The Student
Artist Rooms Clips: An Evening with Agnes Martin
by Laura Henry, 25/01/16

Summerhall: Run Ended

Introducing Gabriel: a young, dark-haired boy with knobbly knees poking out from under a pair of innocent beige shorts and a taste for adventure. Otherwise Gabriel, Agnes Martin’s 1976 answer to Hollywood blockbusters, is an evenly paced documentary on nature evoking innocence and sweetness; in which the mountains and lakes are the true protagonists while the boy is just an extra.

The discovery of Agnes Martin creating a film might come as a surprise to some. Famed for her sober abstract landscapes, executed in muted tones with a strong focus on order, Gabriel is often considered an anomaly amongst her work. Noticeable, though, is the similarity in the soft colour palette present simultaneously in her paintings and in the landscape she captures. Ruth Burgon, a PhD candidate at the University is focusing an area of her study on Gabriel and helpfully introduces the screening, almost apologetically. Reading extracts from reviews that have described the oeuvre as ‘more boring than the Warhol films’, she prepares the audience for an unusual experience.

The silence present in the film is heavy and a little bit awkward, the mind starts to wander and entertain ideas. Each time Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ series creeps back in, the audience relaxes and seizes the opportunity to reach for their complimentary popcorn – or their coats. It becomes apparent that this screening is not for everyone. Not for the faint-hearted, this ‘Evening with Agnes Martin’ is more intimate than anyone expected. After the umpteenth shot of flirtatious vegetation and non-audible gurgling streams one builds up an immunity to their seductive imagery.

Something that Martin could not have predicted during the conception of the film is how charming Gabriel appears – when he does appear – through the eyes of an audience in 2016. He absorbs and contemplates his environment; dipping his toe in the lake a reaching for the wild grass. A truly rustic image. This provokes questions of our contemporary society’s decreasing attention span and need to capture and share these idyllic moments rather than completely savour them for our personal memories.

On reflection, Gabriel is well suited to a very specific target audience: one that appreciates nature and looks for moments of contemplation and respite in a fast-paced life. Despite this, it remains a fact that the film is not an example of slick cinematography. Gabriel is evocative of the earliest form of cinema where audiences would attend fifteen-minute screenings to experience the magic of the moving image and celebrate technology. This piece is long for its kind, but meditative if you allow it to be so and holds the power to remind us to relish natural beauty.

Image: _aapc (Flickr)