Intermedia and The Identity of Film
By Sasha Vreca
“What is your understanding about the notion of expanded cinema in the 21stcentury as it relates to the film medium?”
Upon trying to answer this question I found myself in a total state of mind fog, unable to articulate with full confidence my thoughts on the subject. This was partially due to the fact that we’re presently experiencing a constant state of intermedia with regards to art; this is the nature of things in the post-modernism line of thought we’ve inherited from the 20th century. Intermedia was originally a concept employed in the mid-sixties by Fluxusartist Dick Higgins to describe the often confusing, inter-disciplinary activities that occur between art genres. And so, while sorting through my thoughts on that particular era I found myself thinking about the numerous forms that emerged out of those Fluxus years in the 60s & 70s; I speak here of performance art, installation, site specific interventions, etc. Even more so, I was astonished how film and other emulsion based work managed to morph and adapt to fit into the discourse.
For me, expanded cinema seemed to be nothing more than a way of stating we’re working outside of the conventional presentation format, but due to developments and evolution of the art form over the last century, notably the Fluxus years, we can’t grasp a full understanding of the notion. In order to prevent further confusion when I speak of expanded cinema, I mean to clarify that I’m no longer addressing the content of the frame with regards to film; the Dadaists, Surrealists, Minimalists, Expressionists, etc. have advanced that discourse far enough and others still carry on. We are far removed here from a Ballet Mécanique(1924) or Marcel Duchamp’s Anémic Cinéma (1926), however relevant these works may still be, I see the notion of expanded cinema to be one that looks beyond the frame; one that addresses the importance of presentation as much as process, without forgetting the artist’s trace, concept and subject matter.
Being aware of that, we can go back and observe the numerous examples of expanded cinema in those critical years leading to the definition of media arts as its own form of art. In 1967,Carolee Schneemannpresents her completed series ‘Fuses’ which portrayed Schneemann and her then-boyfriend James Tenney having sex as recorded by a 16 mm Bolex camera. She altered the film by staining, burning, and directly drawing on the celluloid itself, mixing the concepts of painting and collage. ‘Fuses’ was motivated by Schneemann’s desire to know if a woman’s depiction of her own sexual acts was different from pornography and classical art. Much like Stan Brakhage’s work, the process caused the artist’s intimate involvement with the emulsion piece to become more apparent. The film was support for more than emulsion; it was in fact the platform for a larger external discourse; a discourse which was additionally demonstrated that same year on the Canadian side, in ‘Dans le labyrinthe’ (Roman Kroitor); a groundbreaking multi-screen presentation at Expo 67 in Montreal.
Today we have torchbearers who are continuing to push the boundaries of film art, embracing intermedia to annex performance to projection. Artists such as Alex MacKenzie and Bruce McClure manipulate the projectors, light, and sound in a series of performative gestures that offer the viewer an augmented experience of the piece.
Taking into consideration the immense progress and trends we inherited from the previous generation; the questions that still linger are the what, where and how it’s going to happened?