☛ Richard Serra: “Hand Catching Lead”, 1968, 16 mm black-and-white film, no sound, 3 mins (watch it on YouTube)
Opening and closing, grabbing and releasing, gathering and giving: this video could be seen –among other things– as an accompanying illustration to Jacques Derrida’s essay on “Heidegger’s Hand” (“Geschlecht 2: Heidegger’s Hand”, Loyala University Conference, Chicago, March 1985, reproduced in Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume II. Stanford University Press, 2008). For a short summary of Derrida’s argument, see Leonard Lawlor’s introduction to his essay “”Animals Have No Hand”. An Essay on Animality in Derrida” (CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 7, no 2, pp. 43-69, 2007: PDF).
Serra’s film was included on a DVD (more info) produced in 2006 by the Centre Pompidou (Paris) to accompany the exhibition The Mouvement of Images, Art, Cinema: “a re-interpretation of 20th century art from the viewpoint of film-making”.
Here’s how the Centre Pompidou presented Serra’s short film:
The mechanics of cinema are based on the division of the film into frames, projected one after another at a fixed rate of 24 frames per second, giving an illusion of continuity. Richard Serra’s film, Hand Catching Lead, illustrates the mechanism. Echoing the vertical movement of the film through the projector, pieces of sheet lead fall into the image field. Serra’s hand opens and closes as it tries to catch them, and when it succeeds, immediately lets them go again, reproducing the intermittent advance of the film. But that is not all, for as the action progresses, Serra’s hand, blackened by the lead, shadow-like comes to resemble the silhouette of a dog trying to catch something thrown to it, thus referring the mechanics of cinema back to its origins in the art of shadow theatre. (from the press release: PDF; a French version is also available)
Here’s a short bio of Richard Serra displayed on the PBS website:
Richard Serra was born in San Francisco in 1939. After studying at the University of California at Berkeley and at Santa Barbara, he graduated in 1961 with a BA in English literature. During this time, he began working in steel mills in order to support himself. In 1964, he graduated from Yale University with both a BFA and an MFA. Receiving a Yale Traveling Fellowship, he spent a year in Paris, followed by a year in Florence funded by a Fullbright grant. Serra’s early work in the 1960s focused on the industrial materials that he had worked with as a youth in West Coast steel mills and shipyards: steel and lead. A famous work from this time involved throwing lead against the walls of his studio. Though his casts were created from the impact of the lead hitting the walls, the emphasis of the piece was really on the process of creating it: raw aggression and physicality, combined with a self-conscious awareness of material and a real engagement with the space in which it was worked. Since those Minimalist beginnings, Serra’s work has become famous for that same physicality, but one that is now compounded by the breathtaking size and weight that the pieces have acquired. His series of “Torqued Ellipses” (1996–99), which comprise gigantic plates of towering steel, bent and curved, leaning in and out, carve very private spaces from the necessarily large public sites in which they have been erected. Serra’s most recent public work includes the 60-foot-tall “Charlie Brown” (1999; named for the Peanuts comic-strip character in honor of its author, Charles Schultz, who had died that year), which has been erected in the courtyard of an office building in San Francisco. He lives in New York and Nova Scotia.
First spotted via Kottke.
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