Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Film Studies Program
Eco & Ego, by Kelcy Rolak


Published February 18, 2017

grosse fatigue 1.jpgThe Broad Underground Film Series, a collaboration between the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum and the Film Studies department at Michigan State University, aims to provide avant-garde films to the Lansing and East Lansing areas. Curated by a selected individual each event, the films are centered around a theme and shown at different cultural locations.

On January 20th, the series offered its first screening of the new year at The Robin Theater in Lansing’s Old Town. Curated by MSU art department professor Dr. Lily Woodruff under the theme of “Ego and Eco,” the films included Jean Painleve’s The Octopus (1927), Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), and Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue (2013). Each of the three films weaved intricately between the ideas of ego and eco, offering takes that vastly differed, yet intimately connected in the conceived relation between the two, the self and the environment.

In a pre-screening talk, Woodruff introduced the audience to the three films, delving into the fascinating and expansive backstories of each film and filmmaker. She spoke passionately about each, providing just enough information to give a somewhat necessary background into the abstract films, while also leaving the audience’s interest peaked for what they were about to absorb through the screen. The films, while initially seeming to gravitate in one direction or another, towards a bias for either ego or eco, actually explore the unequivocal relationship between the two. They are essentially three examples, albeit very different, of how the ego and eco function and cooperate to endure and promote life; with highlights on the eco, the ego, and even the interweaving of art as well.

painleve 2.jpgThe first film in the lineup, The Octopus, is a 13-minute short film of octopi, honing in on their state of being and their most intimate functions. With a core seemingly based in eco, the film surprisingly hits the ego aspect as well, as the movements and functions of the octopus are observed and pointed out through subtitles as being very human.

smithson 1.jpgNext, from a slightly more ‘documentary’ direction, perhaps, is Spiral Jetty, the longest film of the night at 32 minutes. Following in fascinating fashion the creation process of Smithson’s art piece of the same name, located in Utah, at Great Salt Lake, the film was shot from helicopter, encompassing both the obvious ecological aspects of the piece, but also humanistic and grand ego aspects as well.

grosse fatigue 2.jpgThe final film of the night, Grosse Fatigue, is a 13-minute, modernly abstract video that utilizes modern technology by presenting the film through a computer interface, switching between open computer windows to frame the clips. While the abstract clips play, spoken word poetry is read over rhythmic music. Grosse Fatigue offers the most ego-based film of the bunch, while also providing a new take on the ‘eco’ aspect as well.

“Ego,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality especially by functioning both in the perception of and adaption to reality.”  In relation, “eco,” defined by Merriam-Webster, is “habitat or environment; ecological or environmental.” When comparing and analyzing the films against these terms, the concepts and meanings that emerge are clashing, yet also powerful and stunning.

A direct correlation, or even sameness, emerges when regarding the interpretations of both ego and eco that these films each have. The Octopus presents a living, breathing creature that we can liken to our human selves, functioning and being in its ecological, underwater habitat. Spiral Jetty focuses perhaps more on eco, largely due to its placement. But, nevertheless, ego is also present, in the fact that this large art piece was created by Smithson himself, and also in the grand scale of the piece. Finally, the ego perhaps takes the lead in Grosse Fatigue, while at the same time adopting a new take on the ‘eco’ aspect via the computer interface used. Through the art of film, each of these “egos” relates and resonates with its environment, with its “eco,” in a unique and perfect way. Each essentially leads to the conclusion that the ego and eco are mutually intertwined; both depend on the other to thrive.

From this, a new viewpoint on life and living, or perhaps even simply functioning, is gained by the clashing of these three films. Undeniably, the Broad Underground Film Series started off the new year with an abstract bang.

—Kelcy Rolak, rolakkel@msu.edu