Pulling something apart and putting it back together again. That’s the process. The introduction to this short piece of text was a playful exercise in using the ‘cut-up’ technique, popularised by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. This visual reassembly of text has been used to great effect by artists such as David Bowie, to take something existing, dissemble and reassemble it, and bring to the surface its hidden meanings. Even in applying this process to the didactic text for the installation Midnight Runners, the resulting poem manages to speak to the heart of the work as an exploration of the evolving nature of cinema.
At first glance, the installation appears to be a superficial, nostalgic look at the process of film making and film viewing. From the outset, its appearance is distinctly mechanical. The interconnecting, handcrafted plywood arches hint at the history of the curved cinema screen and the projected film-based image. It is nostalgic- almost archival-in its appearance. To walk amongst the suspended strips of film stock and strong odour of decomposing fixer, creates a sensation of immersion in a preserved moment in time.
In, “A cinema in the gallery, a cinema in ruins”, Erika Balsom examines the institution of cinema; its past, present and arguably, its future as defined by its new found ‘sanctuary’ in the gallery space. Referring to 16mm film pieces including The Green Ray by Tacita Dean, Balsom argues that the material of cinema offers fertile ground for artistic enquiry into the history of the obsolescent, as opposed to the original usage of the 16mm format in the 60’s and 70’s as a method of exploring the phenomenology of spectatorship. Although I agree with Balsom, that cinema is an entity that is becoming increasingly hard to demarcate and that drawing upon its rich aesthetic history can be used effectively to make comment upon the changing nature of cinema, I’m not necessarily sure that this results in an examination of its demise, or that the phenomenology of spectatorship cannot still be explored through film. Has cinema died and if so, should the white cube of the gallery space serve as a tomb for it?
I’ll admit that I’ve adopted new methods of viewing, or rather, processing visual content. But it became apparent to me, when watching an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix, that there is a counter culture that is emerging. One that places value upon the unearthing and resurrecting of older, artisanal processes of making and applying them to contemporary materials and audiences to create new experiences. Somewhat poetically, the 16mm film titles that feature in Midnight Runners include: American Potters at work, Discovering Russian Folk Music, American lithography and folk weavers in Kentucky; each film a study of artisanal practices of workmanship and craft, some as archival as the film stock itself. Perhaps what is central to the experience of cinema is not the quality and realism of the image, but the sense of magic that comes from the spectacle of celluloid, and finding the point at which representation and wonder meet.
The clear irony here is the transformation of something that was once said to have destroyed the aura of the work of art into the work of art itself. To an extent, Midnight Runners treats the film viewing process as a material object. The title of this short notebook in fact, pays homage to the film production term ‘rushes’, used to describe the raw footage collected from a day’s shoot. Although the footage presented in the installation is not raw per-se, its presentation has a rawness and materiality to it that invites curiosity and the desire to construct narrative.
Unlike the traditional film projection process, the movement of images in Midnight Runners comes not from the projector, but from the viewer. The work is activated by the mobility of their gaze; the narrative constructed by their sequencing of the images. It is a subtle commentary on the shift of the viewer to the user; our ability now to be able to capture, select and sequence images, narratives and experiences. It is not an ode to the death or ruin of cinema, but rather our changing relationships and attitudes towards it. It is perhaps true, that cinema will never be the same, but it is not so much a death as an evolution. Perhaps it is only in exploring this through a white cube context, where the viewer can be fully mobile, that we can start to explore the next iteration of what cinema is; by pulling it apart and putting it back together again.