Gene Youngblood

"lf you look back in history you'll find that the artist and the scientist are inseparable. In many ways the artist's
work is identical with scientific exploration. The artist is able to focus more in the area of consciousness, but
with the same scientific zeal. Yet cosmic consciousness is not limited to the scientist. In fact scientists are
sometimes the last to know." Jordan Belson

"Certain phenomena manage to touch a realm of our consciousness so seldom reached that when it is awak-
ened we are shocked and profoundly moved. It's an experience of self-realization as much as an encounter with
the external world. The cosmic films of Jordan Belson possess this rare and enigmatic power. Basic to this enig-
ma is the disconcerting fact that Belson's work seems to reside equally in the physical and metaphysical. Any
discussion of his cinema becomes immediately subjective and symbolic, as we shall soon see. Yet the undeni-
able fact of their concrete nature cannot be stressed too frequently. Piet Mondrian: "In plastic art, reality can
be expressed only through the equilibrium of dynamic movement of form and color. Pure means afford the moat
effective way of attaining this."14

The essence of cinema is precisely "dynamic movement of form and color," and their relation to sound. In this
respect Belson is the purest of all filmmakers. With few exceptions his work Is not "abstract." Like the films of
Len Lye, Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger, and the Whitneys, it is concrete. Although a wide variety of meaning
Inevitably is abstracted from them, and although they do hold quite specific implications for Belson personal-
ly, the films remain concrete, objective experiences of kinaesthetic and optical dynamism. They are at once the
ultimate use of visual imagery to communicate abstract concepts, and the purest of experiential confronta-
tions between subject and object. In their amorphous, gaseous, cloudlike imagery it is color, not line, which de-
fines the forms that ebb and flow across the frame with uncanny impact, It is this stunning emotional force that
lifts the films far beyond any realm of "purity" into the most evocative and metaphysical dimensions of sight
and sound. The films are literally superempirical— that is, actual experiences of a transcendental nature. They
create for the viewer a state of nonordinary reality similar, in concept at least, to those experiences described
by the anthropologist Carlos Castaneda in his experiments with organic hallucinogens.15 E. H. Gombrich:"The
experience of color stimulates deeper levels of the mind. This is demonstrated by experiments with mescaline,
under the Influence of which the precise outlines of objects become uncertain and ready to intermingle freely
with little regard to formal appearances. On the other hand color becomes greatly enhanced, tends to detach
itself from the solid objects and assumes an independent existence of its own."

Belson's work might be described as kinetic painting were it not for the incredible fact that the images exist in
front of his camera, often in real time, and thus are not animations. Live photography of actual material is ac-
complished on a special optical bench in Belson's studio in San Francisco's North Beach, It is essentially a ply-
wood frame around an old X-ray stand with rotating tables, variable speed motors, and variable intensity lights.
In comparison to Trumbull's slitscan machine or the Whitneys' mechanical analogue computer it's an amazingly
simple device.

Belson does not divulge his methods, not out of some jealous concern for trade secrets— the techniques are
known to many specialists in optics— but more as a magician maintaining the illusion of his magic. He has de-
stroyed hundreds of feet of otherwise good film because he felt the technique was too evident. It is Belson's ul-
trasensitive interpretation of this technology that creates the art. The same can be said for the sounds as well
as the images. Belson synthesizes his own sound, mostly electronic, on home equipment. His images are so
overwhelming that often the sound, itself a creation of chilling beauty, is neglected in critical appraisals. The
sound often Is so integral to the imagery that, as Belson says: "You don't know if you're seeing it or hearing it.«
He regards the films not as exterior entities, but literally as extensions of his own consciousness. "I first have
to see the images somewhere," he says, "within or without or somewhere. I mean I don't make them up. My
whole aesthetic rests on discovering what's there and trying to discover what it all means In terms of relating
to my own experience In the world of objective reality I can't just dismiss these films as audio-visual exercis-
es. They obviously mean something, and in a sense everything I've learned in life has been through my efforts
to find out what these things mean,"

He has been a serious student of Buddhism for many years and has committed himself to a rigorous Yoga dis-
cipline. He began experimenting with peyote and other hallucinogens more than fifteen years ago. Recently his
interests have developed equally in the directions of inner space (Mahayana Buddhism) and outer space (in-
terstellar and galactic astrophysics). Thus by bringing together Eastern theology, Western science, and con-
sciousness-expanding drug experiences, Belson predates the front ranks of avant-garde art today in which the
three elements converge. Like the ancient alchemists he Is a true visionary, but one whose visions are mani-
fested In concrete reality, however nonordinary it might be. Teilhard de Chardin has employed the term ultra-
homlnlzation to indicate the probable future stage of evolution in which man will have so far transcended him-
self that he will require some new appellation.

Taking Chardin's vision as a point of departure, Louis Pauwels has surmised: "No doubt there are already
among us the products of this mutation, or at least men who have already taken some steps along the road
which we shall all be traveling one day."16 It requires only a shift in perspective to realize that Belson is taking
those steps.
Quotations: 14 Mondrian. op. cit., p. 10. - 15 Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan - AYaqui Way of
Knowledge (University of California Press, 1968. L.A.,Cal.). -16 Pauwels, Bergier, op. cit., p, 59
Exerpt from the article "The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson" by Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, 1970,
online version http;//

Filmmaker and artist Jordan Belson creates abstract films richly woven with cosmological imagery, exploring
consciousness, transcendence, and the nature of light itself. Born in Chicago in 1926, Belson studied painting ot
the California School of Fine Art (now Son Francisco Art Institute), and received his B.A.. Fine Arts (1946) from The
University of California, Berkeley. He saw films by Oskar Fischinger, Norman McLaren and Hans Richter
at the
historic Art in Cinema screening series in San Francisco in the late 1940s, and later, films by John and James
Whitney. Belson was inspired to make films with scroll paintings and traditional animation techniques, calling his
first films "cinematic paintings."

Curator Hilla Rebay at The Museum of Non-Objective Painting exhibited his paintings, and upon Fischinger's rec-
ommendation awarded Belson several grants. From 1957-1959, Belson was Visual Director for The Vortex Con-
certs at Son Francisco's Morrison Planetarium, a series of electronic music concerts accompanied by visual pro-
jections. Composer Henry Jacobs enroled the music while Belson created visual illusions with multiple projec-
tion devices, combining planetarium effects with patterns and abstract film footage. His Vortex work inspired his
abandoning traditional animation methods to work with projected light. He completed Allures (1961), Re-entry
(1964), Phenomena (1965), Somadhi (1967), and continued with a series of abstract films. His varied influences
include yoga, Eastern philosophies and mysticism, astronomy, Romantic classical music, alchemy, Jung.non-ob-
jective art, mandalas and many more.

Belson has produced on extraordinary body of over 30 abstract films, sometimes called "cosmic cinema," also
considered to be Visual Music. He produced ethereal special effects for the film The Right Stuff (1983), and con-
tinues making fine art and films today, completing Epilogue in 2005.
JORDAN BELSON - Biography by Cindy Keefer. 2008
© Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2008-09.
Published in The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1999. Alexandra Monroe, Ed. New York:
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2009. (Exhibition catalog)

Jordan Belson is one of the greatest artists of visual music. Belson creates lush vibrant experiences of exqui-
site color and dynamic abstract phenomena evoking sacred celestial experiences. (William Moritz)
Filmmaker and artist Jordan Belson creates abstract films richly woven with cosmological imagery, exploring
consciousness, transcendence, and the nature of light itself. (Keefer)