Wednesday, 20 May 2009


One of the tensions at Expanded Cinema: Activating the Space of Reception (Tate Modern 17-19 April, 2009) was between the focus of the conference organisers and the broader interests of  the sell-out Tate Modern audience. 

If the first had at its core the historicization of certain film practices of the 1970's (often through conversations and presentations with those film makers themselves, including Malcolm Le Grice, William Raban, and Chris Welsby); then the frustration came from those for whom the conference title had promised a  broader exploration of moving image culture, on our phones, laptops and throughout the urban environment.

As that list of names reveals, there were also more gender based grounds for disgruntlement with the conference organisers. The first issue was also, to a degree, a mis-aligning of expectations, testimony to how Tate Modern can attract a large, somewhat diverse audience to what is actually a narrowly focussed academic conference. But the tensions - manifested largely in frustrated questions and comments from the audience - raised unaddressed issues: 

What happens to the self-definition of the experimental film maker when their techniques are proliferated and advanced throughout a larger culture that is unwilling to see what they do as particularly important or interesting?  

Do conferences like this, at their worst, become guarded zones for the preservation of self-importance? If it is ethically and aesthetically important to claim a "specialness" for such work, then what is special and for who. How does it relate to all the stuff deemed not-special?  

Just asking these questions was work for a different event. 

The images in this post are a first step towards thinking about a film culture that can tackle and embrace these issues. Taken at the Union Square Virgin Megastore in Manhattan the top images show, on wide aspect ratio screens, scenes from the teen vampire movie Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. The lower screens are of Edie Sedgwick, newly available on DVD through the 13 Screen Tests CD project, where Warhol's subjects get soundtracks by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips. 

As the film-maker Julie Talen pointed out - showing me the photo's on her iphone a few days after the Tate Modern conference - the images not only pose a suggestive and inadvertent multichannel experience, but unconsciously mimic Warhol's Inner/Outer - where Sedgwick's film and video selves somewhat unnervingly encounter one another - not unlike, it occurred to me, the different constituencies at the Tate Modern conference! 

One final question: how does our thinking about the future possibilities for film culture change when the images in the Virgin megastore are of Lou Reed not Edie Sedgwick?