Film in Space: an exhibition of film and expanded cinema selected by Guy Sherwin
Camden Arts Centre
15 December 2012 - 24 February 2013
Review by Karl Musson
Western languages are rich with examples of verbs becoming nouns and vice versa, both Film and Space being examples. Screen, from Middle Dutch, meant to cover. The advent of the magic lantern has rendered screen a surface which captures and shows. Touch screen technology has inserted a mode of screen as portal, and representations of buttons have names which reveal previously more physical verbs such as re-winding and cutting. ‘Painted Screen’, by Guy Sherwin (1972/2012), makes a journey from guache through celluloid film to video, and as is the case with the sometimes fluid movement of words between being nouns and being verbs, ‘Painted Screen’ moves with ease from guache, off of which light is reflected, to film, through which light is projected.
Light’s transit through the material manifestation of the work is taken to its sublimely structural resolution in ‘Blind’ (2006/2012) by Emma Hart. A projector shines alternately through and onto a white Venetian blind which is motorised to slowly and continuously blink open and closed. In keeping with the curatorial coherence of this 17 person group exhibition of expanded cinema, is the placing of ‘Blind’ in the same room as, but peacefully perpendicular to, ‘Window Piece’ (2012) by Simon Payne. ‘Window Piece’ covers sight through a window as the glass becomes blocks of primary and secondary colours repeatedly changing at a pace slower than, but reminiscent of, the idea of frames per second. What is also apparent is that the digital nature of ‘Window Piece’, far from competing with celluloid film, highlights the latter’s rich luminosity.
This does not however deny materiality to the digital format. ‘Good Night Ladies’ (1999) by Steve Farrer, is a large-scale back projection showing people occupying domestic interior spaces and is situated within the gallery so that the viewer can only see it from such a close up position as to make one feel potentially intrusive in this private space. But as if at the last minute, the sense of invading privacy is screened against by the materiality of pixels, dominant from the very proximity which would otherwise have rendered the viewer a voyeur.
‘Good Night Ladies’ also raises a question stemming from its slow change of images within the overall vista. Are we evolutionarily predisposed to keeping an eye on things which move’ This would satisfactorily account for flames and the sea being able to entrance our gaze for extended periods of time. But one could also ask whether such a predisposition comes into play between digital and celluloid. What moves, in the digital format, is the idea of the content. The pixels themselves, despite changing colour, remain still. In the celluloid case, the film itself physically moves and through the act of projection we see a parallel, almost ghost of a moving object.
Walking through ‘Film in Space’ gives one a sense of overview of expanded cinema. Fittingly, the building which now houses Camden Arts Centre was once a library and the central space would have been a place of transience, a place through which people moved from one room to another, or used to enter and exit the library. In keeping with the moving nature of film, this central space has been used for a piece called ‘Anthology’ (2012) by Lucy Reynolds. In this lobby of movement, ‘Anthology’ becomes a curatorial engagement. 18 films will be shown in total, but they will be shown in groups of three, changing weekly over the duration of the exhibition, projecting a connection between the transience of the central space as a lobby and the temporality of film.
The opening trio of films, by Sally O’Reilly, Audrey Reynolds and Liliane Lijn, celebrate the mechanism of the projector, partly in screening images of two rotating drums alluding to reels, and also because the size of the projection is smaller than the physical space taken up by the projectors. Awareness of the machine generating the image is further enhanced by seeing the filmstrip wind not around a reel, but up to the ceiling, through an eye and back down into the projector, which clatters dependably in physical reality. O’Reilly’s ‘A Crude Engine’ (2012) uses humour and crude innuendo of verbs associated with the function of the internal combustion engine, juxtaposed with imagery of a woman dressed in a swimming costume catching a perpetual sequence of beach balls on which are printed the words ‘suck’, ‘squeeze’, ‘bang’ and ‘blow’.
Further reflecting the time-based nature of film, all of the films in ‘Anthology’ are 30 seconds long. By contrast, some of the more physically delicate pieces have been made more permanent for, and in a sense, by, this exhibition. With Sherwin’s ‘Newsprint’ (1972) for example, newspaper has been cut to 16mm and perforated to fit the teeth of a projector mechanism. ‘Newsprint (1972/2012), sees this transferred onto film so as to be played continually for over two months, and so in a way also to report on the transience of news.
As a retrospective, ‘Film in Space’ stems from Guy Sherwin’s extensive involvement with the Camden Film Maker’s Co-op at its advent in the 1970s. Now that more portable technology enables us to carry moving images with us in our pockets, it is grounding to see this rich luminosity of celluloid film being so clearly manifest through such unportable projectors. The significance of this to us today is that we have to go somewhere to see these films, rather than watch them at a location of our convenience. And perhaps the movement of culture away from having a specific location, to being anywhere at one’s convenience, is one of the persistent characteristics of post-modernism.
A reading of these works in 2012, a number of which were made in the 1970s, is unavoidably framed by the changes in the equipment and processes for experimenting with the cinematic medium. The un-missably physically present analogue machines, with cogs, wheels and levers, go about illuminating film onto a screen with an incandescence that digital technology can perhaps only touch on.