ON AND ON: Thoughts on Artists Cinema
The state of cinema is as fluid as its technology. Claims or concerns that artists’ cinema (i.e. experimental, poetic, or personal cinema) is a dying art form tend to be provocation at best, nostalgia at worst, as they are when made in reference to painting, or photography, or whichever medium is the one under fire, but especially so in reference to an art form that is historically young.
Cinema as an art form like any other is ever-evolving. Distinctions such as celluloid or video, analog or digital, for installation or for screening, computer-based or made for hand-held devices, and the like are just that. These elements involve the medium, the tools and presentation, but they do not define the art form.
Cinema, because of its relationship with technology, gets a push forward with every development. A new “Golden Age” occurs with each new camera, projector, or computer advancement, invigorating the artist with the possibilities of the previously unseen while at the same time the option to work with any already existing formats remains. “Unseen” here also refers to the new opportunities arising in interactions with or the misuse of the old technologies.
Every generation benefits from artists and audiences more fluent than the last thanks to TV, home movies, MTV, gaming culture, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, etc. And anyone who has seen a movie today has probably watched one outside of a dark theater setting and in a non-linear manner (pause, replay, repeat).
Artists today are working with 35mm, 16mm, Super 8, Hi8, HD, HDV, slideshow, MiniDV, cell phone, 3D, Pixelvision, computer generated, animation, GIFs, found footage, appropriation, Barbie video, GoPro, hacked and hijacked material, Oculus Rift, Google Glass, glitch, interactive, shadow play, drones, and on and on, presented in screening, installation, live performance, virtual, and other settings. Choice of technology is not correlated to the age of the artist or previous history. Witness the latest 3D works by Jean-Luc Goddard and Ken Jacobs, iPhone and Internet works by Takahiko Iimura and Jonas Mekas, and the resurgence of celluloid in film schools and now in art departments.
A concern is the separation prevalent in university departments, criticism, and, to a lesser degree, curating between works viewed as descendants of avant-garde/experimental film and those of video art, new media, and digital art. Without a complete conversation, important works risk being overlooked or misunderstood.
With regard to the future: the limits are only technological. We might expect to see more virtual reality and works shot by artists swallowing camera pills, sinking cameras to the bottom of the oceans, and shooting from space stations.
As for existing mediums, the possibilities depend on the maintenance of materials and equipment. The support of curators, programmers, and institutions for the preservation of equipment—along side the works—also needs to be there. Those working with moving image know that a 16mm film can only been seen when viewed in its original 16mm format. It is important not to ignore or forget this.