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Free spirit Experimental artist views her audience as liberating force

It's impossible to put Caroline Koebel's work into a box or to apply one label to it, but a Buffalo audience will get a look at some of the more interesting film and video aspects of her output at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center on Thursday.

Koebel is an assistant professor in the media study department at the University at Buffalo, and she has exhibited nationally and internationally.

"She's had retrospective screenings elsewhere and had a similar screening in New York City at the Roberta Beck Memorial Cinema, but I know people locally are less familiar with her film practice," said Carolyn Tennant, the media arts director for Hallwalls. "So I felt it was important to show the breadth of her work. A lot of people are familiar with her as a performance artist, a conceptual artist, a writer."

"Shots & Cuts: Films by Caroline Koebel" will include the premiere of her video "Berlin Warszawa Express," plus six other short films.

The premiere piece is a combination of performance art and digital video, shot with a filmmaker's sensibility day after day at the station where the Berlin-Warsaw train leaves.

As with most experimental filmmakers, Koebel avoids straight narrative structures. Her later works are more about image and edits -- the basis of much experimental work. But, she says, that doesn't mean ignoring the audience.

"When I think of the idea of audience, it's very necessary for that idea to be a liberating concept rather than a limiting one," Koebel said. "Instead of one that censors me and says, 'I can't do it this way, I better do it that way because it would be safer or more appealing to a wider audience.' That's a potentially crippling way of living one's life.

"I'm hoping I will provide an experience that will be captivating enough for people that they'll feel some desire or some excitement about having a different experience," she said.

The films range from "Stephanie Stairs," a 1986 8-millimeter short on Koebel's "best-friendship" of the time to "hole or space," a mini-DV piece from last year that reimagines archival footage (films from 1894 to 1940) into a conceptual piece.

Gender has been a frequent subject for Koebel. For example, her "Puss! The Booted Cat," which will be screened Thursday, is an erotic retelling of the classic fairy tale, with the heroine as both woman and cat.

But Koebel, who has taught at UB since 1999, has also been becoming more politically active. She coordinated a nine-week series of forums on torture at the university last fall, with Amy Goodman of the "Democracy Now" radio show as one of the speakers.

It wasn't a huge jump, Koebel said.

"In the '90s, theorists and writers and artists were exploring and exploding questions of the body and self and representation, and that always had a political edge, even if the individual wasn't tackling politics directly," she said.

"But I'm changing, I'm older, and lately I've been having these interludes to engage in these political activities because there's such an urgency in these times. . . . I've just felt like there's an urgency, a call, to have no business as usual."

One string that has run through her work, Koebel said, has been the do-it-yourself approach to art.

"I thankfully can't get away from the DIY ethos I became familiar with as a teenager in the '80s out of the punk and hard-core music movement and everything that represented," she said. "You don't need to be an expert, you don't need to have unlimited resources. You just have to have the will and the desire, and you need to be maybe a little clever."



WHAT: "Shots and Cuts: Films by Caroline Koebel"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Hallwalls Cinema at the Church, 341 Delaware Ave.

TICKETS: $7 general, $5 students and seniors, $4 members


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