George Clark, co-curator of the current Assembly film series at Tate Britain, considers the rise of 'expanded cinema' in recent artists’ film and video
One of the most exciting things about working with artists’ film and video is that nothing can be taken for granted. All the elements of cinema – the screen, the projector, the auditorium, the spectator – are all open to rethinking for many artists. Questioning how work is made and crucially how it can be shown have been issues at the forefront of many of the most interesting projects in recent years. That is part of our goal with the Assembly film series; as well as highlighting the strength of single screen works and artists’ feature-length films, we’ve chosen artists who question the very parameters of what a screening can be.
In this series, we’re rethinking the traditional conventions of filmmaker and spectator. This is particularly the case in the special events that are taking place in Tate Britain’s Grand Saloon; newly opened as part of the Millbank Project, it’s a large and distinct new space overlooking the river, directly above the main entrance – and it provides a fascinating canvas for all manner of reconfigured works.
The space was aptly christened in light and sound with our event, Signs and Signals. This first project in the new space featured five artists. Each employed a completely different configuration of projectors and screens. From Guy Sherwin and Lynn Loo who bathed the room with light from four 16 mm projections to works that might be more readily defined as performance than cinema; such as Heather Phillipson’s Pressurization or Gail Pickering’s new version of Not Yet No Longer that both involved video projections with live performers. In a more disembodied piece, Charlotte Prodger presented a new version of her work – where she creates a special choreography of media, playing clips ripped from YouTube alongside a newly made video on three vintage Hantarex monitors, and narrated by a soundtrack played on a classic boombox. Sally Golding concluded the evening with Ghost-Loud+Strong, an intense flicking work utilising a series of 16mm film loops with an uncanny soundtrack generated live from modified vintage equipment.
All these works shared a common questioning of what film can be and how audiences can engage with it. These have been crucial questions in artists’ film practice in the field of ‘Expanded Cinema’ – a term coined in the mid-1960s by American experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek that describes work both inside and outside of the gallery including live performance, projector pieces, video and a range of media environments. Expanded cinema in the UK was defined by early work by artists such as Lis Rhodes and members of the Filmaktion group William Raban, Malcolm Le Grice, Annabel Nicolson and Gill Eatherley. The work of these pioneering artists was explored last summer with a series of events in Tate Modern’s Tanks.
The tradition of expanded cinema continues to thrive in the UK, but there have also been many changes both to the technology and the culture of expanded works. Mark Leckey’s Cinema in the Round can be seen as a crucial contemporary work reflecting on the expanded field of the moving image, investigating performance and sculpture, sound and image as well as the new conditions for the creation and circulation of images. A recent shift in contemporary art toward staging events can be seen across the practices of artists as different as Tino Sehgal and Spartacus Chetwynd (now Marvin Gaye Chetwynd). Within contemporary film and video, this manifests itself as a renewed engagement with components of live events, performance and sound in particular.
This will become apparent in our second night of expanded works, Near and Further Contact II that we are in the midst of preparing. It’s hard to say too much about what to expect at the moment – apart from the fact that throughout the night we’ll be using up to ten different projectors together with an array of sound equipment and audio devices. The closing event of the series we’ve also been keeping under wraps, but it will be a unique project by Mark Aerial Waller in his ongoing The Wayward Canon series. Specially conceived for the Grand Saloon, the new work, Yoga Horror, features the classic British horror compendium Dead of Night 1945, the first film produced in Britain after the Second World War, and will present the film over five sessions of increasing intensity – combining the dreamlike horror with a specially tailored yoga routine. The presentation will further blur the lines between the gallery and the cinema, evoking Britain’s past as we look toward the future… and the next five years of artists’ film and video.
Assembly: Near and Further Contact II takes place on Monday 24 February 2014, 19.00–21.00 in the Grand Saloon at Tate Britain, £5
Assembly: Closing Event Yoga Horror takes place on Saturday 15 March 2014, 19.00–22.30 in the Grand Saloon at Tate Britain, £5