Lace flits across the screen. Not in a single shot lingering over this delicate textile, but several still shots, one after another, a discontinuous display of the variety of lace patterns that might exist. We start gently with white laces, then frenetically — aggressively — move onto flickering colors.
Lace-making is a women’s handcraft, and although in its history it has adorned both men and women, in modern times we associate it with femininity. We also associate handcraft with authenticity, and work with textiles evokes gendered domestic labor.
From the 1500s into the late 1700s, lace symbolized luxury and class for both men and women, and it was particularly popular in royal courts. It was big business. Victorian scholar Elaine Freedgood notes in one article that around 100,000 people were employed in the handmade lace industry in early 1700s England. Most of these workers were women and girls.
However, like so many handcrafts, lace-work was overtaken by machines through industrialization. “By 1860,” Freedgood writes, “there were some 150,000 workers making lace by machine and less than ten thousand handworkers left in England.” The machine workers were men, replacing women in the industry, though finishing work, done by hand, was still often completed by women.
The camera is a product of the machine age. Even handcrafted cinema — direct animation or hand-processed celluloid — rely on the precision of industrial processes. Endlessly replicable perforations, standardized sprockets to fit perfectly in those perforations, so that no matter what company made your 35mm film, camera, or projector, it will still run through the apparatus without issue.
Jodie Mack features both handmade and machine-made lace in Point de Gaze (2012), mixed together and generally flashing by too quickly for us to inspect each lace’s quality with respect to the others.
In Laura Marks’ study of intercultural films, The Skin of Film, she defines haptic visuality as a mode of viewing that prioritizes touch-based knowledge over sight-based knowledge. This means the texture of an object takes primacy over its holistic shape or its context in its surroundings.
The films that Marks write about often employ the photographic strategy of long close-ups with the camera panning over domestic textiles or photographs or similar personal objects. Jodie Mack’s fabric films are similar in that she employs extreme close-ups on textiles, which visually abstract the fabrics from their potentially practical use as clothes or blankets or other domestic items.
Experimental film scholar Barnaby Dicker writes, “In Mack’s fabric flicker films, the human figure is radically absent, the viewer, radically present. We are confronted by a stroboscopic materiality.”
But Mack’s films are not slow. By employing flicker film techniques, Mack blends the haptic and the optic in a way that’s both abstract and materialist.
She says of her films, “Many people see these films as ‘abstract films,’ but I surely see them more as documentaries, something I’d like to call inventory documentary — the temporal record of incomplete archives.”
Like celluloid film (the medium of choice of Jodie Mack’s fabric films), lace works through a process of visual suture. We see pattern through absence, gaps in chains of stitching, literal holes that make up the design. Flicker films expose the discontinuity inherent in celluloid film, in that film is comprised of a series of still frames that give the illusion of seamless continuity. There is a gap of movement between two frames. However, lace forefronts absence whereas film hides it.
The pace of the colorful laces speeds up, reds and yellows flashing insistently across the screen. Then these vibrant floral patterns give way to black and white monochrome. We know we are watching lace patterns because this is what the film has established, but the images become increasingly abstract. Darker, distorted, sometimes even blurred. A stark contrast to the gentle beginning, but still conjuring the paradox of collection. Each object is particular in its details and background, but a mass of objects brought together represents a broader history, one that is social, economic, and political in nature.
The IU Cinema previously screened Jodie Mack’s Point de Gaze as part of the Underground Film Series’ 50th Anniversary — Ann Arbor Film Festival 16mm Package in January 2013.
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.