Expanded Cinema

3 Spelling Out a Form

Beginning in the early 1960s, the number of stances that could be attributed to Expanded Cinema began to increase rapidly. More and more artists and filmmakers dealt with the question of the possibilities of breaking open conventional space- and production-related principles. In 1965, artists such as Claes Oldenburg (Moveyhouse), Carolee Schneemann (Ghost Rev), and the ONCE Group (Unmarked Interchange) created numerous works that precisely because they included performances undermined the customary behavior of cinema audiences.[13] These strategies were aggressively advanced a year later through Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Together with the band Velvet Underground, Warhol staged media fireworks in which the audience’s audiovisual sensorium came under constant fire. While films were shown simultaneously by up to five projectors, slides were presented, a disco ball sent beams of light out in all directions, stroboscopes flashed, Velvet Underground played a set, and different artists, such as Gerard Malanga and Ingrid Superstar, performed. Not only was the perceptive capacity of the audience explored, so too was the capacity of a multimedia setting.[14] Standing at the controls, Andy Warhol time and again himself took on the role of director; as soon as he gained the impression that the audience had become accustomed to images or sequences and that a certain perceptual flux had developed, he intervened by changing the image or sound impulses, producing renewed irritation.

In contrast to this kind of scopious multisensorial practice, other versions of Expanded Cinema, such as Tony Conrad’s film The Flicker (1965), can only be called simple. Conrad did not rely on the addition of performative acts in order to expand the concept of cinema, but returned to the matrix, the elementary component of film: the individual image. The flickering black-and-white sequences in The Flicker led the neuronal reactions of the retina to become visible as afterimages, while some viewers perceived colors and spaces with great intensity.[15] By means of the interplay of these visual levels and the sound level accompanying the film, the strongly contrasting stimuli led to a conscious perception of seeing and hearing. In this case, the film idea was not only expanded into architectural space, but internally into the viewer; the viewer’s body presented itself as an essential part of the filmic apparatus.

Paul Sharits was also especially interested in these potentials for film. However, he moved away from flickering, purely black-and-white images such as Conrad’s. Instead, in his film sequences he showed in part different sequences of color (Shutter Interface) or built cells conceived specifically for his film installations (Epileptic Seizure Comparison), in which the audience was virtually visually bombarded with flickering films of epileptic seizures and had to be warned of the risk of themselves experiencing one.[16]

Liz Rhodes further explored the potential of the flicker effect in the 1970s by means of film installations likewise outside of the cinema and against the background of an idea for visual music, for example in her composition Light Music for two projectors. The exploration of Expanded Cinema not only led viewers to more frequently examine museum or gallery architecture, but questions with respect to an alternative cinema architecture also reemerged in which above all the relationship between sound and image (due to the continually improving technological possibilities) played an increasingly important role. Within this context, Stan Vanderbeek would develop a series of projections for his Movie-Drome, created in 1965, and in 1972, Hélio Oiticica conceived a series of so-called quasi-cinemas, such as the project CC5 Hendrix-War in collaboration with the filmmaker Neville D’Almeida.[17] Lying in hammocks, the audience was enveloped in a spatial image-sound atmosphere in which the focus was on a conscious physical experience.