This Art Called Cinema: The Launch of e-flux Film Notes – Notes

Introducing e-flux Film Notes: a new, multifaceted weekly publication within e-flux Notes that maps the intersection of art and cinema through dialogues with artists and filmmakers, theoretical reflections, historical and experimental writings, bringing a comprehensive reflection of the current state of the moving image in contemporary art.

Over the last thirty years, cinema—traditionally housed in the black box of movie theaters—and visual art—displayed in the white cube of galleries and museums—have increasingly intersected, despite their distinct economic and institutional foundations. Moving images have become integral to contemporary art institutions, while a growing number of artists are now creating films and submitting them to film festivals. Although numerous artists incorporated moving images into their installations and produced experimental films before the 1990s, the scale of recent convergence between cinema and contemporary art necessitates a reflection on the multiple histories and evolving dynamics at this intersection. This endeavor is central to e-flux Film Notes, a new component of e-flux Notes that builds on e-flux’s extensive engagement with the discourse of moving image art.

From its earliest days, cinema has sought to balance its position between art and entertainment. To assert itself as an art form, it had to establish its medium specificity. The ability to capture and repeatedly display movement in time, alongside the technique of montage allowing filmmakers to generate new meanings by connecting separate film shots, were among the key elements isolated by early critics and filmmakers to distinguish cinema from other visual arts. Paradoxically, the acknowledgment of cinema as an art form came hand in hand with the standardization of film exhibition practices, which facilitated the industrialization of cinema and its form. Despite this commercialization of cinema, artists in the early twentieth century continued to experiment with the moving image and its exhibition sites, finding their most intriguing forms during the advent of the historical avant-gardes.

One notable instance of this experimentation with the medium and its display occurred in 1929 at the FiFo exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany. The multimedia section of the exhibition, curated by Hans Richter, aimed to highlight the mutual connections between film and photography through innovative constellations that showcased works by prominent filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and René Clair alongside photographic displays from avant-garde artists, including El Lissitzky. Around the same time, French expressionist filmmaker Abel Gance, in his seven-hour epic film Napoleon (1927), used a three-screen format to expand conventional presentation. After the film’s premiere at the Paris Opera, Gance approached the audience, stating: “I have made a tangible effort toward a somewhat richer and more elevated form of cinema.”

While early avant-garde initiatives like these demonstrated the potential for cinema’s expansion and its intersection with other visual arts, they were exceptions rather than the norm. In the early 1930s, MoMA established its Film Library, thereby becoming one of the first art institutions globally to recognize film as a modern art form deserving the same level of study and preservation as traditional visual arts. Yet, for several decades after, the museum nevertheless showed little interest in presenting moving images outside the conventional black box.

The surge in experimental film in the 1960s led to the emergence of expanded cinema events in New York, marking a wider attempt to bridge the gap between cinema and modern art. At this time, artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Trisha Brown, Robert Whitman, and Andy Warhol, alongside a number of filmmakers, including Carolee Schneemann, Jack Smith, Stan Vanderbeek, and Ken Jacobs, began to explore the uncharted potential of moving image art outside the traditional movie theater setting. Events such as the Expanded Cinema Festival (1965), curated by Jonas Mekas, multimedia performances organized by art collective Company of Us (USCO, 1964–1967), and Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground’s the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966–1967) sought to liberate the moving image. Alongside the first installations of film in gallery spaces in the late 1960s, these efforts at what has subsequently been interpreted as either an expansion of cinema, as suggested by Jonathan Walley, or as a hybridization of art, as posited by Andrew Uroskie, signaled a growing awareness of the potential to overcome institutional boundaries and explore innovative modes of film production and exhibition.

However, it was not until the introduction of video recording and transmission technology that museums and galleries began accepting the moving image as a fully legitimate counterpart to other visual arts. Taking advantage of affordable cameras and portable sound recorders, a number of artists across the world started to employ the new medium for self-introspection as well as critique of the passive consumption of mass media. Exploring the immediacy and intimacy of the televisual experience, artists such as Nam June Paik, Gary Hill, Sonia Andrade, Shigeko Kubota, Joan Jonas, and Dan Graham, among many others, began to record video tapes and utilize electronic monitors—sometimes as sculptural objects—to exhibit them. Guided by the spirit of performance art, minimalism, and conceptualism, and responding to what Rosalind Krauss called the “post-medium condition,” rather than focusing on video’s linkage to cinema, video artists approached the medium within the context of modernist art practices that blurred the lines between the exhibition viewer and participant. Famously, Paik asserted that just as collage had succeeded oil painting, the cathode ray tube would replace the canvas.

The 1990s and subsequent decades mark the most recent period of transformation in the relationship between the moving image and art. Rapid advancements in digital technology facilitated a shift from video monitors to expansive multi-projection setups, which soon became a staple for the exhibition of video and film. Consequently, moving images increasingly populated exhibition spaces. This rapid cinematification of museums proceeded to such an extent that, as Tanya Leighton observed, “cinematic modes of projection have quantitatively surpassed traditional media such as painting and sculpture.” This trend has been particularly evident at major international contemporary art biennials that have played a crucial role in encouraging new generations of artists to work with the medium of moving image. As contemporary art institutions have begun to provide funding for film directors to present their work in the white cube of the museum, there has been a significant increase in the participation of renowned filmmakers in contemporary art exhibitions.

With film directors finding creative and financial liberation working in the white cube and artists exploring new possibilities opened by cinematic storytelling, the intertwinement of these previously separated domains has sparked numerous debates on the state and location of moving image art. Some art historians and theorists celebrated the departure of film from the black box of the movie theater—which they conceived as a symbol of the spectator’s bodily repression and the site of illusory production—and praised the liberatory potential and participatory nature of the white cube, viewing contemporary art as a savior of the aging cinema. Conversely, others argued that cinema’s integration into contemporary art institutions has led to a simplification and spectacularization of its form, driven by art market demands for visually striking and easily consumable films. They emphasized that the experiential constraints and spatial specifications of the white cube do not do justice to cinema’s durational nature, advocating instead for the contemplative space of the traditional black box. Raymond Bellour was among the first to differentiate the two realms of cinema, introducing the concept of “an other cinema” to describe the moving image in the museum. According to him, this “other cinema” arises from an institutional crisis in traditional cinema, and therefore gallery-based moving images should not be conflated with originary cinema, which he believes is best experienced in movie theaters. In contrast, Philippe Dubois (and, more recently, Jonathan Walley) has advocated for a broader understanding of cinema that includes artists’ films and moving image installations. Dubois contends that cinema is not in crisis but is instead expanding through the diversification of its forms and new ways of being experienced, both in cinemas and galleries. Erika Balsom, referencing Bellour’s concept, has proposed the term “othered cinema,” suggesting that when cinema is positioned in the gallery or museum, it becomes “other” to itself.

While many discussions on the intersection between cinema and contemporary art have concentrated on economic, institutional, and topographical aspects of the moving image, the evolving creative approaches of contemporary artists and filmmakers—who draw on over a century of film aesthetics and adapt them to new contexts of the white cube—remain less explored and deserve more attention. The works of artists such as Candice Breitz, Tacita Dean, Martin Arnold, John Akomfrah, Douglas Gordon, Deimantas Narkevičius, and Christian Marclay, among many others, exemplify Balsom’s thought that, since the 1990s, the white cube has become a laboratory for investigating the histories of cinema, as they have been appropriating imagery from existing films to create works and installations that reflect on the societal and cultural roles of cinema, even when exhibited within gallery settings. Over the past fifteen years, however, experiments in the “laboratory of the white cube” have transitioned from exploring cinema’s past to engaging with the digital present. As works addressing ecological and political crises and the tangible effects of technology on everyday life have proliferated, contemporary moving image installations and artists’ films have increasingly focused on dismantling oppressive and colonial pasts, exploring contemporary political realities through personal and essayistic narratives, as well as reexamining the current state of the spiritual and occult as alternatives to capitalist realism. In a time where the lines between fake and real are increasingly blurred and the digital landscape continues to expand, a number of recent moving image works examine how digital technologies shape one’s understanding of socio-political reality, and reflect on the fragmented nature of identity as well as the impact of virtual interactions on the conception of the public and the intimate.

On the one hand, this recent shift in artists’ focus has resulted in a number of technologically sophisticated moving image installations that reflect the digital and post-internet realities of the 2010s and 2020s. On the other hand, artists worldwide have increasingly relied on affective storytelling, employing experimental narrative techniques in films created for the projections in black boxes, cinemas, and film festivals. Turning to cinematic narration allowed them to convey local and personal stories that would rarely reach mainstream movie theaters. Diverging from canonical storytelling, these works present diverse and decentralized narratives deeply rooted in specific cultural contexts, reminiscent of what was once termed “minor cinema.”

Ultimately, unlike traditional cinema, the position in-between the white cube and the black box offers contemporary artists the flexibility to reconfigure the conditions of the moving image experience, allowing them to revisit cinema’s pasts and imagine its futures by engaging with contemporary societal issues. This brief overview of multiple trajectories of film and art demonstrates how the specificity of the position of the moving image is driven by ongoing societal and techno-political realities, necessitating continual discussions and re-evaluations to understand their motivating reasons and their possible implications.

Following the ethos of e-flux’s film programing, Film Notes intends to address this need by featuring conversations, scripts, and creative writing that foster meaningful dialogue with contemporary moving image artists from around the world. This will be accompanied by critical reflections by art and film historians and theorists. Additionally, we will (re)publish historical texts that have been overlooked by or excluded from the grand narratives of film theory and history, yet remain relevant to today’s moving image art. Publishing one conversation, one historical piece, one theoretical reflection, and one artist’s text each month, e-flux Film Notes sets out to explore the current state of the moving image, addressing both “where the moving image is”—its economic, infrastructural, and institutional facets with their coinciding and conflicting histories—and “what the moving image does”—its societal roles and evolving aesthetics.

The inaugural edition of e-flux Film Notes features a conversation with the Polish artist Agnieszka Polska about her work and the future of filmmaking in the age of AI. It also includes Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1969 essay “Cinema and Oral Language,” which offers fascinating insights into the experimental use of voice and language in films, and an excerpt from Anton Vidokle’s script in four scenes for his forthcoming film, co-directed with Liam Gillick, providing a unique glimpse into the artist’s process of worldbuilding.

As Alexander Kluge has written, moving image art not only represents, but also creates an oppositional public sphere that provides a participatory and democratic platform for marginalized voices and affects to be shared and experienced. e-flux Film Notes hope to contribute to cultivation of this public sphere and the curatorial, artistic, and theoretical discourse surrounding it.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *