Filmmaking, experimental cinema and video art

robert whitman shower
Shower, Robert Whitman

Yilin She

The author Eamon Christopher discusses the temporality and the multidisciplinarity of art is important to explore the relationship between film and video art. “Happening”, a term coined by the Fluxus artist Dick Higgins, mainly refers to performance art and is valued by its temporality in time. In Fluxus, experimental actions and the multidisciplinary aspect are important. The methods that are used in the filmmaking lead to the formation of the experimental cinema and the video art.

Christopher starts by stating that Jackson Pollock’s drip painting is a Happening, to explain that Pollock’s involvement of his body action in his drip painting allows the artist and the audiences to experience the same feeling in the same work. This method gets Allan Kaprow thinking. By the time Kaprow admired Pollock’s method, John Cage influences Kaprow on the time-based, recordable, and projectable medium of film. Cage creates 4’33’’, which contains a repetition of creating music through an unconventional way. Later, he makes Theatre Piece No.1, which allows the audiences to be a part of the film by using their own actions to fill up the time of the film. Cage’s use of multidisciplinarity in his music makes Kaprow bring connections to his thinking of film.

Then he talks about Robert Whitman, who is a Fluxus artist, shows the greatest interests in the projected film image in relation to live action. From the famous American Moon to Prune Flat, Whitman gives examples of using the film image in a performance environment. In Prune Flat, film images are projected on the performance background. This reversion of the projected figure and background is experimental, and it would later be found in video installation art. In his Shower, there is also a combination of real actions and projected film images. It “becomes a form of trompe l’oeil, a sort of convulsion, in Surrealist terms, of the representation of art into the reality of the object” (72). The boundaries “between genres that came to be a defining characteristic of Happenings and Fluxus events world wide” (72) are dissolved, and the term “intermedia” is brought up to relate the development of film installations and video art.

Christopher states that Fluxus is not only a radical and experimental art movement but also “a link between electronic musical composition and film and video art” (72). In Europe, Fluxus was related to electronic music because people whose interests are in sound organize the original Fluxus concerts.

Vostell created the first European Happening in Paris that had a series of assemblages. In his series named Black Room Cycle 1958-64, there is a piece known as German View. He assembles newspaper clippings, burned wood, bones, a child’s toy, barbed wire, and a television set on which a program was playing in this piece. This piece reveals his interest of using everyday objects in art, like pop art. Instead of collaging the newly combined materials in the world, he invents ‘de-collage’ which is derived from the combined objects in the world and then collages them in a new way. It has been discussed that the use of televisions in assemblages gave birth to video art. It is not certain that Paik is influenced by Vostell, but he creates Zen for Film 1964, which allows himself to be the subject of the ‘film’.  Compared to Zen for Film 1964, Whiman’s film of Prune Flat “is about the link between the frame of light and the body, and needs the performer for completion” (73). Although Paik’s and Vostell’s works have been the earliest examples of video art, they were not employ videotape.

In Maya Deren’s At Land 1944, she purposely generates discontinuity between takes as opposed to eliminating the viewer’s awareness of editing the narrative takes. Her works and Kenneth Anger’s works like Fireworks, focus on the technical aspects of filmmaking such as apparatus like exposure, speed, focus, and celluloid itself. These films are like the Structural film which focus more on the form or the structure instead of the content.

VALIE EXPORT is a female Viennese Actionist, who uses bodily fluids, blood, and mud for public performance. The work of the Viennese filmmakers like VALIE EXPORT are different from American Structuralism’s and European Structuralism’s work in a way that emphasizes actions over illusions, the real over the image. For example, EXPORT wears a small model of a cinema as a bra and invites people to touch her breasts. This performance that EXPORT does shows her use of her name and female body as intermedia to deconstruct gender stereotypes. It brings out the awareness on how gender plays a role in film and video art. Besides this, she also develops an experimental film style called “expanded cinema” that uses the fragmented moving images to explore human perception. She uses split screens to present her works. Although the two sides of the screens are played simultaneously and do not match, images are still fused together in human vision. By using this perception, EXPORT better presents her interests in protest and revolt.

Gender roles and the realization continue developing throughout the history of video art. Andy Warhol is fundamental to the development of experimental film. The long duration of sameness in Warhol’s works was discussed in the last readings about the Structural film. He can be considered the first to use videotape to make art. Warhol not only manipulated time but also alters the space of his films. Like EXPORT, Warhol also projects two film footages on a double screen in his work, Outer and Inner Space 1965. This is also a good example of film that the audiences can see two different types of space alternating with each other, since he filmed the taped space of the monitor and the actual space together.


How has the experimental cinema and video art slowly developed from filmmaking?

How do “Happening” and Fluxus serve the development of the video art from filmmaking?


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