Louise Curham and I have been doing a residency at the Performance Space in Sydney, (March 5-25, 2007) to work on trying out some re-enactments of Expanded Cinema events from the early 1970s. Weâ€™ve been posting up our reports over here: http://teachingandlearningcinema.org
Here’s a short list of links and references which accompanied my lecture at Estelle Barret’s Deakin University “Art Embodiment and Aesthetics” course, 5 Sept 2006.
Some of them are to do with “pre-cinema” devices and technologies, some are about the development of “vertical integration” in the 1910s and 1920s, and some are more specifically about Expanded Cinema (the 1960s-70s art activities)… By no means an exhaustive list, will add more when I think of em…
The following is an extract from an essay published in Experimenta (ed Adrian Martin), 1990 (Modern Image Makers Association Inc).
Several Lettrist films were shown at Experimenta that year, presented by French filmmaker and writer Christian Lebrat.
Experimenta, these days, can be found at http://www.experimenta.org
by Christian Lebrat
(Extracts from the lecture “Lettrism: History, Theory and Cinema” given throughout Australia, November 1990.)
Historic Lettrist cinema began in 1951 and finished one year later. During these two years eight hours of film were produced. These films are, chronologically, The Treatise on Slime and Eternity by Isidore Isou and Has the Film Already Started? By Maurice Lemaitre, both 1951. Then The Anti-Concept by Gil J. Wolman, Dawn Day Drums by Francois Dufrene, The Boat of Flowing Life by Jean-Louis Brau and Screaming for Sade by Guy Debord, all 1952.
The chiselled film technique was a radical way of liberating the cinematic medium form the burden of representation (Lemaitre said, “Sound, previously enslaved, is now free of the tyranny of vision”). At first Lettrist filmmakers partially erased the image, later reaching a state of complete destruction of the film by projecting entire parts of films with only black or white celluloid. In his Treatise on Slime and Eternity, Isou abandoned the synchronism of sound and image, leaving sections with only abstract white lines or spot son the image. Lemaitre completely scratched out the image in Has the Film Already Started?, and transformed the film projection into a live performance.
Wolman, Dufrene and Debord progressively destroyed their images and emphasised a hyper-crammed soundtrack. In his The Anti-Concept Wolman projected intermittent light circles onto a spherical balloon hanging up in the movie theatre. In Dawn Day Drums Dufrene reduced the film to the voices of four reciters. And the last shot of Debord's Screaming for Sade was silent and black and white for twenty four minutes.
After this prodigious period of Lettrist cinema, only two of the group's members continued making films. Guy Debord, after his break with the group, produced five other films, all of which (plus his first) are impossible to see today, as he refuses to screen them. Maurice Lemaitre produced about fifty films and film performances from 1963 to the present.
It is obvious that all these artists were autodidacts. Lemaitre was a young anarchist when he met Isou in 1949. Two years later he began assisting Isau in making his film. He was already interested in cinema and frequently went to the Cinematheque Francaise. By being Isou's assistant he discovered and learnt cinematic technique. Through manipulating celluloid for Isou he found that he could go even further. Two months after finishing Isou's film he began Has the Film Already Started?. He used many techniques such as writing or painting directly onto the celluloid, scratching it, washing it with acid, using positives and negatives, superimpositions and mattes, and so on. For this work he used rushes from old commercial films, and filmed material with Isou walking in the quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.
Has the Film Already Started? is the most complex, aggressive and humorous of the six films made at the start of the 50s by the Lettrists. I would also say it is the most beautiful because of the very impressive chiselling work performed on the images, giving the film, together with the soundtrack, an incredible rhythm. The text of the soundtrack, frames form the image-track and the text of the interventions from the auditorium were published din a book of the same title by Lemaitre in 1952.
Lemaitre remarked to me in 1985 that “this film sought to be a kind of general butchering of the cinema.” He also wanted to make the spectators participate during the screening. Originally, at the premiere in Paris on December 7, 1951, the screening was completely disturbed: drapery covered the usual screen, actor-spectators in the theatre conversed with the screen, people went onto the stage. There were diversions at the entrance, diversions on the pavement outside, and so forth. Near the end of the film the manager of the theatre announced to the public that he had to stop the film because the projectionist couldn't find the last reel. Lemaitre's screenplay even included the intervention of the police at the end of the performance – and they actually arrived.
The film was shown several times during this period in Paris and at the Belgium Cinematheque, and then disappeared for a long time until it was rediscovered in 1973. But we can say that it had certainly had an influence on both the Nouvelle Vague and on underground cinema.
The screenplay begins: “A pink moving screen will stand at the entrance to the theatre, in the night. One hour before the screening a projectionist will show Griffith's Intolerance on this screen. The start of the film will be announced at 8.30 but no one will enter before 9.30. During these 60 minutes of waiting, people on the first floor of the building will shake out very dusty carpets, and someone else will throw ice water on the heads of those spectators waiting for the screening. Some actors who have infiltrated the crowd will insult other actors on the first floor. At this moment only, and to stop the beginning of a scandal, the doors of the theatre will open…”
This was the beginning of the adventure.
During the first visual part of the film, the soundtrack begins with the author speaking about the importance of artistic creation. The voice is very expressive. Flickering black and white images with drawn letters are projected on screen. The same voice returns at the end of the film, after many other sound pieces such as Lettrist poems by Dufrene and Wolman, a messianic manifesto written and read by Isou, abstracts of press articles, and so on. Lemaitre finishes his film with the sentence addressed to you, the spectator: “Maurice Lemaitre asks himself: why has he made this film? Wasn't it a really foolish enterprise?”
Now you can judge for yourself.
[filed under: Expanded Cinema]
For artists like myself born in the 1970s, the activities of that decade can seem elusive, utopian and fascinating. Seemingly uncompromised by the pull of the art market, 1970s projects were remarkable for their clarity of intention and simplicity of execution. Concepts travel across time and space to the present, carried only by rudimentary texts and a few grainy black and white photos. The remnants of the processes of artists like Vito Acconci, Valie Export and Stephen Willats continue to inspire current generations who utilise and plunder their work as models for political, aesthetic and social action. But how much do we actually know about what went on? Can we trust the documents left behind?
full article here
[also worth reading, related… an interesting review by Dirk de Bruyn on the Shoot Shoot Shoot tour to Melbourne in 2002
More for my own reference than anything else, here are a few articles which refer to expanded cinema, as published in the online journal "Senses of Cinema":
A lecture by Valie Export called "Expanded Cinema as Expanded Reality" http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/03/28/expanded_cinema.html
An overview of the "Shoot Shoot Shoot" programme, written by George Clark http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/02/21/shoot_shoot_shoot.html
An interview with Aussie experimental filmmaker Albie Thoms by Danni Zuvela http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/03/27/albie_thoms.html
An essay entitled "The Last Picture Show: Film and Video Installation in the Late '60s and Early '70s" by Genevieve Yue http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/03/28/last_picture_show_installation_60s_70s.html
A history of avant-garde and experimental film in France by by Nicole Brenez and Christian Lebrat http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/00/6/jeune.html
also some pictures of Stan Vanderbeek's "Movie Drome," a "spherical theater where people would lie down and experience movies all around them." – built in the late 1950s/early 1960s…
and an essay on Stan Vanderbeek which (among other things) discusses his activities in relation to new media work today…
…and an expanded cinema festival held in Dortmund in Sept 2004, curated by Mark Webber:
just stumbled over the work of scott snibbe who makes marvellous "expanded cinema" type screen interactions. his site has some excellent photos of works …for example:
Compliant creates a projected screen of “soft light”. As visitors walk into the field of the projected screen, the shadows of their bodies cause the screen to be distorted and pushed away, as if the screen were a rubber sheet. The physical bodies of the viewers become the dominant force in the relationship with the screen, distorting it, pushing it out of its alignment, or completely chasing it out of view. Multiple viewers can impose on the screen from all angles and hasten its disappearance. This give-and-take relationship with the screen also evokes cinema more directly, by recalling the slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin endlessly chasing his hat in The Tramp.
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.
she writes really clearly about expanded cinema and its pervasive connexion to the rest of her work.
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.
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.
planned execution date: october 2004. [as of march 2004, this project has been postponed… will keep ya posted!]
some rough notes, thinking about expanded cinema, Bourriaud, Museums etc…
Sussi suggested doing expanded cinema stuff at the kelleberrin cinema …. i had heard about domenico’s cinema in that town, thought it was a marvellous purchase. so i would definitely be into doing something out there. i reckon the locals would be into expanded cinema, i think, being “movies”, it might transcend the “wanky” conceptualism of its contemporary productions in art.