For the next two months, the Whitney Museum of American Art is hosting the exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016. The aim is to explore how artists have deconstructed and reassembled cinema over the last century. Working in collaboration with the Whitney, the Brooklyn-based Microscope Gallery is staging Dreamlands: Expanded, a series of expanded cinema events that they say builds on the main exhibition.
“The ten event, two-and-a-half month long series complements and extends the scope of the exhibit,” Microscope Gallery says in its announcement. “From the installation works on the museum’s fifth-floor and the film screening program in its third-floor theater, across the East River to include historical and contemporary performance works that collectively propose alternative ways to perceive, conceive, and consider the image in motion.”
Among the many works in Dreamlands: Expanded is Kurt Schwerdtfeger’s 1922 film Reflecting Color-Light-Play, a shadow play of sorts staged in a large cube projection apparatus. In British moving image pioneer Malcolm Le Grice’s restaging of two early performative works, Principles of Cinematography (1973) and Horror Film 1 (for triple 16mm projection), the artist uses his body in a shadow play with streams of colored light superimposed upon his body.
On the opposite end of the expanded cinema spectrum is artist and queer cinema pioneer Barbara Hammer’s new performance work Evidentiary Bodies. In this piece Hammer uses live projectors and cameras as she moves through space, projecting video onto a variety of objects and surfaces, including inflated balloons, photo prints, x-ray scans of her body, and the bodies of audience members. The performance is designed to subvert ideas about the audience and their place in the proscenium (the space in front of the curtain).
Microscope Gallery co-founder Andrea Monti tells The Creators Project that Dreamlands: Expanded grew out of an expanded cinema performance series at the gallery. This series caught the attention of Whitney curator Chrissie Iles, who asked Monti and her fellow Microscope co-founder Elle Burchill to create one for Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art.
Both Monti and Burchill note that there is no consensus on what defines 'expanded cinema,' but Monti says one of its primary motivations is the liberation of the moving image from the constraints of the traditional screening presentations and formats.
“For instance, with reference to works in the series, the screen may be replaced with steam as in Stan VanDerBeek and Joan Brigham's Steam Screens, the film may be punched while it is being projected such as in Takahiko Iimura's Circle and Square,” says Monti. “Or the audience members may become projectionists pointing at fixed strips of suspended film with flashlights such as in Jennifer West's Flashlight Filmstrip Projections.”
Apart from projectors, the artists in this series have also used halogen light bulbs, flash lights, strobe lights, and other sources of illumination, combining them with other objects and tools to create real-time experiences. Monti says that what drives expanded cinema artists is the drive to make the moving image something “alive and unrepeatable.”
“The works in the series also together address the act of seeing/non-seeing,” adds Elle Burchill, “[and] the materials and mechanisms of film projection and visual/sensory immersion, themes connected to the wider exhibition as a whole.”
Dreamlands: Expanded will also feature works created through a hand-built machine, the live disintegration of a photographic slide, and a 3D effect recreated through outdated technologies. Beyond making people question the materiality and ephemerality of the filmic image and the cinema apparatus, Burchill and Monti’s series will ideally provoke visual and sensory immersion.
“I hope there is a sense that what one is usually exposed to in terms of moving image—such as a video playing on an electronic device, or installed in a gallery, or seen at the movie theatre—are just a few of a myriad options offered by the medium,” says Monti. “And that if one takes a wider approach, there is much more.”
Burchill adds that she hopes audiences come away understanding that some things cannot be captured—that they are created before our very eyes. That cinema can be alive and ephemeral.