Films That Go Pop

December 4, 2015
Index Magazine

Films That Go Pop

Thom Andersen, Melting, 1965. Image courtesy of the Film-makers’ Cooperative.

Lindsey Lodhie, a graduate student in film and visual studies in Harvard’s Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, and a former graduate fellow with the Harvard Art Museums, helped develop this fall’s Films That Go Pop series, which complements our special exhibition Corita Kent and the Language of Pop. In advance of the series’ last installment, on Sunday, December 6, Television Assassination—Politics and Protest, Lodhie shared some thoughts about the films and their relation to Kent’s art.

What was the impetus for creating the Films That Go Pop series?

Cinema, alongside other mass media, had a strong role in Kent’s work, despite the fact that she’s identified as someone who worked in screenprint. Kent was so influenced by film that she often described it as the most important contemporary art form of its day, even suggesting that, “If Christ were alive today, he’d take people to the movies instead of telling them parables.”

Developing the film series, which I did in collaboration with exhibition curator Susan Dackerman and Jessica Martinez, head of the Division of Academic and Public Programs, wasn’t simply about adding another element to the exhibition; it was about trying to be faithful to the role of cinema in Kent’s work as an artist and teacher.

How did you select the films in the series?

Pop cinema doesn’t really exist as a genre, although there are many artists and filmmakers who worked with pop style and subject matter. I wanted to focus on artist films, rather than Hollywood narrative cinema, and to include films that were working with a similar rigor and criticality contemporary to Kent’s art practice of the 1960s. For this reason I included several West Coast artists and filmmakers. West Coast artists, and particularly those based in Los Angeles, have a unique relationship to cinema and place. I think you can see these same aspects in Kent’s work.

In some cases, there’s a very direct relationship between a film and a work in the exhibition. For instance, Ed Ruscha’s Crackers (1969), a photo novella featured in the exhibition, was made into a film called Premium (1971), which we screened in the second Films That Go Pop program. Others are avant-garde films that engage similar strategies as Kent and her contemporaries employed, including appropriation, collage, typography, and common subject matter such as food or politics in the 1960s.

I invite those who come to the screenings to think about the films as a real dialogue piece with the exhibition. After visiting the exhibition once and then seeing these films, viewers can return to the galleries and maybe have a new or different vocabulary with which to think through the exhibition as a whole.

Would Corita Kent have seen some of these films herself?

She could have; we don’t know for sure. She certainly was familiar with Andy Warhol’s films—one of which will be featured in the forthcoming program on December 6. However, part of the curatorial intervention of this exhibition and film series is to bring together works and media that aren’t necessarily or normally grouped together. Placing Kent’s work in “the language of pop” allows viewers to see how her work relates to the broader field of pop art. The film series attempts a similar gesture, but expands that field to cinema. In fact, the title of the program, Films That Go Pop, was meant to indicate that these are films that might not be included in the pop idiom, yet move toward it or share in its aesthetic. The exhibition and film series propose a dialogue, and viewers can decide what those connections between works might be.

How did this project relate to your academic work?

Because I have a particular interest in film, art, and installation work of the 1960s, this has been a great project for me. I was intrigued by the fact that Kent was so influenced by film. My dissertation is about media and conceptual art of the 1960s, so it isn’t very far from what I have been working on. Thinking through curation and the ways in which different media come together was also something I found really exciting, and I look forward to doing more of it.