Private Vision. Notes on Jonas Mekas and Other Things Concerning our Particular Condition

In Lithuania, I am known as a poet, and they don’t care about my cinema. In Europe they don’t know my poetry; in Europe, I am a filmmaker. But here, in the United States, I am only a maverick!

– Jonas Mekas


On occasion of the March 2019 residency program at Cripta747 in Turin, I gathered a group of art writers, curators and artists for the screening of a film by Jonas Mekas (1922-2019). We transformed the gathering into a collective meeting to discuss art and contemporaneity, starting from a great model of the past. The following text is a record of the e-mail conversation we had afterwards. Participants in the meeting were: artists in residence João Drumond, Pete Fleming, and Emmy Skensved; Annalisa Pellino, Matteo Mottin, and Sergey Kantsedal, who attended as guests; Elisa Troiano, Alexandro Tripodi, Marianna Orlotti – the Cripta747 crew – and me (Vincenzo Estremo).


e-mail no. 1

Dear all,

I hope this email finds you well.

I am here to remind you to send me just a few impressions about our meeting at Cripta747 last March. Our meeting represented, more or less, an informal and illegal showcasing of the video work by Jonas Mekas. I decided to start with Mekas to reinforce his idea of distributing, among artists and people in New York, independent moving images and videos, and artist films. This idea aims to unveil the identities, ideologies, and imageries that are set in motion by video culture today. Our conversation was private but we hope it will have a future, that it’ll develop into real public programs. I thank you all to have made its number zero a reality, that started by exploring the material, spatial and political dimensions of the space of the screening. Please send me some thoughts and short texts about Mekas, more specifically about the idea beyond the Anthology Film Archive that we improperly reenacted, and more in general about our meeting. Hugs to everyone and it doesn’t matter how much you want to write, I will edit all the texts together.

Vincenzo Estremo


Jonas Mekas, Travel Songs (still), 1967-1981, Cripta747, Torino

Jonas Mekas, Travel Songs (still), 1967-1981.


e-mail no. 2

I was invited by Cripta747 to join a group to watch Travel Songs (1967-1981) by Jonas Mekas and to discuss ideas around the Anthology Film Archive.

Seemingly constructed from short clips that could be taken from “dailies” or “rushes”, the movement of the camera is unsteady, sometimes out-of-focus, and the film often double-exposed or sped up. A similar technique is used by the documentarian Adam Curtis in editing together archive and raw TV-news camera footage. Curtis, however, introduces a dissociative element through an incongruous soundtrack, rather than with film speed and dark room effects. Both editing techniques relate to a unitary vision of the auteur, either through a diaristic-phenomenological, or didactic, documentary practice.

In Travel Songs, Mekas seems to be exploring a personal nostalgia, an ontology of memory. The “songs” that constitute each new section and location in the film express an experience that is captured but not necessarily remembered. Time is compressed and the exactitude of the relationships between events is lost.

So how did it feel to watch these now historical images of Europe in 2019?

In the discussion that followed, conversation immediately related the films to current video-based social media platforms such as Instagram stories, Snapchat, etc. As image literacy increases, and we become individual experts of directing, editing, and promoting our subjective vision, how does a constellation of digital auteurs tolerate just another series of blurry, “uninspiring fragments of someone’s holiday” (to quote one review on Has the collective expertise we exercise when deciding whether to double-tap or watch a new “story” made us less tolerant of “content” that doesn’t immediately gratify our gaze? Or has the proliferation of decentralized pocket videographers and the hegemony of corporate network time-space meant that just like in Travel Songs and i deliberately repeat myself here; time is compressed and the exactitude of the relationships between events is lost? Are we experiencing nostalgia-in-the-moment within a corporate environment designed to make life imitate advertising? A kind of Deja-vu described by Paolo Virno. Is it this dissociation that is proving so problematic?

Pete Fleming


e-mail no. 3

I used what could be my diary form, but also the filmic form of Jonas Mekas, as well as the encounter we had at Cripta747; so it’s a whole patchwork of different things that I may have done, heard, read during a day, strictly incomplete and syncopated (italics are Mekas’s phrases or song titles).

wide awake

inside looking out

single framing in real time

film the sunrise from the moving train

(un-)MEDIATED perception

weak technology for strong thinking

randomly on-off

a walk

traces of visible PRESENCE in the sleeping city

unfinished sympathy

rabbit shit at the end of the underground

lost lost lost

subway NOISE

RAW conversation

crossing central park

loads of leaves

obsolete and desirable things

paratactic disorder of a fragmented lifestyle

PERSONAL is political

in short

you make me feel mighty REEL

playing the drama of the everyday life

enveloping visual field

all about truth: photogènie

can there be happiness in the CAMOUFLAGE of a mighty real?

exercises over time

sketches notes

rewriting the RULES

where did I live and why?

boredom energy of melancholic details

photograph the dust falling on the city

time-MACHINE remnants


deserves a quiet night

every streetlight reveals the picture in REVERSE

analogic practice in digital age

dreaming light movement

the allusive eye

keep on filmin’

in order of priority

syncopated OFFBEAT, weird splinter, voice over

the never ending narrative

EMBEDDED gestures, embodied (un)learning

anytime, anywhere

dance dance dance

Annalisa Pellino


e-mail no. 4

I spent my time in Turin thinking about presence and what it means to be in a particular place at a specific moment in time. As such, the Jonas Mekas film that we watched together, with its diaristic, travelogue-like quality, resonated with me somehow.

I remember the discussion that ensued afterwards gravitated towards ruminations on the documentation of everyday life and how similar Mekas’s tactics are to the way we use smartphones today. Parallels were drawn between the quality of the images he made and certain Instagram filters.

One scene in particular has remained in my mind since we watched the film – a shot of the Mole Antonelliana, a landmark of Turin. Grainy and dreamlike, this image bears similarities to the mental picture of the city that I took away with me upon leaving.

What does it mean to inhabit a place, what remains when one leaves, and what does one take away when they depart?

Emmy Skensved



Jonas Mekas, a devotee of the film diary format, places his home movies into pensive anthologies lasting anywhere from a few minutes to nearly six hours. Using the words of P. Adams Sitney, I want to stress out how much Mekas allowed us to reflect upon the present usage of memories: “Here again an epistemological aporia is central to Mekas’s theology of memory, where without knowing it, we retain fragments of paradise… This means that, unpredictably, real events can be changed with the resonance of those Edenic feelings of elation, in which we step out of time (‘ecstasy’), or compress time” (Sitney, P. Adams. “Mekas’s Retrospection.” In Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008, p. 378). It is in fact Jonas Mekas, with his connection to the aesthetics of exhilaration and his innovative vision of memory, who we employed to read our personal and working condition, a condition in which private and public visions tend to converge.

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by Vincenzo Estremo
in The Moving Image

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory