Jonas Mekas, Serpentine Gallery, London

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
4.00

 

"Just images, just images," murmurs the narrator of Jonas Mekas’ new 80 minute film Out-takes from the Life of a Happy Man (2012).

Some dated to New York of the 60s, images flutter one after the other into view: a green apple with a bite taken out it, positioned on the side of a swimming-pool, the sunlight both delicate and brilliant; a blonde girl wearing tight blue jeans on the subway; a man smoking and selling pretzels on the sidewalk; and, incongruously, the rushing of a waterfall. The white foam looks better on 16mm; indeed, everything looks better on 16mm.

Born in Lithuania in 1922, Mekas is a leading figure of the 20th century avant-garde. A poet, film-maker, artist, and founder of Anthology Film Archives, he emigrated to Brooklyn in 1949 after five years in displaced persons camps. His diaristic, fragmentary though flowing style of film-making is an exercise in “how to be true with the camera.” Rather than abstraction, he is interested in people - “what’s real, what’s there.”

Coinciding with seasons of his films at the BFI and Centre Pompidou, this exhibition draws on Mekas’ entire 60 year career. His Bolex transforms the ordinary into the iconoclastic, creating a grainy and beautiful world. Now Instagram offers a similar aesthetic to the digital generation, for whom images are easily captured and rendered antique-looking – a visual shorthand for authentic. In this sense, Mekas’ films and stills appear incredibly contemporary, as though they were made to be shared on social media.

His subject matter is likewise contemporary – autobiographical and intimate, lyrical but also heavy on the hipsterdom. This was a New York of the Beats, and, a decade later, the sexual revolution. Films such as The Dumpling Party (1971), in which John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Andy Warhol eat dumplings in a basement apartment, are fun but problematic for the same reasons that Warhol is problematic. Other than demonstrating that he had a lot of cool and famous associates, what does it mean?

Mekas will turn 90 later this month, and remains prolific. It is his story as an artist in exile that is perhaps most fascinating. Idylls of Semeniskiai (1946) are poems that were written in a displaced persons camp, recalling his childhood in rural Lithuania. They evoke an atmosphere of “shimmering heat,” which is evident too in the later films, when the fields of home are replaced by Central Park.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup