The 19 international artists featured in UnSpooling – Artists & Cinema, present current reflections and interpretations of cinema and new possibilities of future cinematic production, spectacle and storytelling. This expands on a recurring artistic urge to sample film, first echoed in the makeshift cinema-going activities of Surrealists André Breton and Jacques Vaché. This exhibition presents unexpected models of the moving image and explores how something so intimate has become so pervasive, whether picking it apart, creating personal archives or playfully nodding to its forms and characteristics.
This major exhibition seeks to re-imagine Cornerhouse Galleries as a 'fourth cinema space' in which to review the relationship and concerns of art and cinema, presenting contemporary artists' current reflections and interpretations of its form. Within this, Juhana Moisander explores Cornerhouse's folklore and swirling Manchester street life in his new commission, which presents a series of uncanny and ghostly video interventions across the site. In another new commission, Mario Rossi has produced Thief of Baghdad (2010), a melancholic restaurant canopy installed to the exterior of Cornerhouse's Cinema 1, whose vacant facade proposes a potential narrative site. In a new live spoken-word and drawing event, Wayne Lloyd re-tells Val Guest's cult 1960's film noir Hell is a City, replacing the Manchester-set film with his own stage presence, diagrams, and imaginary re-description.
Harald Smykla adds to his Movie Protocol series, presenting a durational drawing for which he rapidly sketched every shot as an evolving scroll on OHP acetate. By rendering Nicolas Roeg's Insignificance in glyph-like forms, Smykla delves into Cornerhouse's infancy (its first ever film screening in 1985) and develops his own shorthand with which to undertake filmic analysis. Along the outside wall of Cinema 1, Stefan Zeyen's new fly-poster frieze, Weekend (2010), has reworked Godard's infamous long take as a static spatial rendering of screen time at one of Manchester's most traffic-laden junctions. Based over the river Irwell at the independent creative community of Salford's Islington Mill, Alex Pearl has made one low-fi video per day as part of his new commission, evoking the DIY anarchy of the early English film industry.
In spite of the inclusion of room-based video installation, an early intention was to establish a critique of this ubiquitous display convention. The black-box/white-cube ideal, in which bite-sized video is commonly framed, assumes a mentally and physically itinerant spectator, superior to the supposed collective passivity in the conventional movie auditorium. Through narrative themes and display strategies, UnSpooling – Artists & Cinema plays with issues of mobility, anxiety and instability in the observer. In Michaël Borremans' The German and related drawings, a room of ambulatory spectators is confronted by a didactic, gesturing figure. As they circulate, the focus of their attention within the black box is uncertain.
In David Claerbout's Bordeaux Piece, even the most 'active' spectators would be pushed to their limit consuming all 13 hours 40 minutes of sequential repetition. Several works feature subversive interpellation of iconic scenes that illustrate the continuing project of contemporary artists to critically recycle and re-present cinema language and history. Mario Rossi displays The End/Untitled, a canvas depicting the final shot from Psycho, where Marion's Ford Custom is dredged from the Bates Motel swamp; a frame that embodies our voyeuristic guilt and terrifying memory of the heroine's dying gestures. Watercolours from Rossi's series Thief of Baghdad adapt web-sourced images of movie-themed hotels and watering holes that typify our collective willingness to blur cinematic fantasy into everyday life. In other narrative re-enactments Wayne Lloyd presents half-remembered arthouse classics as pared-down comic strips and Ming Wong's Life and Death in Venice positions us between the gazes of a dying composer and his young object of desire. Filmed without permission on location at the 2009 Biennale, his DIY world cinema ducks and dives in a guerilla-style dialectic with the national pavilions.
Our digitally enabled ability to slow, freeze and pore over the image is reflected by artists working in the vast field of appropriated-footage works, with their forensic dissections and stuttering collage; a tendency exemplified by Elizabeth McAlpine's Hyena Stomp. Extracting frames of shut-eyed actors, her C-print reworks Frank Stella's iconic painting to explore the probing spectator's gaze and its seductive encounter with screen objects and film's materiality. Similarly, Sheena Macrae's Odyssey remixes Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, reconfiguring the entire epic as abstracted slit-scans installed in a mirrored infinity chamber. Odyssey engages the spectator firmly in a tactile experience which toys with the film's original musing on infinity and eternity, and the photographic methods of its famous Star Gate sequence.
Other works refer to the mechanics, perceptual tricks and inherent physical insecurity of celluloid media. Gebhard Sengmüller exposes the central paradox of film; an atomised strip of stills, afloat on a sea of dark energy, which somehow creates the illusion of life. Slide Movie is an infernal, clattering installation of 12 carousels showing a sequence from Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia through individual static frames,
evealing the indeterminate status of film through an absurd model of projection. In Stefan Zeyen's short film Farewell, which originated on 35mm, a woman returns our gaze from the passenger seat of a convertible heading towards a vanishing point. Her image is digitally scaled up in counter-movement, causing the picture quality to corrode and drawing its viewers through the emulsion into the very fabric of celluloid — truly a film adrift in the cosmos. In Roots, a glowing, primeval brew of iron salts and platinum, Roman Kirschner sculpts fragile, short-lived crystal structures that grow and fizzle in a cyclical, dream-like reminder of visual and aural pleasures in the cinema of attractions.
The cinematic apparatus is very much present before the spectator in a four-hour live event, Kinematic – UnSpooling Projectors, featuring leading exponents of expanded and improvised cinema. Refering to both the aural illusion inherent in film production, and the theatrical early years of silent film with live musical accompaniment, Ben Gwilliam & Matt Wand present a new 16mm and Foley piece, I Married a Foley Footstep! From their darkrooms Sally Golding and Kerry Laitala both bring hand-made loops using archive images, contact printing and DIY photochemistry. Golding portrays an obsession with horror using mirrors, lighting and her own body, whilst Laitala foregrounds the operator's magical role in disseminating cinematic illusion and managing the audience. Cipher Screen, performed by Greg Pope with Lee Patterson, visually and aurally unifies the projector, film material, screen and darkened space by exploiting celluloid abrasions that are sonically manipulated. Cartune Xprez takes the audience back to the future of variety-show antics, with a video cabaret performance featuring international low-fi animation.
As part of Abandon Normal Devices, and to mark 25 years of Cornerhouse, it seemed apt to bring artists and spectators together in the act of navigating and constructing cinema to unspool the fundamental illusory nature of celluloid, whilst also challenging the dominant model of digital cinema. Senses of departure and arrival pervade the show; along with a simplicity and dark energy that belies insecurity about the unknown path of future cinema. The acceleration and mutation of cinematic form sampled in the kinds of artistic practice featured in the show, could signal the beginnings of Cinema 4.0.