When I received an email from the Brooklyn Rail asking me to write on the “status and position of the moving image art today,” the question had already been on my mind, prompted by the recent International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany. Founded in 1954, the festival’s initial agenda was educational, whatever that term meant shortly after the war. This year’s content paralleled the enormous adjustments since then in the definition of moving images. The history of what was originally called the 1st West German Educational Film Festival (the name changed in 1991) is full of milestones that have contributed to the expansion of the cinematic universe. Notably, in l962 a group of young German filmmakers (among them Alexander Kluge and Peter Schamoni) signed the Oberhausen Manifesto, announcing the “old” film dead, and voicing their desire to create a new German cinema.
“Memories Can’t Wait—Film without Film” was the inspirational theme of the recent 60th edition. The title says it all. An event created during the Cold War, using short films to teach a traumatized audience a new ideology, where American cinema would play a pivotal role, has reached its senior years looking for today’s cinematic space.
A great portion of this territory was covered in the nine-program series, The Sweet Cinema of Absence, curated by the Helsinki-based artist and filmmaker, Mika Taanila. Making no distinction between film and video, it included historical films, “filmless” films, still films, film installations, and performative films. All were influenced by a myriad of sources that included Fluxus, the Lettrists, classical cinema, abstract art, and moving panoramas. I assume that the selection was intended to jam the audience’s mental circuits, since it broke all barriers among artistic expressions, spanning the languages of film, art history, photography, theater, and performance, as well as that of popular culture and music. All were encompassed on the screen—or sometimes two screens, as in the work of Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder. Their Oberhausen premiere of Stations of Light: Installation for Two Movie Theaters, One Audience, and Musician (2014) took place in two separate rooms and required audience participation, making it impossible to see the complete work at once. Whether we consider this period as post-cinema, as a time of artistic interface, or a “filmless” moment, there is an unfamiliar energy in the air. How about seeing this instability of a solid notion of film (and art) as a change in the paradigm of what we understand as art film/cinema? As it has been said before, when a paradigm changes there is no point of return. The future? Let the future tell.
BERTA SICHEL is a curator and an art writer. She was Artistic Director for the First International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia (February - April 2014) and was Chief Curator at the Department of Audiovisual at the Museo Reina Sofia, from 2000 - 2011.