We remember (1995-2002) by Anne Fave and Emmanuel Carquille
We remember a weekend in Grenoble
We remember the energy at the time
We remember a utopia
We remember the first meetings
We remember we needed to find a name
We remember the meetings in the café after the Scratch screenings, a dozen around the table
We remember all the questions asked
We remember the 50 francs each for rent and the low-cost running expenses
We remember the cellar’s dampness
We remember the cold and dust
We remember the plastering and painting
We remember the heated debates
We remember the context of the 1990s, set in motion by a kind of activism within experimental film: installations, performances, multiἀprojections, distribution and programing in a wide variety of different spaces (102 in Grenoble, Zonmée in Montreuil, EPE and Scratch Projection in Paris, Images en scène in the dilapidated bowels of the Palais de Tokyo, Emmetrop in Bourges, XHX in Marseille, MIRE in Nantes, Elu par cette crapule in Le Havre, Hiero Colmar and of course, the cooperative Light Cone).
All this profuse activity corresponded to the energy at the time, a product of groupings and cross flows.
We remember a weekend in Grenoble in 1995…
“MTK” must have been the first cooperative lab in France to function along DYI lines, open to all and enabling each person to develop his or her own work. Unable to handle the large amount of requests coming from all over Europe, the MTK members organized a meeting in the garden at 102 to generate impetus for the opening of other similar style labs.
It’s here the participants from different geographical locations decided on this undertaking.
For Paris, this signaled the beginning of the adventure that would become L’Abominable.
We remember, like that word which often springs to mind.
A utopia giving form to the idea that people could undertake their own art practice which necessitated the sharing and pooling of resources.
Microstructures, cooperatives, micro-utopias, DYI on a low-cost basis by fettling found, reused and cast-off materials, with everyone chipping in to make it work and without the constraints imposed by financial institutions. Of self-management: a direct democracy, consciously breaking down the hierarchy of allotted jobs and practice, and the sharing of the means of production.
A way of resisting industry, markets and institutions, and also the ideologies around at the time and the dominant forms within cinema.
A collective, well before it was a space.
We remember the first meetings.
A wide and varied mix of plastic artists, filmmakers, organizers, art review editors, programmers, experimental film activists, and most with a foot in each other’s camp.
This network of people met together on Tuesdays at the café in front of the Entrepôt after Scratch’s program of screenings. With ten around the table, there was a lot of talk about equipment, who should do what, the next steps to be taken, self-funding, and most of all, the possible locations for a space…
We remember also the first big meeting in an apartment above the Cagnotte de Belleville, during which all the statutes were tabled.
And… We remember the need to find a name. Of all the names tossed around to anyone who’d listen, or of those intently listed down, the most surprising, least flattering and most unlikely play on words won the seal of approval: L’ABOMINABLE… What a tall order!
And so L’ABOMINABLE took residence in a cellar in Asnières sur Seine.
We remember the cellar’s damp, cold and dust.
We remember the plastering and painting.
We remember the 50 francs each for the rent.
We remember the pooling of equipment.
We remember Pip’s printer.
Then procuring equipment through someone someone knew or from auction sales listings.
It was the start of the end of commercial laboratories and the moment when advances in digital film technology became more and more accessible to a wider public. The digital market created a redundancy of older equipment: an abundance of Super 8 cameras and projectors along with more affordable and easily found 16mm equipment.
Simultaneously, this newfound accessibility to cinematic equipment paradoxically created a counter fad in reaction to the massification of the digital market.
A tool/ the processes
We remember the chemical smell in the damp lab.
We remember the first Super 8 films developed in pitch black.
Preparing loops for installation
Of DIY: a salad spinner turned into a film dryer, Super 8 blown up to 16mm
Of working on the optical printer
Of the editing tables
Of striking prints
Of installing the animation stand
…And more especially, We remember Anne-Marie and Nicolas who spent their days overhauling, fettling, greasing, bolting together and unbolting, measuring, assembling, testing, constructing, putting it all together, organizing…
Then later on, the creation of sometimes more complicated equipment (sound camera project, loopers) with the arrival of Christophe Goulard,
We remember the first glistening reels of film
We remember the first multi-screens
Practices that progressed as the equipment improved.
The lab had set its sights on handling all forms of cinematography and every possible way of treating and processing film: development, treatments, colorization and optical printing for loops, sequences and entire films.
Practices followed the same progressive curve inline with the developments in equipment. Footages and film lengths, mostly short at the beginning and often in loops, grew longer due to larger capacity developing spools enabling the development of longer film lengths.
From this emerged the question of the relationship between form and equipment.
The films were often silent, inferring, for example, a particular relationship to sound produced live.
A significant number of Super 8 films were produced in the early days of the lab, whereas the number of 16mm films increased as the years went on.
Another characteristic of the lab’s “experimental period” was the large number of productions using multiple-screens with a tendency toward double or triple projections, projections within projections (Nicolas Rey, Yves Pélissier, la Destination, Anne-Marie Cornu), and moreover, presentations using different ways of projecting film: from a single film to multiple screenings, and from looping to the cinematographic concerts of Yves Pélissier, from live installations and various types of performance to combinations of all these.
And all the questions concerning the set up itself: who could have access to it? The members who had created it together? Anyone walking through the door?
With an increase in requests, how to deal with the new arrivals?
From the beginning came the idea of an initiation day to the equipment and processes. New members would then be able to work more autonomously with a basic understanding of how things worked, and so reduce the risk of damage, wastage and especially conserve at best the collective’s assets.
And by doing this, ensure transmission.
Training and presence
We remember those who clung to the more technically-minded amongst us, those who rarely left the basement and who were always there to help out, often to the detriment of their own production.
We remember that without them there would never have been a lab.
We remember Nicolas, Anne-Marie, Yves and Pip who continually advised, showed and explained, received, demonstrated and trained… on top of the administrative tasks and the planning organization.
We remember the workshops
We remember the weight of the 16mm projectors and the miles of cables
We remember the “it’s coming” in the lab’s dark as the image started to come up
We remember the squinting eyes in front of the upside down image in the giant camera obscura
We remember the back-to-front heads and flashing images, of the movement of wind in the trees and the syncopated gestures,
Of little hands cutting, sticking, coloring, assembling
We remember the children on the go and producing small bits of filmed poetry, scratched, painted,
of their surprise in front of these enigmatic objects from another time
requiring fine gestures.
The importance of slowness, waiting, another notion of time in this digital era
And also of the many experiments, of optical manipulations and viewing machines.
We remember pin-hole cameras made from tea-tins
And the need to learn another vocabulary, and of completely new spaces to project
We remember it was necessary to take time.
We remember the meetings
We remember there was lots of talk…
We remember the reoccurring questions that arose and the sometime stormy debates:
Experimental or not
Artist’s or filmmakers cinema
Process orientated or aesthetic
Introduction of digital or not
Funding or not
CNC or not
We remember the temperaments, the feisty intent, the slamming of doors, and the dissension within the ranks towards questions which seemed fundamental to us.
But also we remember the laughter, the wit, the tongue-in-cheek comments, the irony, the meals shared together and the sheer pleasure of being all together…
We remember that out of all this arose one basic essential: to seek autonomy.
The need to create our own economic structure in the face of the monopolies and hegemonies of certain types of cinema (story-boarded and narrative) and to find at the same time a means of breaking away from the dominance of commercial laboratories. A means to continue producing “different” and “alternative” film works, an “off-beat” cinema, and to confront the overall incompetence of official, administrative bodies.
And by doing this, avoid the perpetual problem of so-called “experimental” cinema caught in the double-bind of the non-acceptance by the “plastic” arts (it’s cinema) and of non-conformity in the eyes of cinematography (it stems from the plastic arts). Out of this arose the necessity to establish our own means of production. This pursuit of autonomy relied upon seeking out a place, the energy of individuals, and furthermore on setting up a collective workshop.
We remember setting up a network of common initiatives
We remember the L’ébouillanté and the network of labs
The creation of L’Abo was almost immediately accompanied by the creation of a broader networking tool called L’ébouillanté, a newsletter that circulated from one lab to another and included handy tips and bits of knowledge, ads and advice, with each lab taking a turn in producing it.
Parallel to L’Abominable’s development a whole group of labs set themselves up in France and elsewhere (Elu par cette crapule in Le Havre, Burtscratch in Strasbourg and so on.)
Then more and more sprung up throughout Europe in Torino, Zurich, Marseille, Zagreb, Athens, London and Berlin, adding themselves to already existing ones, in Rotterdam, and of course, MTK in Grenoble.
Meeting up of labs
We remember we needed to gain visibility for these initiatives.
We remember the need for labs to meet up
The first time in Geneva, the second in Grenoble (Pellicula y basta!), then at the Nova cinema in Brussels in 2005
We remember the projections
We remember also the large number of performances and installations.
And then… We remember the Manifesto.
In the upsurge of the history of these labs, in 2002 a manifesto came to light.
We remember its aim was to oblige the CNC to uphold its statutory responsibility, and to demand the recognition of a cinema neither coming from scripted fiction nor from documentary in the strictest sense of the term.
We remember its aim was to defend this outsider cinema, this underclass of film with its hybrid formats, unrestrained and conceptual form, its (sometimes) unsteady technical quality and with its staggering poverty, but which, however, continues on through history because of its striking modernity and its ability to rejuvenate and update itself.
We remember that in a certain way, the Manifesto would mark the end of this initial period at the lab.
And then we remember that there would be les dix ans du L’Abo.
We remember a year of monthly projections at Ciné 104 in Pantin.
We remember a weekend of installations and performances at Anis Gras, in Arcueil.
Finally… We remember that the lab’s story is also one of comings and goings, of encounters, and of regular arrivals and departures between its founding members: Anne Marie Cornu and Miquel Mont, Nicolas Rey, Yves Pélissier, Pip Chodorov, Anne Fave et Emmanuel Carquille, Jeff Guess, Denis Chevalier, Laure Sainte-Rose, Nathalie Harran, some of whom would set off for new horizons, principally into the digital arts and editing, into the electronica sphere in general, or into contemporary arts, web art…
We remember the arrival of others in successive waves, full of a new enthusiasm and adding new chapters to its story: Dražen Zanchi, Frédérique Devaux, Christophe Goulard, Gérard Clarté puis Martine Rousset, Dominik Lange, Stefano Canapa, Emmanuel Lefrant, Colas Ricard, Enrico Mandirola, Yoana Urruzola…
We remember that it’s a story to be followed…
Translation: Wayn Malm