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Out of Tarr's Universe

An uncompromised vision (FW34)

THE SUBJECT IN EXPANDED CINEMA

JACKIE HATFIELD
THE SUBJECT IN EXPANDED CINEMA

I have identified in previous writing, that there is now a need for a major critical review of the practices of experimental film and video to examine the significance of technological experiment, experiment with narrative (dramaturgy), and performance (of the artist or the audience) within the cinematic event, all hitherto under-explored in the written histories. Paradigms tested with expanded cinema1, have largely fallen outside the orthodoxies of the available critical histories of the experimental film and video canons with their single-screen bias. Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema, Thorold Dickinson’s A Discovery of Cinema and aspects of Malcolm Le Grice’s Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age, are exceptions.2 However, now is an opportune time to address this gap since current (post film) forms of expanded cinema open up possibilities for new hypotheses.

The ascendancy of any one theory, history, or lineage of experimental film and video is due to the scarcity of writing relative to other art forms, however overlooked critical histories can be addressed through a review of the practice. Despite emphasis on language, abstraction and medium in the modernist sense, many artists working with film or video have explored technology, narrative, image, spectacle, and fore-grounded the artist or audience as subjects or participants in the work, or as part of the process or material. In the live event, the subject is the existential material of the artwork - the physical embodiment of its narrative history with the incumbent chaos and pandemonium of the spontaneous. In relation to expanded cinema in particular, discourse focussed on the subject as central to the mechanism of the cinematic is a history waiting to be written, although there are theoretical precedents worth considering.

In Apparatus, Cinematic Apparatus, Selected Writings Jean-Louis Baudry deliberated on the language of the cinema mechanism, with emphasis on the ‘subject’ (audience) and their relationship with the projection in the dark space. With his Plato’s ‘Cave’3 analogy he argues, ‘describes [...] the cinematographic apparatus and the spectator’s place in relation to it’.4 Primarily Baudry was interested in the ‘psychical’ relationship of the audience with the ‘image’, and asked the question whether it was ‘real-effect or impression of reality?’5 Within the projected environment, the audience, he stated, are ‘prisoners’6 of the projection ‘shackled to the screen, tied’ 7. And he argued that the film projection is a representation of a kind of reality, not unlike painting and theatre (‘dry-runs’8) in the human need for representation of ‘psychical life’9, i.e. ‘the cinematographic projection is reminiscent of dream’10 an ‘impression of reality’11 (my italics) a ‘reproduction of the real’12. Subsequent to cinema’s technical invention it was predominantly the issue of reproduction of reality that was emphasised in analytical theory rather than the relationship between the subject and the image and the potential of the cinema apparatus as a reflection of ‘states’. In contrast to this Baudry argued that cinematic signifiers and apparatus should not be exclusively oriented around the ‘technique and content’, i.e. ‘characteristics of the image, depth of field, off-screen space, shot, single-shot-sequence, montage, etc.13′ but should include the ‘position of the subject facing the image’.14 In his analysis Baudry concentrated on the subject, the audience, and stated that cinema ‘is indeed a simulation of a condition of the subject, a position of the subject, a subject and not of reality’15, and included the spectator as a major element within the definition of cinema apparatus. Similarly Roland Barthes described the audience as being anonymous, and the screen ‘visible and yet unnoticed, the dancing cone which drills through the darkness of the theater like a laser beam’16. Without distraction and unlike a painting or a video monitor, which can be seen in daylight, within the cinematic experience the audience is focussed upon the image and experience a kind of ‘cinematographic hypnosis’.17 As Baudry argued in ‘Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus’ the ‘ideological mechanism at work in the cinema seems thus to be concentrated in the relationship between the camera and the subject’.