Olivier Castel - Louise Weiss: The Back of an Image
1 May - 1 June 2013
Review by George Vasey
‘Expanded Cinema’ is a bonkers but brilliant book written by Gene Youngblood in 1970. It’s hyperbolic post-McLuhan rhetoric (the late Sixties are classified as a ‘Paleocybernetic age’) surveys a new cinematic consciousness that extended the historical notion of filmic spectatorship. Youngblood’s book was subsequently a huge influence on the development of experimental cinema. Olivier Castel (working under the heteronym Louise Weiss) presents ‘The Back of an Image’, a new solo exhibition at Rowing heavily informed by these genealogies. It consists of a site specific installation with four component parts expanding from the gallery onto the courtyard outside, taking the Odeon cinema’s proximity next door as its starting point.
Sabel Gavaldon’s accompanying essay provides further coordinates to the work on display. The text narrates an unreliable account of a chance meeting between the philosopher Vilém Flusser and Isidore Isou. The exhibition’s fragmentary and dissipated installation recalls a cinematic grammar taken to a skeletal form (light, sound, and movement) albeit it one structured spatially rather than sequentially. Essentially we are invited to occupy the frame of the film and participate rather than spectate. The gallery space is both crepuscular and cryptic. A projector installed centrally illuminates phosphorescent handwriting on the wall. The calligraphic but illegible writing snakes around the gallery in a loop - the press release states that the text is lifted from quotes about cinema yet the effect is more gestural than textual.
Moving through the gallery and back into the daylight, the artist has pasted a huge poster on the building opposite. It repeats the title of the exhibition in wavy lines on top of a Hans Arp image. Further down the narrow courtyard are four speakers playing commissioned (but unused) music from 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick alongside a recording of the furniture workshop next door. The audio imitates the cinematic ‘L-cut’ (audio from the following scene is heard in the final seconds of the preceding one - suggesting continuity.)
The sound drifts through the air competing with the traffic and band rehearsal in a nearby building. Suddenly arbitrary details become significant, laden with intent - what kind of film is this anyway’ At the far end of the courtyard there is a bench positioned behind where the original screen of the cinema would have been before it was badly damaged in 1944 and radically reconfigured. Above the bench is a poster inviting me back for a guided tour of the Odeon on the 23rd of May.
In a short essay ‘Acinema’ (1973), Jean Francois Lyotard drew parallels between abstract painting and materialist film - both render the surface of the image opaque and attempt to invert the immobility of the viewer. Expanded Cinema often theatricalises the apparatus of cinema - one can see figures such as Jeff Keen (who would often destroy the surface of the projected image) or Anthony McCall (who makes light sculptural and interactive by passing it through dark) as typical examples. Castel asks us to do the same - to scratch the surface of the image - to inhabit it and stand in it rather sit in front of it.