Magazine article Art Monthly

Elizabeth McAlpine

Magazine article Art Monthly

Elizabeth McAlpine

Article excerpt

ELIZABETH MCALPINE'S WORK WITH FILM READILY DISTINGUISHES HER FROM THE BROAD DEVELOPMENTS OF MEDIA PRACTICE, in both video and film in the last quarter of a century, of borrowing mass-cultural tropes and forms as 'readymades' for gallery exhibition.

There is a reference point for McAlpine's practice within the tradition of the 'expanded cinema' of the 70s, and the last days of 'structural film' when material events intervened in the otherwise intangible relationship between spectator and screen. However, there is a second and far older point of triangulation between her work and the modernist Avant Garde in its notions of kinesis and 'plasticity'.

McAlpine has a very deep affinity with the tradition of structural film of the 60s and 70s that is only now starting to be legitimised within the institutions of the visual arts. There is an immediate point of reference in the physical movement of film in Campanile, 2005, for instance, with the manner in which structural filmmakers took the material properties of film to be their subjects within the 'rhetorical' limits constructed by those properties. There are obvious examples of this concern with the ontic properties of the medium: Michael Snow's La Region Centrale, 1970, and Back and Forth, 1969. McAlpine's use of a prolonged tilt shot in Campanile (where the filmstrip is as long as the height of the tower it records) and her extraction and repetition of particularly 'cinematic' tropes (in her Light Reading, 2005, for example, where she assembled into one minute 1,500 frames of pure light from explosions in narrative films) would seem to occupy much the same terrain of rhetorical analysis. Indeed, she might also have been seen to share it with pioneers of televisual critique such as Dara Birnbaum in the 70s, whose video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1976, is an explicit hatchet-job on the eponymous American TV serial, and an artist of the subsequent generation, Silvia Kolbowski, who in Like Looking Away, 2002, put together a damning analysis of the US's entertainment through violence in the midst of a critique of consumption and the gaze.


However, Light Reading moves beyond this critical terrain of aesthetics and politics. Along with Light Reading: Californian Sunset, 2006-09, where she is still assembling flash frames from trailers into a colour spectrum, it shares something of structural film's address to the regulation of the intangible that itself defines photography's (and cinematography's) unique character as a medium. We find this in the concern with light as the essence of language in the final part of Hollis Frampton's Zorns Lemma, 1970, or Ken Jacobs' Soft Rain, 1968, and with temporality in Snow's One Second in Montreal, 1969. However, in its concern with the way in which time is literally embodied by the filmstrip--the way in which film uniquely renders time within spatial and material properties--McAlpine's work resonates with those 60s filmmakers who intervened directly on the filmstrip, for example Louis Brigante's Burning Loops, 1965, where the film was periodically stopped in the projector and allowed to melt, and Dieter Roth's Dot films of 1956-62 where he punched holes in the leader, or George Landow's masterpiece, Film in Which There Appear Sprocket Holes, Edge Lettering, Dirt Particles etc, 1965-66, in which he emphasised the material property of film as image.

McAlpine's project engages with the more physical, dimensional experiments of both Expanded Cinema and of high modernism, a central condition of which is, as the American scholar George Baker put it, that 'film accedes to the condition of sculpture'. …

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