Peter Gidal



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Not on display

Peter Gidal born 1946
Film, 16mm, projection, colour
Duration: 25min
Purchased 2016


Volcano 2003 by the British filmmaker Peter Gidal is a 16 mm film in black and white and colour lasting twenty-five minutes. Made in Hawaii, the film begins with shots of a yellowish sky into which climb jets of steam that are emitted from a volcano. The camera then moves on to investigate the intricately fissured rock of the landscape. Filmed with a handheld camera and the use of a zoom, the screen image is unsteady. The camera focuses and refocuses, pulls back from and plunges into various features of the landscape, such as the crevices between rocks and the cracked ground. The colours blue and grey dominate the film, which is in the first part punctuated by regular sections of clear film leader where the white light of the projector erases the images that preceded it. The natural forms at times appear painterly, at others as if filmed microscopically and as a still image. In the second part of the film, the punctuating sections of film leader become black. Moving from filming the original landscape to filming photographs taken of the landscape, Volcano shifts to a further remove in order to explore the relationship between filmic and photographic representation. At the end of the film appears a quotation from Italian writer Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century epic poem Inferno, the same quotation that was also used in the front matter of Gidal’s 1989 book Materialist Film. The work is shown as a projection and was not produced in an edition.

A relatively late work in Gidal’s career, Volcano combines the central themes of Gidal’s practice: experiments with duration, repetition and the relationship between film and photography. The film’s primary conceit, for Gidal, concerns the ‘afterimage’ of the volcano: from the effect it has on the landscape to its filmic and photographic representation. The use of leader tape in this work provokes the viewer’s awareness of the process of watching a film, allowing them to recognise the ways in which time and space are deployed in the film to depict reality. In this way it complements early works such as Clouds 1969 (Tate T14785), which similarly explores issues of representation in relation to the natural environment.

Gidal grew up in Switzerland and Mount Vernon, New York. From 1968 to 1971 he was a student at the Royal College of Art, London, where he was subsequently to teach advanced film studies until 1984. He became an active member of the London Film-makers’ Co-operative (the Co-op) in 1969 and was a cinema programmer there from 1971 to 1974, during which period he focused on work by British artists and filmmakers. Together with Malcolm LeGrice, Gidal is recognised as the driving force behind the Co-op in the late 1960s and 1970s, and the foremost exponent of British structural cinema. He is equally known as a writer and theorist, in particular for Structural Film Anthology, in which his seminal essay ‘Theory and Definition of Structural/Materialist Film’, first published in the November 1975 issue of Studio International, outlined his position in relation to avant-garde filmmaking internationally (see Peter Gidal (ed.), Structural Film Anthology, London 1976, pp.1–21).

Further reading
Deke Dusinberre, ‘Consistent Oxymoron: Peter Gidal’s Theoretical Strategy’, Screen, Summer 1977, vol.8, no.2, pp.79–88.
Peter Gidal, Materialist Film, London and New York 1989.
David Curtis, A History of Artists’ Film and Video in Britain, 1897–2004, London 2004, p.207.

Inga Fraser and George Clark
February 2015

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