By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published September 18, 2009
Commentators within the domains of both art criticism and film studies have noted a new emphasis on the moving image within the museums and galleries from the mid to the late 1990s. The enhanced visibility of artists’ cinema during this period could be partly explained by increased access to production, post production and projection equipment among artists and art institutions though other factors still come into play. However, it is the term ‘artists’ cinema’ that ignited a debate that culminated in the conception of a newly published book: The Place of Artists’ Cinema: Space, Site and Screen by Maeve Connolly. It is published by Intellect Books in the UK and the USA in 2009.
With this term constantly recurring in various publications, film programmes and exhibitions, Connolly, a lecturer in film and animation in Dublin, explores and charts the shifting relationship between art practice and film-making in this 300-page book.
In chapter one Connolly challenges certain claims regarding spectatorship and the reception of the moving images within the gallery while in chapter two she employs the frame of the market place to investigate points of convergence between economics and the politics of place while considering the evolution of the curatorial strategies and charting the rise of the art fair and biennial exhibition. Chapters three through five provide in depth analysis of 24 works by different artists from the UK, US, Iran, Mexico, Slovenia and the Netherlands.
Focusing on developments since the mid 1990s, Connolly also examines the various ways in which contemporary art practitioners have claimed the narrative techniques and modes of production associated with cinema as a cultural form. She notes that the explicit commercialisation of film and television production over the past decade, especially within the UK context, is likely to have impelled certain practitioners towards the gallery.
Though many historians bemoan the drift towards the gallery and museums, the drift has on the contrary been welcomed by practitioners who think that this move signifies that the genealogical life of film is being extended in the space of contemporary museums while leading to the evolution of these places as cultural forms.
Other than just focusing on where artists take their art works, the reception of those particular works by the consumer is also a serious factor considered in this book that examines the socio-economic, political, cultural and economic factors shaping the production, exhibition and circulation of artists’ cinema in various contexts. Artists need to understand that the absence of value attached to specific place in contemporary cultural life in the art world determines how the spectators view their work. The book thus recommends that to create sense within an artwork artists need to draw on forms of local knowledge that are physically embodied and written in the landscape or place by the people who live there.
With the emergence of a landscape of suburbs, malls and television in which everything is either enveloped by low-intensity of consumer culture or abandoned to decay, video installation seems to be one of the best settings to play the purposes of reflection. And artists need to understand how to lure the audience into viewing films/art works. Although many artists seek ways to present an exclusive event by restricting participation to a select grouping of artists and galleries, they need to attract a substantial paying audience by promoting the affair as a public event.
By doing this the artists will on the other hand ensure that the museum, which for a long time has functioned as a space of decomposition is now an aesthetic and social place. After all cinema exists for today’s artists as a historic place. Thus The Place of Artists’ Cinema, conceived through dialogue with Connolly’s colleagues and students within film and media studies, attempts to account for the increased visibility of artists’ cinema.
Irrespective of its colourful photographs the book can easily be understood by people who have before hand understanding of film history and theory. Scholars, too, may find it invaluable. The photos, other than making the book colourful, do not motivate the reader and the fact that some of them disappear into the binding makes it difficult for the reader to view them well.
All in all, at a cost of -19.95, Maeve Connolly’s book opens up a new set of questions about cinema and the place of artists within the public sphere.