'A labor of love': Student-curated Sunday Salons showcase experimental film

<p>Every Sunday in the Carr building, MFA students curate "salons" where they screen experimental film.</p>

Every Sunday in the Carr building, MFA students curate "salons" where they screen experimental film.

When asked what Sunday Salons mean to her, MFA student and film curator Lexi Bass said, “For me, there’s an element of church in it. There’s a way to engage in spirituality with a group people, in the dark. [We’re] able to reflect on things that don’t necessarily lend themselves to words. Instead, we experience them together with moving image and light and sound and an immersive, quiet, dark, reflective environment.” 

Bass is a second-year graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts program — often abbreviated simply as MFA — and one of three student curators of Sunday Salons. The Sunday Salon program is a free film exhibition that began three years ago as a student initiative to bring more experimental and documentary films to campus. Each Sunday, Bass and her curator counterparts, Summer Dunsmore and Laurids Sonne, host a public screening of experimental films they find moving or noteworthy. 

David Gatten, a world-renowned experimental filmmaker and former lecturing fellow and artist-in-residence in the Arts of the Moving Image program, inspired then-MFA students Anna Kipervaser and Libi Striegl to begin the salon tradition. 

According to Bass, “[Gatten] hosted an experimental film class, and the students just couldn’t get enough. They wanted another occasion to continue that togetherness in the dark, to host and look at new things. They worked very hard to get more 16mm films [to screen].”

Past Sunday Salon curators have also included Alex Cunningham and Jason Oppliger, both of whom teach courses in Arts of the Moving Image and Documentary Studies. 

While the idea of the salon and its tradition remain unchanged, the screenings themselves are more a reflection of each curators’ unique interests. Dunsmore’s first curation, entitled “Fugue Cinema,” focused on experimental representations of fugue and dissociative states and included Peter Tscherkassky’s “Outer Space.” Sonne, a Denmark native, curated “The Danes are coming!: The dumb, the smart and the wise,” a collection of Danish films that investigate American culture. Bass’s interest in the works of French filmmaker Patrick Bokanowski have inspired her upcoming curation where she plans to show his 1982 film “L’Ange.”

If these curations sound time-intensive, it’s because they are. Bass, Dunsmore and Sonne have to track down and rent each of the films they want to show. When, inevitably, certain films are unavailable, they must improvise or revise their theme. What’s more, each Salon is entirely a “labor of love.” 

“It’s not an internship, there’s no money attached to it. We all just do it because it’s cool, because we want people to come, because we’ve got these great ideas,” Bass said.

This semester, the Sunday Salon has its own website — a website that, in addition to their curating duties, Bass and her peers update with information about future salons. Even though the website,, has “MFA” in the title, Bass promises that undergraduates are not only welcome but encouraged to attend. 

“We really want to get the undergrads there,” she said. “We’d love to have a bigger audience coming out and chatting together about films. Get our experimental film community to grow here at Duke and in Durham.”

This past week’s Salon joined forces with Stacy Asher’s new exhibit in Smith Warehouse Bay 11. Asher, associate professor of art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, launched her installation “Meat/Meet/Mete” last Friday with the help of Bass and a few others. 

Asher’s installation is, according to her own written synopsis, “a reflection on consumption, examining links between art, visual communications, identity, and social engagement, while posing questions about well being, the environment, and society.” 

The installation is interactive, encouraging participants to create their own meat art using meat images painstakingly clipped from grocery advertisements by Asher herself over the course of four years. A workshop was held before the Salon as a way for participants to reflect on their own meat consumption habits. The content developed in the workshop — meat landscape postcards and meat wallpaper —  is now a part of Asher’s exhibit. 

The salon after the workshop, titled “Propaganda Design: Curated Commercial Ephemera,” featured more of Asher’s work.

The next Sunday Salon will be held, as usual, Sunday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. in Carr 103. Its theme: “Enter the 16 chambers, 16mm curatorial roulette.”


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