Sea of Vapors

Meer der Dünste

Sea of Vapors

Length: 15:00 mins
Year of production: 2014
Exhibition Format: DCP or Quicktime file
Source Format: 16mm found footage and HD Video
Language: No language
With: Linda Scobie
Photography: Cyrus Tabar
Selected Music by: Jeff Surak

Synopsis: A cascade of images cut frame by frame flow into an allegory of the lunar cycle.

Statement: Sea of Vapors celebrates a feminine sensibility within a cinematic space, in the here and now. The images, cut frame by frame, are interwoven and flow into one another to evoke what seems like a private ritual that a woman performs. Many of my works deal with history, memory and cultural identity, but for Sea of Vapors I wanted to make something that was largely stripped of these denominators. In a way this film is also about a heightened awareness of the present moment, at once showing intro- and extro-spective views, and a sense of self-awareness and becoming. (Berlin, August 4, 2014. Sylvia Schedelbauer)

–––Sea of Vapors employs almost-static imagery, suspended in vibrato, to create an erotic exploration of the birth and rebirth of the lunar cycle. (Chris Kennedy, program notes, TIFF Cinematheque)

–––If Godard famously found the cosmos in his cup of coffee, Schedelbauer takes a similar point of departure in rousing the sleeping dragon of the unconscious, frame by frame. (Max Goldberg, San Francisco Arts Quarterly)

–––Memories also stalk Sylvia Schedelbauer’s pulsating, exhausting, and triumphant new film Sea of Vapors (2014). Rarely has the use of flicker transcended its formal application to produce such intense emotion. 15 minutes long, Sea of Vapors is created from a mix of film shot by Schedelbauer and found footage. Labour intensive, and intricately assembled, images dissolve into one another, and in the plainest of acts, such as someone holding a bowl, Schedelbauer evokes the world’s phenomena. I was stunned and moved by this film. (Shanay Jhaveri, Frieze Blog)

–––In Sylvia Schedelbauer’s Sea of Vapors (2014), soft black-and-white images—both archival and original—flicker at more or less a constant rate before slowly dissolving into other images, the overall effect enhanced by the varying discernibility of shots, as well as by slight camera movements within them. Beginning with an image of the back of a woman’s head as the camera moves in, the film ends with a shot of what we assume is the same woman, raising to her lips, and then draining the contents of, a cup whose luminous round base conceals her face. Despite the teeming flow of images juxtaposed and superimposed in between—eye to mountainscape, face to fingernails, flowers to lips, rocks to sea, forest to child—we are struck less by associative or metaphorical links than by the sense that, with her simple gesture, the woman engages the phenomenal world, drinking in nothing less than the universe conjured throughout. (Tony Pipolo, Artforum)

–––Schedelbauer’s graphic black-and-white images, both her own and found, pulsate and bleed into each other and into us. Alternating with black frames and emerging from and into complex superimpositions, they feel as if they swallow each other up. Beginning with what appears to be an image of a woman’s bending head, a curl of her hair hinting at the “vertigo” about to ensue, the film takes us to a hungry, grazing horse’s mouth, fingers, naked backs, and deep into an eye that pulls us, willingly or not, into its stream of (un-)consciousness. Circular images echo or form inside each other—eye, sun, moon, embryo, and the recurring white bowl, brimming with associations that beckon and repel and hold us in their grip. A tumult of barely discernable lips, pounding surf, forests, landscapes, accompanied by a powerful dissonant and disturbing score, overwhelms and exhausts the viewer as if we, too, are caught up in some traumatic flow of sensation and memory emerging from the simple act of holding, contemplating, raising, and drinking from that bowl. The incessant flicker of Schedelbauer’s images seems to bare the black holes (frames) of memory and time that alternately tear all of our images/recollections/sense of self apart or hold them/us together. (Irina Leimbacher, Film Comment)

–––With a keen attention to form, Schedelbauer masterfully imparts tone and emotion through audiovisual means. The sensate work pulses with poetic imagery, recurring allusions to vessels and openings—a bowl held between hands, the space between two fingers, and voluptuous lips are superimposed over elemental landscapes—sun and forest, ocean and moon. Images of a body are intimate and close-up, rendered in lush, nuanced black-and-white celluloid tones. An ethereal soundscape composed by Jeff Surak is reassuringly expansive, drawing us out from the claustrophobic image into the universal. The film conveys the trepidation with which one bares one’s innermost, vulnerable space, and is palpably felt through the strobing effect—it is as if one is being consumed by another, or by the pull of tides. And to similar effect it draws in the viewer, down into the open vessels, engulfing us into a hyper-subjective space, with room for us to experience our own seas of consumption. (Aily Nash, Brooklyn Rail)

–––Sea of Vapors organizes its own investigation into the nature of memory and recollection through a quasi-Proustian engagement with the senses. The black-and-white images indicate taste, touch, and smell and emphasize a powerful, deep connection with animals, the landscape and lunar cycle. The body plays a crucial role in acting as a mediator between the immediate environment and a connection to past sensation. Schedelbauer has used flicker in the past, but here it is sharper than ever. Though the flicker initially overwhelms many of the images, she seems to be using it in contradistinction to its immediate effect. While the flicker remains dynamic, it softens the transition from one image to the next so that they flow in and out of each other. At first, the images appear in sharp contrast, but, eventually, the flicker causes the shifts to occur gradually, almost imperceptibly. Domestic settings and objects lead directly toward the environment, to the world at large. (James Hansen, Filmmaker Magazine)

–––Finally, there’s the hyper-concentrated maelstrom of Sylvia Schedelbauer’s Sea of Vapors. Hurling its fast and furious images and associations into a forceful, flickering spiral, this bravura 15-minute work bounds from shot to shot (limbs, flowers, eyeballs, horses, mouths) with a graphic density bordering on the hallucinatory. As its tempo accelerates, a pale circle emerges as the eye of the storm, though even its identity remains volatile: At times resembling a full moon, at others a white cup or a crystal ball onto which other objects are superimposed, it at last becomes something of an unstable nucleus in the filmmaker’s personal galaxy of remembrances and sensations. At once draining and exhilarating, Sea of Vapors is an emblematic Projections piece, expanding cinematic borders even as it seems to engulf itself. (Fernando F. Croce, Mubi)

–––A hallucinatory work which spins black and white images into a stroboscopic avalanche of barely glimpsed landscapes and individuals. As the images helix in a sort of static succession of fleeting impressions, distant voices and disembodied screams are slowly smothered in an enveloping drone, pushing monochrome memories into a vivid, palpable present. (Jordan Cronk, Fandor)

–––Schedelbauer’s films, which do not so much flicker as pulsate, have found a way to obviate that familiarity; they hold images out, dangling them, at the edge of cognition, then substituting them with others, in sets and series that coagulate like liquid or (to speak less metaphorically, in more strictly materialist terms) hang together in the air like notes in a chord. (Michael Sicinski, Mubi)

–––The film displays a formal rigour, where the flicker technique is employed not to turn away from the world into abstraction, but to move gradually towards it, sensitively drawing out the interconnectedness of all things. (Jury Statement, International Competition, VideoEx)

–––In sehr ästhetischer schwarz/weiß-Manier umspannen vor allem Hände, auch Lippen, Gesichter, Gegenstände eine kreisrunde Welt und zerfließen zu immer neu gefundenen, gezoomten und verschwindenden Perspektiven. Bewegungsunfähig lauscht da einer dem Rhythmus des Geschehens, Musik (Jeff Surak) und Bild schmelzen die Leinwand auf ein Guckloch für den zyklischen Mond zusammen und zelebrieren die anspruchsvolle Form des Kurzfilmemachens. (Highnoon Film-E-Zine)

2015 Special Mention. VIDEOEX International Experimental Film & Video Festival Zürich