Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Vanessa Renwick: The Oregon Department of Kick Ass”

by on April 10, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

7:30 at UnionDocs [Program & Tix]

Program Curator Penny Lane:

“Vanessa Renwick is pretty much as punk rock as they come. She’s been self-producing films and videos in her own indomitable style since the early 1980s. Her DIY aesthetic can present a challenge to an indie film scene that sometimes seems to care more about slickness and commercial success than originality of spirit. Which is not to say she can’t be slick when she needs to be. It’s just that with Renwick, there are no rules; only surprises. This two-night event is an eclectic sampling of her very best work, spanning over twenty years and in almost every moving image medium there is. It will be fast and aggressive, and also slow and contemplative. It will be achingly beautiful and horrifically ugly. Without fail, however, it will be seriously intense, hard to pin down, and harder to forget.”


Vanessa Renwick | Artist’s Statement:

“A filmmaker by nature, not by stress of research. Her iconoclastic work reflects an interest in place, relationships between bodies and landscapes, and all sorts of borders. Working in experimental and poetic documentary forms, she produces films, videos and installations that explore the possibility of hope in contemporary society. She is a naturalist, born, not made : a true barefoot, cinematic rabblerouser, of grand physique, calm pulse and a magnetism that demands the most profound attention.”


Holly Willis for LA Weekly:

“Vanessa Renwick invites us to contemplate death, and to do so with a proper mix of wrenching horror and ecstatic wonder. In Britton, South Dakota (2003), Renwick pairs 1930s archival footage of children in a small Midwestern town with a haunting score by Johnee Eschleman. Photographed on a sunny day, the kids squint, grimace and cry as adults roughly position them for the camera. They seem at once slightly unmanageable, as if they aren’t yet fully browbeaten, and also deeply melancholy, as if they know already what sorrow the future holds. In the elegiac 9 Is a Secret (2002), Renwick recounts a sad time in her life, when a friend was dying and she suddenly became aware of the presence of crows. The dark birds in turn point her to the practice of counting crows, which is both a children’s rhyming game and a form of divination in which the number of crows suggests events in the future. Eight crows augur death; nine crows reference a secret. Renwick combines those fragments with glimpses of imagery — a bed, the crows captured as silhouettes, a man’s twisted body — to craft a lyrical and moving essay that works its magic through poetic accretion rather than narrative logic.”


Briana Pope for XLR8R:

“Vanessa Renwick is as wild and untamed as the Northwestern wolf packs that are her latest obsession, which fueled a recent film project and 2003’s Hunting Requires Optimism. The latter is a video installation that consists of 10 refrigerators–nine open to a moving image of a lone wolf’s unsuccessful hunt, the last to the fearsome howl of the creature as it successfully captures its prey. Only one in 10 wolf hunts is successful, and Renwick focuses on the hope of that 10 percent. This dark optimism is a common theme throughout her work.Renwick’s general aesthetic is at once old-fashioned and aggressively modern. Her desire, perhaps ‘need,’ to forge her own path, with an extensive filmography dating back to 1983, gives the sense that she is living out her own version of a modern-day Western, with no rules and no boundaries… Renwick’s film and video work–which she refuses to use as a significant source of income (opting instead to paint houses or work as a bike messenger)–always demonstrates a wry sense of humor, combined with a deep respect for her subject, whether it be wildlife, bicycles, or the audience itself.”


Ed Halter for Rhizome:

“Vanessa Renwick, who produces video under the rubric of The Oregon Department of Kick Ass, is one of the cornerstones of Portland’s remarkably fecund scene for moving-image art. Her video Portrait #2: Trojan (2006) documents the last days of the locally-maligned Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, which once rose like a toxic concrete toadstool above the lush temperate rainforests that cover the area’s rolling landscape; at the video’s end, the plant explodes under planned detonations, sending a quiet plume of smoke into the sky. The strange marriage Renwick chronicles between nature and technology is one familiar to the culture of the region.”


Stephen Irving for Momentum Magazine:

“Always striving to inspire, Renwick aims to expand minds through film, video and installation art. Her work is iconoclastic and reflective of her interest in place, space and borders of all kinds. She credits her Uptown Chicago upbringing for this. ‘I am really into the way places look, both natural and man-made,’ Renwick said. As a child, ‘I had both the incredible Lake Michigan as well as all of the stupendous architecture around me.’ She would later explore Chicago’s built environment in detail. “That was a great perk of being a bike messenger; I got to go into all of those buildings.”

Anthology Film Archives presents 5 of Renwick’s works in conjunction with Flaherty NYC tomorrow, Monday April 11.

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