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Expanded cinema: Notes on twentieth-century encounters with art, science and technology

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This article will suggest that the conceptual framework of expanded cinema in the mid-twentieth century, particularly the radical performances of the UK-based Filmaktion group, has parallels in the scientific formulations of the time. The argument will be made that the intellectual breadth of the movement extends beyond the limitations of the art world and that the work produced made an important contribution to the history of ideas and, as such, belongs to the larger body of twentieth-century thought. The era was marked by unprecedented technological change, from mechanical innovation when cinema was in its infancy, through the advent of electronic communication systems to the proliferation of accessible computer technology and the de-militarization of the Internet. In both the arts and sciences the changes that accompanied these developments can be characterized as a shift away from the static representations of nature during the nineteenth century towards a more dynamic, process-based description of the world made possible by the introduction of high-speed computer technology. Reference will be made to sociologist/philosopher of science Andrew Pickering’s observation of a transition in the sciences from the ‘representational’ models of the late nineteenth century to the ‘performative’ models of the present day, which will be shown to run parallel to a similar shift in twentieth century art practice. Drawing on Norbert Weiner’s theory of cybernetics, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, the ideas of Gregory Bateson and the ‘embodied’ sciences, which began to evolve at this time, the discussion will link these scientific developments to the expanded cinematic works of artists such as Annabel Nicolson, Malcolm le Grice, William Raban, Anthony McCall and Lis Rhodes, and to new media artists such as David Rokeby, Lise Autogena, Thomson & Craighead and Susan Collins. The article will seek to demonstrate that expanded cinema helped turn the moving image into a truly twentieth century art form, establishing a strong conceptual foundation for the process-based practices of the 1980s and 1990s and anticipating the embodied science and new media works of the contemporary period.
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Keywords: Filmaktion group; chaos theory; cybernetics; expanded cinema; history of ideas; moving image art; new media; quantum mechanics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Simon Fraser University

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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  • The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) is the first international peer-reviewed scholarly publication devoted to artists' film and video, and its contexts. It offers a forum for debates surrounding all forms of artists' moving image and media artworks: films, video installations, expanded cinema, video performance, experimental documentaries, animations, and other screen-based works made by artists. MIRAJ aims to consolidate artists' moving image as a distinct area of study that bridges a number of disciplines, not limited to, but including art, film, and media.
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