Theorizing Film Through Contemporary Art: Expanding Cinema
Edited by Jill Murphy & Laura Rascaroli, Amsterdam University Press, 2020
The scholarship displayed in the foreground of this collection of essays immediately emphasizes two characteristics: an overt presence of European scholars, notably from England and Ireland, and a tacit agreement that there would be little discussion of video and electronic moving images as contemporary art practices from single channel pieces to installations to projections.
And yet, there are a number of contemporary artists that appear in the texts who have worked with video, including Douglas Gordon, Philippe Parreno, Eric Baudelaire, and Camille Henrot. These artists have explored, in several of their works, a deconstruction of cinema as well as a dematerialization of film itself through electronic means. A number of essays acknowledge this in what reads almost as an apology. Still, the critical and theoretical apparatus throughout lists Bazin, Benjamin, Deleuze (and his use of Pascal Bonitzer), Krackauer, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, as it boldly serves to move away from 21st century thinkers with whom such artists have been associated. The use of Bonitzer’s subtle concept of deframing to attempt a formal analysis of Camille Henrot’s work is especially ‘daring’. Much of this enterprise has the merit to raise a stream of questions that will prove pedagogically useful. Like where is Laura Poitras, and why is there no mention of Straub-Huillet in the text on Tacita Dean’s Section Cinema.
What happens to the experience of cinema when films, whether experimental or produced by a studio- are digitized and screened without the sound of a flicker? What becomes of the ontological nature of film materiality when one medium is transformed through the tools of another? The absence of key figures who played a pivotal role in both the invention of those tools and the expansion of not only their technological capabilities but also their contribution to redefining what film is and where and how it can be experienced makes for a challenging thesis that informs this project.
AUP has published its share of remarkable books on Asian studies yet this time South Korean art and founder of video art Nam June Paik gets one mention; Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, produced by Anna Sanders, which is also behind Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe, is never brought up (nor is another Anna Sanders acolyte, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster). Chinese documentary video titan and game changer Wang Bing, is also missing. Weerasethakul and Wang share the distinction of both being film festival winners, and of having significant gallery representation and having been ‘exhibited’ in majors international institutions. Metro Pictures’ Isaac Julien appears once and Oscar winner Steve McQueen, a pioneer and a breaker of walls, is nowhere to be seen nor is Kader Attia, a leading figure of post-colonial media art (1).
All these interrogations point to the nature of the editors’ desire to produce an iconoclastic and idiosyncratic book whose premise has deliberately steered away from the current art oriented discussion of these media works, bravely attempting to format them within a 20ieth century theoretical dispositif . It finds momentum in exemplary displays of film scholarship such D.N. Rodowick’s text on Immanence. Its engagement with contemporary art does provide the same results. It is much to the works’ credit to see how much they resist.
1- Issue # 9 of the film and media art journal Mondes du Cinéma, ‘des salles aux galeries’, provided a different perspective on the issue: