Money: The Passion of the Frontier an award winning documentary on the contamintion of the Rio Grande, The Butchershop of Divine Providence a collaborative homage to the Mexican Revolution, and the upcomin work in progress Antique Gamboge. They are also developing a series of video brooches.

Julia Meltzer (b. Los Angeles, 1968) and David Thorne (b. Boston, 1960) are Los Angeles-based artists producing videos, photographs, installations, and published texts. From 1999 to 2003, their projects centered on state secrecy and the production of the past. Current work focuses on the ways in which visions of the future are imagined, claimed and realized, specifically in relation to faith and global politics. Recent projects have been exhibited in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, the 2006 California Biennial (Orange County Museum of Art), Gallery Akbank Sanat (Istanbul), Kunstmuseum Goteborg (Sweden), Palazzo de la Papesse, (Siena, Italy), Apex Art (New York), Momenta (New York), the Hayward Gallery’s (London) traveling exhibition program, Whitechapel Gallery (London), the Oberhausen Short Film Festival (Germany), the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the New York Video Festival, the Margaret Mead Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival, among others.

David Gatten (b. Ann Arbor, 1971), filmmaker, Henry James fan, recent Guggenheim fellow and aspiring audio book artist, makes bookish films about letters and libraries, lovers and ghosts that are filled with words, some of which you can even read. His work has shown around the world in museums, festivals, biennials, galleries, archives, access centers, elementary schools, storefronts, on sides of buildings and once on a barge that was floating down river. Six times his films have played International Film Festival Rotterdam, five times in the New York Film Festival, four times at the Pacific Film Archive, three times at the London Film Festival, twice in the Whitney Biennial and once upon a time for reasons still unclear to everyone involved at the Kiel International Festival of Archaeological Film. You can find his films in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Art Institute of Chicago but he can rarely find his glasses. He lives and works by the water in Red Hook, Brooklyn and on Seabrook Island, South Carolina and teaches 16mm filmmaking/Wallace Stevens appreciation as a visiting artist at the Cooper Union in NYC.

Christian Gerstheimer (b. Flint, MI, 1965) is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Michigan State University. His graduate thesis was The Use of Text in Art: 1988-1999. As curator of the El Paso Museum of Art in El Paso, Texas he has curated one-person exhibitions, authored artist essays for the Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Photography, as well as numerous other publications for the El Paso Museum of Art. His latest group exhibition at The El Paso Museum of Art titled Text as Art: From the 1960’s Onward brought together prints, photographs and sculpture that combine writing and images.

Ralph McKay (b. Monroe, LA, 1954) established and programmed the Film Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from 1976 to 1989. He has since programmed for Anthology Film Archives in NYC, the Jewish Museum in NYC and Cinematexas in Austin. He is currently Program Advisor to International Film Festival Rotterdam, manager of distribution in the Americas for two European non-profit distributors, Sixpack Film (Austria) and Filmbank (The Netherlands), and North American tour manager for Swiss Films.