There’s been something in the air lately about the merging of art and cinema. Film festivals and art fairs have been having “art + film” matchmaking sessions, curators have been making more cinema references in their exhibitions, artists dream of making feature films, feature filmmakers make paintings and drawings. What are these grass-is-greener daydreams a symptom of?
The Art and Cinema industries—industry has long been associated with cinema but it is newer to apply it to the art-world, which Holland Cotter did in a recent New York Times polemic, “Lost in the Gallery-Industrial Complex”—have many parallels now. They’re both bigger than they’ve ever been: global, primed for investors, and focused on spectacle. Their raging fires are chasing the animals from their forests, in search of a creative field less concerned with a market and more concerned with a public. The two are inseparable, but there are varying degrees of commercial influence.
Art and Cinema encompass so many types of creative individuals who have yet to really integrate in a new creative culture more hospitable to them. The presumption of an artists’ cinema as distinct from either art or cinema, rather than a true merging of the two, is part of what has been inhibiting more fruitful collaborations between the refugees of the two industries. The term “artists’ cinema” is in danger of becoming an art-world counterpart to “indie film,” a dubious categorization, cleaving to other general, decorative terms like “experimental,” “avant-garde,” and “alternative.” Independent film and artists’ cinema are more interesting when they refer to an alternative means of production and exhibition, something beyond a mere association or sensibility. Too many art-world approaches to cinema remain superficial (cinema is rectangular, cinema is slick and loud, cinema is raked velveteen seats), just as cinema has been guilty of representing artists as painters in smocks and berets.
Cinema is the older mass media form relative to television, yet there was an artists’ television already, which took many forms ranging from works commissioned by television labs to interventionist projects like Chris Burden’s paid advertising for himself, to art works that were displayed in galleries rather than broadcast, though they defined themselves against the paradigm of the television industry, and the television apparatus. There was an incredible blossoming of experimentation and innovation using video, television’s kin, in the 1970s, fostered by gallerists and individuals at funding agencies—money people—who nurtured the idea of “crossing over” into an alternative to art and television. Even if that crossing-over didn’t work out the way everyone hoped, the impulse is clearly alive and well. It could be that the artists’ cinema buzz now is an indication it’s time to try again.
REBECCA CLEMAN is the Distribution Director of Electronic Arts Intermix (E.A.I.), a leading international resource for video and media art.