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NATION, 1992

NOMADS, 1993







(This series also includes nine very short "interstitial" works.)

 Third Known Nest By Bill Horrigan


“... beams that taught engineering, soldiers that taught manliness, and dolls that taught motherhood. When the dolls were so banged up that they stopped looking like real babies and began to look like dolls, the children developed affection for them. “

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Notebooks


As much an invitation to read as to view, Tom Kalin's Third Known Nest« (1999) is an 18-point defense of a life of the heart. Known for his work on risk-courting feature films (director of Swoon - 1992), a producer of Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), a writer of Cindy Sherman's Office Killer (1999), Kalin is one of the relatively rare filmmakers who has consistently paid devotion to the short form, a genre he had mastered as early as 1989 with They are lost to vision altogether, which remains one of the essential video documents of that decade's response to the AIDS crises - an insistently personal commentary, different both from the avowedly educational pieces he produced for AIDSFILMS, as well as the agitational (if invariably elegant) interventions he collaborated on as a founding member of Gran Fury.


Third Known Nest brings together nine shorts Kalin produced between 1991 and 1999; all but the last of the pieces had circulated and screened as self-standing shorts, and for the compilation form here, he's strung them together sequentially and interspersed them with an identical number of literary quotations from a peerlessly queer tradition ranging from Oscar Wilde to Roland Barthes and Derek Jarman, from Virginia Woolf and Jane Bowles to Angela Carter, Alfred Chester, Patricia Highsmith, Truman Capote and James Baldwin. Nothing if not bookish, Kalin had already grounded each of the separate video works internally in words; most of them either begin or end with a short quotation, starting with the first in the series, Finally Destroy Us, a break-up tape reaching past the ceiling of sorrow as Annie Lennox sings Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye and concluding with one of Woolf's casually lethal observations, “These meetings, these partings, finally destroy us.”


Produced under changing personal circumstances and gathered in Third Known Nest in chronological sequence, these music-video-like clips give a diaristic short-hand of the artist's life - a year-at-a-glance of an unfortunate decade, bookended in 1991 and 1999 by extravagant emotional exhilaration. Kalin has spoken of these shorts as, “somewhere between experimental film and pop cultural spin ... {and] as a counterpart to my feature film work, these are pure liberation, a cheap, fast escape into the joys of the camera and montage.” As a totality, it's at once reticent and revealing; the manic virtuosity of the editing precludes any confessional element to emerge, other than the artist's clear investment in issues of gender and sexuality, of illness (as fact as much as metaphor), and loss and rebirth (one of the many points of intersection he shares with Jarman is his embrace of the garden). Stylistically different from the first eight pieces, the concluding clip, Give Me Your Future, finds Kalin explicitly before the camera, lip-synching while drag-facialized to Roxy Music's Mother of Pearl, a release into tears (pain made visual, compacted), a choice in 1999 to transform himself from the observer to the observed, with him then in that process becoming both.


Kalin has spoken of Kurt Schwitters, the cosmomaniacal visionary of the Merzbau, as an artistic inspiration for his work's graceful balance of high beauty and the low, common flotsam that clutters the world. In Third Known Nest, the high beauty comes from Kalin's recording eye, and the common flotsam he surveys within the world he's found. In just under 40 minutes, it articulates with piercing precision some points in the progress of a man of feeling, living through and finally relieved to be departing from what had been, for too many to name, a truly terrible decade.


Bill Horrigan


“We each have only one single life which is our real life, starting at the cradle and ending at the grave.  I warn Dorothy every time I see her that if she doesn’t watch out her life is going to be left aching and starving on the side of the road and she’s going to get to her grave without it. The farther a man follows the rainbow, the harder it s for him to get back to the life which he left starving like an old dog.”                                                           -- Jane Bowles, “Plain Pleasures”


Third Known Nest is a collection of nine short works completed approximately one each year from 1991 to 1999.  Interwoven by nine quotations from some of my favorite authors, the eighteen short entries in Third Known Nest function as an intimate visual diary – fractured pictures from my day-to-day life.  I carried a super-8 camera with me whenever and wherever I traveled, and also at home -- just running errands or in the garden.  I shot nearly a hundred fifty-foot reels of film.


Six of the pieces in Third Known Nest were shot on super-8, two on 16mm and one on mini-DV.  With the exception of Nation, I edited them on an off-line ¾” editing system (cuts only) in order to elaborate an intricate, layered collage.  Partially provoked by music video, each entry in the cycle of tapes pairs a literary touchstone with a song.  They’re somewhere between formal experimental film montage and the bombardments of our noisy pop culture.  Though individual works are distinct in tone, the overwhelming impact of the program is emotional, nostalgic.  Above all else, Third Known Nest works as a gallery of portraits in flux – my self and the people I love: some living, some dead.


As a counterpoint to feature films, these short pieces are pure liberation, a cheap, fast escape into the joys of the camera and the edit.  No scripts, no production meetings: heaven.  I’ve long admired the art of Dadaist Kurt Schwitters, the audio recording of his Ursonate and most of all the visionary, life-sized Merzbau collage, which eventually threatened to engulf his home.  Like many others of his time, he remained a nomad after the war.  I hope Third Known Nest shares something with Schwitters’ graceful balancing act of “high art’ against ‘low culture’ – beauty in the gutter, bumping up against the flotsam and jetsam that clutters our world.                                                 

                                                                                                                        Tom Kalin, 2000

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