Le mois de la photo, Montreal, September 7 – October 21, 2001
Cinema, and the cinematic image, has left such an imprint on our collective conscious that, as image makers in the early 21st century, artists cannot escape referring directly or indirectly to its monumental scale, its framing devices and its narrative structures. The theme of this year’s Mois de la photo in Montreal was Le pouvoir de l’image, the power of the image. Thus, in an event normally devoted to photography, many works acknowledged the powerful influence of the cinematic image and, subsequently, many employed the videographic techniques through which this influence is often manifested.
Mark Lewis’ exhibited 3 video installations at the Marché Bonsecours from September 8 to October 21, 2001 One entered a large softly illuminated space to see two large horizontal screens erected on the gallery floor. An existing wall served as a third screen. A video image was projected upon each of the 3 screens. The projections were of a high quality, shot on 35-mm film and transferred to DVD. The programmes were continual, showing loops of approximately 4 minutes in length. In homage to a common practice of early cinema, the duration of the loops was determined by the length of the reel used in the shooting of the piece. The absence of any montage or of any post-production effect also referred to earlier forms of cinema, as did the installations’ silence. There was no sound other than the soft whirr of the projector fans. There were also no chairs in the space, just the screens and the 3 projectors on the floor, a ‘mise-à-nue’ of the cinematic experience.
Without the burden of a complex montage of image and sound, the spectacle of cinema merely hinted at, these installations could be looked at for their form, their narrative possibilities and for their integration with the architecture of the space. With Smithfield (2000), the first installation visible upon entering the exhibition space, Mark Lewis successfully rendered the cinematic image architectural. A freestanding screen showed a wedge shaped showroom, in the corner of a downtown office building at night. Inside the empty showroom, visible through its large glass windows, was a woman mopping the floor. As the camera tracked around the building, the viewer had the sensation the structure itself was turning. A seemingly continuous movement was broken when the camera passed the window and the image dipped to black. The movement resumed with the camera tracking the structure in the opposite direction.
The two other installations presented in this exhibition, Centrale (1999) and North Circular (2000), also showed unedited silent loops continuously projected on large screens, referred, like Smithfield, to a language of cinema based on camera position and movement. Although this work was meticulously presented and the shots were technically sophisticated, Mark Lewis presented a very reduced cinematic vocabulary. He refers to these works as ‘part films’. These installations isolate and take out of context the component elements of the language of films, the shot, camera movement, composition within the frame, etc. And by installing them in a gallery space they also dislocate these elements of film. This dislocation and fragmentation of film’s parts was also evident in an in situ piece by Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfield created for Le Mois de la photo.
From September 18 – 23, 2001Madelon Hooykaas and Elsa Stansfield presented their latest audio/video installation Day for Night, commissioned by La Centrale, to the public at the Jardin botanique de Montréal. The Amsterdam based artists produced the video and audio programme in Montreal specifically for a projection on a false acacia tree near the garden’s rosary. Day for Night consisted of an audio-visual programme integrated into a tranquil garden setting. As the title of the work suggested, the piece could be viewed in the night as well as the day. The artists took advantage of the annual Chinese lantern exhibition in the gardens. Visitors who came in the evening to see the display of traditional lanterns would come across Day for Night, a large round screen suspended from a tree showing a video projection with the accompanying sounds emanating from speakers attached to the branches. The artists presented their own form of lantern, the flat circular illuminated screen recalling the wonder of a 19th century magic lantern show and, by extension, early cinema.
Hooykaas and Stansfield produced an audio video montage for this intervention that included images of the tree and ambient natural sounds that blended in with the aural landscape of the gardens. It also included images and sounds borrowed from the history of cinema. Scenes from Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera, Marker’s La jetée, and Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner were inserted and mixed in with footage from other films as well as with the artists’ own recordings. Viewing and listening to the piece, one had the sensation of experiencing images and sounds from the past wafting from the tree and the surrounding gardens. It reminded me of Georges Didi-Huberman’s concept that to be looking at a painting is to be looking at time. With Day for Night, one felt one was witnessing the tree's reception over time of the images and sounds that have occupied our airwaves for most of the past century.
By day, the projector removed, the white screen catching the shadows projected by the tree’s swaying branches the piece became an in situ audio installation. In this form the audio tracks, freed from its reference to the images took on a presence of their own; they became a soundtrack for an invisible film. Like with Mark Lewis’ ‘part films’ we were offered only fragments of a film and were left to construct the whole ourselves.
Mark Lewis returns cinema to one of its earliest forms, the unedited single reel shot. Hooykaas and Stansfield make more direct references to cinema – we recognise scenes from film history. In both cases there is recognition of the prevalence of the cinematic paradigm on our social consciousness. By dissecting and rearranging its audio-visual components, these artists fracture cinema and question the hegemony of the cinematic apparatus on our cultures. By referring directly or indirectly to the history of film, this work proposes possible unrealised futures for this complex and powerful medium.