The Oberlin Review

Iris Captures Intimacy, Subjectivity with Ultra-Short Films

Matthew Sprung, Staff Writer

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Minimentals, Denise Iris’s collection of more than 60 ultra-short films, provided an experience that was simultaneously ephemeral, erratic, and highly resonant. Screened in classroom 1 of Oberlin’s 1937 art building addition last Thursday, the films, which ranged from 30 seconds to just over a minute, explored the internal and external components of an individual’s perception of reality. Rendered in a highly subjective manner, the complex materials presented allowed for infinite possibilities of perception.

In broaching this dilemma of subjectivity, Iris incorporated footage that could prompt aesthetic appreciation, the recalling of childhood memories, or even fears of mortality. In one clip, she held the translucent wings of a dragonfly up to camera’s lens, illuminating the fantastical properties that could be contained in such a mundane subject.

Some of the films were shot in Iris’s home, while others were shot outside in city settings or in nature. Many had a distinctly home-video feel due to the slightly shaky first-person cinematography. In a few clips, an alien-sounding voice narrates trippy images of trees, close-ups of eyes — both animal and human — and the sky.

Footage of waves is reflected in the clouds, overlapping and slowed down to produce the desired contemplative and otherworldly effect. The films were unified by the artist’s underlying intention to convey the importance of considering the world around us as a source of constant inspiration and even anxiety, depending on one’s perspective.

During the Thursday evening screening, Iris directed the audience to move from the back of the room to the front because she “needed their energy” to help her decide which film to show. At the suggestion from an audience member, the artist directed the next volunteer to respond to the preceding video in order to start a “dialogue between the films and [their] reactions to them.”

Romania, Iris’s home country, was a recurring theme throughout the films, and was represented in sweet and funny moments she shared with her vivacious grandmother. In one of these candid moments, Iris secretly filmed her grandmother as the elderly matron spoke about her late husband’s mistress, and admitted to defecating over his grave in retaliation. When Iris presses her about the act, her grandmother responds by saying, “He deserved it.” This candid moment provides the audience with a deeply private, yet familiar moment of intimacy.

This shift into Iris’ personal world emphasized the intimate quality of seemingly esoteric, philosophical films that depicted nature. The thoughts presented in video and narration stem from a genuinely curious mind that observes the physical world around her in light of her own perceptions. In discussing her film, “Urorganismus” she explains that it came from the notion that “all species originated from one species, this one organism.” When asked what she thought of her audience’s relationship to her work, Iris responded that the films were generally “made for an audience of one, specifically made for online or to be seen on a phone.”

The strange videos, with their low-fi effects mixed with personal connections, are an offshoot of the artist’s calculated openness. In speaking about her technique, Iris spoke of her affinity for spontaneous creativity in order to tie the world together through myriad moments caught on film, enabling her subconscious to manifest itself directly in the sounds and images she presents. The resulting films are held together by their reach into the artist’s past and into the unknown future, and invite the audience to react by engaging their immediate senses in viewing them.

Iris finished the screening by showing a small diagram she had written on the board which read, “observation equals imagination,” In commenting about the words, she said, “this is my main process. It starts with this tension. It is a process of focusing that gets my imagination going, a cycle, that feeds each other.”

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