Filmmakers have long sought to rewire the grammar and symbolism of classical cinema, interrogated the material of the film strip, and entered and dismantled the mechanisms of the apparatus itself.
This is a device that transforms the human body into a total recording and projecting machine. This is a device that, to put it better, transforms every cell on the surface of the human body into a recording and projecting apparatus and thus makes the human body a thoroughly sentient camera/screen.
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.
The state of cinema is as fluid as its technology. Claims or concerns that artists cinema (i.e. experimental, poetic, or personal cinema) is a dying art form tend to be provocation at best, nostalgia at worst, as they are when made in reference to painting, or photography, or whichever medium is the one under fire, but especially so in reference to an art form that is historically young.
On a computer, a vector graphic is the opposite of a raster graphic. A vector is all relative points with no resolution; a raster is all resolution. The raster is resolute, fixed, of this world. It contains the photographic, and if you blow it up, it will appear to degrade.
I was asked to write about the present and future of “artists’ cinema” and “moving-image art.” This language conflates two traditions that I still have a stake in separating: experimental film and (gallery/museum) video art.
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 fact that I don’t have any formal training either as a filmmaker or as a visual artist means that I was never introduced to moving images within the context of a tradition.
Both gallery and theatrical viewing situations have advantages and disadvantages when considering audience response. Im interested in the captive response that a theatrical presentation will provide, and my work does tend to have a trajectory, so its good to see it from beginning to end.
Why have the discussions of the state of avant-garde/experimental/artists cinema essentially remained the same for 30 years or so?
I am too young to have ever known an avant-garde with a future. The 10 years during which I have paid serious attention to experimental film have unfolded as an extended funeral procession after the death of cinema.
I like making things. Objects that are distinct, take up space, have weight and texture, can be given as gifts, are occasionally sold, contain the very story of their making in the material of their being.
People forget so easily. Artist’s cinema had been strong throughout the mid-20th century. We face a Renaissance, the art field discovers Hans Richter and others.
As the director of The Nightingale, a microcinema in Chicago, I often find myself standing around talking about the contemporary state of moving image work, and usually just as some concrete progress on the topic is made, somebody asks where the bathroom is and we are back to square one.
Amongst all technologies, the clock and the camera are distinct in providing humans, and more recently machines, two universal metrics for measuring and restructuring the world.
Since the 18th century, art has set itself emancipatory goals and has been at the forefront of change. The task was to change the world, or at least some part of it, so as to reopen the Real.
Robert Gardners recent passing made me think again about how images originate in other images, ones gestures in anothers gestures, through an incalculable testimonial chain of new encounters. I first saw a sequence of one of Gardners films in another directors film.