EYE exposition Celluloid (2016)
A report on the exposition in EYE Filmmuseum, September 2016
Films are made of fleeting shadows, but these shadows have a tangible source: a filmstrip and a projector. The basic technical specifics of the analogue film image includes the description of grain and color space. The analogue film projection implies among others a choice of appropriate gauge and masking. All this is part of a industrial ‘apparatus’ that normally is hidden from view. The exposition Celluloid consists of seven installations, expressing artistic reflections on the characteristics of celluloid and the several possible options for screening this celluloid. The material that the artists used for their installation consists therefore of two elements: different formats of film stock and a choice in the set-up of the projector using different viewing distances and screen sizes.
The exposition can be understood as offering an opening for a reflection on the practice in the projection booth. The exposition gives also attention to a craftsmanship that is becoming obsolete because the exhibited machinery has been replaced by digital projection of data files. However, cinema is still the audio-visual art that cherishes the elusive magic of light. This exposition proves it. I briefly review four highlights.
Tacita Dean presented her installation ‘FILM’ first in the impressive Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in London in 2011. Before the resurrection in Amsterdam, it was also recreated in Melbourne and Seoul. Her vertical cinema projection of a 11 minutes 35mm-loop highlights the existence of sprockets and she combines all kinds of images and compositions in her collage. In the side programme at EYE Filmmuseum both her earlier film Kodak (2006, 44 minutes) and her later film JG (2013, 26:30 minutes) are shown.
Rosa Barba presents Bending to Earth (2015), a 15 minutes 35mm-loop of aerial footage of desolate desert landscapes, affected by human interventions. In this case the focus is on different radioactive fields and constructions used for nuclear waste storage. The images are divided in sequences by the addition of two philosophical texts citations. The sound-track consist of radio signals, electronic sounds and a voice-over giving background information about the constructions we see. The projector and the no-rewind plate stands in the room, it is a magnificent machine that shuffles the print in an elegant way. In this way, the projection is an integral part of the installation.
Curator Cristina Camara Bello observes in her enlightening catalogue entry about Bending to Earth: “The repetitive nature of the sequences and the circular rhythm of the images find a paragon in the actual system of projection, a loop devised to ensure that the film itself is a perfect and endless circle. This is what brings a presential and sculptural quality of the work, turning the intangible cinematic image, made of light, shadows and time, into something physical.”
The circular movements of the helicopter and the hand-held camera reminded me of the classic experimental film La region centrale (Michael Snow, 1971). I admit there is a big difference in concept and development, so maybe the comparison is rather farfetched.
The installation of Rosa Barba was first presented in the Venice Art Biennale 2015. It is the third part of a series of installations presenting aerial views on landscapes, ruined by energy storage or extraction. The earlier installations are The Long Road (2010) and Time as Perspective (2012).
Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder present their installation Light Spill (2005), a 16mm projector spilling the footage to the ground. This kind of scene can have a comic touch, as is proven in for example the early French slap-stick movie Artheme operateur (1913) and more refined in the Buster Keaton film Sherlock Jr. (1924). In the exposition room however the view of the spilling projector is a rather shocking situation. To my relief the spill concerns only specially fabricated footage, no archival material is harmed. A practical question occurs to me: who has to wrap the pile of filmstrips, every day after closure time? There is already some experience in this matter, because the installation was first presented in gallery TENT (Rotterdam) as part of the 2007 exposition ‘Borderline Behaviour: Drawn Towards Animation’.
Joao Maria Gusmao and Pedro Paiva made a multiple 16mm film installation, a kind of maze filled abundantly with projections. They offer surrealistic juxtapositions of totally different moving images, slow cinema registrations. It is a confrontation with a mixture of unconnected views of events more or less taken from daily life. The only sound to be heard is the soft murmur of all projectors involved. It is impressive to see the line-up of so many projectors, operating on their own.
The machines are all solid Eiki’s, in this sense the installation is also a splendid show-case of a glorious product placement. I hope the stock of projector lamps is sufficient to reach the final day, because the exhibition is open from 16 September 2016 until 8 January 2017, six days a week. That means many hours of performance.
The exposition offers the visitor a free trajectory through several dark spaces filled with projection light-rays. This means that the experience of wonder is highlighted by the perception of your own silhouette and the shadows of other visitors on the various screens. Normally you should avoid being caught in the light beam of a film projector, but in this exposition it is inevitable and it is a playful distortion that gives added value. It reminded me of the experience of audience engagement generated by the ‘solid light films’ of British artist Anthony McCall, shown in his solo exhibition at EYE Filmmuseum in 2014.
The exhibition ‘Celluloid’ fits in a series of reflection on the medium that EYE Filmmuseum presents in their series of exhibitions, among them ‘Cinema Remake: Art & Film’ (2014), ‘Expanded Cinema: Isaac Julien, Fiona Tan, Yang Fudong’ (2012) and ‘Found Footage: Cinema Exposed’ (2012).
Bloemheuvel, M & J. Guldemond (eds. 2016) Celluloid: Tacita Dean, Joao Maria Gusmao & Pedro Paiva, Rosa Barba, Sandra Gibson & Luis Recoder. Amsterdam/Rotterdam: EYE Filmmuseum/ nai010 publishers.
· Eakin, Emily (2011) ‘Celluloid Hero: Tacita Dean’s Exhilarating Homage to Film’, in The New Yorker (October 31, 2011). URL: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/31/celluloid-hero
· Cherchi Usai, P. (2001) The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age. London: British Film Institute.
· Gaudreault, A. & Ph. Marion (2015) The End of Cinema? A Medium in Crisis in the Digital Age. New York: Columbia University Press.
· Mulvey, L. (2005) Death 24x Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. London: Reaktion Books.
· Iles, Ch. (2001) Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977. New York: Whitney Museum.
· Reflections on celluloid can be found in the work of American filmmaker Bill Morrison, for instance his found footage film Decasia (2002) or his documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016).
· Dutch filmmaker and curator Joost Rekveld reflects in his work also on the basic modalities of cinema. Check his website for more details: http://www.joostrekveld.net
Additional photo projects
· ‘Theatres’, documenting abandoned cinemas in ruins in the USA, a photo project of Yves Merchand and Romain Meffre, started in 2005 and still in progress: http://www.marchandmeffre.com/theaters
· ‘Booth: The Last Day of Film Projection’, photo project of Joseph O. Holmes, exhibited in Museum of the Moving Image, New York (October 2013 - February 2014) and at TIFF, Toronto.
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