Expanded Cinema

A tour through the catalogue of NIMK, with an eye for work that uses abstract and generated images and aims at having a direct impact on the viewer by use of sensory input: image as image.

Arie Altena

Expanded Cinema in the first place brings to mind all those cinematic experiments from the 1960s with its sometimes utopic ideas of expanding consciousness using film as a kind of mind-altering substance. Of course those two words also immediately make one think of the still inspiring book-length study by Gene Youngblood, simply entitled Expanded Cinema. Never reprinted it was a much sought after secret classic, before it was made available in full length on the Internet. It is a rich overview of experimental film and video in the 1950s and 1960s, ranging from the role of television and multimedia environments to the early abstract computer films of the Whitney family. According to Youngblood an expanded form of cinema is required for the new consciousness of modern man. He writes: "When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness. Expanded cinema does not mean computer films, video phosphors, atomic light, or spherical projections. Expanded cinema isnÕt a movie at all: like lifeÕs a process of becoming, man's ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes." His study shows the enthusiasm of artists dealing with new technologies, and their dreams of using these technologies themselves as media to achieve if not a new consciousness, at least new experiences. A look at the chapter titles gives some evidence of this: for instance "Synaesthetic Cinema", "Toward Cosmic Consciousness", "Cybernetic Cinema" and "Holographic Cinema, A New World".

More generally Expanded Cinema is used to designate all the different forms of cinema that went beyond the limits of the single, rectangular screen. One can think of Stan Vanderbeeks sustained effort at creating a deeper experience of watching movies by building a dome-like Moviedrome, and using multiple projectors Š he coined the term Expanded Cinema. Another example is the use of multiple projection in Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows, or the expanded cinema happenings by the Event Structure Research Group (a.o. Jeffrey Shaw, Tjebbe van Tijen, Theo Botschuijver), like MovieMovie, an inflatable pneumatic structure, conceived for the notorious 4th Experimental Film Festival Knokke Le Zoute in 1967.

Of course, this all went on before NIMK (Time Based Arts, Montevideo) was set-up and before the great days of video art. Yet although in a strict sense none of the classics' of Expanded Cinema will be found in the digital collection of NIMK, there is a large number of works that bears a close relationship to the ideas of Expanded Cinema, showing as well, how over the years the concept of 'expanding' the experience of cinema has never disappeared and popped up again and again under different guises. Sometimes those works consciously refer to the Expanded Cinema of the 1960s, more often they are developed in a different vein, yet reach effects that can be compared to Expanded Cinema.

As already mentioned by Youngblood, expanded cinema signifies an experience rather than a certain form. One could also say that the 'cinematic experience' of the viewer is taken as central. "The Cinematic Experience" was also the theme and title of the 12th Sonic Acts Festival (2008), and of a book of essays and interviews which Boris Debackere and I edited together. That festival featured amongst others immersive audiovisual works by Kurt HentschlŠger, Ulf Langheinrich, Reble/Kšner, and old heroes like Bruce McClure and Ken Jacobs. All working with cinema that leaves the screen and aims at achieving a cinematic experience in the viewers by use of pure light, color, flickering and sound.

Such works connect to Expanded Cinema through the fact that they deal with the cinematic image as image, as color and light, as intensities. Instead of working with images that refer to a world, the images (or the sensations Š as sound often plays an important role) are a world to be experienced. This notion of non-referential cinema that aims at a direct impact on the viewer, is what guides this tour through the NIMK-catalogue.

I start with a few works from the early days of video art: experiments with the video image as image. Noisefield by Steina and Woody Vasulka uses the flicker effect; Reminscence by Woody Vasulka distorts the video-image of the camera to such an extent that it becomes pure image; in Steina Vasulka's Selected Treecuts one can still see what the camera captured, but the effectiveness of the work derives from a.o. the zooming of the camera. Abstract computer generated film is important to Expanded Cinema because a programmed digital image has no referential relation to an external reality, it is what it is. An early examples of the use of computer generated images in the Netherlands is the work of Livinus van der Bundt, I have chose Moire, and Percussion VI (with a soundtrack by his son Jeep). Added to that is Composition 6 by Marc Burkett Š I must admit I did not know his computer generated work. Next is a work by Gerald van der Kaap, Brain 4.0, this minimal style of VJ-ing was well known in the 1990 house-clubs. I could have also included his Chill Caves, which at the time referred to the idea of brain machines. The 3D illusion is explored in Mark Bain's Rotordynamics in 3D. More recent abstract, or almost abstract works are Illud Tempus of Rene Beekman, Petit Palais of Anouk De Clercq and Synchronator in which Gert-Jan Prins and Bas van Koolwijk explore audiovisual noise. The tour finishes with Martijn van Boven's Interfield and Telcosystems' Scape_Time, two overwhelming computer generated movies in which sound and vision are generated at the same time. Characteristic for the work that evolved from the Live Cinema scene they are also a prime example of the work of a generation of audiovisual artists who have often studied (or teach) Sonology in the Hague and who continue to explore the ideas of Expanded Cinema.

Text to accompany a 'tour' through the digital catalogue of NIMK, uneditted, written straight in English, 2009
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Arie Altena