Credit: NYFF
by Paul Attard Film

Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 | Ute Aurand

October 12, 2020

Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 is perhaps the most categorically detailed title that film diarist Ute Aurand has ever given one of her works, enumerating the location, season, and calendar date of this past excursion with an upfront alacrity — which is rather ironic, since these particulates only provide the most nominal contextual information, much like a scrapbook of assorted photos and their accompanying captions being shown to unaware travelers. The protracted title also features the most accurate descriptor for the type of intimate cinema Aurand has been crafting since the early ‘80s: allowing exclusive “glimpses” into her previous personal travels, an effort to vivify the seeming minutiae that these fleeting memories recall. Her editing style — which could be characterized as equally tactile and disorienting, a frenzy of emotionally visceral fragments stitched together and assembled with a strict focus on temperamental connotation over rigid denotation — is akin to her fellow memorialist Jonas Mekas, so it’s something of a surprise that the state-side praise bestowed upon the Lithuanian artist has never quite extended to the equally talented German. One could point to the obvious gender divide between the two, where one is deemed as poetic while the other can be written off as fastidious (just guess who is who in this situation). But a more accurate read on the situation (and one that operates in better faith) is that Mekas had the luxury of many entry points to institutional film culture — his essential “Movie Journal” column for The Village Voice and co-founding of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative has certainly helped with this canonization — while Aurand has enjoyed mostly minor success in niche international art circles. Mekas frequently updated his Vimeo page so that viewers could immerse themselves in his rich filmography; Aurand is far more reticent, operating with a Bolex and a projector only, with just a few digitizations appearing on private tracker sites. 

Suffice to say, Aurand hasn’t been attempting the same sort of iconography as her predecessor — and that’s OK, considering her approach to her craft is a bit more laconic in terms of establishing clear intent. Likewise, Glimpses, at first glance, might appear like a reserved, even minor work from Aurand: it clocks in at a brisk four minutes, cutting between the extreme close-ups of multicolored floral hues, nearby livestock, a portside dock, and a richly detailed hardcover book, all before turning the camera on friend and mentor Margaret Tait — the hostess for the titular visit. There’s an ostensible absence of aimed profundity within this series of rapidly cut shots, at least on a broadly universal level; however, this indifference towards self-aware significance-making within a given art form is an ethos almost purposely designed to irritate those who would be willing to write off such works as “lazy,” much in the same way late-period Benning’s static-shot features have been mocked by his detractors. What’s immensely condescending about this logic is the given assumption that one can base merit solely off of a perceived amount of “work” that went into a given product, or the idea that minimalism is a route taken only by the languorous; a capitalist-driven mindset that perceives art as needing a quantifiable purpose. Aurand, and others like her, are merely artists who believe and trust their own sensibilities, to the point where one could criticize and mistake such brazen confidence as becoming too comfortable. Again, these are professionals who have been steadily working for decades now, refining and mastering their craft through the most minimal means. And after all, Aurand was at least benevolent enough to state upfront we were only gonna get a few glimpses into this appointment; anything more would not have been accurate.

Published as part of NYFF 2020 — Dispatch 6.