- Masters of Ceremony:Media Demonstration as Performance in Three Instances of Expanded Cinema
During the mid- to late sixties a new medium—or, more accurately, a medium cluster—emerged that experimented with cutting-edge technologies and tapped the synergetic potential of film, video, and computer-generated images in synesthetic multimedia spaces and practices.1 Sheldon Renan was the first critic to write extensively on this phenomenon. He characterized it as "expanded cinema": "It is cinema expanded to include many different projectors in the showing of one work. It is cinema expanded to include computer-generated images and the electronic manipulation of images on television."2 The concept of expansion was not confined to the realm of technology, however. It extended to the spectator and, importantly, as this article will bring into focus, to the artist, whose narrowly defined role as creative genius and wielder of paintbrush, chisel, and camera-stylo was stretched to meet the challenges of new institutional and technological factors, notably, the advent of electronic image reproduction.3
The three films discussed below—Experiments in Motion Graphics by John Whitney (1967), TV Interview by Stan Vanderbeek (1967), and Outer and Inner Space by Andy Warhol (1965)—constitute examples of how artists who worked in one or another variety of expanded cinema attempted to come to terms with their new roles as operators of video equipment and computer consoles. Each film implements new technologies but also explains these as they are being implemented. And each film showcases the art that is being made with the technology documented; they are exercises in learning by showing, producing by documenting. Whitney's Experiments in Motion Graphics is a straightforward documentary, a cinematic research report on his work in computer graphics under an IBM research grant, but it is also a spectacular display of strikingly beautiful computer-imaged geometrical patterns, which the film features by including excerpts from Whitney's abstract film, Permutations, made with that technology. Vanderbeek's TV Interview is a public demonstration of electronic imaging tools that gradually places the artist at its center, making him both object and subject of some of the experiments. It is thus as much a semiotized self-portrait of the artist as a TV interview. Finally, Warhol's Outer and Inner Space is a work of multimedia art that documents part of a video equipment test commissioned from Warhol by the Norelco company. Itself a historic document of the implementation of video in/as art, the film is also a stunning portrait of Edie Sedgwick's Factory superstardom rendered times four and across two media.
The films show and tell how these artists learned to negotiate the plethora of new options and tools that became available to them as they creatively encountered electronic image reproduction. I shall focus on these acts of negotiating and telling as they impact on each artist's self-presentation through the films as well as on their larger role as artists generally, even when, as in Warhol's case, the artist is physically absent from his own film. In Warhol's films, as in the other two, what issues forth from the encounter with new media is a performative stance, a specific persona—the master of ceremony—that the artist invents to insert himself into the text so as to articulate his own relation to the new artistic tools he is utilizing. Because the emcee role, as I shall argue, helped artists come to terms with processing and presenting the welter of new electronic devices they were [End Page 48] confronting at this historical moment, it appears to have been essential in order for expanded cinema to actually expand. Incorporating diverse media but still functioning as more conventional films, these films are announced by their emcees as way stations on the road to a whole new media landscape.
The emcee role helped pave the way for what became an unprecedented movement. Of course, there already existed a tradition of self-conscious, even ostentatious artistic self-inscription across high and low art and in various media that may initially seem to bear some similarity to that of the emcee. We know that artists from Vertov to Welles...