Home Video Hovel: Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui, by Dayne Linford
El Anatsui, pushing 70, with the Buddha-esque expression of the constant observer, makes his art from an historical perspective – art that reflects the history of Africa, with the precision of a man who has lived through much history himself. His historical perspective dovetails easily into his thematic through line, a preoccupation with change, reflected in the very fabric of his art. Though he worked with wood and clay materials for most of his life, and still works with them now, his current series of artworks, massive installations made from bottle caps and other industrial refuse collected from around where he lives and teaches in Nigeria, represents a literal recycling of Africa’s recent history into vibrant and incredible art.
Fold Crumple Crush, Susan Vogel’s 53 minute documentary about Anatsui, focuses mostly on this series, following the artist through the process of making his art to his recent exhibitions in Venice, New York, Paris, and other cities. Vogel carefully guides us through the entire process, starting from where Anatsui first had his idea, to the distillery where he buys his bottle caps, to the studio where dozens of workers carefully assemble the material into plates by his incredibly precise specifications. Then, the art is laid out, spread over a large central space in his studio, Anatsui calling out to his workers, naming colors and pointing where they should go, carefully assembling it at the moment, working at it over a period of months until it feels right. The art itself reflects Anatsui’s precision, skill, and experience, but also his desire for spontaneity, changing the work even after he arrives at Venice or New York. He is fully involved, carefully arranging each piece, then carefully building folds and shadows as the art is hung. Anatsui’s series is continually in process, purposefully created to be dynamic, always open to change, never finished, and yet reflective of the artist himself; undeniably his work.
Vogel makes her film simply, content to let Anatsui, his workers and friends, speak for themselves. Working backwards from the current series, she looks into Anatsui’s origins, his birth and childhood in Ghana and his time at university, exploring his life and perspective through his art, at turns avant-garde and traditional, often a mix of the two. Though hardly flashy, Fold Crumple Crush knows what it is and gets the job done quickly – less a documentary with a “story” than a piece about a fascinating and incredible artist, and the process behind his work. At 53 minutes, it ends perfectly, giving the audience impetus to look into Anatsui for themselves and not pushing for a theatrical length, something the film isn’t built to sustain. It’s carefully paced, and, though hardly ground breaking in and of itself, will suffice quite well as an examination of a contemporary artist and his work. Well worth looking into for the personal perspective on Anatsui and the background behind his art.
Icarus Films’ DVD release contains eight short films as special features, each being a small, 2-5 minute examination of specific elements of Anatsui’s art and life, ranging from his current materials, to looking on other art of his not covered in the film — sculpture and pottery, etc. These are nearly as interesting as the film itself and serve as excellent bonus content.