There is no easy way of isolating a single, impactful moment in the recent history of art. In fact, the majority of what comes to mind as exceptional predates my ever having been born. Perhaps this is a kind of nostalgia prompted by the current climate of inequity and despair. My artist heroes and heroines promise me that things will get better; I trust the wisdom that accompanies their years of experience. On occasions such as these, I often think about Morgan Fisher’s Phi Phenomenon (1968), a fleeting film that, in the most straightforward of ways, offers up a lifetime’s worth of thinking about the incommensurate relationship between filmic time and time as it is lived and experienced. Fisher’s film shows the face of an ordinary analogue clock as it relays the passing of 11 minutes – the duration afforded by a standard 400-feet reel of 16mm film stock exposed at 24 frames per second. I had only read or heard about Phi Phenomenon until 2009, when I attended a screening that was organized around the films of Fisher and his long-time friend and filmic confidant Thom Andersen. I was so taken that I did something I almost never do: I wrote Fisher to say how much I appreciated this work, how it had forced me to wrestle with the imprecise manner in which film offers, only at best, a mere suggestion of time and the very notion of passing time as I watch it pass me by. I probably went on too long. Fisher responded, true to form, that the thought had never entered his mind. While Phi Phenomenon, completed 50 years ago, may seem anachronistic with regard to current trends, I’m comforted in knowing that for those 11 minutes Fisher was there, and that, whenever I dedicate some time to this film, I am there too.
Main Image: Morgan Fisher, Phi Phenomenon, 1968. Courtesy: the artist and Bortolami, New York; photograph: Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York
First published in Issue 200