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One Mile of Film Yields an Infinity of Patterns

Celluloid crosses the bridge known as the Flyover

I spent the afternoon of Thursday, September 13th 2012 on the High Line as part of the volunteer staff for Jennifer West’s unusual film/performance project, One Mile Parkour Film. For this project West, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, taped a mile of celluloid to the surface of the High Line and encouraged visitors to engage with it by writing messages, dragging their stilettos over it, dousing it with water, whatever they were in the mood for. I watched a man flick the ash of his cigar onto it.

I didn’t have time to catch the parkour part of the day’s events, but you can read more about it here if you’re interested. What intrigued me about this project is the many and varied patterns the film strip created as it passed over the different surfaces of the High Line. Verticals clashed with horizontals (above), repetitive shapes sat alongside random ones (below).


As it lay flat on the walkway, the endless line of little sprockets in the film stood out against the random, disorganized specks of black stone in the cement. People wrote messages on the celluloid, introducing new elements. In some places the film snapped in two and coiled up along the walkway: accidental patterns. The different materials — celluloid film, steel rails, cement walkway — and the changing light kept this strange, temporary, installation interesting all day.

Busted film: plastic on steel surrounded by concrete

But there was one truly cool effect that I’m guessing was totally unexpected. I noticed it by chance when I glanced out my window as the sun was beginning to set. The film strip was glowing. Little dots of light were suddenly dancing off the surface of the park. I grabbed my camera and tripod, thinking it would pass quickly, once the sun had gone, but the effect lasted all night. The LED lights below the High Line’s railings provided enough illumination and at just the right angle to make Jennifer West’s filmstrip look like a magical third rail running up the middle of the pathway. In the morning it was gone.

Film strip at dusk, catches the light from the park railings

The glowing strip of celluloid

I’m not sure what all of this will add up to, but West will answer next month when she returns to the High Line to show “a digital format video” made from the mile-long piece of film that was altered by the visitors of September 13th.  (Details are here.) It’s all a bit meta for me, but, the events surely made for an unusual day on the High Line.

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