Israel-born Tal Rosner describes himself as an ‘artist/filmmaker’ on his website, yet in the flesh he says his work eludes pigeonholing. Whether working in film, fine art or graphic design – he has created the title sequences for E4’s Skins series, the next of which airs tomorrow – Rosner’s approach is decidedly arty. Yet asked if he’s a fine artist, he replies, ‘It’s impossible to say. My job description could do with more slashes: it lives somewhere between film, graphic design and art.’
A major influence on Rosner, whose studio is in London’s Covent Garden, is the Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy 1924 film Ballet Mécanique. Rosner says that the film, which saw Léger collaborate with composer George Antheil, evades categorisation. ‘It’s a film, yet it’s also design,’ he says.
The close correspondence between sound and image in Ballet Mécanique is also a hallmark of Rosner’s work, which seems to aim for synaesthesia. But because a literal image can perhaps never be illustrated exactly by a sound, Rosner’s films, while ricocheting between realism and abstraction, are generally more abstract.
He has also been inspired by the early Modernist cinema of Marcel Duchamp (his film Anemic Cinema) and Hans Richter, and ultra-functionalist high-tech architecture. ‘I like it because it has strong graphic potential, as it’s hard-edged,’ he says.
Rosner picks up on the uplifting elements of high-tech buildings – their love of pop colour (typified, for example, by the Pompidou Centre in Paris) – then creates abstract, kaleidoscopic patterns. His work fits into a tradition of finding an unexpectedly lyrical beauty in all things industrial – already established by the Pompidou Centre, Kraftwerk, artists Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of water towers and oil refineries, and Peter Saville’s album covers for Factory Records.
‘I like to take ordinary things and make them look magnificent,’ says Rosner, who studied visual design at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Israel, then communication design at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, graduating in 2005.
While at the latter, he made his movie Doppelganger – a pure fine-art exercise with images of power stations and railway lines set to techno music. The idea is conveyed by mirroring identical diagonal perspectives which collide and converge. The film evokes Kraftwerk and the Bechers through its monochrome palette and melancholic quality.
Similarly arty is his 2008 film Without You (commissioned by Animate Projects for Channel 4 and Arts Council England), though its images of bleak industrial estates fragment into dancing geometric shapes in luscious, hedonistic shades like pink and tangerine. Its title is taken from a poem by Josef Albers – ‘Calm down/ What happens/ Happens mostly without you’. ‘I had a feeling there was life happening in these industrial estates if you turned your back. The film is about that,’ Rosner explains.
Rosner has also created videos interpreting classical music by Igor Stravinksy and Claude Debussy, while London’s Southbank Centre and the Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned him to make the film In Seven Days, Piano Concerto with Moving Image, a collaboration with composer Thomas Adès, to be performed this year in Cologne, Lisbon, Melbourne and New York. And Rosner will be exhibiting a multi-channel installation in London’s Tenderpixel gallery from 11 February.
More accessible are his graphics for Bristol-set teen drama Skins, which won a Bafta award for best title sequence in 2008. Lasting 30 seconds each and devoid of credits, these are snappy, but also visceral with their close-ups of fizzing beer and cigarette or hash smoke. Chaotic and interspersed with fragments of the series’ logo, they evoke the messiness of teen life.
Yet these aren’t that removed from Rosner’s artier work. They cannibalise and collage leitmotifs from earlier films: images of gritty architecture and dynamic, abstract graphics. The difference is the presence of people: cute teenagers looking cool.
Rosner seems comfortable vacillating between high and pop culture. The Tenderpixel installation doesn’t, he insists, signal a definite move towards fine art. As he puts it, ‘I don’t want to move house, but maybe rent a room in that flat.’