The oft-overlooked world of underground cinema will be in the spotlight during upcoming weeks at Texas State and in Austin.
Experimental cinema artist Peggy Ahwesh will lecture March 21, followed by a student-hosted screening in the Texas State Galleries. She will also critique the work of selected art majors.
“Experimental film is really uninhibited. There are really no restrictions or limitations, and you can basically do whatever you want,” said Jonathon Hampton, English junior. “I find it really interesting to see what people do with ultimate freedom.”
Hampton is an art minor, and came across Ahwesh’s work on a blog. He hopes people attend the lecture to learn more about her work.
“I just find her perspective on things really interesting,” Hampton said. “I enjoy the way she manipulates film, and how she handles creating a story.”
Jennifer Stob, art history assistant professor, has been a long-time admirer of Ahwesh. Stob is a programmer for Experimental Response Cinema Austin, and heard of the filmmaker’s upcoming visit through a colleague.
Ahwesh will be hosting a screening in collaboration with Experimental Response Cinema and the Austin Film Society. She will be speaking at UT Austin, and Stob seized the opportunity for her to visit Texas State, as well.
Stob said it is very typical of filmmakers to take opportunities to travel with their work—a tradition created by ciné-clubs and co-ops.
Ahwesh became prominent in the experimental cinema circuit during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Stob said Ahwesh has influenced a younger generation of filmmakers, and recently had a renaissance.
“She has helped shape the risk-taking of a whole generation of really exciting experimental filmmakers and media artists who are, now themselves, getting a lot of attention,” Stob said.
Stob said structural filmmakers in New York City, whose work can often be very serious and rigid, have generally dominated the history of experimental cinema. She liked Ahwesh’s work because it celebrated things like failure, imperfection and humor.
In her classes, Stob has seen a large interest in learning more about moving images as a way to make art, express ideas and showcase emotions.
Stob said her role is to give anyone the opportunity to access these avant-garde films. She wants everyone to feel invited.
“They’re going to be transformed by encountering somebody that’s doing very unusual and difficult, yet interesting and complex work,” Stob said.
Stob said the experimental cinema culture is still relatively young in Texas, but those who love the medium are not concerned with popularity or obscurity. Someone’s work could be unpopular now, but strongly received 15 years later in a different place.
Despite its obscurity, underground cinema has a significant presence in the Austin area. Bailey Dieckman, criminal justice senior and San Marcos Cinema Club member, said she’s familiar with Ahwesh’s work.
“We’re trying to focus on community outreach—something for anyone to enjoy,” Dieckman said. “Film is an interesting way of letting people connect through different experiences.”
Dieckman said Ahwesh’s visit will help foster a sense of community and open up a discussion about what film is.
“Experimental film is an art form that puts us in a social situation and asks us to respond very intimately,” Stob said. “There’s tension. Moving images are ideal for trying to express a thought and also investigate what thought is at the same time.”