Poroèilo / Report, 13', 1963-67, Bruce Conner
Popoln film / Perfekt Film, 22', 1986, Ken Jacobs
Kader/protikader / Shot-Countershot, 30'', 1987, Peter Tscherkassky
Home Stories, 6', 1990, Matthias Müller
Passage a l'acte, 13', 1993, Martin Arnold
Out of the Archive: The Reinvention of the Past.
Undermining the Media with Found Footage Film
Films have never diffused far enough into the consciousness of the art or media worlds..
Perhaps now, since its material and technical basis seems to be more or less up to it, film is going through a time of revival, at least as far as its reception is concerned. While in the so-called digital age it has become more and more difficult and expensive, finally even nonsensical, if not downright impossible to make independent 16mm films, not to mention the already dying-out Super-8 format, avant-garde film is increasingly appreciated even outside the relevant festivals. Moreover, more and more art institutions are making the effort to organise film programmes beside their traditional, usually predominantly object-centred exhibitions.
On the other hand, events in the framework of cinema´s 100th anniversary have shown that avant-garde film is still being treated like a stepchild in the context of film history. So when Jonas Mekas, film-maker and doyen of New American Cinema, screams that film is not 100 years old, but only 75, because cinema as an art form started not before the avant-gardists of the early twenties and the invention of 16mm format in 1923, he remains almost unheard. His objection has helped little, if at all. Art, art criticism, and art history have in their turn widely neglected the fact that the close relationship between (avant-garde) film and art — originally exclusively pictorial artists (Ray, Legér, Richter, Ruttmann et al.) who worked seriously with film as an independent art medium — continued throughout the following decades (with or without personal connections). This might be explained by the historical fact that the failure of anti-art, i.e. the project of “transferring art into life practice“
performed by avant-garde movements of the twenties, especially by Dadaism, was followed by the return of anti-art to institutionalised art and the art market. What the institution and the market could not incorporate smoothly bit the dust. Nowhere else this can be exemplified more transparently than in artistic film, whose dilemma it is to remain on the one hand broadly faithful to the traditional concept of work, and on the other to be unable to offer one singular object as work. Its non-commercial character especially, which makes it artistic and distinguishable from mainstream products of the same medium, denies avant-garde film, one might say with a strong degree of simplification, yet realistically, its access to institutionalised art. Anyway, history shows that for whichever reasons the art world´s interest in avant-garde film has always been temporary, maybe often merely “fashionable“. And although since after the twenties epoch-making avant-garde filmmakers have come time and again from the area of art, they are still regarded as film-makers, not as artists, and their work is not regarded as art, as Birgit Hein still observed in 1989
. So if avant-garde film is now being paid more attention by the world of art, we can only hope that it is not belated art-historical interest boiling down to the museological treatment of a historical art form hardly taken seriously as a living form of expression. Unfortunately, the contextualisation and incorporation of artistic film in an exhibition project of contemporary art like the one at hand still remains exceptional. Though avant-garde film´s fascinating relations between art and cinema could, or should trigger off further profound reflections, I think we should approach the topic of the exhibition at hand, as well as some of the films chosen by the curator. Finally, once and for all, I want to emphasise for clarity´s sake that the problem addressed is not the aesthetic placement of cinematic oeuvres “between art and commerce“, but rather institutional flaws. Andy Warhol: But don´t you understand? These movies are art!