The Waning Glow
of a Star


Fabiola Torres-Alzaga (Mexico City, 1978) is a multidisciplinary artist who takes cinema and stage magic as the basis of her projects to explore the way we perceive, creating works that are not always what they seem.
Her work has been exhibited at: Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Museo Universitario del Chopo, Steve Turner Contemporary,Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, Maison des Arts de Malakoff, Polytechnic Museum of Moscow, Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Museo Experimental El Eco, among others.

Translation: Richard Moszka


This text is based on different conversations, both planned and accidental, which happened as a result of the shows Impresiones del tiempo (2017-18) and Inter/medio (2019-20). Both exhibitions were based on moving images: their urge to exit the frame and to walk onto the stage of the expanded field. Here, the medium of filmmaking is fragmented, its boundaries blurred as it spills across the exhibition space or that of the printed page (publications were a key element of both of these shows—not conceived as records but as yet another means of displaying moving images).

II. (On screen)

Max Ophüls, Letter from an Unknown Woman, 1948.

And through the long night, a setting was defined. A limit containing light that might look like the sun’s—not the sun’s, but something that looked like it. A ruddy star that could brighten the night and cast a warm glow where there was no sunlight.

A young woman (Joan Crawford) walks through a deserted landscape. Her progress is hindered by a train that crosses the entire frame and so blots out the horizon. She watches the carriages’ mechanical forward motion unveiling a sequence of tableaux vivants through the windows as they pass by and disappear: two smiling men prepare elegant dishes in a kitchen; another window reveals the dining car being prepared for the guests; inside a separate cabin, a woman is getting dressed; a shaving man’s silhouette is outlined against a frosted glass pane; lastly, a couple dances across the expanse of three windows. This train-contraption moving across the frame of the film at a steady pace interconnects unrelated scenes to tell a story: a setting, two people, the dining room, smiling faces. Behind the train, the peaceful desert. 1

The window reduces the space inside it to two dimensions. The screen captures images creating a three-dimensional feeling on the wall’s cold surface.


The train briefly stops. An elegantly dressed passenger holding a martini glass looks at the young woman.

Looking in?

She nods shily, having been discovered invading other people’s privacy. Smiling, the passenger shakes his head.

Wrong way. Get in and look out.

Get in where?

Oh, anywhere—just in.
There are only two kinds of people:
the ones in and the ones out.2

Jean Cocteau, The Blood of a Poet, 1930.

The frame, a threshold, the outline that separates it from its context in order to encompass another space and another time. Right could be left. Right/left/up/down: these are mere references. Weightless space. Take it there/bring it here. The presence of an absence. The result of a previous series of events. A modular image. A model governed by different grammatical rules.

Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr, 1924.

Each image of light is preceded by a black gap. That’s how film is made: light, dark, light, dark, light and dark. Every image has its shadow, lights darkening its other side.

In 1932, Dutch astronomer Jan Oort studied stars moving away from the Milky Way. Predictably, gravity soon made them arc back. By studying the position and speed of these repatriated stars, Oort was able to calculate our galaxy’s mass. How surprised was he to discover that visible matter represented no more than fifty percent of the mass needed for the force of gravity to work the way it did? Where was the other half of the universe, then?3

“Film wouldn’t exist without the spectator’s physiological and psychological complicity”4; its mechanism involves consecutive frames of light and dark, while ours as spectators involves filling in the murky gaps—what allows us to see. Why such an act of resistance? My retina retains the opposite of each color as an afterimage: green becomes magenta, bright red becomes cyan.

It was not as if she had not heard me, as if she had not seen me; rather, it seemed that her ears were not used for hearing, that her eyes could not see. She did insult me, in a sense, by showing that she was not afraid of me. Night had fallen when she picked up her basket and walked slowly up the hill.”5

The lights in the theater turn back on and the screen reverts to being a screen. Its three-dimensional appearance is muted as it turns into a pale, blank surface.

II. (Offscreen)

Depending on where they were, passersby perceived either a flat construction, nailed together and supported by counterweights, or a 1:1 replica of an enclosed, European-style square. It was a film set that had long hallways made of panels with moldings, ornamentation, textures, curtains—everything that could give one the feeling of being in the actual space of the square. Staircases going nowhere and fake exits created geographic mazes; trompe-l’oeil paintings of solid surfaces merged with the frame, whose edges blurred in the dark; frames within frames that, like cards in a poker game, have to remain hidden or be shown with every hand.

In 1999, experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky premiered Outer Space6, a movie edited by using footage from an earlier film. In the original version—The Entity (1982), directed by Sidney J. Furt—a woman is threatened by an invisible supernatural force. Tscherkassky decides to place this violent threat offscreen. In his film, actress Barbara Hershey gets home and the reframing that encloses her starts to visibly come alive. The cinematic machinery begins to manipulate the image. The soundtrack bursts onto the scene, enclosing and constricting forms. The edge of the celluloid becomes a knife that cuts and confines what exists within it; the picture flickers, turning the woman into a negative image of herself. It loses definition and becomes phantasmagoric. Its space is no longer there or in another time; instead, it’s here—the celluloid’s very own space comes out of hiding and reveals itself as a medium—between the screen and our observing eyes.

Pleating the screen and keeping the shadows between the folds, listening to the apparatus itself and looking behind the scenes. Suspending the agreement between film and spectator to listen to the whispers coming out of the anonymous black.

In La jetée,7 Chris Marker deploys his story in still images. In the plot, spaces once inhabited by humans have become inaccessible in the disastrous aftermath of World War III. The only way that humans can survive is to find a gap in time that could permit them to transcend space. The setting that the director shows us is a past made up of lifeless images—a photo album containing the characters frozen in the space of the frame. The music seems to correspond to their time—another time, which isn’t the fragmented now, probably ours, the one that exists between the seats.

[…] methods of achievement […] are methods of achievement and retention.
So then all the machines that supply sensory needs are methods of achievement […].
It is possible that every need is basically spatial.8

“In the camera?” you asked while we stood still, waiting for our eyes to get used to the darkness of the hall… “Yes, in the celluloid that’s printed and in the trace that any illusion leaves behind.”

Dyeing the frame blue—chroma-key blue that promises infinite space. A certain adaptation of the eye where images appear from different angles at the same time. “The Aleph point,” you said. Expanding the black space existing between images. Muting the space is about listening to time. Listening to it blindly and recognizing life in the cuts, at the edge of the page, at the end of the movie and in the shadows generated by the creases, the folds.


Jean Painlevé, ‎The Fourth Dimension, 1936.

In his last film, Blue9 (1993), director Derek Jarman made the decision to erase the image, to cover it with a blue stain. Not chroma key, but close enough. As spectators, we see no image at all—we listen, we imagine and, above all, we feel. The director looked for a seemingly blank image that could portray the invisibility of HIV—absent and present, tiny and huge at the same time.

“The height of filmmaking” Luis Buñuel once said, would be “to be able to project our own film outside of the technological apparatus.” Expanding film beyond the tired old flat screen, where the different angles materialize at the same time and time materializes in different spaces.

1. Possessed,directed by Clarence Brown (Los Angeles: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1931).

2. Ibid.

3. Histoire(s) du cinéma, directed by Jean Luc Godard (France: Canal +, 1989).

4. Amos Vogel, El cine como arte subversivo (México: Ambulante, 2016).

5. Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel (NYC: NYRB Classics, 2003).

6. Outer Space, directed by Peter Tscherkassky (Austria: Peter Tscherkassky, 1999).

7. La Jetée,directed by Chris Marker (France: Argos Films & Radio-Télévision France, 1962).

8. Bioy Casares, op. cit.

9. Blue, directed by Derek Jarman (UK/Japan: Channel 4 Television Corporation/Arts Council of Great Britain/Opal Records, 1993).