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Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels exhibition looks at film as sculpture
Bojan Šarčević, The Breath-Taker is The Breath-Giver (Film C), 2009. Super 16 mm film, colour, sound; perspex, 300 × 300 × 200 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London.

BRUSSELS.- Film as Sculpture looks at a new generation of artists and the ‘problem’ that a number of them seem to be insistently grappling with: how to create works that either sit between or somehow address two seemingly contradictory mediums: one of art history’s most classical forms, sculpture, and its apparent opposite, film (or video). For while film is typically thought of as being essentially moving, temporal and immaterial, an infinitely reproducible collection of fleeting images and flickering light (or, in the case of video, pixels and equally immaterial digital code), sculpture, almost by definition, is a solid, obdurate thing, nothing if not the literal attempt to give lasting form to matter. This group show investigates the growing interest among young artists to think through the specificities of sculpture and film by creating hybrid objects that respond to, inhabit, and question both traditions at once. Indebted to the legacy of 1970s expanded cinema, and resurgent at a moment when the 16 mm celluloid that many of them use is itself facing extinction, the fantastic constructions on view at WIELS foreground the slippery relations between the moving image and the sculptural object.

The response of these visual artists to what we might call ‘film’ or ‘sculpture’ varies considerably from case to case. The selection represents a sampling of some of the most interesting examples from around the world by artists who have seized the task of thinking through both mediums and made it the very centre of their practice. Neither merely filmic nor only sculptural, each of these projects, however different they may be from each other, achieve the critical effect of shifting film from its traditionally conceived (temporal) image-producing function to its (spatial) sculptural possibilities, and vice versa. The consequence is that neither medium remains pure, calcified or unquestioned, instead, they become building blocks to be used in new ways and given new meaning.

Žilvinas Kempinas does not project filmic images at all – at least not in the traditional sense. This Lithuanian artist’s frequent use of the magnetic tape of digital video in a wide variety of his projects, large and small, has resulted in simple but mesmerizing kinetic objects. Their essential and unspoken reference to film – the possibility of a succession of images and narratives invisibly contained on their endlessly floating magnetic strips – suggests that one way to read Kempinas’s iconic objects, like his 02 (2006), featured in the exhibition, is through the lens of the filmic images implied but not shown in his works.

Rosa Barba sees the celluloid of the filmic image as well as light and the projector itself as potentially sculptural elements that dissolve traditional hierarchies between moving images and the machines that make them possible. The Italian artist’s insistent attention to the essential properties of analogue film has led to an oeuvre in which images, their support structures and their means of projection are simultaneously her subjects and objects of deconstruction, as is seen in her Boundaries of Consumption (2012) and Stating the Real Sublime (2009). In her sculptural installations, she often brings projected images and recollected language, material and imagined objects into dialogue, continually transposing materiality into an image and back again. Her White Museum (2013) ‘depicts’ the urban context around the art institution by means of light and celluloid, which materializes a picture and, in the process, seems to transform the entirety of the building into a giant projector that casts its ‘film’ on the city.

Bojan Šarčević started with the question of how to ‘represent’ an object using means that are not necessarily sculptural, but that become so in the process. The artist’s response, in The Breath-Taker is the Breath-Giver (Film C) (2009), is a film about a sculpture, an especially composed atonal sound piece and an architectonic structure of planes of intersecting Plexiglas. Built around the flickering Super 16 mm images and accompanying music, which themselves conjure the palpability of a pictured geometric wooden object, strung up and hovering over a bed of sand, the structure is part transparent pavilion that shelters the film projector and its viewers, part an incitation to consider the experience of a film as if it were ‘in the round’, like sculpture, and part a contemporary riposte to Modernist ideals of transparency, light, and minimalist forms.

Ulla von Brandenburg often creates sculptural frames for her films that envelope the viewer in soft and permeable curtained enclosures, creating a decidedly spatial relationship to the temporal dimension of her films. For Film as Sculpture, she creates a new constellation of works, combining The Objects (2009), a black-and-white 16mm film in which a series of mundane objects seem to move and come alive and Segel (2012), a long, multi-coloured fabric panel, positioned to form an open tent-like covering for the film projection. For the artist, the colours of Segel follow the logic of perspective in the representation of a landscape, and the way that nearness or farness (in space as much as time) can be symbolized. The enclosure thus hovers above the slow advancement of The Objects, and its almost theatrical construction of enigma (one easily sees the fishing wire that pulls and moves the film’s mysterious protagonists) to intertwine film, temporality, space, and experience.

Zbyněk Baladrán uses the celluloid filmstrip itself, presented as a potential film in space, in a number of his works. He collaborated with fellow Czech artist Jiří Kovanda (whose own work from the 1970s has greatly inspired Baladrán and others from his generation), in the making of The Nervous System (2011), in which a set of film strips are unfurled, suspended and spread across a space; they create a ‘film’ that is constructed from the experience of the viewer moving between the celluloid images and borrowed everyday objects (a duvet, a cactus) which make up an installation that is, ambiguously, at once filmic and sculptural.

Elad Lassry’s filmic and photographic works explore the potential objecthood of the image at their core. Again and again, the Israeli-American artist constructs framing devices for his images: from the frames that colour match and surround his exactingly staged studio photographs, endowing them with a sculptural presence, and that, in turn, ‘frame’ his 16 mm films, which are often displayed nearby, to the scalloped edged walls or aperture architectural openings that he sometimes constructs in relation to both his films and photographs. No mere peripheral details, these devices reorganize the perceptual experience of the two-dimensional filmic or photographic image into something at once frontal, layered and thick with presence.

Karthik Pandian’s Carousel (2012) is comprised of a red curtained enclosure gives way to a trio of slide projectors set atop white grid-like structures, conjuring both ‘film’ and ‘sculpture’ in oblique ways. Although the projected images are, technically, slides rather than moving images, and the structures they sit upon, technically, also serve as plinths, the images narrate actions and convey movement through sequencing, repetition and timing, thus reminding us that film is just a series of still images that trick us into believing they move because shown at a rate of twenty-four images per second. The plinths, for their part, perform as more than mere display supports. They conceptually, as much as literally, reinforce the slide images, which picture the making of a sculptural situation wherein a group of actors evoke Jackson Pollock’s gestural actions to make drip painting and 1960s avant-garde dance movements, all while referencing Minimalist sculpture and its obsession with the grid.

Rachel Harrison regularly brings together lowbrow cultural detritus (cans of beans, wigs, printed T-shirts, Barbie dolls) and Technicolor agglomerations of plaster and oddly formed matter that have become her signature. Within some of these ensembles, the moving image – found or surreptitiously stolen video footage (another form of readymade) – gives Harrison’s misshapen forms an added aural, temporal and visual dimension as in her new work WWE (2013). The American artist also shows AA (2010), a sculpture consisting of a video work and ready-made elements. A yellow A/V cart holds small, store-bought items (a pack of gum, hair rollers and ear plugs) along with technical equipment that project a looped video onto a hefty makeshift block wearing a snug, yellow tennis-shirt. The video American Apparel (2009) features footage Harrison recorded at an upstate New York county fair. The imagery in the video – the juggler’s red wagon filled with audio equipment, a sheep’s blue shirt – connects to the mass-production and artist-made items that complete the work. The result is an almost self-referential looping system, a sculpture made partly from the very technology that makes possible the video footage that it features, and video footage that pictures the kind of items that are mirrored in the sculpture itself.

In João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva’s practice, their conception of the filmic medium implicitly conjures objecthood – in subject matter, method, form and ultimate presentation. All their films (made from 8 mm and 16 mm footage) not only recurrently picture ordinary objects somehow rendered mysterious and extraordinary (eggs slowly frying, a fish fanning its fins on a plate, a collection of vessels, stacked, Russian-nesting-doll-style, to reveal ever smaller vessels enclosed beneath them). But the Portuguese duo’s methodology – their manipulation of the filmic form (through the use of cuts, superimposition of images, and manipulated temporality, for instance), coupled with an almost sculptural attention to the means of presentation – underscores their insistence on treating film itself as a sculptural form. Here, they will screen a selection of their films on a specially designed platform that is at once pedestal, stage and viewing bench.

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