Magazine article Artforum International

Off Screen: Bill Horrigan at the Rotterdam Film Festival

Magazine article Artforum International

Off Screen: Bill Horrigan at the Rotterdam Film Festival

Article excerpt

DURING THE LAST TEN DAYS of January, anyone wandering the rainy streets of Rotterdam at night could savor the spectacle of Isabella Rossellini being electrocuted, repeatedly and ecstatically, in a seven-minute looped film projected onto the top four floors of a skyscraper. Conceived collaboratively by Rossellini and director Guy Maddin, Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair, 2009, was among the large-scale projections commissioned by the Thirty-Eighth International Film Festival Rotterdam as part of "Size Matters," one of its many themed sections of adjunct programming. More substantially than other festivals' merely gestural offerings of sidebar events, Rotterdam has for well over a decade conceived of its festival as exploded. It has acted inventively and deeply on the belief that film culture has irrevocably moved beyond the walls of conventional cinema venues, and, through partnerships with the city's other cultural institutions, has folded into the screening schedule a roster of off-site exhibitions and artists' projects that extend the march of cinema by other means. That the festival has remained committed to this programming philosophy despite regime changes within both its own directorate and those of the collaborating institutions of the city's Witte de Withstraat museum corridor continues to sustain Rotterdam's status as the global film festival most attentive to the phenomenon of the moving image as such, beyond its obvious centrality to commercially produced cinema.

The Rossellini-Maddin collaboration (and to considerably dimmer effect the two other large-scale projects, by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas and the Dutch team of Nanouk Leopold and Daan Emmen, both less well situated within the city center) provided the most spectacular assertion of the "Size Matters" curatorial imperative. Doing away with the screen altogether and simply asserting itself onto the urban field of a skyscraper wall, the work by its very presence underscored the assumption that what's at stake now has less to do with a narrow film culture than with a juggemauting screen culture, the ubiquitous delivery systems with which human beings now daily interact, moving images addressing us at every conceivable turn. That's a commonplace of twenty-first-century urbanism no less than of any given person's day-to-day experiences, which allowed for the "Size Matters" thematic to ponder our new situation from angles both more provisional and refracted.

In previous years, programming at Rotterdam has focused on such specific phenomena as light and speed, and on the manifold implications of digital imagemaking and communication systems. By isolating size this year as a key zone of inquiry, the festival implicitly acknowledged that the relatively fixed and stable dimensions of the classic cinema experience have long since ceased to hold, and within the TENT, exhibition space, the thematically organized "Aspect Ratio"--also part of "Size Matters"--teased out the implications of scale and dimension within moving-image production according to some more speculative gambits. As conceived by curator Edwin Carels, the exhibition was explicitly inspired by Charles and Ray Eames's still-astonishing short film Powers of Ten, 1977, which visualizes the relative scale of the universe by zooming out from a shot of a couple on a picnic blanket by one power of ten every ten seconds, until we're at the outer reaches of the cosmos, then progressively zooming back in until we're inside the man's skin. The Earneses took their premise from Dutch educator Kees Boeke's 1957 book Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps, and their film in turn encouraged Carels to mount this exhibition in order to demonstrate, as he writes, "how visual art and science enter into a dialogue around the central issue: the human being as the measure in a constantly expanding technological universe."

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Bringing together works by eleven artists and collaboratives, "Aspect Ratio" made deft use of the size-mattering mandate. …

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