From Prop to Sculpture: The Role of the Object in Artists’ Moving Image Practices

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8th Feb 2020 Arts Reference this

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Introduction
 

This research project explores the role of the object in Artists’ Moving Image Practices, from the physical space of the gallery to the screen space. It takes its starting point in the Expanded Cinema in the 1960s to understand elements of hybrid art forms, new technologies, the active audience, liveness, temporality and materiality of the media. This research looks at the hybrid sculptural and moving image practices in visual art and its origins and reference points in Expanded Cinema, Video Art and Moving Image Installation practices.

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The discourses on contemporary art criticism at this time saw the questioning of Clement Greenberg’s high modernist conception of medium specificity to the term ‘post-medium condition’[1] proposed by Rosalind E. Krauss in a series of her writings. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s writings such as Understanding Media The Extensions of Man (1964) was influential at this time in questioning media and emergent technology. Lev Manovich in his article ‘Post-media Aesthetics’ (2001) states that since the rapid development of new art forms since the 1960s and the digital revolution of the 1980s-1990s the idea of medium specificity has been dissolved under the growing influence of electronic and digital technologies and introduced the term ‘Post-media condition’[2]

Expanded Cinema

Expanded Cinema, first cited by Stan VanDerBeek around 1965 in his proposal and manifesto Cultural Intercom and Expanded Cinema (1966) calls artists to use moving images to create a new world language, a non-verbal one, and to create theatres called Movie-Domes to screen the work in the mid-1960s. The term Expanded Cinema was subsequently developed by media theorist Gene Youngblood in his seminal text Expanded Cinema (1970). Written during a time of revolutionary underground cinema and art and new age psychedelic influences Youngblood questions the new mode of experiencing art and introduces a new cinematic language. He introduces Expanded Cinema as expanded consciousness and that it is not a movie or a defined discipline but a process. This process he suggests entails ‘man’s ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind’[3] Youngblood introduces a new mode of cinematic language ‘synaesthetic mode’[4] which he believes has conscious expanding effects and that an absence of discipline will give the freedom for a new language to be developed. He argues that in the ‘Paleocybernetic Age’ the ‘intermedia network’[5] which is comprised of cinema, television, radio and magazines is our environment and that we are influenced more by cinema and television than nature.

Carolee Schneemann recounted Expanded Cinema in her performance scripts ‘Expanded Cinema: Free Form Recollections of New York’[6] (1970). Schneemann chronicles the New York Expanded Cinema scene. Schneemann’s perceived Expanded Cinema as a form of ‘kinetic theatre performance’[7] in which she combined performance, film and slide projection engaging the body, environment and the audience. During this time Jonas Mekas wrote many critical columns for Village Voice, a collection of these are compiled in Movie Journal 1959-1971 that captures the experimental movement of expanded film in the 1960s in New York. Works by Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer among many are discussed and in the article ‘On the Expanding Eye’ 1964, Mekas discusses Expanded Cinema as a new cinema being made and calls on critics and audiences to be willing to come and see and ‘expand their eyes’[8] to see this new vision.

In the essay by Annabel Nicolson’s ‘Art and Artists’ (1972), Nicolson states that the identity of film has been reclaimed from the ‘literal and dramatic content’[9] and that the tactile potential of film has been realized by artists such as Norman McLaren and Carolee Schneeman and saw the beginning of the ‘post-war unshackling’[10] of Abstract Expressionist painting. Nicolson states that the developments of artists’ films were hampered at this time by distribution and restricted by screening times and unsuitable projection facilities. According to Liz Kotz in ‘Disciplining Expanded Cinema’, 2003 the modernist specificity that was attached to the filmic medium overshadowed the ‘diverse cross-disciplinary, multi-media, and performance orientated practices’ at this time.[11] Multiscreen and performative cinema were unable to articulate a ‘set of terms – historical trajectories, defining conditions of artistic principles – that would give multiscreen work some kind of historical or aesthetic grounding’[12] and provide it with some kind of discipline. She finds it difficult to ‘construct critical discourse’[13] around multiscreen and expanded cinema because of the ephemeral nature of these practices, which makes them difficult to document and that because of the multimedia nature of the work, critical accounts have been aligned with film history or media studies. She found that in the 1960s multidisciplinary practice was central to many artists that ignored the ‘defining role of institutional and art historical conventions’[14] although it was undertheorized. Through her desire to historicize or ‘discipline’[15] expanded cinema she has found that much contemporary multi-media sculpture or performance has been extremely arbitrary and over-inclusive and that expanded cinema should be seen as an ‘extension or reception of early twentieth century projects of abstract art and photomontage aesthetics’.[16] She argues that positioning expanded cinema within this context will allow for a ‘broader aesthetic history’[17] and a wider perspective.

In‘Expanded Cinema – And “Cinema of Attractions”’Jackie Hatfield focuses on the video history of expanded cinema and states that unlike film, the material specificities of video are in flux and as such need continual theoretical or philosophical review. In the 1970s in the UK the debate centered on Peter Gidal and Malcolm Le Grice and as the technology was shifting constantly there has been criticism that video practitioners of the early period of video wrote no critical history and gravitated towards the commercial world of television. She suggests that this had more to do with the cultural environment at this time and that the video artists of the eighties were ‘more likely to survive via the commercially driven cultures of broadcast, than the patronage of the white cube’[18] and states that being an artist in Britain during the eighties had ‘limited prospects’.[19] She claims that the ontological differences between film and video were evident in the 1970s and it was video pushing the boundaries of moving image and that many of the artists such as VALIE EXPORT, David Hall, Malcolm Le Grice, Tony Sinden and Pieter Weibel transitioned from film to video and that monitor work rather than projection became more prevalent until the late 1980s. Artists were exploring were ‘exploring video as a sculptural material’[20] activating the space of the gallery beyond the monitor, she references the work of David Hall’s Progressive Recessive (1979) where using nine monitors and nine cameras he used the monitors in a sculptural arrangement within the space to navigate the viewer and in the work of Dan Graham’s Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay (1974) where the viewer had to navigate the gallery space between two monitors at opposite ends of the space where the viewer’s image would appear after a time delay. She states that this was evident as well in the exhibitions like Video Skulptur Retrospecktiv and Aktuell (1963-1989) at Köln, Berlin and Zurich in 1989 where artists where using time delay and switchers to interrupt and to create a ‘technologically active and semi-immersive cinematic environment’. [21]

Hatfield believed that the role of narrative in Expanded Cinema had been overlooked and had begun the initial research in this area, before her death she compiled a team to finish the research which accumulated in a collection of essays that are published in Expanded Cinema: Art Performance and Film, (2011) edited by A.L Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball and David Curtis. A.L Rees in the essay ‘Expanded Cinema and Narrative: A troubled history’, claims that the history of Expanded Cinema is an ‘elastic’[22] term that is difficult to define and encompasses many sorts of film and projection events. He suggests that the overall vision described by Mekas and Youngblood had three aspects:

The first was to melt down all art forms, including film, into multimedia live –action events. The second was to explore electronic technologies and the coming of cyberspace, as heralded by Marshall McLuhan. The third was to break down the barrier between artist and audience through new kinds of participation[23]

Each of these aspects challenged the passive consumption of entertainment and commercial cinema. Rees states that Expanded Cinema is not just a question of using multiple screens but that the main concern is whether or not a work is ‘predetermined, is already made, as the record of an event that has previously taken place, and so can be recognized independently of its projected instantiation; or conversely, whether it is made in and through its projection’.[24] The differences he said in the U.S expanded cinema work which focused on the exploration of new forms of subjectivity in art and a ‘reinvigorated expressionism that challenged the formal boundaries of art media’ and that the UK and in Europe took a different direction; in the UK that it was centered around Filmakers Co-Operative and that ‘process and materials’[25] were more significant and that events such as Filmaktion’s multiple screen events were less ‘absorptive and participatory’[26] for spectators than in the American events.

In Between The Black Box and The White Cube (2014) Andrew V.Uroskie claims that the origins of expanded cinema lie in the forgotten work of postwar artists and practices of the Parisian Lettrists. He suggests that Expanded Cinema became displaced as the focus was on the ‘dominant high modernist paradigm’[27] established by Clement Greenberg, which instead placed structural film and video art within the medium-specificity disciplines. That the ‘openness of expanded cinema was correctly seen as a damning liability for film’s legitimation as an autonomous sphere of modernist art’. [28]  He believes it is necessary to fully understand the move from material specificity to situation and site. Examining key artists such as Robert Whitman, Stan VanDerBeek, Nam June Paik, Robert Breer and Ken Dewey, he suggests the expanded cinema of the 1960s was a hybrid practice incorporating film, sculpture, theater, performance, dance and music. The ‘movement of moving image became something to be explicitly staged’[29] examining its exhibitionary situation and the role of the spectator. He says that like artists working at this time we should focus on how the hybrid nature of the moving image was transformed rather than the focus of film as an artistic medium. He states that artists working in expanded cinema sought to challenge cinema and contemporary art and with the rise of television in the 1960s and the demise of the movie theatre, artist were not interested in advancing the medium of cinema as an art form but wanted to utilize the moving image to ‘challenge the institutions and practices of postwar art’.[30]


[1] Krauss Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

[2] Lev Manovich. Post-media Aesthetics, 2001.

[3] Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema P41

[4] IBID p.83

[5] IBID p.55

[6] Carolee Schneemann, Expanded Cinema: Free From Recollections of New York, International Underground Film Festival, London, 1970.

[7] IBID p.96

[8]  Jonas Mekas, Movie Journal p.120

[9] Annabel Nicolson Art and Artists (1972)

[10] IBID

[11] IBID p.44

[12] Liz Kotz, Disciplining Expanded Cinema, X-Screen, 2003

[13] Liz Kotz, Disciplining Expanded Cinema, X-Screen, 2003

[14] IBID p.45

[15] IBID p.47

[16] IBID p.47

[17] IBID p.47

[18] Jackie Hatfield, Expanded Cinema – And ‘Cinema of Attractions’ p.6 in Art in-sight 14 (Filmwaves 27)

[19] IBID p.6

[20] IBID p.7-8

[21] IBID p.7-8

[22] Expanded Cinema: Art Performance and Film (2011) edited by A.L Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball and David Curtis p.12

[23] Rees, A.L, Expanded Cinema and Narrative: A troubled history.

[24] Jackie Hatfield, Expanded Cinema – And ‘Cinema of Attractions’ p.12

[25] IBID p.14

[26] IBID

[27] Andrew V Uroskie, , Between the Black Box and the White Cube p.234

[28] IBID

[29] IBID p.14

[30] IBID p.14

Introduction
 

This research project explores the role of the object in Artists’ Moving Image Practices, from the physical space of the gallery to the screen space. It takes its starting point in the Expanded Cinema in the 1960s to understand elements of hybrid art forms, new technologies, the active audience, liveness, temporality and materiality of the media. This research looks at the hybrid sculptural and moving image practices in visual art and its origins and reference points in Expanded Cinema, Video Art and Moving Image Installation practices.

The discourses on contemporary art criticism at this time saw the questioning of Clement Greenberg’s high modernist conception of medium specificity to the term ‘post-medium condition’[1] proposed by Rosalind E. Krauss in a series of her writings. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s writings such as Understanding Media The Extensions of Man (1964) was influential at this time in questioning media and emergent technology. Lev Manovich in his article ‘Post-media Aesthetics’ (2001) states that since the rapid development of new art forms since the 1960s and the digital revolution of the 1980s-1990s the idea of medium specificity has been dissolved under the growing influence of electronic and digital technologies and introduced the term ‘Post-media condition’[2]

Expanded Cinema

Expanded Cinema, first cited by Stan VanDerBeek around 1965 in his proposal and manifesto Cultural Intercom and Expanded Cinema (1966) calls artists to use moving images to create a new world language, a non-verbal one, and to create theatres called Movie-Domes to screen the work in the mid-1960s. The term Expanded Cinema was subsequently developed by media theorist Gene Youngblood in his seminal text Expanded Cinema (1970). Written during a time of revolutionary underground cinema and art and new age psychedelic influences Youngblood questions the new mode of experiencing art and introduces a new cinematic language. He introduces Expanded Cinema as expanded consciousness and that it is not a movie or a defined discipline but a process. This process he suggests entails ‘man’s ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind’[3] Youngblood introduces a new mode of cinematic language ‘synaesthetic mode’[4] which he believes has conscious expanding effects and that an absence of discipline will give the freedom for a new language to be developed. He argues that in the ‘Paleocybernetic Age’ the ‘intermedia network’[5] which is comprised of cinema, television, radio and magazines is our environment and that we are influenced more by cinema and television than nature.

Carolee Schneemann recounted Expanded Cinema in her performance scripts ‘Expanded Cinema: Free Form Recollections of New York’[6] (1970). Schneemann chronicles the New York Expanded Cinema scene. Schneemann’s perceived Expanded Cinema as a form of ‘kinetic theatre performance’[7] in which she combined performance, film and slide projection engaging the body, environment and the audience. During this time Jonas Mekas wrote many critical columns for Village Voice, a collection of these are compiled in Movie Journal 1959-1971 that captures the experimental movement of expanded film in the 1960s in New York. Works by Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Robert Breer among many are discussed and in the article ‘On the Expanding Eye’ 1964, Mekas discusses Expanded Cinema as a new cinema being made and calls on critics and audiences to be willing to come and see and ‘expand their eyes’[8] to see this new vision.

In the essay by Annabel Nicolson’s ‘Art and Artists’ (1972), Nicolson states that the identity of film has been reclaimed from the ‘literal and dramatic content’[9] and that the tactile potential of film has been realized by artists such as Norman McLaren and Carolee Schneeman and saw the beginning of the ‘post-war unshackling’[10] of Abstract Expressionist painting. Nicolson states that the developments of artists’ films were hampered at this time by distribution and restricted by screening times and unsuitable projection facilities. According to Liz Kotz in ‘Disciplining Expanded Cinema’, 2003 the modernist specificity that was attached to the filmic medium overshadowed the ‘diverse cross-disciplinary, multi-media, and performance orientated practices’ at this time.[11] Multiscreen and performative cinema were unable to articulate a ‘set of terms – historical trajectories, defining conditions of artistic principles – that would give multiscreen work some kind of historical or aesthetic grounding’[12] and provide it with some kind of discipline. She finds it difficult to ‘construct critical discourse’[13] around multiscreen and expanded cinema because of the ephemeral nature of these practices, which makes them difficult to document and that because of the multimedia nature of the work, critical accounts have been aligned with film history or media studies. She found that in the 1960s multidisciplinary practice was central to many artists that ignored the ‘defining role of institutional and art historical conventions’[14] although it was undertheorized. Through her desire to historicize or ‘discipline’[15] expanded cinema she has found that much contemporary multi-media sculpture or performance has been extremely arbitrary and over-inclusive and that expanded cinema should be seen as an ‘extension or reception of early twentieth century projects of abstract art and photomontage aesthetics’.[16] She argues that positioning expanded cinema within this context will allow for a ‘broader aesthetic history’[17] and a wider perspective.

In‘Expanded Cinema – And “Cinema of Attractions”’Jackie Hatfield focuses on the video history of expanded cinema and states that unlike film, the material specificities of video are in flux and as such need continual theoretical or philosophical review. In the 1970s in the UK the debate centered on Peter Gidal and Malcolm Le Grice and as the technology was shifting constantly there has been criticism that video practitioners of the early period of video wrote no critical history and gravitated towards the commercial world of television. She suggests that this had more to do with the cultural environment at this time and that the video artists of the eighties were ‘more likely to survive via the commercially driven cultures of broadcast, than the patronage of the white cube’[18] and states that being an artist in Britain during the eighties had ‘limited prospects’.[19] She claims that the ontological differences between film and video were evident in the 1970s and it was video pushing the boundaries of moving image and that many of the artists such as VALIE EXPORT, David Hall, Malcolm Le Grice, Tony Sinden and Pieter Weibel transitioned from film to video and that monitor work rather than projection became more prevalent until the late 1980s. Artists were exploring were ‘exploring video as a sculptural material’[20] activating the space of the gallery beyond the monitor, she references the work of David Hall’s Progressive Recessive (1979) where using nine monitors and nine cameras he used the monitors in a sculptural arrangement within the space to navigate the viewer and in the work of Dan Graham’s Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay (1974) where the viewer had to navigate the gallery space between two monitors at opposite ends of the space where the viewer’s image would appear after a time delay. She states that this was evident as well in the exhibitions like Video Skulptur Retrospecktiv and Aktuell (1963-1989) at Köln, Berlin and Zurich in 1989 where artists where using time delay and switchers to interrupt and to create a ‘technologically active and semi-immersive cinematic environment’. [21]

Hatfield believed that the role of narrative in Expanded Cinema had been overlooked and had begun the initial research in this area, before her death she compiled a team to finish the research which accumulated in a collection of essays that are published in Expanded Cinema: Art Performance and Film, (2011) edited by A.L Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball and David Curtis. A.L Rees in the essay ‘Expanded Cinema and Narrative: A troubled history’, claims that the history of Expanded Cinema is an ‘elastic’[22] term that is difficult to define and encompasses many sorts of film and projection events. He suggests that the overall vision described by Mekas and Youngblood had three aspects:

The first was to melt down all art forms, including film, into multimedia live –action events. The second was to explore electronic technologies and the coming of cyberspace, as heralded by Marshall McLuhan. The third was to break down the barrier between artist and audience through new kinds of participation[23]

Each of these aspects challenged the passive consumption of entertainment and commercial cinema. Rees states that Expanded Cinema is not just a question of using multiple screens but that the main concern is whether or not a work is ‘predetermined, is already made, as the record of an event that has previously taken place, and so can be recognized independently of its projected instantiation; or conversely, whether it is made in and through its projection’.[24] The differences he said in the U.S expanded cinema work which focused on the exploration of new forms of subjectivity in art and a ‘reinvigorated expressionism that challenged the formal boundaries of art media’ and that the UK and in Europe took a different direction; in the UK that it was centered around Filmakers Co-Operative and that ‘process and materials’[25] were more significant and that events such as Filmaktion’s multiple screen events were less ‘absorptive and participatory’[26] for spectators than in the American events.

In Between The Black Box and The White Cube (2014) Andrew V.Uroskie claims that the origins of expanded cinema lie in the forgotten work of postwar artists and practices of the Parisian Lettrists. He suggests that Expanded Cinema became displaced as the focus was on the ‘dominant high modernist paradigm’[27] established by Clement Greenberg, which instead placed structural film and video art within the medium-specificity disciplines. That the ‘openness of expanded cinema was correctly seen as a damning liability for film’s legitimation as an autonomous sphere of modernist art’. [28]  He believes it is necessary to fully understand the move from material specificity to situation and site. Examining key artists such as Robert Whitman, Stan VanDerBeek, Nam June Paik, Robert Breer and Ken Dewey, he suggests the expanded cinema of the 1960s was a hybrid practice incorporating film, sculpture, theater, performance, dance and music. The ‘movement of moving image became something to be explicitly staged’[29] examining its exhibitionary situation and the role of the spectator. He says that like artists working at this time we should focus on how the hybrid nature of the moving image was transformed rather than the focus of film as an artistic medium. He states that artists working in expanded cinema sought to challenge cinema and contemporary art and with the rise of television in the 1960s and the demise of the movie theatre, artist were not interested in advancing the medium of cinema as an art form but wanted to utilize the moving image to ‘challenge the institutions and practices of postwar art’.[30]


[1] Krauss Rosalind, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

[2] Lev Manovich. Post-media Aesthetics, 2001.

[3] Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema P41

[4] IBID p.83

[5] IBID p.55

[6] Carolee Schneemann, Expanded Cinema: Free From Recollections of New York, International Underground Film Festival, London, 1970.

[7] IBID p.96

[8]  Jonas Mekas, Movie Journal p.120

[9] Annabel Nicolson Art and Artists (1972)

[10] IBID

[11] IBID p.44

[12] Liz Kotz, Disciplining Expanded Cinema, X-Screen, 2003

[13] Liz Kotz, Disciplining Expanded Cinema, X-Screen, 2003

[14] IBID p.45

[15] IBID p.47

[16] IBID p.47

[17] IBID p.47

[18] Jackie Hatfield, Expanded Cinema – And ‘Cinema of Attractions’ p.6 in Art in-sight 14 (Filmwaves 27)

[19] IBID p.6

[20] IBID p.7-8

[21] IBID p.7-8

[22] Expanded Cinema: Art Performance and Film (2011) edited by A.L Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball and David Curtis p.12

[23] Rees, A.L, Expanded Cinema and Narrative: A troubled history.

[24] Jackie Hatfield, Expanded Cinema – And ‘Cinema of Attractions’ p.12

[25] IBID p.14

[26] IBID

[27] Andrew V Uroskie, , Between the Black Box and the White Cube p.234

[28] IBID

[29] IBID p.14

[30] IBID p.14

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