Karn Junkinsmith’s Otherwise

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was only a few weeks ago, at the birthday party of a friend, that Karn Junkinsmith and I finally met one another. Maybe I wasn’t ready before now. It’s the precise combination of thinking about working in film again, finally getting a grasp on contemporary dance (!), and not taking things so seriously, that I’m convinced led me right to Karn. When asked to write about her evening of films at the NW Film Forum, it was another sign. The gods (and Ryan Davis) want me to see her work.

Not surprisingly, I showed up at the Film Forum on Thursday night and recognized most of the audience. It was an excellent ratio of film people, dance people, and dance film people. Karn’s paramour was playing the piano and the 16mm projector started clicking away and then I dropped into the rabbit hole. Karn’s films span genre and medium, but I am partial, I admit, to the black and white 16mm films she showed. In these there was a magical confluence of jerky jump cuts (real cuts on film, mind you, not virtual ones!), excellent spazzy choreography, and the jangly twinkly live piano music filling the space.

In almost every case, I’m a sucker for synchronized ensemble dancing, and in Karn’s choreography, the movements the phrases disintegrate into chaos and then return again, just off enough to be satisfying without being smug. Yes, it’s conceptual. Yes, it’s dancey dance. But damn, it’s also really hilarious! I’ve sat through enough tedious art films to feel entitled to a little entertainment with my culture. In fact, I made a mental to tell Karn about my friend Tom, whose criteria for going to see something are that 1. it’s under 30 min, 2. there is nudity, and 3. it’s funny. It’s like she made these films for him.

In the Q&A after the screenings, Karn admitted that she hoped to graduate to color 35 soon. While I love the intensity of 35mm as much as the next girl, I wanted to stand up in my seat, and shout, “Karn! Don’t graduate! Don’t give up the 16!” There’s a presence in her girls in chunky shoes, dancing through the monochrome streets, that evokes the Seattle landscape (and the local history of dance here) in a way that crystalizes all that’s lovely and disturbing and ridiculous about being an artist in this place.

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