From A to Z: Transfigurations Between Black Box and White Cube

“From A to Z: Transfigurations Between Black Box and White Cube.” SK Magazine #4 (Setzkasten: Vienna, 2018). [Curatorial essay to accompany From A to Z, a screening and exhibition presenting by Belvedere 21, Setzkasten and Zwischendecke in Vienna, Austria on April 20 & April 21, 2018.

From A to Z
Presented by Belvedere 21, Setzkasten and Zwischendecke in Vienna, Austria on April 20-21, 2018.
Curated by Madi Piller and Clint Enns.

Marcos Arriaga, Stephen Broomer, Dan Browne, Kelly Egan, Winston Hacking, Christine Lucy Latimer, Lisa Myers, John Porter, Blaine Speigel, Leslie Supnet, & Michael Snow.

From A to Z: Transfigurations Between Black Box and White Cube

From A to Z features eleven Canadian artists from Ontario whose practices fluctuate between the white cube of the gallery and the black box of the cinema. In the book Between the Black Box and the White Cube, Andrew Uroskie explores the ways in which artists have created a dialectic between the two seemingly disparate spaces of the cinema and the gallery:

These two cultural sites – art gallery and cinema theater – have long been conceptualized in diametric opposition. Within the gallery’s brightly illuminated container, the aesthetic spectator navigates a physical encounter with the space of the object-cum-installation in a temporality of their choosing. The cinema’s black box, by contrast, intentionally negates both bodily mobility and environmental perception so as to transport the viewer away from their present time and local space, into the narrative space of the cinematic world on screen. These two institutions, these two models of exhibition and spectatorship, would seem irreconcilable. Yet since the 1990s, artists and arts institutions around the world have embraced the idea of moving image installation to such an extent that it has already become the norm rather than the exception within contemporary art galleries and museums.1

Uroskie examines how moving image installation became embraced by the art world, discussing artists and artistic works that challenged the conventions of these two cultural sites. The artwork in From A to Z is approaching this transition from a slightly different perspective, looking beyond the installation paradigm to focus on moving image artists who fluidly transition between other artistic mediums. 

The exhibition itself takes its name from Michael Snow’s animated film A to Z (1956)By placing this work next to his recent illustrated series Self-Portrait, made as part of Madi Piller’s Animated Self-Portraits/Autoportraits Animés (2012) project, it is possible to see how Snow has transferred concepts between the two mediums. For instance, the stretching and morphing techniques in his animated works can be found throughout his artistic practice; simply consider his video *Corpus Callosum (2002) where people stretch and morph using sophisticated video effects, or his illustration Room and Occupants Slightly Condensed (1956) where all of the occupants of a room are compacted into a small area. It is precisely these types of transitions between mediums that are highlighted in From A to Z.

At this historical moment, many artists and film enthusiasts fear that we are coming to the end of traditional filmmaking practices. In contrast, the artworks in From A to Z show how filmmaking practices are in the process, not of dying, but of evolving between forms. By placing moving image works, specifically those made on film, next to artworks made by the same artists in other mediums, From A to Z demonstrates how filmmaker’s broader artistic explorations inform their film works at the conceptual and practical level, and therefore contribute to the survival of filmmaking practices.

In Erodium Thunk (2018), Winston Hacking transforms his collages from the Erodium Thunk series (2018) into a densely layered animation using digital green screen technologies and a technique he refers to as paperteering. The movements are created by hand in front of a green screen and layered in a way that allows for chance and serendipity, similar to how he created the original physical collages. The result is mind-bending, as these relatively simple techniques are used to achieve extremely sophisticated effects. 

Kelly Egan’s work Athyrium filix-femina (2016), which exists as both a film and a quilt, similarly demonstrates the way a working methodology can be transposed between mediums. The techniques used in the creation of both iterations of Athyrium filix-femina highlight the tactile nature of filmmaking, emphasizing the physical aspects of the art form. For instance, the quilt is literally constructed from the film itself and the emulsion for the film was made by Egan using Anna Atkin’s cyanotype recipe from 1842. Moreover, the filmic image is a photogram of plants and contact prints of found footage created by exposing the film to sun and processing them by hand. 

Stephen Broomer’s film Spirits in Season (2013) documents Lily Dale, New York, the centre of the Spiritualist movement and home to the Lily Dale Spiritualist Assembly. The work uses digital/analogue hybrid techniques, chance operations and dense superimpositions to capture the spiritual nature of the site. Broomer’s artist book Polaroids (2018) is a series of polaroids that create a survey of many of the techniques and concepts used in the construction of his films. In the series, Broomer provides a demonstration of the malleability of his techniques between mediums including: etched abstractions, photographic abstractions, multiply-exposed landscapes, chance colour separations, motion blurs and portraiture. 

Dan Browne’s Lost Cycle (2016) is a series of in-camera sketches shot on 16mm. Field and Passage, two films in the cycle, document outings with different family members with Field making use of hand-processing techniques which introduce a host of medium-specific errors. Similarly, Reclining Fragments (2016) is literally made entirely in-camera on an iPhone, and uses various software to process and glitch the image, creating, in essence, a digital equivalent to hand-processing.  

Blaine Speigel and Lisa Myers both use organic materials in the production of their artworks. Speigel’s super 8 film VIRIDITAS (2016) and his photographic series Hand/Organiks (2018) engage with the spiritual power associated with connecting to nature. Speigel uses a methodology borrowed from gardening to further advocate for Hildegard von Bingen’s concept of viriditas, the greenness that reflects the divinity of nature and symbolizes spiritual and physical health. The work displays the beauty of natural processes, including that of decay. Similarly, Myers’ artwork Blueprint (2014) and the super 8 film that shares the same name makes use of another natural material, namely, blueberries. Adopting a methodology related to cooking, Myers uses boiled, pureed and strained blueberries to produce prints of landscapes that reinforce the importance of an indigenous food source to the land on which it is produced. 

Second Sun (2014) by Leslie Supnet makes use of abstract drawings to produce a psychedelic animation that imagines an astronomical future, that is, the birth of a new Sun. The drawings used to create the animation share a similar structure to Supnet’s large-scale pastel drawing I am the Mountain (2018), whose title provides a new insight into her animation. 

Marcos Arriaga’s photography series Many Years Later (1986/87) consists of black and white photographs Arriaga took while working as a photojournalist in Lima, Peru. The work presents a social and political record of protests by union workers. Arriaga’s time spent as a photojournalist also influences his films, as demonstrated in Assembly (2012)a work that uses super 8 and still photography to further illustrate the struggle of the working class in Peru. Through blending these mediums, Arriaga reveals some of the political parallels between these different points in time.

Christine Lucy Latimer explores a different type of struggle in her work, a struggle between mediums of representation. In Mosaic (2012), the tension between mediums is represented by a glitchy broadcast of a Muai Thai fight captured on VHS and transferred to 16mm. The work exposes the medium-specific errors associated with each of the mediums while demonstrating the ways in which they can peacefully co-exist. Similarly, in Super 8 Sun Beam (2016) a lens flare captured on super 8 is transformed into a GIF that is displayed in a video frame, implicitly posing the question: In what ways does this remain a super 8 sun beam?

Super 8 enthusiast John Porter, whom one can easily imagine answering “It doesn’t!” to the question previously posed, often uses super 8 to create filmic dances and performances. Light Sleeper (2010), originally shot over a period of 10 hours in 2010 using long time-exposures on each frame, documents Porter sleeping under a blanket of Christmas lights. In 2011, Porter re-staged the performance and shot 4 new versions of the work simultaneously, which makes sense given the difficulty of making prints of super 8 films and Porter’s commitment to showing camera originals. His installation, Down On Me (1980/2010), involves hanging a super 8 projector from the ceiling and projecting onto the floor. The work itself is a re-imagining of his seminal film Down On Me (1980/81)camera dance2 in which Porter attempts to follow the movement of a camera that is raised and lowered from rooftops and bridges, on the end of a fishing pole line. In the installation, Porter places the projector in the position of original camera, disrupting his original attempts to remain static in the frame through mimicking the movement of the camera.

In the past, the gap between the white cube and the black box was seemingly bridged through the inclusion of moving image works in the gallery. From A to Z further demonstrates the ways in which moving image artists work between mediums and the effect this cross-influence has on their working methodologies. It is suggested that this cross contamination from the black box to the white cube is beneficial to the work produced since it involves the artist expanding their range of techniques and methodologies in order to apply them to other mediums, not only creating new ways to produce work, but producing exciting new ways to both view and engage with the artworks produced. 

I am the Mountain (2018) – Leslie Supnet

List of Artworks:

Marcos Arriaga
Assembly | 2012 | 6 min. | 16mm | silent
Many Years Later Series | 1986/1987 | silver gelatin prints 

Stephen Broomer
Spirits in Season | 2013 | 13 min. | 16mm | sound 
Polaroids | 2018 | artist book with original polaroid photos

Dan Browne
Lost Cycle: Field Passage | 2016 | 2 min. / 4 min. | 16mm | silent
Reclining Fragments | 2016 | digital photo

Kelly Egan
Athyrium filix-femina | 2016 | 5 min. | 35mm | sound
Athyrium filix-femina | 2016 | film quilt

Winston Hacking
Erodium Thunk | 2018 | 4 min. | 16mm | sound 
Erodium Thunk Series | 2018 | collages and digital prints

Christine Lucy Latimer
Mosaic | 2002 | 3.5 min. | 16mm/VHS->16mm | silent
Super 8 Sun Beam | 2016 | GIF in video picture frame 

Lisa Myers
Blueprint | 2014 | 3 min. | super 8 | wild sound [digital] 
Blueprint | 2014 | blueberries on paper

John Porter
Light Sleeper | 2010/11 | super 8 | 4 min. | silent 
Down on Me | 1980/2010 | super 8 installation

Blaine Speigel
VIRIDITAS | 2016 | 3 min. | super 8 double-projection | wild sound [cassette]
Hand/Organiks Series | 2018 | multiple exposure photograms 

Michael Snow 
A to Z | 1956 | 7 min. | 16mm | silent 
Self-Portrait Series | 2012 | illustrations on paper made for Madi Piller’s Animated Self-Portraits/Autoportraits Animés project

Leslie Supnet
Second Sun | 2014 | 3 min. | super 8->16mm | wild sound [digital] 
I am the Mountain | 2018 | pastel drawing on paper

  1. Andrew V. Uroskie, Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 5. []
  2. Porter’s camera dances are dance works created for the screen from choreographed camera movements. []