Sarah Pucill’s publicly funded films have been shown in galleries and won awards at Festivals internationally. The majority of her films take place within the confinements of domestic space, where the grounded reality of the house itself becomes a portal to a complex and multi layered psychical realm. In her explorations of the animate and inanimate, her work probes a journey between mirror and surface, in which questions of representation are negotiated. At the heart of much of the work is a concern with the image as a still, whether literally or symbolically. Relationships between self and other turn into a concern of relationships between women, mostly mother or lover.
Pucill’s second feature length film Confessions To The Mirror (16mm, col, 68min, 2016) premiered at the London Film Festival in October 2016 and in 2017 at Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Creteil Womens Film Festival, Close Up Cinema and National Protrait Gallery, London. Confessions To The Mirror is a sequel to Magic Mirror (16mm, b/w, 75min 2013). Both films re-imagine photographs by Claude Cahun alongside voices from her writing. Where Magic Mirror is composed of extracts from Cahun’s major text Aveux non avenus (1930) and visually focusses on the self portrait photographs made in Paris during 20s and 30s, Confessions To The Mirror compiles extracts from Cahun’s posthumously published and to date un-translated text, Confidences au miroir (1945-52) and focuses on Cahun’s lesser known still life images and outdoor self-portraits in Jersey. The biographic and fragmented text narrates Cahun and Suzanne’s anti-Nazi propaganda activities in Jersey and their consequent imprisonment during the occupation of the island. Cahun’s artwork made in peacetime is set alongside the propaganda artwork the couple made and distributed to Nazi officers on the island. Cahun’s revealing of her domestic space at the edges of her photographs is echoed in the revealing of the domestic space where the filming took place, projecting film footage onto interior walls of Cahun and Suzanne’s home and garden in Jersey.
Her first feature length film Magic Mirror (75min, b/w, 2013), which premiered at Tate Modern extends Pucills concern with the animation of a still image as well as her focus on relationships between women by paying homage to Claude Cahun. Magic Mirror re-stages and animates many of Cahun’s photographs on 16mm black and white film, bringing movement and a chorus of voices to Cahuns writing from Aveux Non Avenus (Confessions Denied 1930). The film was screened at ICA, London Art Fair, Birkbeck Cinema, and toured internationally with LUX. A LUX DVD was published Autumn 2014. The film was staged as an exhibition, “Magic Mirror: Claude Cahun and Sarah Pucill” at the Nunnery Gallery May and June 2015 alongside photographs by Claude Cahun and from the film.
The re-imagining of the photographs into film enables a holding still of time, so the ‘still’ is enabled to come alive within the encapsulated time-space of the cinema. The moment whilst the photograph is ‘taken’ is recalled as a live moment, accompanied with a voice that narrates this very moment; Cahun describes Suzannes’ gaze and the click of a shutter. The shadow of Suzannes’s head hovers at the side of frame of Cahun’s self portrait, re-living a past moment, the past ‘now’ before the moment the photograph is taken. The re-lived photographs intersect moments in Jersey in 30s and 40s with now, an exalted image of a past-present that is between times, between media and between authorship, where the gap between interpretation and creation is uncertain. The transition from silence to sound, from print to voices speaking Cahun’s words, to ‘stitch’ an authorship or authorship together from photograph to text is one that bridges time, summoning that of the uncanny, where image and voice from the past come alive and dance together.
Phantom Rhapsody (2010) premiered at Sainsburies Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich in a programme curated by Ben Cook (LUX), was screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival, at Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts Superieure in Paris, the Millennium, New York. It was part of the DVD compilation published by LUX in 2011 and which launched at BFI Southbank and in the same year was screened as part of Maya Deren’s 50th anniversary, in a retrospective of my films. More recently in 2013, it was selected for ‘Assembly: A Survey of Recent Artists: Film and Video in Britain 2008-13 at Tate Britain. Distinctive in its stark use of black and white, the film draws connections between canonical painting, early cinema and theatrical side-show ‘magic’ acts. The film examines the appearance and disappearance of the phantom as it relates to the present/absent dynamic of visible lesbian sexuality in the canons of both cinema and art history.
Fall In Frame (2009), toured leading venues in the US and Canada in 2009 (including Film Anthology Archives, AIR Gallery, New York and Pleasure Dome, Toronto and LA Filmforum, Los Angeles), was screened at Montreal Festival of New Cinema and at retrospective screenings in London including the Freud Museum and at N.O.WHERE. The film explores the materiality of the filmmaking process as part of a young woman’s constrained performance that blurs a distinction between the physical and consciousness.
Blind Light (2007), which was screened at Tate Modern in 2010 in a programme curated by Maxa Zoller, brings the filmmaking process as performance and image into the fold of a fragmented spoken narrative. Like Phantom Rhapsody and Fall in Frame, it was funded by the Arts Council of England and like many earlier works was also awarded funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council. It premiered at Millennium Film, NY and was shown at the European Media Arts Festival Osnabruck, the Louise T Blouin Foundation in London, and Aurora Media Arts Festival in 2008 and at VideoForms Festival, France 2009.
Taking My Skin (2006) was recipient of the Marion McMahon Award at the Images Festival in Toronto 2007 and together with Stages of Mourning (2004) received Directors Citation from the Black Maria Film Festival. Continuing Pucill’s experiments with the collapsing of space in front of and behind the camera, the film tracks a dialogue between the artist and her mother while each alternately instruct, position and direct. Exhibition stagings have included: ‘Mother Cuts: Experiments in Film, Video & Photography’ at New Jersey University Gallery in 2008 together with work by Mona Hatoum and Mary Kelly. In the same year in ‘MultiChannel’, Artsway Gallery curated by Peter Bonnell and in 2007 in ‘Intervention’ at Fieldgate Gallery, London curated by Richard Ducker. Later screenings include Xcentric Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona in 2011.
Pucill’s individual visual language emerged in the 1990s in the context of visual arts and experimental film and has been shown internationally in galleries and cinemas. You Be Mother, Pucill’s award winning film (Best Innovation, Atlanta, 1995; Best Experimental Film, Oberhausen, 1991) was exhibited in Moving Portrait at De La Warr Paviliion in 2011 and was exhibited in ‘A Century of Film and Video Artists’ (2004) at Tate Britain where her work has also enjoyed retrospective screening and in ‘A History of Artists Film and Video’ (2007) at BFI Southbank.
Her films have been screened at major international film festivals including: London Film Festival, Oberhausen Short Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Osnabruck Media Arts Festival, Berlin International Film Festival and Montreal Festival of New Cinema. Television broadcasts include: BSB TV Australia (Mirrored Measure, 1996; bought by BSB), Carlton Television (Backcomb, 95; funded by Carlton), Granada TV (You Be Mother, 1990).
Sarah Pucill lives and works in London, has a doctorate and is Reader at University of Westminster. Her work is archived and distributed through LUX, London and LightCone, Paris.