Experiencing Cinema is a video installation comprising still black and white images that are projected one at a time onto a largely opaque, vertically oriented curtain of smoke. The smoke is produced by a visible machine and emitted from the upper horizontal band of a black, T-shaped tube, and it is released whenever an image is projected. The images all roughly fill the width of the smoke curtain, which measures approximately 110 cm. Each picture is projected for around twelve seconds, followed by a gap of thirty seconds before the next begins to appear. However, the smoke is only emitted for a few seconds before dispersing, and consequently the images emerge into view as the curtain is formed and then disappear along with it before the twelve seconds has fully elapsed. The photographs are divided into four categories: ‘Amor’ (‘Love’), ‘Guerra’ (‘War’), ‘Familia’ (‘Family’) and ‘Crime’. These groups can be shown separately, with each one running for a total of approximately twenty-one minutes, or can be shown all together consecutively in a single sequence. The photographs in ‘Love’ show people intimately engaged with one another; those in ‘War’ depict scenes relating to the military and to armed conflict; ‘Family’ consists mostly of grouped individuals, although some photographs in this category depict lone figures; and ‘Crime’ features images of police officers, arrests and prisons. Although the pictures in each group are only loosely related and are composed in differing ways, there is often a subtle connection between each photograph and the one following it. For instance, two consecutive pictures in ‘War’ feature figures looking out of the frame, while another two in the same group that are presented sequentially both include people touching their faces.
This work was made by the Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó during 2004 and 2005, when she was living and working in Brazil. The smoke machine was bought from a shop but its T-shaped tube was custom made for this installation. Most of the photographs used in the work were purchased at flea markets or donated by the artist’s family and friends, although around one quarter were acquired from picture agencies. While in some cases the identity of the photographer is unknown, others have named creators, and these must be credited in a wall text during the work’s installation. Experiencing Cinema should preferably be shown in its own enclosed space, although it can be exhibited alongside other works as long as there is a gap of at least five metres between them (see unknown author, ‘Experienca de Cinema Operation Info’, undated, unpaginated, Tate Conservation file).
Although its title refers to the experience of cinema, this video installation includes still photographs rather than moving images. Rennó has often used found photographs in her practice since the late 1980s (see, for instance, Fantastic Realism 1991/1994, private collection) and this work appears to include a reference to the history of photography, since the T-shaped tube resembles early flash lamps, which also emitted smoke. However, this is among the first of a number of works in which Rennó presented found photographs in the form of videos (see, for instance, Strange Fruits Series 2006). In 2012 she explained that she first started using video because it ‘allows for more temporal trajectories ... and that’s one of my obsessions, even by means of instant photography and the frozen moment’ (Veronica Cordeiro, ‘Shuffling the Labels’, in Museo Colleção Berardo 2012, p.12). In this particular work, the temporal dimension is pronounced due to the way in which the photographs appear intermittently and disappear along with the dispersing smoke.
The critic María Angélica Melendi has argued of Rennó’s practice that she tends to use found images in a manner that emphasises the anonymity of their subjects. According to Melendi, in Rennó’s work photographs ‘do not recover the memory, but witness the forgetting’ (María Angélica Melendi, ‘Archives du Mal / Mal d’Archive’, in Australian Centre for Photography 1999, p.12). In Experiencing Cinema, this is achieved through the extremely hazy appearance of the projected images, which makes them difficult to discern and gives them a ghostly quality. With this work, viewers also experience the images’ disappearance, often before there has been a chance to properly decipher their content, which could be regarded as a visual analogy for the way in which memories fade and are forgotten.
Rosângela Rennó: Vulgo (Alias), exhibition catalogue, Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney 1999.
La Mirada – Looking at Photography in Latin America Today, exhibition catalogue, Daros Latin America Collection, Zurich 2002.
BES Photo 2012: Rosângela Rennó, exhibition catalogue, Museo Colleção Berardo, Lisbon 2012.
Supported by Christie’s.