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Guy Sherwin, ‘Paper Landscape’, 1975–ongoing, still from video footage

This one day event was one of a number of pertinent international events staged at London’s main venue for the arts of the moving image. The following day, an Afterall symposium and launch of the publication, Art and the Moving Image, explored similar fertile terrain. If this weren’t enough, BFI also screened some of the early works of one of the cornerstones of experimental film, Michael Snow, who was on hand to introduce the films and discuss his practice over the past half century. All this helped to create a developed appreciation of the constituent parts of a polymorphous subject.

Expanded Cinema: The Live Record supplements David Curtis’ essential reading, History of Experimental Film and Video, 2007, and draws upon material sourced from two previous events, in Dortmund, 2004 and in Stuttgart, 2006 (Luke Fowler Report, MAP 9).

Another significant forerunner is Experiments in the Moving Image from 2003, a major chronological programme of experimental moving image by artists from the late 1960s to date, held at the Lumiere Cinema, where, in 1896, the first public demonstration of the moving image was given in the UK. Alongside Steve Littman, the 2003 event was co-organised by the late Jackie Hatfield, whose drive and enthusiasm laid the foundations for much of this current research project.

The theme at BFI examined the relationship between the live event in expanded cinema and its documentation, with Duncan White focussing his talk on some key expanded cinema work, using clips of documentation to illustrate issues such as the infidelities of digital documentation; for example, many of the works require the artist to be present to activate the moment.

A clip from Malcolm LeGrice’s ‘After Leonardo’ (one of the highlights of Kill Your Timid Notion, KYTN, at DCA in November 2008) allows the audience to experience the present performance in relation to those from the past. A Werner Nekes’ performance illustrates how documentation is trivialised by the sheer amount of recording devices you see at any live event. The clip shows the artist in performance with incessant camera flashes and an intermittent mobile signal interfering with the sound recording. Also included is some footage from Paul Sharits’ captivating ‘Epileptic Seizure Comparison’, 1976, earlier shown at KYTN .

Guy Sherwin, 'Paper Landscape', 1975ongoing, still from video footage
Guy Sherwin, ‘Paper Landscape’, 1975–ongoing, still from video footage

William Raban’s conceptually strong live performance, ‘4’22”’, develops an earlier work in which a camera is filming the audience watching a blank screen, which is reflimed each time it is screened. This new work was shot at various screenings preceding this event and ‘begins and ends with the period of its own making’. It ‘is a film which IS its showing, differing each time, always the sum total of its past screenings’. 4.22 minutes is the actual running time of a reel of film.

Guy Sherwin, another artist included in KYTN, uses previous works as references for re-enactments. His live performance here of ‘Paper Landscape’, 1975-ongoing, has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the original work Sherwin filmed a large white frame in a landscape, which he gradually tore to reveal the landscape and the artist on the other side of the frame. In this latest version, he projects the 10 minute film onto a polythene framed sheet, which he gradually paints white, revealing the original film in which he tears away the paper to reveal the landscape. ‘So the emphasis switches more and more to my recorded image, as the real me becomes progressively walled in’. As the image of the artist in the original sees him walk into the distance, Sherwin slices the frame open and climbs through the polythene to reveal the real artist in real time. It is a compelling conceit.

Artists’ practice now, is nourished by exposure to the vast areas of work undertaken which challenge the conventions of cinema projection. In a scholarly lecture, Le Grice speculates on the next period of critical debate as one of ‘radical time’, the way a spectator constructs spatiality in relation to expanded cinema, presenting a teasing conundrum to dwell upon, ‘how far apart does something have to be before we know we have a gestalt?’

The sight of a sold-out cinema space late on a cold and wet Friday in London was evidence that there are audiences hungry for events that demonstrate that ‘then and now’ are not so much times apart, but places which are currently merging and transforming one another in new practices. The film they were queuing for was Michael Snow’s structuralist three hour epic, ‘La Region Centrale’, a tour de force of the hardcore 1970s.

Malcolm Dickson is director of Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow