[SCMS 2019] Up to and Including Its Limits: Rethinking Experimental Cinema(s)

deadline for submissions: 
August 25, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Swagato Chakravorty / Yale University

This panel invites new positions from which to conceptualize postwar moving-image art, extending into the contemporary moment. Anglo-American and European scholarship on moving-image art through the 1960s and 70s has largely privileged formalist thinking. There is, as Jonathan Walley has written, a “general agreement…that avant-garde filmmakers of this period followed the trend within modernist art toward medium-specific purification: the reduction of the art object to the essential physical or material components of its medium.”[1] In recent years, however, we have witnessed a number of crucial revisionist interventions.

Branden Joseph (Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage, 2008) explores Tony Conrad’s groundbreaking experiments with the moving image, emphasizing their affinities with Cagean intermediality and heterogeneity in place of medium-specificity. Carrie Lambert-Beatty (Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s, 2008) weaves a feminist account of spectatorship and body politics around the performance-based practices of the Judson Dance Theater, Fluxus, and Happenings. Concerns with the (gendered) body and its mediation across the visual field, communication culture, and collectivist practice are also foregrounded in Ara Osterweil’s Flesh Cinema: The Corporeal Turn in American Avant-Garde Film (2014) and Gloria Sutton’s The Experience Machine: Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome and Expanded Cinema (2015). And in a recent October article, Juan Carlos Kase explores the “personal registers” at work in certain works by Paul Sharits, Malcolm Le Grice, and Hollis Frampton.[2] Simultaneously, long-overdue retrospectives like Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Painting (MoMA PS1, 2018); Bruce Conner: It’s All True (MoMA, 2016); and Introducing Tony Conrad (Albright-Knox, 2018) have all contested the purported centrality of formalist experimentation in 1960s visual art practices, including but not limited to the moving image.

Decentering formalism in accounts of postwar moving-image art also lets us think differently about the moving image in art after 1989, in the wake of global shifts in the neoliberal order and the emergence of what Documenta XI curator Okwui Enwezor has termed the “postcolonial constellation.” Artists and filmmakers like Amar Kanwar, Naeem Mohaiemen, Walid Raad/The Atlas Group, RAQS Media Collective, and The Otolith Group, operating from beyond the historical centers of Euro-American modernism, have reconfigured the formal vocabularies and architectures of 1960s-era expanded cinema while explicitly foregrounding political charges––variously oriented around questions of geopolitical displacement, migration, statelessness, failed collectivist movements, or eco-criticism. Their work resists critical efforts to position them within either formalist genealogies of Minimalism, Postminimalism, or Structural cinema; or the documentary/essay film format. In the words of Leo Steinberg, we need “other criteria.”

The panel therefore prioritizes two major approaches: first, decentering formalist strategies in postwar expanded cinema practices; and second, identifying new ways of theorizing cinema in the expanded field today, aligned against both critical resignation (“anything goes in contemporary art”) and the continued use––often in strained fashion––of vocabularies inherited from formalist genealogies of (Euro-American) modernism. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

 - Subjectivity, affect, and “theatricality” (Michael Fried) in postwar expanded cinema and moving-image art;

- Performance and the moving image;

- The (raced, gendered) body in/and moving-image art;

- Urbanism and social space: the “sites” of postwar expanded cinema and moving-image art;

- Migrations: disciplinary, spatial, geo-political (T.J. Demos);

- Multiple modernisms, cosmopolitan modernisms, decolonial criticism;

- Biennials, triennials, Documenta, and moving-image art (Okwui Enwezor, Kobena Mercer, Terry Smith, etc.)


Please email an abstract (2500 characters), title, list of works cited (3-5 sources), and brief author bio (500 characters) to Swagato Chakravorty at swagato.chakravorty@yale.edu by August 25. All proposals will be responded to by August 27. Please email with any questions.

[1] Jonathan Walley, “The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema,” October 103 (Winter 2003).


[2] Juan Carlos Kase, “Reassessing the Personal Registers and Anti-Illusionist Imperatives of the New Formal Film of the 1960s and ‘70s,” October 163 (Winter 2017).