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<nettime> An Infinite Seance
olia lialina on Sat, 27 Jan 2007 22:02:56 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> An Infinite Seance


How authors managed to escape YouTube and curators got rid of
interactive installations.

Several days ago I was in the jury of Film Winter in Stuttgart, an
Expanded Media festival, and it made me think a lot about moving

In the times of Cine Fantom Club, which was based at the Museum of
Cinema in Moscow, we often discussed the fate of short films and the
situation in which they always found themselves, or, more exactly,
into which they always seemed to be forced. Theatre director and
founder of slow video movement, Boris Yukhananov used to say that the
programs put together by festival curators were "ghettos", meaning the
curators' lack of respect for authors and films alike, which showed in
the way films were forced into each other's context, and all of them
? into the concept developed by the curator, just because he or she
needed to compile a full-length program that would last at least 90
minutes. The reasoning behind this was that no one would ever go to
the theatre solely to see a one-minute, or even a twenty-minute film.

The situation had continued for a long while, especially in film
museums and on film festivals. But now, at last, short films are
starting to claim some space of their own. Lately, several new ways of
screening short films and videos have come into existence:

    * each film screened in its own separate room; endless loop; two
    * or more projections.

I know how film- and videomakers managed to carve such a comfortable
niche for themselves, and what they have to pay for these aristocratic

It's not because video art is making its comeback, like they say
in festival booklets. It isn't. Of course, it's tempting to draw
parallels between video installations of 70s and 80s, and the
out-of-movie-theater-screenings that we see so often today. In fact,
something entirely different has happened. And it's not that much
about video art as an object or an installation. Rather, it's about an
installation as a form of film screening.

The story started around 20 years ago, when European experimental
film festivals expanded their focus and turned their attention first
to video and then to new media, which they understood as art produced
using computers. Gradually, they converted into media festivals. From
a technical standpoint it meant that from now on, festival events
took place not just in theaters, but in exhibition spaces, too ?
such spaces were used to construct computer installations, largely
interactive ones. Sometimes it resulted in great exhibitions, and
sometimes in horrible ones, but in both cases, viewers and curators
felt a little cheated: sure, they saw something, felt a taste of
something new, pushed buttons here and there and, perhaps, even saw a
glimpse of themselves on the screen (video tracking is the shame and
at the same time the biggest success of interactive art), but did they
have a chance to experience anything great, anything that touched them

Besides, festival staff hated placing this additional burden on their
technicians and watchmen: computers had to be switched on and off,
reloaded if necessary ? a pain in the neck, because buttons, keyboards
and wires were disguised as well as possible to keep them out of
sight, which made getting to them very problematic.

For these and many other reasons, interactive installations never
turned into anything significant. Curators were happy to get rid of
them as soon as the time was right, which happened about a year and
a half ago. The right time brought cheap (significantly cheaper than
before) projectors that provided excellent quality, dirt cheap but
sharp flat screens, DVD players that cost next to nothing and vacant
exhibition space.

Now, when film- and especially videomakers are working on their next
project, they can select from two equally great screening options: a
movie theater, or a compartment in an exhibition hall.

If they choose the latter, it means that they will have to abandon the
idea of having their film subtitled ? the subtitles will be replaced
by a plaque at the entrance to the compartment ? and get used to the
idea of an infinite séance, a looped screening. In an exhibition
hall, the screening has no beginning, and no end. The possibility
of a viewer entering the hall exactly at the beginning of a film is
infinitesimally small. The possibility that someone who has arrived
in the middle of the screening will not only stay until the end, but
also watch the beginning that he or she has missed, is smaller still.*
This is why artists tend to choose formless stories, without a clear
beginning or ending.

It is also necessary for artists to work with the space they are
given: they can try to use it to add new meanings to what they are
showing, or toy with the idea of "spatial film", splitting their image
into several screens or projections, telling parallel stories like
Mike Figgis in his Timecode, using different angles or soundtracks. In
other words, it takes a well-thought-out project to earn a separate
screening room.

Otherwise, you're relegated to the ghetto of compilations, or your
films are screened on monitor in the corridor with headphones for the
viewer, the way it's happening in the Pompidou Center in Paris, at the
exposition Le Mouvement des images, or else, YouTube ? every short
film director's greatest fear. Short films seem to fit the YouTube
format so well that for their directors, the perspective of finding
themselves in the sea of amateur videos and fragments of TV shows
is very real. And very frightening ? because on the net, it's much
more likely that a film will go unnoticed than in a 90-minute program
compiled by a festival curator.

If you take a look at film programs presented at the festivals of
extended media such as Film Winter, Impact, EMAF and others, it's
easy to see that directors are more and more producing for exhibition
halls. Even on theater screens, we can often see films intended for
looped viewing (although they are only shown once) or multiscreen
films (yet only one of the multiple images they consist of.) In such
cases, authors talk to the audience before or after the screening,
explaining how their films were really meant to be shown - a strange,
but perhaps temporary, phenomenon.

*The worse the weather, the greater the chance that a viewer will
stay. Exhibition halls are usually furnished with benches or pillows
for viewers to sit or even lie down for a while in semi-darkness.

Olia Lialina

Translated from Russian by Alya Ponomareva

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