from THE DREAMS OF THE CAVERN CINEMA
Let's get practical. There are no caves in Whitechapel. What daily use can I make of Robert Smithson's Underground Cinema? A comment of Henry Flynt's - reprinted alongside his "Exercise Awareness-States" in the recently published The Aesthetics of Risk (ed. John C.Welchman, JRP Ringier, 2008) is useful here: "I converted science fiction into yoga, so to speak." (377) Could I do the same with the Underground Cinema?
Flynt's detailed introduction to his scores outlines two meanings of exercise. In the first it prepares the person exercising for "dangerous situations" - although these may well be unpredictable by nature so the specificity of training to avoid particular catastrophes is perhaps best replaced by the cultivation of a general state of mental alertness and open mindedness.
Flynt's second category is exercise "for its own sake... as an unusual way of appreciating one's sensory data while in them." His own Exercise Awareness-States scores focus on this second state, whilst being open and moderated by the presence of the former. In each case he provides a situation and a set of instructions, inviting the participant to enact the following process:
First place oneself in the situation, anticipate one of the given dangers as strongly as possible (short of getting oneself in a state of fright), be very aware of all sensory data, and be ready to figure out (quickly) whether they indicate the danger and to start defending against it. Try to achieve the greatest anticipation of and readiness for the one danger. The result is an "initial exercise awareness state." Then do the exercise anticipating two, three, etc. dangers, until one can strongly anticipate all the dangers; this is an "intermediate awareness state."
Finally, one can do the exercise forgetting the given dangers; place oneself in the situation , try to anticipate unpredictable danger strongly (short of getting oneself frightened), without preconceptions as to what form it will take, be very aware of all sense data, and be ready to figure out (quickly) whether they indicate a danger and a defense against it. This is an "ultimate exercise awareness state."(379-80)
What follows lacks the structure of Flynt's scores - which present a situation - "You walk across the floor of a medium-sized, brightly lighted square room..." - and then list a number of dangers the walker (reader) should anticipate. In fact, I suspect Flynt would be horrified at the lack of specificity in applying his ideas to what follows.
But I'm interested in connecting the dynamics of Flynt's scores - situation, anticipation of danger, imagination, the tension between moment and change - to Smithson's Cavern Cinema. Flynt stresses the importance of not being distracted whilst doing the exercises, suggesting their enactment in an "environment as inanimate, quiet, odorles, etc. as possible" (380).
There is a connection here to cinema and the cavern cinema, but, on other hand, this is also the environment of the most all-consuming distraction of all...
EXERCISE FOR A CAVERN CINEMA NO.1
A friend, preferably one who often falls asleep in the cinema, sits in a chair. I read the following text aloud. The text is challenge to them: it can be a description or it can be made irrelevant by their posture and behavior.. It can stimulate or it can discipline. To suggest the space of the cinema, shine a torch in the sitters face whilst reading.
READER: The ultimate film-goer would be a captive of sloth. Sitting constantly in a movie house, among the flickering shadows, his perception would take on a kind of sluggishness. He would be the hermit dwelling among the elsewheres, forgoing the salvation of reality. Films would follow films, until the action of each one would drown in a vast reservoir of pure perception.
He would not be able to distinguish between good or bad films, all would be swallowed up into an endless blur. He would not be watching films, but rather experiencing blurs of many shades. Between blurs he might even fall asleep, but that wouldn't matter. Soundtracks would hum through the torpor. Words would drop through this languor like so many lead weights.
This dozing consciousness would bring about a tepid abstraction. It would increase the gravity of perception. Like a tortoise crawling over a desert, his eyes would crawl across the screen. All films would be brought into equilibrium - a vast mud field of images forever motionless. (Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 141-142)
WHEN IT BECOMES APPARENT THAT THE READER HAS FINISHED, THE SITTER GETS UP AND LEAVES THE CINEMA. THE READER ASKS ANYONE AROUND IF THEY WISH TO SIT IN THE CHAIR. PERHAPS HERE THE AMBIANCE SHIFTS FROM THAT OF THE CINEMA (CAVERN, ARTHOUSE OR MULTIPLEX) TO THAT OF THE BARBER'S SHOP.
IF SOMEONE IS FOUND, THE READER AGAIN READS THE TEXT, TESTING IT AGAINST THE FIGURE IN THE CHAIR. WHEN NO ONE CAN BE FOUND, THE READER THEMSELVES SITS IN THE CHAIR AND INVITES SOMEONE TO READ ALOUD THE TEXT. WHEN THEY HAVE FINISHED, OR IF NO ONE IS AVAILABLE, THE PIECE IS OVER.
AN OPTIONAL FINAL TEXT BEFORE LEAVING:
In the cavern cinema they are showing all the bits of films that I slept through. It is odd that such moments seem familiar, whereas the rest of the films - screening to large audiences back up on ground level - do not seem at all familiar.
In the cavern cinema it is necessary that someone always be sleeping to ensure the projector keeps functioning. To poke someone and try to wake them up, is to risk tearing the film. In fact, the opposite behavior is necessary, sleeping pills pass mouth to mouth to ensure the sleeping upon which continued projection depends.
In the cavern cinema, this mix of sleeping and waking means that all films have the appearance of an early surrealist classic. In the cavern cinema, each cinema goer has to be their own confectionary...