Pylon Icon: Paul Clipson

When filmmaker Paul Clipson died suddenly in February of 2018, the art-media world almost invariably led with the notion that he had once been referred to as the “poet of cinema.” No one seemed to remember or care who called him that, they were all just content with the apt description. The other things that everyone mentioned were Clipson’s dense and layered aesthetic, his uncanny and uncompromising in-camera edit suite, a knack for repetition without redundancy, and his embrace of in-the-moment, unscripted, spontaneous composition and performance. And his many musical collaborations. 

Let’s start with modern composer Sarah Davachi. In an interview, Clipson said that for projects like Feeler (stills featured here), he mined his own footage as if it were found film—looking for moments of resonance and connection.

“I found in Sarah’s music a focus on textures that suggested thoughts or memories, and this encouraged images and sequences in my work that reflected these qualities to suggest themselves. A poetic collage slowly grew together of rhyming images and environments shifting in time and space, like a stone skipping across water. None of the footage directly related or was shot with her music in mind, so there's a resistance between the sound and image.” —Clipson on Davachi  

In 2013, the musician Liz Harris, who goes by the name Grouper, asked Clipson to collaborate with her on a commission from the U.K. that required a lens on the American landscape. The pair had previously performed together, but this project was different; it required 75 minutes of film where most of Clipson’s work topped off at 20. What they made together, Hypnosis Display, is a fittingly psychedelic tour rendered in black and white and color that manages to completely avoid any and all American road trip cliches.

“She has these plates of sound that she’s made, they flow together. And I have these sections of film; when the two go together, it’s kind of this shaking earthquake.” —Clilpson on Grouper

And then long-form became a new norm. In 2017, San Francisco’s Exploratorium commissioned a live film performance piece from Clipson and sound artist Zachary James Watkins. Black Field, the 70-minute, site-specific piece asked everyone present to shift into a mindset where sight, vision, sound, and hearing are not passive, but active, energized, and eternally alive.

“Clipson’s work demonstrates that the function of the avant-garde to necessitate the furtherance of radical perception has not ceased, that it is still required, that continues to propel onwards, and that it is we, as audience members, who must struggle to keep pace.” —Dan Browne writing about Clipson on the occasion of the Black Field premiere.