Ben Russell

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Ben Russell (b.1976, USA) is an artist, filmmaker and curator whose work lies at the intersection of psychedelia and ethnography. His films and installations are in direct conversation with the history of the documentary image, providing a time-based inquiry into trance phenomena and evoking the research of Jean Rouch, Maya Deren and Michael Snow, among others.

Russell was an exhibiting artist at Documenta 14 (2017) and his work has been presented at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art Chicago, the Venice Film Festi-val and the Berlinale, among others. He is a recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fipresci International Critics Prize (IFFR 2009, Gijon 2017), and premiered his second and third feature films at the Locarno International Film Festival (2013, 2017). Curatorial projects include Magic Lantern (Providence, USA, 2005-2007), Ben Russell (Chicago, USA, 2009-2011), and Hallucinations (Athens, Greece, 2017). He is currently completing a multi-form non-fiction project based on one man’s search for an invis-ible mountain.

Ben Russell—filmmaker, artist, curator—chal-lenges conventions of documentary represen-tation from within to produce intense, hypnotic, and, at times, hallucinating experiences. His curatorial work follows his filmmaking, which unfolds between experimental cinema and a form of speculative ethnography; he calls it “psychedelic ethnography.”

Watching a film by Russell means going on a nonnarrative, ritualized journey, one that short-circuits the visceral subjective charge of psychedelia with ethnographic protocols of visualization and objectification. The particular power of his filmic work lies in underscoring the affinities and differences to be found between these two different states. An experience that he forges, on the one hand, through examining the cinematic apparatus itself and its potential for immersion and mimetic identification, and, on the other, by the very subjects and subject matter of his films, which often traverse the limi-nal and engage in altered states of conscious-ness and in secular practices of ritual and trance. “Transformative experiences,” Russell says, “go hand in hand with critical awareness of cinematic devices and their historically coded limitations.”

Born in 1976 in Massachusetts, Russell now lives in Marseille. He became known through his series Trypps (2005–10), in which he first worked with the physical experience of noise music. Nevertheless he quickly moved on “to include the various poles of action painting, avant-garde cinema, portraiture, stand-up comedy, global capitalism, and trance dance à la Jean Rouch,” as he notes. Several feature-length films, installations, live performances, and short films have followed. And, as the founder of the Magic Lantern screening series (among many others), Russell has conceived of and organized over one hundred thematic film and video programs. For Documenta 14, he presented a multi-channel installation that examined the social and global scale of the politics of mineral extraction. Simply titled Good Luck, it was a comparative film study about the communities of workers in an illegal, small-scale gold mine in Suriname and in a state-owned copper mine in Serbia. In addition, he organized a four-day film and performance festival in Athens, titled Hallucination(s), invitng independent filmmakers, musicians, visual artists, and film researchers to collectively unravel cinema’s hallucinatory potential.

His most recent work was filmed over the course of a two-month overland journey from Northern Finland to Greece as led by a Finn-ish wanderer in search of an impossible summit floating in the sea. Presented in Mexico City and Paris and variously known as La Montaña Invisible, La montagne invisible and The Invisible Mountain, this new body of material has taken the form of a monumental sound installation (made in collaboration with sound artist Nico-las Becker), a 6-channel video installation and a feature-length hybrid documentary film. In this ambitious collection of moving image texts, Russell declares that cinema, in all of its mani-festations, can serve as both the means and the end for transcendent experience.

adapted from a text written by Hila Peleg for Documenta 14

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