ground

glass

award:

Christopher

Harris

ChristopherHarris.jpeg

The Ground Glass Award is Prismatic Ground's single award, given in yearly recognition of an artist's outstanding contribution to the field of experimental media. The 2022 Ground Glass Award recognizes filmmaker Christopher Harris's uniquely beautiful, provocative, and peerless body of work to date— a collection of films which resist the violence of the world by resisting the violence of narrative itself, and which propel the avant-garde tradition in a politically and aesthetically radical forward direction. Seven of Harris's films will be available on this page from May 4-8; later this summer, the filmmaker will appear in person at Maysles Documentary Center to receive his honor and screen work in the cinema. 

Dreams under Confinement (2020)

(Commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts) Frenzied voices on the Chicago Police Department’s scanner call for squad cars and reprisals during the 2020 uprising in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, as Google Earth tracks the action through simulated aerial views of urban spaces and the vast Cook County Department of Corrections, the country’s third-largest jail system. In Christopher Harris’s Dreams Under Confinement, the prison and the street merge into a shared carceral landscape. (New York Film Festival)

28.IV.81 (Descending Figures) (2011)

'28.IV.81 (Descending Figures)' is comprised of footage Harris shot at a performance of Christ’s Passion, staged as an attraction at a Florida amusement park. We see a well-coiffed, Christian-metal Jesus getting scourged by costume-shop Romans with headset mics, while zaftig women in tennis shoes weep and wail. Meanwhile, the audience penetrates the diegesis quite often—an arm with a camera pops in, or we see the crowd standing around in the heat looking bored. But more significantly, Harris’ use of dual-screen and end flares result in mutual image competition. Jesus gets whipped while yellows and reds ping-pong back and forth across the display. The Romans move through fogs of zipping white projector light. The images themselves operate contrapuntally (close-ups and medium shots, mismatched reaction shots, etc.), but Harris’ use of the pure filmic light continually disrupts these faux-holy scenarios from coming into being. This flimsy display of devotion is shown up by something genuinely overpowering, or at least recognizably real. In a way, this seems to sum up Harris’ practice. Filmic images are things with actual impact in the world, and as such they have an unavoidable ethical dimension. If you’ve got some eyeballing to do, go hard or go home. (Cinema Scope)

Reckless Eyeballing (2004)

Halimuhfack (2016)

A performer lip-synchs to archival audio featuring the voice of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston as she describes her method of documenting African American folk songs in Florida. By design, nothing in this film is authentic except the source audio. The flickering images were produced with a hand-cranked Bolex so that the lip-synch is deliberately erratic and the rear-projected, grainy, looped images of Masai tribesmen and women recycled from an educational film become increasingly abstract as the audio transforms into an incantation. Performer: Valada Flewellyn

Distant Shores (2016)

A sunny afternoon on an architecture tour boat in Chicago is haunted by the specter of the European refugee crises as a disembodied narrator recounts a much more dangerous voyage across altogether different waters. The hazardous journey is the unseen other of the carefree trip down the Chicago River and across Lake Michigan.

28.IV.81 (Bedouin Spark) (2009)

Approximates a small child’s fantasy world in the dark. In a series of close-ups, the nightlight is transformed into a meditative star-spangled sky. An improvisation, edited inside the camera and shot on a single reel. The stars swirl in silence. (IFFR)

Sunshine State (Extended Forecast) (2007)

Florida, 2007. Somewhere in a quiet outer suburb of the Milky Way galaxy, we live our lives in the pleasant warmth of our middle-of-the-road star, the Sun. Slowly but surely we will reach the point when there will be one last perfect sunny day. The sun will swell up, scorch the earth and finally consume it. (IFFR)

Complete Filmography

Dreams Under Confinement (2020)    

Halimuhfack (2016)

Distant Shores (2016)

A Willing Suspension of Disbelief + Photography and Fetish (2014)

28.IV.81 (Descending Figures) (2011)

28.IV.81 (Bedouin Spark) (2009)

Sunshine State (Extended Forecast) (2007)

Reckless Eyeballing (2004)

still/here (2001)

A fairly direct provocation that also functions as a loving treatment of all-too-rarely engaged found-footage material. Eyeballing‘s dominant motif is the image of Pam Grier from her Blaxploitation apex, with an unusual exchange of gazes – hers out at us, and the men in surrounding footage back at her. Harris is quite explicitly exploring the racial dimensions that Laura Mulvey left implicit (to put it kindly) within the Male Gaze question, sending Foxy Brown into the cinematic apparatus as a kind of test case. Can she look back, or will she too be pinned and mounted by the gaze? Or, is there a place for an African-American female spectatorship, an active subject position inside visual culture? “Within the film, Harris juxtaposes images of Angela Davis (including wanted posters) with the Grier footage, generating a fantasy/reality dialectic, and articulating precisely how cinema’s cultural image bank conflates African-American women’s desirability with danger. The film’s title, ‘reckless eyeballing,’ is of course pre-Civil Rights Era cracker-talk for when black men allegedly looked lustfully at white women. (It’s a well-known expression: Ishmael Reed published a 1986 novel by the same name.) So the stakes are clear: looks and gazes, when to scope out and when to stare deferentially at the ground, are matters of grave historical importance for African-Americans, and all truly rigorous formal considerations should return us to historical thinking sooner or later. (Michael Sicinski, Cinema Scope Magazine)