The Art of Mugging: A Collection of 16mm Portraits

Date of Submission

Spring 2011

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts


Peggy Ahwesh

Abstract/Artist's Statement

I love old things. I constantly find myself drawn to stories and artifacts from a time way before my own. I can’t explain why—I’m just an old soul.

Of all the old things I collect, my collection of 16mm film prints are by far the most precious to me. I have been collecting them since the age of fifteen. From newsreels to cartoons; to features, travelogues, and home movies—I have a varied, self-facilitated archive of over fifty films dating from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. My Senior Project, The Art of Mugging, started with this archive.

I had no qualms about using the footage from my collection. A lot of it was in extremely poor condition when I received it—among the worst affected were the home movies. The footage I used for The Art of Mugging was riddled with torn sprocket holes and faulty splices; and was slowly warping due to Vinegar Syndrome—a virus that attacks the chemical compounds in film stock. I wanted to do something with the footage before it became completely unwatchable. I was saddened by the prospect of losing them.

Home movies are extremely fun to watch. Even though I had no idea who made these movies or who appeared in them, I got hours of enjoyment watching the unnamed figures mug for the camera. I was the most attracted to these funny, loving, and sometimes awkward moments. Something so wonderful and weird happens in home movies. The amateur-filmmaker films what they find interesting. The result often comes out like a moving portrait.

Isolating these precious, portrait-like shots within the home movies in my collection, I set out to create something simple and beautiful. Inspired by the duration and style of the earliest moving pictures—which like home movies, were often experimental and documentary in their subject matter—I created sixteen, 16mm portraits.

The movies that comprise The Art of Mugging, are not only movies—they are paintings, collages, artifacts, and oddities. Film is beautiful to me because of its physicality. I left in imperfections, like scratches, lint, and dirt which age the film nicely. Manipulating each scene, frame-by-frame, by slathering a cocktail of fast-drying top coat, ink, bleach, toluene, and finger print grease, each film becomes twenty-four paintings per second. All of these alterations made the film strip itself even more physical and wonderful to touch. Each movie was optically printed and digitally edited, allowing me even more ways to add my love to films that were originally made with so much love.

Each movie in The Art of Mugging was designed to work as a standalone piece within a larger collection. I wanted to start a project that I could keep adding to. I also liked the idea of having a collection of little movies that viewers could watch (and re-watch) in a variety of different orders. Most of all, I wanted to make pieces that were delightful for the sake of being delightful. But, delightful and fun as they may be, they also bring up other deeper feelings and thoughts on love, sentimentality, relationships, domesticity, and even death.

The films contained within The Art of Mugging are little oddities that exist within a particular moment in time where they will forever remain to bring comfort and a smile for those who watch them.

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