A portrait of a queer artist
Mary Jordan, of Albanian extraction and born in Canada, has lived all over the world and worked mostly in the field of film. Her work is mainly about human rights, and her first long film was an award-winning documentary about ‘Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis’ (2006). In it she portrayed an influential and versatile New Yorker, the underground and eccentric drop-out Jack Smith (1932-89), whose life and work had dropped into oblivion. This film brought them back into the limelight and kindled renewed discussion.
Mary Jordan works mainly as a director and scriptwriter. Her documentaries are about human rights and are broadcast by stations like the BBC, ABC and PBS. Themes include female circumcision in Africa, refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border, child-work and prostitution in South-East Asia, Asian rebel leaders, and indigenous music in Tonga.
International attention was caught by her first long documentary ‘Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis’ (2006), which she worked on as the director, scriptwriter and co-producer. This film is about the legendary New Yorker Jack Smith (1932-89), an artist unusually bohemian.
About how she was prompted to make the film she says: ´Irving showed me a photo of Jack and I was just blown away. I managed to track down a pirated copy of (Smith’s infamous 1963 film) Flaming Creatures on VHS. It was interesting and confusing and beautiful and breathtaking. I was shocked that it wasn’t available to more people, because it was obviously such an important, influential work which was just buried in obscurity. I knew this was a subject that demanded to be told.´ And about the nature of her documentary she adds: ´It’s not your normal documentary. It’s more of an artwork, a collage, an excavation into an exotic fantasy world of Jack Smith. John Waters once said that Jack did it all first, and that’s what I want to show in this film.´ (cited from: 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2005, Filmmaker Magazine)
‘Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis’ is made out of motley materials, like archived documents of his life and extracts from his films and radio broadcasts as well as talks with underground colleagues like Ira Cohen, Tony Conrad, Gary Indiana, Taylor Mead, Jonas Mekas, Mario Montez, John Zorn and John Waters, and present-day artists and critics. According to the film blurb, Jack Smith ‘may be one of America’s most influential artists of the late fifties’, whose visionary queer and trash aesthetics link him to Andy Warhol, Frederico Fellini and Matthew Barney and may have served to inspire Laurie Anderson, David Lynch, Cindy Sherman und Robert Wilson. He is admired as a ‘godfather of performance art, as a path-blazing photographer and a William Blake of film-making’, and in the documentary he is portrayed as the ‘ultimate anti-hero and king of the underground.’
(cited from: www.jacksmithandthedestructionofatlantis.com/film.swf)
Jack Smith, who left Ohio in the 50s to come to New York and soon made a name for himself in the art scene on Lower East Side was a provocateur and shaman, a loner and experimenter, a man who admired the films of Hoseph von Sternberg but was also drawn to Maria Montez, B horror-movies and Busby Berkeley musicals. His erotic anarchic film ‘Flaming Creatures’ (1963) caused uproar and was banned in several US states. He never completed another film. Owing to his artistic and political unwillingness to compromise, Jack Smith drifted onto the fringe and died in poverty of AIDS.
Mary Jordan’s homage to him is to be shown in the ‘Counter Cinema’ section of the House of World culture’s film program, a section dedicated to the ‘active protest against the mainstream Hollywood narrative tradition.’ Her documentary shows the life of an ‘icon of independent US experimental film-making … in the brashly coloured flower-power style’ and ‘reopens a chapter of US morals and mores.’
Author: Michael Nungesser
Mary Jordan was born in 1970 as the daughter of Albanian immigrants in Halifax in Nova Scotia in Canada. She now lives mostly in New York. She grew up in Toronto and the New York Bronx and soon got to know art through her maternal grandfather who, among other things, was a master builder and sculptor. At the age of 16 she began studying art and architecture at various universities then got a master’s degree in cultural anthropology at the London School of Economics. She was especially interested in rites of passage and in matriarchal and polygamous societies, like in Papua, New Guinea. At the age of 18, after a trip through North Africa, she made her first documentary film, a work about female circumcision. At the age of 20 she was the producer of well known Canadian directors like Steve Chase and Marco Brambilla. She also worked for US film companies in various capacities, dealing with all things from requisites to production. In Sydney in Australia she founded the production firm Indigo Blue for music videos and commercials and was a talent scout.
Mary Jordan is a curator and hostess of the Burmese Tea Ceremony, a performance which she gives annually wherever she happens to be living at the time, be it in Asia, Australia or San Francisco. The performance takes place in private. In the Kaliflower commune in San Francisco in 1999 she got to know the writer Irving Rosenthal, who had founded this commune and published many beat-authors. He spoke about the late artist, bohemian and friend of his, Jack Smith, who had died of AIDS. This inspired her to make the critically acclaimed and award-winning documentary ‘Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis’ (2006). In 2005 she had already been acclaimed by the magazine ‘Filmmaker’ as one of the 25 ‘new faces of independent film-making’. That same in the Old Chelsea Y.M.C.A. in New York she held an exhibition about Jack Smith, including films, photographs and radio-broadcasts of his as well as interviews with his buddies. In New York she also organized performances with the women’s group Parthenogenesis.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Exhibition, Film Programme, Music, Conferences
(23 August 07 - 04 November 07)