Sight and Sound, Oct 2022
Feature article of Warnell’s film retrospective in Pagina 12, national newspaper, Buenos Aires
Just as the film frame is always filled with image, regardless of how few objects might inhabit the space of that image, so too the contents of the aquarium extend to meet its edges, to produce what artist filmmaker Phillip Warnell, in an essay accompanying his film Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies (2009), describes as ‘the sea with corners’.1 Like the aquarium tank, film imposes a geometric form on what is by nature expansive, amorphous and, potentially, infinitely continuous, were it not for the containing limits that package its contents for observation.
Georgina Evans, Screen Journal Vol 62, issue 2, summer 2020
(extract from article on ‘Outlandish’).
I love what’s there: an hour of street repartee, produced via a virtuoso duet between Wollner and Alterman. She walks and trusts her instincts, he likewise makes decisions about whether to follow her or try to catch something interesting elsewhere before syncing back up. The conversations are visually disrupted by the momentary, visually stimulating obstacles posed by turning cars et al., and the results yield Studs Turkel-esque mini-narratives:
On Intimate distances, 2020
Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker Magazine
Phillip Warnell’s essay about Martha Wollner’s performance on the road proposes an initial moment of dramaturgic hesitation: it takes long minutes before she can meet someone. This is the time where boredom and curiosity get mixed up and demand an active position for the spectator. Intimate Distances is (also) a film on the spectator’s perception. The irritation of distance – the bad story – and the humanity of intimacy – the good story – connotate the story of the spectator’s perception. At the core of this story we find the dispositive of a gap (but not a temporal lag) of image and sound – and our perception and our reflection on this dispositive. Distant image and intimate sound are summarized in our perception, where the bodies of Martha and the casted people shape a peculiar “cinema-body”. Here the city becomes part of the inner landscape of the speaking bodies (also thanks to the wonderful soundscape created by Philippe Ciompi), and at the same time their emotions and their stories are scattered on the mobile exteriority of those little bodies on the screen.
However, the unease of our asymmetric position of power as spectators continues to disturb the intriguing experience of this peculiar cinema-body. In this position, we are the only possible makers of this cinema-body. Only from this privileged point of view can such a mixture of (partially) disembodied voices and hyperanimated bodies exist – hyperanimated in the sense of having an increase of “anima” (soul) thanks to the voice superposition. In Intimate Distances we have the interesting experience of this cinema-body, but at the same time we cannot but face the fact that the condition of possibility for this experience is our demiurgic situation of being the makers of this cinema-body. The power asymmetry that has been enhanced by the film-maker reveals us as cinema-makers.
On Intimate Distances, 2020
Exploring Film, Switzerland
This ambivalence between guest and host has been much played upon by French philosophers, especially Michel Serres in The Parasite (1980). The French word hôte means both guest and host. Jean-Luc Nancy treads this terrain in Philip Warnell’s film Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies (2009), from which the exhibition parasitically purloins its title. Nancy speaks of his personal experience of a heart transplant and subsequent cancer diagnosis: the malign tumour he describes as a “hostile guest” (un hôte hostile). From this conceptual starting point, Nancy unpicks the idea of the body as a material possession that houses (hosts) the soul or individual identity. The skin is not a border between inside and outside. The body is not a possession that could be given away. It is me not mine. “The world is strangeness unpreceded by any familiarity.” Apart from filming Nancy performing the role of philosopher from his book-lined study, Warnell has introduced two elements that elaborate on the words of the philosopher: there is footage of a heart transplant operation and, more strangely, an octopus, temporarily taken from the sea and placed inside a fish tank on an apparently unmanned boat on the Mediterranean Sea. As the waves throw the boat, the octopus is repeatedly dashed against the glass. Pain is a recurring presence in Strange Foreign Bodies (in works by Impey and Sarah Browne especially) but here the likely pain of the unconsenting octopus seems largely overlooked. Conceptually, this section of the film multiplies Nancy’s ideas into the realm of the non-human (the networked consciousness of the octopus already functions as a critique of Cartesian dualism); ethically, I’m not so sure. An animal should not serve only as an example of an animal.
Tom Jeffry - Review of 'Strange Foreign Bodies' exhibition, 2019
Nancy’s conception of film is put into play in novel ways by film-maker Phillip Warnell, whose film, Outlandish, made in collaboration with Nancy, follows the routing and de-routing of the senses occasioned by the film’s exposition of the strange, foreign bodies of film-maker, philosopher, and animal who share a passage by boat on the Mediterranean. Here, the ‘Sol’ of Nancy’s silica image as fluid suspension in a raised aquarium constructed on the deck of the boat of ‘that most inside-out of creatures’, an octopus. Warnell’s contribution to this volume, ‘Writing in the place of the animal’, meditates on the place and displacements of the animal body, and the ethics of human-animal co-existence, in relation to Outlandish and Ming of Harlem, a recent film made in collaboration with Nancy and to which Nancy contributed an original poem (re-printed in this chapter). Warnell explores the shared worlds of human, felid and reptilian animals in relation to Ming of Harlem’s mis en scene of the co-habitation in the years around 2003 of human, tiger and alligator in a Harlem fifth floor apartment. Throughout his chapter, Warnell returns to ‘Strange Foreign Bodies’, a text written by Nancy to accompany Outlandish, which highlights the intimate distance between and ‘outsidiness’ of bodies, whether of our ‘own’ bodies as human animals, or of the bodies of other existents whose separation and distinction is exposed as skin, scales, fur or feather, yet which briefly share the space of the world in passage, a passage exposed by the little filmic skins of Warnell’s cinematic images.
Adrienne Janus, Nancy and Visual Culture, 2016
Phillip Warnell’s video Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies (2009), for example, featured a performance by Jean-Luc Nancy, who read from his essay ‘Strange Foreign Bodies’ , written for the film and reflecting on his own heart-transplant, his subsequent treatment for cancer, and philosoph- ical concepts of the foreign. The other main performer was an octopus that pushed against the walls of a glass tank half-filled with water, carried upon the open deck of an otherwise deserted small boat at sea. Interweaving close-ups of Nancy in his office, manipulating a Moebius strip made from paper, with scenes of a living organ being manipulated by surgeons, and shots of the boat at sea, Outlandish offered a haptic, vivid exploration of boundaries. As a more-than-human protagonist, the octopus-organ occupied the physical heart of the gallery space...
Maeve Connolly, Exhibiting The End, Journal of Curatorial Studies, 2017
review of 'Breathcrystal', Project Art Space, Dublin
For those who may have struggled with the abstractions and arcane terminology of deconstructionism and modern French philosophy as students, the Harvard Film Archive program “Two Films by Phillip Warnell” might not add a lot of clarity to the subjects. But it does demonstrate how those abstractions make for strikingly beautiful, poetically meditative documentaries. Warnell collaborates with the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy in “Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies” (2009). Nancy, who had just undergone heart transplant surgery, ponders, sometimes in voice-over and sometimes on screen, the mysteries of externality, the soul, creation from nothingness, and the metaphysical significance of a surgical device accidentally sewn inside a patient, among other abstruse, wry, and disturbing subjects. “Outlandish are the bodies: they are made of the outside, of the extraneities that form the outsider's outsidiness,” Nancy explains. A recurrent image is that of an octopus, sloshing about in a fish tank mounted on a pilotless boat in a choppy harbor. It is a metaphor that many of us can probably relate to.“The Flying Proletarian” (2017), the third collaboration between Warnell and Nancy, follows the languidly detailed and visually pleasing process of harvesting and distilling lavender in France’s picturesque La Drôme region. A voice-over recitation of Nancy’s pensées about the nature of place, the place of nature, and the sense of belonging accompany the images as a black-clad figure, sometimes wearing the broad-brimmed hat and bird-beaked mask donned by medieval doctors during outbreaks of the plague, wanders the countryside.
Peter Keough, Boston Globe, May 2018
"The video works and artistic practices that make up this program involve a conversation between shapes and images of transformation, cinematic scenarios and conceptual interrogations. The project also includes photos by Geert Goiris, a tapestry made by Susanne Kriemann and the performance documentation of him and Phillip Warnell, which can be seen as interchangeable "posters" of the "movie" whose sound spreads through the exhibition. Mauri and Warnell work in different ways on expanded cinema strategies: in the first case, the screen of the film is placed on Pier Paolo Pasolini's chest, who is blinded by the light of his own film, and in the second case directly on the performer's retina. In both situations, the screen no longer functions as a neutral surface, but as connective tissue fragments as mediators for an intimacy other than that of conventional cinema; screens become receptors and epidermis, whose folds, irregularities and areas of obscurity modulate the spectator's experience to the same extent as the film narrative."
Box with the sound of its own making, exhibition review Dec 2017 - Andrei Radulescu
"The mere concept of physical interiority can invoke a scenario of terror. The body itself is an invisible home of other bodies, which explains briefly the medical vocabulary with which certain diseases are always explained and the warlike metaphors used to denote defense mechanisms against bacteria or pathogens. In the case of Nancy, coexistence with a foreign heart leads him to confront perceptions of the body that dismiss the most elemental form of how a border of differentiation between self and others is established, a limit that is usually strengthened by the effects of two categories few reliable as exteriority and interiority. From now on, Nancy's experience has nothing to do with a critique of the gradual and even progress of the dubbing. (By the way: who wants to know more can read the book quoted and see both the superb short film Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies by Phillip Warnell, with Nancy in front of camera running on his other heart, as Claire Denis' most intelligent adaptation of The intruder with a homonymous title, deliberately displaced, although alludes to it, from the personal experience of the philosopher."
Roger Koza Jan, 2017 (on outlandish)
"His film has a delicacy about it, establishing a sense of tranquility through the sequenced observation of particularly poetic forms of process, a kind of labor that seems well established within place but entirely out of time. What elevates the film are the brief interruptions that push proceedings into the fantastical: the farmer methodically chiming a triangle in a cave, or the appearance of a beak-masked plague doctor in the forest - moments that are inexplicable, unannounced and more than a little unsettling. "
Matt Turner, The IDA (on The Flying Proletarian) 2017
"The most dramatic contemporary work in the show is Philip Warnell’s double-screen video installation Ming of Harlem: Twenty-One Stories in the Air (2016). This follows the story of Antoine Yates, who defied all the rules against pets in his high-rise apartment and installed a Bengal tiger called Ming , and a huge green alligator named Al. It was an impossible dream, Yates says, gesturing across the street: “This was the challenge, right there.” They lived together for years. When Yates went to the ER after a mauling in 2003, the police abseiled down the building and entered the apartment through the window, shooting Ming and Al with tranquilizer darts before carting them off to a zoo. In Warnell’s installation, on a huge screen, the tiger paces restlessly, growling at the walls, and the alligator waddles across the carpet, flicking its mighty tail. The beasts seem both brave and forlorn, beautiful and terrible, rightly dwarfing Yate’s comments on his experience and the scenes of daily life on the small screen beside them."
New York Review of Books, Feb 2017 Jenny Uglow
"the hero of the exhibition (Making Nature) is a New Yorker called Antoine Yates. In 2003, Yates had to go to an ER after he was mauled by his pet tiger. It turned out that he had been keeping the tiger, called Ming, for years in a high-rise apartment in a public housing scheme where no pets were allowed. He also had an alligator. A film by Phillip Warnell reconstructs this unusual situation. A tiger prowls round an apartment, sniffing at the furniture, a surreal interloper in a human home.”
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, December 2016
"The sequences are strangely calm with a still quality that actually holds your attention."
on Ming of Harlem, John McArthur, Movie scramble, Nov 2016
"A strange film about a very strange episode in the life of New York City: it’s a filmic B-side to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. In 2003, Antoine Yates was arrested for keeping a full-size tiger named Ming in his apartment in Harlem – and also an alligator named Al. They seemed happy enough, until Ming playfully got Antoine’s leg in his mouth and a call to the emergency services had to be made. Without ever questioning Yates that closely about how he got the animals, or what it was like to live with them, film-maker Philip Warnell interviews him generally about how these animals’ captivity must have felt – and he includes ambient footage of local residents drifting about, his camera regarding them as incuriously as if they too were animals in a cage. His centrepiece is a reconstruction of Yates’s apartment with fixed camera positions, with a real-life tiger in situ, to represent the deeply strange and surrealist spectacle of Ming the tiger pacing about the rooms, making a melancholy groaning sound. Warnell takes as his cue various quotations from Jacques Derrida’s meditation on the mysteries of animal consciousness: The Animal That Therefore I Am. I wondered if he might mention Wittgenstein’s dictum: if a lion could speak, we would not understand him. Fallacious and pathetic as it seems, Ming appears to expressing a very human loneliness."
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, Oct 2016
A very odd tale. The story of how a man came to be living on the twenty first story of an apartment building in Harlem with a Bengal tiger and an alligator. He came to the notice of the authorities when he was forced to call for help when the tiger took a fancy to his leg. The film concentrates on the main player in the tale, Antoine Yates. It cast no judgements and there is a rather unique sequence where the apartment is recreated with in a zoo and has a tiger ‘living in it’.
Sofa Cinema, 2016
“One highlight is certainly Phillip Warnell’s short film Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies, inspired by philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s essay The Intruder, a reflection on his drastic experiences as a heart-transplant recipient and a cancer patient. Nancy features in the film, reading from a jointly written script that muses on the nature and integrity of the body, which he’s exceptionally well qualified to discuss. Incidentally, the two have since collaborated on another film, about a man who kept an alligator and a tiger in his New York apartment for several years.”
Review of Outlandish in 'Breathcrystal', curated by Mihnea Mircan - Irish Times, May 2015
"The salutary point here is that animals such as these remain profoundly and eternally indifferent to domestication. They are powerful objects of distant meditation, not close cohabitation. That is true, yet this film does bring us beguilingly near, with respect and rapt awe."
Ming of Harlem preview, VIFF Vancouver, Sept 2015
“The structure of the film is unusually bold. Far from turning into a mere chronological reconstruction of the facts, filled with “talking heads”, the films prefers to lose itself in the exploration of its character’s words. With some beautiful cinematography, Yates is shot while on a car that moves around the streets of New York. He smiles when he recognizes places from his childhood, talks with the driver and goes to the supermarket to buy meat. The film is also filled with static inserts of towers in Harlem, shot from the sky, that give a new dimension to the repeated expression: “concrete jungle”. But its most daring part is in the middle of the film, when a tiger is followed for 15 or 20 minutes while it walks all around an apartment (it actually is a set built for the occasion) without dialogue, without rush and without testimony.”
Review of Ming of Harlem - Amadeo Gandolfo, Berlnale Talent, April 2015
“Another British filmmaker, Phillip Warnell, provided one of the surprises of the festival with Ming of Harlem, which screened in the Projections strand (formerly Views from the Avant-Garde). It’s based on the weird-but-true story of Harlem resident Antoine Yates who, until 2003, kept a tiger in the fifth floor of his spacious tower-block apartment. Any notions that Warnell would play the material for tabloid yucks evaporated along with an opening epigram from Derrida meditating on the nature of man and beast. The film itself is a curiously haunting blend of observational documentary (Yates, whom Warnell interviews while driving around Harlem, is a sensitive, complex character) and reconstruction: Warnell actually built a replica of the apartment for a tiger to prowl around in a hypnotic, if lengthy, digressional sequence.”
Sight and Sound – Ashley Clarke, Review of NYFF Ming of Harlem, 2014