Working with Words: Historical Documents, Systems of Knowledge, and Text-as-Moving Image Art in the Films of David Gatten

Date: Thursday, 7 April 2011
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Rare Book Room
Contact Information: Kirston Johnson, 919-681-7963 or kirston.johnson(at)

Still from Still from "Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST"
Still from “Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST”

Next Thursday, award-winning filmmaker and Guggenheim Fellow David Gatten returns to the RBMSCL to present three of his films. Gatten will introduce each film and discuss his use of historical documents, “out-dated” instructional texts and rare books as both inspiration and image in his filmmaking practice.

Over the last fifteen years, David Gatten’s films have explored the intersection of the printed word and the moving image, while investigating the shifting vocabularies of experience and representation within intimate spaces and historical documents. His films trace the contours of both private lives and public histories, combining elements of philosophy, biography and poetry with experiments in cinematic forms and narrative structures.

“Secret History of the Dividing Line” (2002) is one of the nine parts in Gatten’s ongoing investigation of the life and library of William Byrd. Torn fragments of Byrd’s official history of the 1728 dividing line expedition commingle with the privately circulated ‘secret history’ of the surveying party.

“The Matter Propounded, of its possibility or impossibility, treated in four Parts” (2011) makes use of an early 19th century system for telling one’s future. Divided into four sections—Instructions, Questions, Answers and Conclusions—the film invites viewers to draw their own conclusions about the questions we ask of the world and the answers we find for ourselves.

“Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST” (2010) is the latest in Gatten’s austerely beautiful “Invisible Ink” series.  Incorporating writings by Sir Francis Bacon, lists from Western Union telegraphic codes, and phrases from wedding vows in The Book of Common Prayer, the film also includes images made using pine pollen and tiny flowering plants in extreme, swirling macro-close-ups. This moving and very personal film actually served as Gatten’s wedding vows at his July 2010 marriage.

Gatten is a Visiting Associate Professor and Distinguished Filmmaker in Residence in the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image at Duke University. His films premiere annually in the New York Film Festival and have been included twice in the Whitney Biennial. His work resides in the permanent collections of the British Film Institute, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in numerous university and private collections. Since 1997, his films have won more than twenty awards at festivals around the world. In 2005, Gatten was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue his film series investigating the library of William Byrd.

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