Jack Chambers, Circle, 1968–69
16mm black and white and colour film, sound, 28 min.
Art Gallery of Ontario, TorontoWatch Video
A profoundly meditative film, Circle explores many of Chambers’s central themes: the life cycle, the effects of light, domesticity, and transcendence through everyday experience. For this film Chambers, fiercely single-minded about his art, knocked a hole through the back wall of his home on Lombard Avenue in London and mounted a movie camera. Each day for a year, he would turn it on for a few seconds, recording “blindly” whatever the lens saw. The result is a mesmerizing sequence of diurnal change, seasonal shifts, and the ephemera of family life. As its title suggests, Circle is complete and perfect in its form.
The middle section of the film is a 24-minute chronicle of Chambers’s backyard and of time’s progress. So hypnotic is this sequence that we can easily forget that the artist framed it with footage of himself filming inside the home at the beginning, and with found newsreel clips of London at different times and in no obvious order at the end. Yet Chambers always embeds probing questions: Who made the film? Was it the artist, the camera, or the anonymous hands and eyes behind the found footage? He never lets us forget that we are watching something material, a film with all its illusory effects, and not looking through a window at life itself.