Film and video create an illusory world, a reality elsewhere, and a material presence that both dramatizes and demystifies the magic trick of moving pictures. Beginning in the 1960s, artists have explored filmic and televisual phenomena in the controlled environments of galleries and museums, drawing on multiple antecedents in cinema, television and the visual arts. In her new volume, Installation and the Moving Image, CCW Professor Catherine Elwes traces the lineage of moving-image installation through architecture, painting, sculpture, performance, expanded cinema, film history, and countercultural film and video from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
Sound is given due attention, along with the shift from analogue to digital, issues of spectatorship and the insights of cognitive science. Woven into this genealogy is a discussion of the procedural, political, theoretical and ideological positions espoused by artists from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Historical constructs such as Peter Gidal’s structural materialism, Maya Deren’s notion of vertical and horizontal time and identity politics are reconsidered in a contemporary context and intersect with more recent thinking on representation, subjectivity and installation art.
Elwes is a critic, curator and practitioner who was a pioneer of British video and feminist art politics in the late 1970s, who writes engagingly of her encounters with works by Anthony McCall, Gillian Wearing, David Hall and Janet Cardiff, and her narrative is informed by exchanges with other practitioners.
Professor Sean Cubitt of Goldsmiths, University of London wrote of the new book, ‘Critic, curator, historian of the moving image and artist, Elwes’ account of media installation is by turns authoritative, illuminating, intelligent and moving. Her eye and ear for the nuances of works and ideas, and most of all her emotional intelligence, brings her to the forefront of commentators on the most important art form of the 21st century.’
Discussing the book, Elwes said, ‘I was always fascinated by the spatial and sculptural possibilities of video, and back in the 1970s and early 80s I used monitors to create the windows of a house or the reflection in the “water” down a well. Where I enclosed and concealed the monitors in sculptural structures, other artists like David Hall and Tina Keane used the “box” itself as a building block for media installations that emphasised the specific nature of the technology. Once I started looking at other forms of media staging, works that used film, light, sound and live performance, I found that the whole history of avant-garde practices intersected in the “mongrel” discipline of installation art.
My approach to the book was that of a genealogist, tracing the various ancestors of moving image installation in sculpture, painting, architecture, performance and, of course, in the history of film and video. These come with their own cultural philosophies and social and political objectives. The question of spectatorship runs like a knotted seam through the entirety of the text, and I end with a consideration of what cognitive science can teach us about the ways in which we watch film, how artists and technologies “craft the viewing experience” (Tim Smith). My final word on the subject is a chapter in which I shift the discussion from the spectator to the producer of the work and ask, what’s in it for the artist?’
Installation and the Moving Image is published by Wallflower Press, an imprint of Columbia University Press, and is supported by CCW Graduate School. The book will launch on 15 June.