Hand Catching Lead (1968)
16 mm b&w film
Opening and closing, grabbing and releasing, gathering and giving: this video could be seen – among other thing s– as an accompanying illustration to Jacques Derrida’s essay on “Heidegger’s Hand” (“Geschlecht 2: Heidegger’s Hand”, Loyala University Conference, Chicago, March 1985, reproduced in Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume II. Stanford University Press, 2008).
The mechanics of cinema are based on the division of the film into frames, projected one after another at a fixed rate of 24 frames per second, giving an illusion of continuity. Richard Serra’s film, Hand Catching Lead, illustrates the mechanism. Echoing the vertical movement of the film through the projector, pieces of sheet lead fall into the image field. Serra’s hand opens and closes as it tries to catch them, and when it succeeds, immediately lets them go again, reproducing the intermittent advance of the film. But that is not all, for as the action progresses, Serra’s hand, blackened by the lead, shadow-like comes to resemble the silhouette of a dog trying to catch something thrown to it, thus referring the mechanics of cinema back to its origins in the art of shadow theatre.
For a short summary of Derrida’s argument, see Leonard Lawlor’s introduction to his essay “Animals Have No Hand”. An Essay on Animality in Derrida”