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Photography & media

Cinema as an art form

— August 2011

Article read level: Undergraduate / student

Associated media

Cover of Expanded CInema: Art Performance Film

Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film

Edited by A.L. Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball and David Curtis.

Expanded cinema as a form – of cinema and of art practice – began as early as the Dadaist performances of the 1920s and became a recognizable art form in the 1960s in Europe and America.  Expanded cinema, by definition, is a ‘multi-screen work as a projection expanded event’ and it is further described by A.L. Rees in his introduction as work that was not predetermined and was ‘made in and through its projection’ in the gallery space.  Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film  reflects this well, as scattered throughout the volume are a number of ‘artists’ pages’ which show working notes made prior to the events.  In addition to this, the book is well illustrated throughout with photographs, which document and record – as best they can – works of expanded cinema.  It is rare to see such a range of reproductions. They demonstrate the ‘process-based’ nature of this type of temporary work, which once it has taken place, leaves no permanent record in the way a painting or sculpture might.

Expanded Cinema  is an overview of the field and includes articles by a broad range of leading artists and academics.  The book collects a range of articles by writers such as the multidisciplinary artist Carolee Schneemann, and filmmakers William Raban and Annabel Nicholson.  These are complemented by articles that re-appraise these forms; for example, Lucy Reynolds reconsiders the most basic of film technologies: ‘shadowplay’ – the projection of light on objects to produce shadows on a screen, a form which was used in the 1970s by members of the London Filmmakers Co-operative.

The book opens with a pictorial chronology of the development of expanded cinema from the start of the 20th century, with early cinematic experiments, to the contemporary ‘future cinema’ of Peter Weibel and Jeffrey Shaw.  This is a  helpful beginning, because expanded cinema was and is a complex series of events – and ‘happenings’.  These pages serve the useful purpose of setting the scene and providing a brief context for the articles that follow. 

The whole project grew from a major research project initiated by Jackie Hatfield, which following her untimely death has been continued by the group that now edit the collection.  The involvement of research projects such as the British Artists’ Film and Video Study Collection means that some of the materials archived in such collections can – at last – see the light of day.

The book’s publication signals an appraisal of the work of expanded cinema – and its importance; in sharp relief to the tacit acceptance of contemporary artists’ film work in gallery spaces.  Expanded Cinema provides a contextual and historical antidote to this.

The book is timely.  With the growth of interest in this area of practice in Fine Art undergraduate and postgraduate courses, this is a useful resource for those working in or beyond, or just interested, in this area. There are as yet few books dedicated to this area of filmic practice, so this new edited collection is to be welcomed.

Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film  edited by A.L. Rees, Duncan White, Steven Ball and David Curtis is published by Tate Publishing, in association with Central St Martins College of Art and Design.  320pp.,  100 colour illus, £19.99. ISBN 978 1 85437 974 0

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