A Levy on the Moving Image Installation, Part 2: The Promiscuous Circuit
The decade of the 1960s saw the contemporary exodus of film from the theater towards the site of the gallery (and an emphasis on screening situations); the beginning of an ‘intermedia’-condition; the permeation of boundaries between art and film; and the creation of hybrid filmic objects, installations, performances and events.
- Tanya Leighton, Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader
Biennials are marked by frenetic energy by which each achieves critical mass, before disappearing again. The LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images follows this format: an intense temporary platform for debate, education and celebration of the moving image. How is this temporary community sustained after the fact? Intensity of the biennial must be seen against an age of ever promiscuous moving images: images ripped, crunched, cut and copied online; dispersed; viewed on any number of media platforms. Is, in fact, the biennial the correct format for a celebration of artists’ moving image? Following my initial instalment posted this weekend, here I flag up several historical precedents of artists’ moving image dependent upon specific sites or media platforms for critical effectivity.
Moving image and the cinematic has been a dominant preoccupation in contemporary art of the last 15 years. It is, however, by no means a recent phenomena. In the late 1960s and 1970s, artists’ moving image in Britain concentrated emphasis on moving image in installation alongside objects and performance in the gallery space. These forms were borne out a desire to critique mainstream cinema and apparatus.
In recent years, historians of artists’ moving image have observed a tendency to conceive of installations that use moving image as a recent phenomena. Andrew C Uroskie’s essay ‘Siting Cinema’ suggests that this historical myopia is not simply a consequence of lazy critics. According to Uroskie, a critical blindness to the history of artists’ moving image can be accounted for by its institutional promiscuity. By this, he means its lack of faith to one institution in particular, its “failure to establish itself solely within the institutions of the theatre or gallery, within the discourses of either film studies or art history”. He continues:
Rather, the difficulty of locating artist film-making in the aesthetic discourse of the 1960s and in the later discourses of art and film criticism is inextricably bound up with the difficulty of locating these practices within the physical, institutional or discursive space of either the art gallery or the cinematic theatre.
Key among those practices of artists’ moving image of the late 1960-70s that activated the relationship between gallery and cinema was ‘Expanded Cinema’. Expanded cinema sought to challenge the conventional viewing behaviour of mainstream cinema, and to produce not a passive spectator in a fixed monocular relationship to a single screen but an active participation with multiple perspective. These filmmakers sought an expansion of cinema beyond its conventional set-up. For filmmaker Malcolm Le Grice, expanded cinema represented:
The establishment of the third region of time/space experience as primary… where the material factors of the screening situation, the celluloid, the light, the screen and the duration of [the viewer’s] attention is clearly established as the first instance.
William Raban is a filmmaker who has produced work that can be considered both moving image installation and expanded cinema. Reflecting on his own work of the past 40 years, Raban has written that for his expanded cinema to effectively critique the cinematic apparatus it would ideally be presented in the context of the cinema.
I prefer to show all my expanded pieces (except for the installations) on a cinema screen when it is possible, because I think this reinforces the transgressive aspect of the films — making a more direct comment on cinema and its inherent conservatism.
Experimental video artist David Larcher’s Videovoid (1993) finds its radical criticality in a normative context of television. Televised in 1994, this work exceeded standards of brightness, contrast and colour causing, Larcher recalls, “quite a stink” with Channel 4’s technicians. Speaking specifically of television, Larcher expressed a desire to use electrons in the image (along with syncing sound) in such a way that it seems the cathode ray is about to explode. While Raban is concerned with the cinema assemblage, from projector gate to immersive architectural space, Larcher’s work is less concerned with cinematic architecture. Television is subject to the contingency of domestic life. Broken attention is a factor of its viewing behaviour. Videovoid, however, relies on a specific normative context of television for its effectivity.
But isn’t artists’ moving image more promiscuous than ever before? Even a 16mm short can often be viewed in a theatre, an artist’s website, Vimeo or YouTube. The digital file might be embedded in a lecture slideshow, downloaded to a mobile phone, played in a domestic setting on a television, or in a gallery installation accompanied by objects. These proliferating media platforms transform the original image through a multitude of contextual factors, including different encodings, media players, screen surrounds, or different placement in installation space. Anything can be converted into anything.
It has been well discussed by organisations such as Limited Langauge how online digital media produces new economies of interface and attention. Web media users are constantly hailed, solicited and invited to connect. Pop-ups, banners, sponsorships, product placements, interactive games are part and parcel of this media ecosystem. Facebook, Youtube, Linkedin – community management sites – today are the go-to for web marketing (Vimeo: “we don’t put ads before, after, or over your videos”). We are constantly invited to connect and this is not, as media theorist Jon Dovey writes, because media providers just want us all to play nice and have lots of warm friendships.
It is because they are seeking, in a crowded, transient marketplace characterised by a nomadic audience, to create brand engagement…. Our behaviour becomes data that can be sold on without our knowledge and then be used to maintain consumption in whatever segment of the long tail our habitus is identified with.
Where is the cinematic architecture online? Would reframing YouTube as an architectural space encourage an historical point of departure from the concerns of expanded cinema? How the viewer interfaces with the screen – the kinds of behaviour encouraged – must be reconciled with an idea of the webpage layout as cinematic architecture. I don’t simply mean online community forums as a gathering framework. On YouTube this would include filter suggestions on the right hand side, users’ channels (in some cases ‘curated’), comments at the foot of the virtual frame – a plurality of possible narrative adjuncts. Given the plurality of digital formats and viewing platforms, a formalist critique would operate on a micro-level, engaging, for example, with the specific qualities of moving image compression.
In a contemporary visual culture, one where images are constantly transformed, rewritten, re-cut, compressed as they circulate through immaterial networks imbibed by branding, curator Elena Filipovic’s characterisation of cinema in the LUX / ICA Biennial Reader as quintessentially immaterial, seems apt: “It is all about projection, flickering light, and ephemeral experience.”
Never before has artists’ moving image been so popular and yet so promiscuous. The flicker of frames is now the digital flicker of images passing by before our very eyes. Combined with Hlavajova’s view of the biennial as “unstable, always in flux”, artist’s moving image in a biennial context seems hazardously uncertain ground.