Interviewed by Mark Toscano
Oral History Recorded: June 12, 2010
Morgan Fisher, is an American filmmaker, artist, writer and teacher. He was born in 1942 in Washington, DC. He is well known for his unique avant-garde films which consistently push the definition of film itself. His academic pursuits make him standout amongst his peers. Morgan Fisher is one of the most influential artists in America who has had a clear and definitive influence amongst today's young artists. He is a professor at the European Graduate School and worked for many years at UCLA and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
Jim Supanick has wrote the following on Morgan Fisher's work:
"Viewed as a whole, Fisher's films are like a service entrance hidden behind the Hollywood sign, leading into corridors that take us past the film labs, sound stages, and utility closets of a vast movie empire. Viewed separately, they are sly and nuanced conundrums that introduce us to the unseen servants of an elaborate image-making process. Together, the films converse with and refer to one another in an intertextual cacophony worthy of Borges."
Morgan Fisher attended Harvard from 1960 - 1964, where he majored in art history. After graduation Fisher worked at Harvard as a research assistant in their early computer mapping work. Fisher then made the move to the west coast where his interest in film began to really develop. He attended the University of Southern California from 1964 - 1965. Fisher completed his academic career with film school at UCLA from 1965 - 1966. Morgan Fisher's academic pursuits is unique compared with his peers who as part of the fledgling avant-garde movement of the 1960's either avoided or despised the academy. It appears Fisher's turn towards the arts was more out of a learned disrespect for the boundaries of the theoretical straight-jacket of the academy. Around this time as Fisher was teaching and taking odd jobs in Hollywood the seeds of Morgan Fisher the director were at work. His work brought him in some interesting directions, such as editing for Roger Corman's New World Pictures and doing stock-footage research for Haskell Wexler's canceled follow-up to Medium Cool.
Morgan Fisher's early films, The Director and His Actor Look at Footage Showing Preparations for an Unmade Film (1968) and Phi Phenomenon (1968), were shown at film festivals at St. Lawrence College and the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. By 1974 Morgan Fisher created eight more films. This intensive period of creativity began the production of his reputation. Following these films Morgan turned towards creating film installations for movies. These films include: Southern Exposure (1977), North Light (1979), Passing Time (1979), Color and Balance (1980). 1984 Morgan Fisher finished production of his longest and most critically acclaimed film Standard Gauge, which was shot in 16mm and was thirty five minutes long. Standard Gauge is an autobiographical film that examines Morgan Fisher's work as an editor in the film industry. The film goes through scraps of rejected material along with commentary on the meaning of all the scrapped images. This film is an account and critique of the processes of meaning within film production through an examination of both materialism and the institution of film itself. The Whitney Museum of American Art hosted a large show in honor of Morgan Fisher's film works in 2005 entitled, Standard Gauge: Film Works by Morgan Fisher.
Morgan Fisher expanded his artistic development during the end of the 90's. He began to expand his work to include painting, drawing and spatial installations. Pendant Pair Paintings, a show at Galerie Daniel Buchholz in 2007, showcased an expansive concept of his paintings. Making use of spatial aesthetics, monochrome square canvases were placed amongst the gallery to provide critical commentary on the architectural space of the exhibition. In another show at Neuer Aachener Kunstverein in 2002, To See Seeing, monochrome gray paintings were shown that in an angular form partially framed the windows of the space. Morgan Fisher's monochrome paintings shown at the China Art Objects Gallery in 2002 showcased his artistic work. The show includes two types of paintings. Five works from a series titled "The Italian Paintings" date from 1999. Two "Self-Portraits," one from 1994 and the other brand new, showcase his growth and development as an artist.
After a 19 year break Morgan Fisher returned to film and created the incredible twenty one minute film ( ) (Parenthesis, 2003). The film received critical acclaim at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the 2004 Whitney Biennial. ( ) is quite different than his previous works. The film is composed using entirely insert shots. William E. Jones writes the following on ( ):
"By obeying a difficult but arbitrary rule, Morgan Fisher has invented a world, neither fictional nor documentary, without recourse to montage, and without a conventional locus of meaning. He approaches the ideal of a film void. It expresses nothing."
Source: Excerpt from The European Graduate School website (http://www.egs.edu/faculty/morgan-fisher/biography/)