Interview – Margaret Honda and Anna Gritz

During preparations for the presentation of Spectrum
Reverse Spectrum at KW, the following conversation
took place between Margaret Honda and Anna Gritz,
Curator at KW.

Anna Gritz: You came to filmmaking late in your work,
after having worked in sculpture, installation, and
photography for many years. Intriguingly, you managed
to find a way to continue exploring a set of concerns that
has accompanied your practice for a long time,
but through the new parameters of the medium film.
Can you talk about your transition to film?

Margaret Honda: My transition to film was the result of
a ten-minute conversation. A few years ago, I was
talking to someone about things that come in wide rolls
and he mentioned 70mm print stock. I never considered
making a film, but I was drawn to 70mm film, because it
is inconceivable for me to work on the scale of a movie
like Lawrence of Arabia. I think it helped that I had so
few options. I realized that using a negative didn’t make
any sense, and that led me to the idea for Spectrum
Reverse Spectrum. My idea was to run the print stock
through a printer and capture the full range of colors that
could be produced through the printing process.
There would be no camera, no negative, no images.
My intention was to work with film, not to make a film.
Spectrum Reverse Spectrum was produced entirely at
the lab, and it was as much an experiment for them as it
was for me. I was asking them to make a print without a
negative, and initially I didn’t know how long it should
be, or even what it should look like. I wanted the
process to determine those things, and it did.
The running time is the length of a single 2500-foot roll
of print stock, and the densities and durations of the
colors follow those in the visible spectrum.

AG: For Spectrum Reverse Spectrum (2014) you
exhaust the color potential of the medium of 70mm film,
moving through the full range of the film stock.
The twenty-one minute long film correspondingly
matches the material’s potential for displaying color with
our visual capacity to perceive it. There is no storyline or
plot to distract from the encounter. This is rather a
self-conscious approach that heightens our awareness
of the act of perception. How do you bring together the
process of making the work with the process of
experiencing it?

MH: While making this work, I was mostly thinking about
film as a material, not about film as the carrier of an
image. Spectrum Reverse Spectrum is constructed as a
palindrome and includes properly oriented head leaders
at both ends, which are also projected. It can begin from
either end. It displays the full spectrum of Kodak 2383
print stock, and it is a record of how the emulsion
responded to the printer’s lights. The work has no frame
lines since I didn’t use a camera or an optical printer.
The film exists as a 70mm print and will never migrate to
a nonnative format. How the work is presented is an
extension of how it was made. Spectrum Reverse
Spectrum employs the protocols of industrial film
production, so it is screened like other industrially
produced films—in a theater setting, with a projection
booth, proper seating, and specific screening times.
This is the conventional context for viewing films,
foregrounding the relationships between the viewer,
the film, and the physical setting. Any disruption of these
relationships is immediately apparent in this context.

AG: Working closely with technicians, projectionists,
cinemas, and labs is a key interest of yours—
an extension of your investigations into a given, intrinsic
set of factors that shape the outcome of the work.
Taking into account that these relationships form a
highly instable, “eco-system” as you call it, comprised of
an ever-changing number of factors, the work takes on
a volatile, process-driven dimension. How do you define
what factors become part of the consideration when
making the work?

MH: For Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, I was very
fortunate to work with Vince Roth at FotoKem. He is an
unparalleled color timer with decades of experience,
and he has now also become a friend. This film exists
because of his efforts. It will be a real crisis when Vince
retires. It means losing part of the culture, not just a
single individual. The technicians, the projectionists,
and the people who work with the equipment or at the
supply houses form a network with an extremely deep
knowledge of the industry. This is the “eco-system”
I have come to depend on, because a film like Spectrum
Reverse Spectrum is both difficult to make and equally
difficult to project. To get to the point of screening the
film, everything matters. As this system shrinks, fewer
films are made and shown, which is absolutely
devastating for the people whose jobs primarily depend
on film.
I’ve worked with film for less than five years, but in
that time I have faced situations where I couldn’t do
something because someone retired and was not
replaced, or I couldn’t get the appropriate materials, or
I couldn’t screen a film because the projector was not in
good repair. Once, I almost missed a screening because
the shipper hadn’t ever seen a 70mm print and was
holding it for X-rays. I used to think that the loss of
projectors and projectionists would be the end of
70mm film, but I now know that Kodak discontinuing
an emulsion will have more immediate and lasting
consequences for me. When I began working on
Spectrum Reverse Spectrum in 2013, FotoKem was one
of only two labs in the world that processed 70mm film.
A year later, it was the only one. If you work in film,
you understand that the ground is constantly shifting,
but for now it is still possible to figure out a way to get
things done.

AG: The introduction to timing tapes in the process of
making Spectrum Reverse Spectrum prompted the
production of your second film, Color Correction (2015).
For this film you gained access to the color correction
timing tapes on an unnamed Hollywood film. These
tapes, which usually determine the amount of color
correction of each shot in the film, were used without
the images to which they once corresponded.
The 101-minute long film is like a shadow that offers
a viewing experience that is usually unavailable,
something that is reminiscent of your work 4366 Ohio
Street (2004–ongoing) in which you reproduce your
childhood home at full-scale in a series of print editions.
How would you describe your relationship to source
material, and what dictates the points of departure for
your work?

MH: I generally tend to think about what I want to do
more than what things I want to make, so methods and
tools are often my starting point, but not necessarily
the subject matter. I studied material culture, so I’m
extremely interested in what happens when you
rearrange certain steps in a procedure or remove a
defining element of something, while still maintaining a
strict sense of the discipline.
For Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, a timing tape
was generated to control the printer’s light valves.
When I understood that the tape and nothing else
served as the printing element, I realized I could use an
existing timing tape to make a film. With Color
Correction, I was willing to accept whatever the timing
tapes gave me. I was completely indifferent to their
source and would have used any set because I wanted
to make a film where I ceded control over all aesthetic
decisions. Other people had already determined the
gauge and running time, the number and length of
the shots, and the color corrections. I did nothing to
alter any of that except eliminate the negative. With
4366 Ohio Street, the question was how to build
something to an architectural scale without the required
physical space. The work is a full-scale paper
reconstruction of my family’s home. The surface area of
each room is divided into hundreds of equal-sized
pieces of paper and distributed in a catalog or journal.
It’s possible, but not probable, that these pieces can
later be assembled to form the room. One room is
published at a time, and the closer I get to completing
the house, the more fragmented it becomes and
the further it gets from ever being seen as a built entity.
These works have specific material sources, and
the fact that those original sources are not represented
or readily available makes everything somehow
more active.

 

 

 

Magaret Honda, Spectrum Reverse Spectrum, 2014, Courtesy Grice Bench, Los Angeles, Installationsansicht KW Institute for Contemporary Art, 2017, Foto: Frank Sperling.

 

KW Institute for Contemporary Art
KUNST-WERKE BERLIN e. V.
Pause: Margaret Honda
18.–20. August 17
Auguststraße 69
10117 Berlin