Tag Archives: Anthony McCall

noos from noo york

On the way back from Montreal, we spent a few days in Brooklyn, nosing around there and Manhattan… two highlights:

Anthony McCall's film installation Doubling Back (2003) at the Whitney Museum.
Rumour has it that the recent resurgence in interest in McCall's films of the 1970s [especially Line Describing a Cone] has prompted him to get back into the game. Line Describing a Cone. is like no other film – during its 30 minute duration, a single point of light grows, inch by inch, to form a circle on the screen. The screen, however, aint where the action is – the room, filled with fog, becomes a container for a massive sculptural object – a cone of light – and an audience is free to roam, and play with the shell of light as it curves over your head. The piece is marvellous as a reductive structuralist film – literally, all you have is light and duration, and McCall makes you aware of the travelling path of the light beam – but it's also a great participatory experience, and very liberating, once you get over the inhibition to play that's been programmed in as a natural part of film and art-viewing practice.

Where Doubling Back goes beyond and above Line Describing a Cone, is in its infinitite loop-ness. While the earlier piece had a definite beginning and end, and a fixed audience, the newer one plays continuously, and visitors can casually enter and exit the gallery space. [in this case, the film was screened all day, every Sunday, as part of the Whitney Biennale]…In that dark room, I lost all sense of time – I think I watched the piece all the way through twice, but I couldn't be sure…

In addition, the shapes in Doubling Back are far more complex than the simple cone – two curved lines intersect each other, each moving almost imperceptibly slowly, constantly changing their curvatures. Concentrate on the movement, and you don't see it – look away for a few minutes, and you'll notice the change. The curved lines at times scoop under your knees, sometimes forming very a very tight leaf-like shape, and at other times they open right out, soaring above and around your head. Standing in the middle of these shapes, and gazing back towards the projector, I felt curiously disembodied – like my eyes, in my head, were my only sensory organs. But when I walked back out of the conoid shape, the light caressed my skin and I could palpably feel its tickle like the surface tension of a liquid.

Doubling Back was a delightful, subtle experience, in the midst of an exhibition [the Whitney Biennial] otherwise too chock-full of bitsy art and gossiping visitors.

[ps… you can see a page on McCall at the Whitney Museum's website, but I can't link to it directly – you will have to go to it [http://www.whitney.org/biennial/] and select "Explore Biennial Artists" in their stupid Macromedia Flash web pages…] … better still, have a look at a pic of Doubling Back here: http://www.artnet.com/artwork/424029518/_Anthony_McCall_Doubling_Back.html

Vito Acconci archive at Barbara Gladstone Gallery
Acconci is a legendary New Yorker whose artistic output [performances, videos, texts, photographs] between 1969 and 1973 was enormous. It seems evident from his work in this period that he was working some heavy shit out, personally – especially in his private relationships. In one work he would obsessively follow a stranger in the street, in another he masturbated under a temporary floor, apparently fantasising about the gallery visitors walking above him. He tried to stuff all of his partners long hair into his mouth, and thus get closer to "consuming" her; and in one durational piece, he waited each night at the end of an abandoned pier for lone visitors, to whom he would tell a [presumably damaging] secret. In many of his works Acconci used the formulae established for "conceptual" art-making to push the limits of his own psyche, to go beyond the "normal" and the "comfortable, especially with regards to daily behaviour.

With his work of the early 1970s I never get the idea that Acconci is simply "making art" or playing out hollow gestures for philosophical or intellectual pleasures. His work is moving and personally challenging, even at a distance of 30 (!) years.

In this show in New York, hundreds of type-written "scores" for performances and activities are presented, alongside photographs and video, where available, of the processes/outcomes. Plenty of the scores, it seems, were never realised, or else were self-sufficient and required no documentation.

One of my favourite pieces [which also I saw recently at the ICA in London] is a video in which Acconci, circa 1972, presents a slide show of some of his work from the previous years. There are two levels of "disclosure" in the slideshow. In the first, the artist, his back to us, selects a slide and points to aspects within it, explaining very simply and logically what he was attempting to achieve. Every so often, however, he gets up, walks to the wall on which the slide is projected, and turns sideways, whispering, as if to somebody just off camera, a woman who he is obviously close to. And he says things like "…but only you, only you would know what this piece was really about, only you know what happened between us that July, when she came and began living with us, and the tension, the jealousy was thick in the house…" and so on. What I found moving about this work was the need, the tangible need to disclose, everything, and so to avoid letting "Art" take over, for the work to become merely an "art-work". The risk is clear – Acconci's art activities could (and did?) change his life.

[links: Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Acconci Studios]


Expanded Cinema

The proposed "Expanded Cinema" project is essentially about re-presenting some key cinema-performance pieces from the early-mid 1970s.

…here is a little quote from a general description of the project, to give you an idea:

Between 1966 and 1973, some groups of filmmakers in London and Vienna began to make cinema works which questioned the architectural space of the theatre itself. Conventionally, cinema creates a psychic space which takes the viewer outside of his/her body, transported through the "window" of the screen into the spaces and narratives beyond it. Artists like Anthony McCall, Malcolm le Grice, and Valie Export sought to draw the audience's attention to this conventionality by making "Expanded Cinema", which went beyond mere projection. They employed physical interventions in the cinema space, such as flashing light bulbs which illuminated the whole room, clouds of smoke which lit up the "cone of light" from the projector, and even the creation of small "mini-cinemas" where the sense of touch, rather than sight, was utilised.

 Pretty much what is involved, is bringing one or 2 key artists to Australia (from Britain) to set up their work and perform with it, as well as to re-construct the necessary elements of many other pieces for which the presence of the artist in not required. In addition, a small exhibition of documentation – writings, photos, and videos will be mounted.

I have confirmed with Sydney and perth, to be the hosts. Hoping Adelaide might come on board too…
here are a few descriptions of the works i want to present: (there will be many more)

William Raban: has a marvellous piece from 1973 (thanks to william for clarification, see comments below) called 2"45' (2 min 45 sec)

in this piece, a 16mm projector, not loaded with film, projects white light onto the screen, for the amount of time specified in the title. the artist announces the piece from the front of the room, and a film camera next to the projector records the entire event, including the screen, and the audience, and any sounds they might make.

the following evening the process is repeated, with the film shot the previous night (which has been rapidly develped) being projected, and so on.

every time the event occurs, the film shown is a record of every previous showing.

a previous showing's film "residue" can never be shown again.

Guy Sherwin has piece called man with a mirror.

originally made in 1976. involves live performance with the artist holding a square mirror (maybe 1 metre square) which is painted white on the back. the film is projected at the performer, who rotates the mirror/screen in front of himself. the film being projected, is of the artist (1976) holding an identical mirror/screen, standing in a field. the resulting overlap of reflection/image/overlay is visually, extremely confusing and fascinating. in addition, the audience is aware that it is the same man, but 30 years later. it is a strange and poignant ageing piece (although it was never intended to be).

both artists have many more such works, whose presentation is obviously much enhanced by their presence.

……….pretty much what i am thinking, in terms of the conceptual framework for the project, is to present expanded cinema in its various levels of documentation/resolution. this will range from

-works which have only a written description/memory

-works for which there are photographs

-works with moving image documentation

-works which can be "enacted" live (the "real" thing)

thus, a small, quickly mounted exhibition of the first 3 elements, and some screening events (2 or 3 nights) for the 4th. and a catalogue. the exhibition i envisage will be something punters will want to look at before/during the screening events. but it could also run as a short exhibition.


expanded cinema is messy, its people getting together in small rooms and showing each other stuff and talking about it, its a bit like the sydney moving image coalition's fantastic super 8 nights.
it's about doing stuff with very little resources, and it was very much about the london filmmakers co-operative, a unique organisation which controlled the production, collection, and distribution of its work.
i am very keen to see the project happen in sydney, partly because of the dire state of the film scene there (and the video installation "scene" if you can call it that).
the film scene: well, squatspace has been ranting about that for a few years, the tropfest business and the fox studios hollywood production sweatshop. the video scene, because for some godforsaken reason it seems fascinated by the idea of "immersion" and "virtual reality" yet seems to do these things so badly. i even went to the zkm organisation in germany (the home of video-immersion-virtualreality) to see if i was wrong, but i don't think i am. its a resource-heavy parade of gimmickry.
[postscript – having said that, they have what looks like a great show at the moment (March 2004) about Peter Weibel, one of the earliest expanded cinema artists and collaborator with Valie Export…]
this is the kind of thing that expanded cinema artists were (and still are) working against, yet theirs is a forgotten history. so its partly a historical-reconstruction project. i want to remind sydney artists that you dont need huge (hi-tech) resources to make interesting moving image work.
There is an article, from late 2003, by Valie Export about her E.C. work at Senses of Cinema
…and…what looked like a marvellous show in Vienna called X-Screen which ran until late Feb 2004…


planned execution date: october 2004. [as of march 2004, this project has been postponed… will keep ya posted!]