[Frameworks] experimential film in the art world

marilyn brakhage vams at shaw.ca
Tue Mar 6 00:04:44 CST 2012

Well, yes.  That is, I think we really do all "'get' the basic  
political economy of art," as David put it, and as you reenforce  
here.  But Erika Balsom's essay was about the increasing integration  
of these two worlds that you describe -- 'Art' and film.  It was, in  
part, about the current interest of the museum world in "all things  
cinematic."  And so given that this interest currently exists, the  
question becomes what to do with it, and how to ensure that works in  
film -- from all artists working with it -- are equally valued and  
given equal respect regarding their presentation.

While the major museums of the world are certainly exhibiting works  
that have commercial value on the art market, they are also often  
government supported, as well as privately supported, cultural  
institutions charged with preserving, curating and exhibiting cultural  
history.  Certainly they do like to "own" objects.  And some do buy  
film prints, and have for quite awhile. But film prints, of course,  
wear out.  So some filmmakers have turned to selling limited-edition  
internegatives of their films, giving the museums the means by which  
they can make future prints as needed, something which at least some  
museums are pursuing.  But there is still the necessity of advocating  
for how best to exhibit these works.  I personally feel that a museum  
or art gallery should strive to show work in its original format, with  
careful attention to the viewing environment, the details of which  
depend, in part, on the particular work in question.

. . .  But none of this, as far as I can see, should in any way  
prevent a continued, wider distribution of the works in digital  

I can't speak to the Lichtenstein work you refer to because I don't  
know it, but certainly different works will require different solutions.


On 5-Mar-12, at 6:37 PM, Damon wrote:

> I am in very deeply in agreement with both the frustration and the  
> appraisals.  I'll start by saying that Stan Brakhage is an Artist  
> working in the medium of film.
> What I would observe in answer to this dilemma, in total agreement  
> with David, is so simple and straight-forward that it seems  
> ludicrous: paintings, drawings, sculpture are things that get  
> collected first and foremost for their unique, one-of-a-kind  
> nature.   But also as within the continuum of the visual tradition  
> associated with other ritually-based institutions (Monarchy and  
> Clergy).  Graphic arts, engravings and lithographs, were always  
> cheaper reproductions without the auratic cache of "original works  
> of art".  The introduction of photography and cinema only  
> complicated this formula in favor of the Art, not of the film.   
> Hollywood's position in the culture "industry" only furthers the  
> problems.
> Now to back away from the original/copy issue, the next layer of the  
> onion tends to be about the Art being placed into museum collections  
> and finding its audiences through exhibitions, while the films are  
> placed into archives and given screenings to attract their  
> audiences.  The goal of the Art is to be collected while the film  
> operates at the other end of continuum seeking screenings.  And the  
> museum collection is conceived as a cultural history which needs to  
> be preserved, while an archive maintains holdings awaiting future  
> uses, but not fully integrated into an existing cultural history.
> I think to compare the operations of FMC, Canyon, etc. with the  
> Castelli/Sonnabend project in the mid-1970s is instructive.   
> Castelli/Sonnabend sought to place works into collections, although  
> it was also willing to facilitate screenings, and they were about  
> producing symbolic value for the work, while it seems that the coops  
> have served many functions, but the production of symbolic value  
> falls way down the list.
> In the spirit of this question, I've wondered how the elements of  
> this debate, and the other film/digital debates, might change if we  
> re-conceived of the frame in terms of projection versus monitors?   
> This might allow a middle position recognizing the material need to  
> preserve a print, while also seeking a manner to exhibit a film/ 
> projection outside the cinema screening format, and to be placed  
> into an on-going presentation within the gallery space--possibly  
> resulting in the film being more readily perceived as Art.
> I was recently told the Roy Lichtenstein Three Landscapes (1970-71)  
> installation at the Whitney Museum in New York was wearing out the  
> 1:00min long 35mm loops daily.  Eventually the museum converted to  
> digital for the remainder of the installation.  (http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/RoyLichtenstein 
> )
> While the work was fundamentally different, the sound of the three  
> film projectors lost to the barely perceptible whir of the LCD  
> projectors, the images could be said to haver maintained scale and  
> the aura of the Art--if we grant the orig. 35mm prints that aura.
> Damon.
> On Mar 5, 2012, at 6:54 PM, David Tetzlaff wrote:
>> Marilynn, implicitly if not explicitly, poses the question: "How is  
>> it that filmmakers are not considered 'artists' within the 'art  
>> world'?" To FRAMEWORKers, that question is surely rhetorical. Of  
>> course, filmmakers are artists, and it's simply silly for anyone to  
>> draw the sorts of distinctions for which Marilyn faults Balsom. But  
>> the art world DOES draw this distinction, and it's worth asking why.
>>> The history of artists (i.e. painters and sculptors)
>> A very important point slips by in the parentheses; it's not just  
>> filmmakers who are 'not artists.' Poets, novelists, composers,  
>> musicians, dancers, choreographers, playwrights, stage-directors  
>> etc. etc. Only painters and sculptors and the like really count.  
>> So, what is the operating definition here?
>> I submit it is this: An artist is a person who makes 'art.' 'Art'  
>> is a unique physical object that has commodity status. It can be  
>> sold, acquired, possessed, collected and accrue economic value in  
>> the process of exchange. Without those properties, creative work  
>> has no function within the instrumentalities of the art world: you  
>> can't do with it the things that art-world people do. So it's 'not  
>> art.'
>> An 'art work' has to have a provenance, and it's history and value  
>> as an object becomes tied to the history of it's author. 'Artists'  
>> are important in the art world because their imprimatuer affects  
>> the commodity status of their work. As such a mediocre film by a  
>> painter is more worthy of attention than a great film by a  
>> filmmaker, because the painter has an established commodity cache.
>> I feel kind of gob-smacked that so many people seem not to 'get'  
>> the basic political economy of art -- or maybe it's an aesthetic  
>> economy, but anyway it's some kind of economy -- since Benjamin and  
>> Lukacs have laid it out so clearly.
>> Curators still don't what to do with Duchamp. When I visited the  
>> Tate a few years back, they had 'Fountain' on display, accompanied  
>> by a wall card that noted in very serious language that this was  
>> not the ORIGINAL 'Fountain' by Duchamp himself, but rather a  
>> 'limited' reproduction created by Richard Hamilton at Duchamp's  
>> behest and with his seal of approval. I almost fell over laughing.
>> Benjamin especially nailed how film upsets the whole aesthetic  
>> apple cart. No aura, no cult value: an artform by definition  
>> liberated from the old way. There was an implicit (if inchoate)  
>> leftist politics in the formation of experimental film institutions  
>> such as Anthology, FMC and Canyon. If filmmakers were hostile to  
>> the museum and gallery world, they had damn good reason to be, on a  
>> variety of higher principles. (This is a very different thing than  
>> being hostile to the art in the museums.) Here, as synecdoche, I'll  
>> just references the writings of Jack Smith, and note that in his  
>> later years he was chummy with the post-marxist folks at  
>> Semiotext(e), and suggested that they simply re-title the journal  
>> 'Hatred of Capitalism,' (which they later used as the title of an  
>> anthology).
>> But time moves on, situations change. It is no longer possible for  
>> institutions, much less artists, to support themselves by renting  
>> celluloid prints. The all-powerful market speaks, and most of us  
>> have to find some way to pay for rent and groceries. The only way  
>> for an 'experimental filmmaker' to thrive in the art world is to  
>> adopt the practices of that world, even though they may be  
>> antithetical to the apparent nature of the medium. As Chuck notes,  
>> photography faced a similar problem. Photographic prints though,  
>> unlike film prints, are subject to significant manipulation in  
>> enlarging from the negative. Thus, a photographic print can achieve  
>> auratic, commodity status: there is only one 'Piss Christ' and that  
>> has been destroyed...
>> Marilyn quotes Balsam:
>>> “recent exhibition practices have demonstrated the persistent  
>>> vestiges of not considering film to be a legitimate artistic  
>>> medium on a par with, say, painting or sculpture -- unless, that  
>>> is, it is sold in limited editions on the art market.  Despite the  
>>> increasing interpenetration of the worlds of art and experimental  
>>> film, these lasting ramifications of their differing models of  
>>> distribution and acquisition continue to mark out a divide between  
>>> the two realms and their treatment in the contemporary museum.
>> Woot. There it is.
>> Marilyn, (putting the real skinny in parentheses again):
>>> [Further to these points, the selling by filmmakers of limited  
>>> editions of their work (on celluloid) to museums may, indeed,  
>>> become more of a norm, as the use of digital reproductions  
>>> increasingly becomes the norm elsewhere.]
>> In a nutshell, somebody has to pay the bills, and right now the  
>> best bet is the 'art-world'. And the only way to extract resources  
>> from the art-world is to give them what they value: objects that  
>> "fit the art world model of purchasing and ownership."(MB)
>> What then do 'film artists' (or their estates) do? Withdraw all  
>> prints from circulation, and sell the entire materiality of the  
>> work -- the camera original, internegs, masters, whatever -- to the  
>> highest bidder. (At least celluloid HAS a materiality -- if  
>> photochemical film posed a problem for the art-world, digital  
>> origin in a total nightmare.) So MOMA could be THE owner of, say,  
>> Dog Star Man.
>> This is certainly not the way I wish for things to be, but taking a  
>> pragmatic view I think it's potentially not so bad and even has an  
>> upside. For here we have to consider the economy not of the art- 
>> work itself, but the economy of the relationship between the work  
>> and it's reproductions. Reproductions are subject to the economics  
>> of pure information, which has really only made itself apparent in  
>> the age of the Internet: information forms accrue value by breadth  
>> of circulation, not by scarcity. Id software remains the paradigm,  
>> as it's founders became rich beyond their wildest dreams by giving  
>> away 'Doom' absolutely free, thus establishing it's popularity and  
>> appeal, thus allowing them to get paid handsomely for part 2. It's  
>> pretty obvious that auratic art objects become more valuable as the  
>> reputations of the maker, and of the specific object, increase, and  
>> every reproduction adds to that reputation. We've all seen  
>> reproductions of 'Crows Over a Cornfield' but that only makes the  
>> original canvas worth more, not less.
>> Thus, the commodification of celluloid art actually 'incentivizes'  
>> its distribution via reproduction: DVD and/or Blu-Ray at popular  
>> prices. Which I, for one, would welcome. A couple weeks back I  
>> asked a question about what values can be found in the corpus we  
>> call experimental film. Nobody offered a reply. There was a bit of  
>> the usual blah-blah-blah about 'medium specificity.' But a) that's  
>> not really a value b) it doesn't really distinguish 'experimental  
>> film' as a whole from other rubrics c) to the extent that SOME  
>> experimental works foreground a medium specificity, the number and  
>> importance of works that do, and the degree to which this the key  
>> to their aesthetic significance is wildly overestimated by the  
>> celluloid cultists.
>> Fred said: "It is simply my claim that many of the best avant-garde  
>> (and other) films come through far better in their intended  
>> format." I wholeheartedly agree. But, first, I believe 'their  
>> intended format' is a GOOD print, not one full of dust, tram line  
>> scratches, torn sprocket holes and crappy tape splices. At least  
>> that was the case when I made films... Second, look how weak 'far  
>> better' is as a claim. And I think Fred is being honest here.  
>> There's a whole spectrum of deviation away from the ideal, and just  
>> because one form is 'far better' doesn't mean another form is  
>> 'bad.' (Either the faded and worn print or the projection from  
>> DVD). It's not an ideal world and there are aways trade-offs. Shall  
>> we take the slides away from the art history professors? Or, more  
>> to the point, is a gay teenager in rural Nebraska better off  
>> watching a DVD of 'Flaming Creatures' or never having even heard of  
>> Jack Smith because his work will never be shown in its 'intended  
>> format' in flyover land? I submit that the values that make the  
>> corpus of experimental film truly worthwhile are by a very large  
>> margin things that survive substantive measures of image  
>> degradation quite well.
>> IMHO, the real battle is not 'film vs. digital', but 'cinema vs.  
>> iPod'. My personal experience is that the experimental films I  
>> value most highly do not suffer much from slight image  
>> degradations, but do suffer greatly when withdrawn from the context  
>> of cinema: i.e. display on a large screen in a darkened room. You  
>> have to concentrate to 'get' a lot of this stuff. It NEEDS a  
>> certain scale, needs to trap you in your seat without the available  
>> AV distraction of everyday life, to force you to deal with it's  
>> otherness.
>> As such, I find Marilyn's endorsement of gallery-type film  
>> installations disturbing. I've seen a number of them (including  
>> Brakhage) and I thought they all were awful, basically reducing the  
>> work to 'TV': small screen, too much ambient light, people  
>> wandering in and out distractedly... (The one exception being an  
>> Anthony McCall piece where the constant influx of people in and out  
>> of the room, figuring out the sculptural nature of the thing, then  
>> playing with the beam seemed just right.) If anybody has the  
>> responsibility to present the material in a way that maximizes it's  
>> integrity, it's museums. But they don't value the work in that  
>> sense, because they can't value it in the other sense, so maybe  
>> we'd get better screenings under a regime of "purchasing and  
>> ownership." (???)
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