Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art

Academic journal article Millennium Film Journal

Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art

Article excerpt

Between the Black Box and the White Cube: Expanded Cinema and Postwar Art Andrew V. Uroskie University of Chicago, 2014

Andrew Uroskie's Between the Black Box and the White Cube is an important and timely intervention into the growing body of critical writing that- finally!-is bringing together the oddly separated worlds of cinema and art. The history of the relationship between cinema and art is not totally unrecognized, but the popular version is a caricature in which, on one side, a few visual artists "dabbled" in film or video, and on the flip side, "movies" might reference modern art to inflate their cultural status (but just as often by simultaneously satirizing it, as the recent exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television, amply demonstrates).

Yet this odd separation of experimental film and the art world is understandable when the different economies, cultural bases (and biases), and even political aspirations of many experimental filmmakers, distributors, and exhibitors, on one hand, and certain sectors of the art world, on the other, are considered. But the separation makes no sense in terms of aesthetics and artistic practice: to state it plainly, experimental film is art, and art includes film. The crucial division is ultimately named in the title of Uroskie's book, that between the actual spaces and literal (and figurative) conditions of visibility that have determined so much of the history of the moving image as a 20th century art: the black box of the theatre and the white cube of the gallery. One of the many contributions of Uroskie's book is to show that the black box was hardly always dark and enclosed, and nor was the white cube so pristine and angular. He reveals and synthesizes a toooften ignored history of remarkable artists who have precisely found a place "between" these ostensibly separate spaces (and, I hasten to add, this includes video, whose sites include installation and broadcast television). By examining a turn from "the specificity of a work's medium toward a newfound importance of thinking about the specificity of a work's site" (6, his emphasis), he both names the conceptual grounds of his analysis and the larger stakes of how we might understand art works anew in relation to their cultural, political, and historical contexts. He also extends terms of understanding too often limited by the prescriptive edge of theories of medium specificity and examines the history of what artists have actually done with the moving image-and crucially the idea of cinema, understood capaciously-rather than circumscribe a critical tradition based on what cinema-or art-should be.

The variety and complexity of this history is eye-opening as Uroskie's book tells a compelling story that not only covers known quantities (e.g., John Cage, Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol) but also uncovers important figures whose histories were hidden in plain sight. The fascinating section on Robert Breer's early career in Paris and his experiments with kineographs/ flipbooks and mutoscopes illuminates his later films. Moreover, Uroskie tells us that Breer's Image by Images (1954) was conceived as a loop, asserting a precedent for that most divisive of gallery exhibition formats. Most (euphemistically named) "single-channel works" shown as loops on endless repeat in galleries are lazy versions of a much smaller, but vital, tradition of works designed for repeat viewing without start or end points. Uroskie's extended exploration of Ken Dewey's Selma Last Year (1966)-a work almost absent from the critical literature-elaborates on a work that intersects film, photography, performance, music, and the civil rights movement. In his chapter on the Parisian Lettrists, Uroskie makes the case for the importance of Isidore Isou's Traité de bave et d'éternité (although I find the puerile narcissism of the film insufferable), but the real payoffis his elaboration of Maurice LemaÎtre's sophisticated assertion of "un séance du cinema," which establishes what Uroskie calls "the idea of film as event" (his emphasis). …

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