So, trying to move this space out of dormancy....
I’ve been exceedingly absorbed by putting on Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder’s Light Spill in the UWM Art History Gallery in the past few weeks. Below are some of my introductory remarks on the installation, (even if posting this here somehow seems like a troubling of a tacit day shift/night shift divide.) Overseeing the exhibition in the gallery has given me an intense crash-course in the peculiarities of managing duration in the interests of both literally and figuratively “feeding the machine.” I’ve sometimes felt that acquiring 16mm film prints for this piece has been like wrassling pigs for the slaughter, and in the ethical pulls of film's preciousness, its organic-inorganic-ness, oddly lies the precise locus where the work’s delicacy and beauty emerges…
As a kind of post-cinematic practice – and by cinema is meant an idea and ideal – Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder, in Light Spill and in much of their other work, explore the basic components and materiality of film as medium – projector, screen, light, celluloid, and their recombinant capacities. Their work also draws on traditions of expanded cinema, in which film is folded into a tapestry of other media – performance, sound, light, audience interaction. The interactive components of Light Spill are born out each time this work is mounted in a different venue. Like film itself - which in each screening, subtly shifts meaning – the work takes on an iterative, performative, aleatory quality that is dependent on the variables of the location and space chosen, the films acquired & donated for the exhibition, and the specifics of the projection situation. Gibson and Recoder think of this work as an “ongoing open archive” in its collaborative capacities. Conceived in 2005, Light Spill continues to be installed in various venues internationally (it has shown in TENT in Rotterdam, Pittsburgh Filmmakers Gallery, at the Images Festival in Toronto, the Robischon Gallery in Denver, among many others.) So as a traveling work, of instructions as well as collated materials, some consistent (the projector) some contingent (the films and spaces) Light Spill accumulates a persistent life of its own, through its transit and reconstitution from site to site.
I want to make a proposition, which Light Spill, as a forerunner in the convergence of film practice and gallery practice elegantly bears out: that cinema’s beauty is always and has always been embedded in the spectacle of its own destruction. All films, by virtue of their material existence and their wending through the armature of the process of projection wear down, become dissolute, and decay. But there is another way that cinema’s binding to death is made clear, in the very ways that film as medium has always tried to capture and make animate the inanimate, in the “giving life to those shadows” - and in that process, preserving the unpreservable.
What we have here, staged in this installation, is a scene of luminous destruction, of obsolescence, a potlatch if you will – but a catastrophic dramaturgy that asks us to consider the conditions of film, its history, its disposal. It also asks us to consider the idealization of cinema, as institution and immaterial idea. The films we see unspooling before us have been discarded on multiple levels of value, before they have even reached us, as projected images, before they reach the floor as incontrovertible waste matter. The representational content of the films is traded for an unfixed, unfocused, painterly frame, as the intermittency mechanism that regulates the fixity of the image is removed. The lack of a take up reel on this modified projector produces an apparatus that does not seal itself back up, in the action of rewinding the film onto another reel. Thus, film spills out before us, in the light of another space and another aesthetic relation. Instead of the rewind of the take-up reel, the messy objectness of film is unwound, allowed to take on another shape - and unbound from the institutional shackles of its history and its immersive representational conventions.
The conceptual incisiveness and incision, one could say, of this work, emerges in part from its temporal and durational qualities. It’s impact draws on an awareness of the multivalent destruction of cinema, on the abstract and the pragmatic scale, as well as on the felt and experienced scale – in this gallery, in this specific place, these particular films see their last moments of projected, if blurred out, bliss, before expiring. And in expiring, spilling out, snaking and tangling before us, they become stubbornly sculptural objects, made for a different kind of lively and vibrant contemplation. The film object’s slow slithering extrusion from the back end of the projector contrasts with the mechanical time of the apparatus, and the sense of frenzied speed of the abstracted projected image. We are suddenly made aware of all that we may have missed in the temps perdu of films unfathomably lost, unrecoverable. On the one hand we have the lost time of films unwatched, unseen, unknown, and the shifted temporality of arriving too late. The disaster happened long ago, and we realize we slept through it. On the other hand, we have a gesture towards a time of infinite spilling out, and a historical machine that demands a requisite and singular procession of endless images, moving ever forward, as it processes and masticates them, unperturbed. Thus, belatedness: a certain motion backwards, paradoxically to another (perhaps sideways) understanding of the technical and material properties of film’s projection, and the film strip’s materiality. Gibson and Recoder’s installation assembles one model of film’s obsolescence, but also points us to the possible futurity that gleams within it. Film spills out as stubbornly gleaming waste matter, but matter made analogically organic, live and lively.
Light Spill addresses the museological fate of film in the expanded arena of the art gallery. The history of the darkened film theater collides with the brightened space of art exhibition. From black box to white cube, and from one scenario of projection, in which the conditions of film’s exhibition remains invisible, to another, in which we are left with the exposed body of a technological apparatus and its material base made both beautiful and strangely new: estranged by what Gibson and Recoder call the “light mechanics” of a medium. Light here is essential – an essential element of both film production and projection, but also an elemental substance that can illuminate the values of film as object in a new sphere of aesthetic and conceptual utility. Light spills through film and beyond it, spilling out: the diffusion, “the becoming cinema of art,” as Gibson and Recoder suggest. To shed light, in its multiple senses, we require a material that can collect and refract it, and that thing is film.