Wayne Koestenbaum Provided Enigmatic Prompts, Artists Improvised in ‘The Collective’

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Man in woven fedora and glasses holds a hand up to one eye and looks through circle of fingers
Wayne Koestenbaum (Courtesy SFAI; photo by Jan Rattia )

A lively night of film screenings and an artist talk at the San Francisco Art Institute prove that though the specifics of the school’s future are nebulous, it remains a home for artistic experimentation.

On Friday, March 25, the school’s film and painting departments, along with Canyon Cinema, host poet, critic, novelist, artist, filmmaker and performer Wayne Koestenbaum, who presents his recent, hard-to-pin-down film The Collective (2021). Even the film’s official description is a multi-hyphenate: “a DIY documentary-essay-experimental-performance-film shot over one day at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art in Brooklyn, New York.”

The 53-minute film stars actor and writer Kyle Dunn, poet Gia Gonzales and performer Patrick Ljubi Gallagher. Koestenbaum provided the trio with quotation-based prompts that led to five minutes of improvisation each. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Koestenbaum described the daylong process as “like a class, going through the prompts one at a time. ... so we would feel the comforting presence of closure.” Prompt sources included the philosophic duo Deleuze and Guattari and Trog—a 1970 British science fiction horror film starring Joan Crawford.

Koestenbaum is the author of 22 books, most recently the 2020 essay collection Figure It Out, which in part proposes assignments to its readers. One: “Reimagine doing the laundry as having an orgasm, and reinterpret orgasm as not a tiny experience, temporally limited, occurring in a single human body, but as an experience that somehow touches on all of human history.”

At SFAI, the artist will also screen a few of his shorter works (he is a prolific poster of short, poetic and brightly colored Instagram videos), as well as a selection from the Canyon Cinema catalog. (Rumor has it that includes a Curt McDowell work—another media-agnostic artist whose joyful work spanned films, drawings, photo collages, watercolors, posters, film sets and comics.)


The screening and artist talk takes place at 7pm on Friday, March 25, at the San Francisco Art Institute. RSVP here.