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Since the late 1990s, the prosperous world art market has followed and been dominated by young artists, particularly YBAs, The Young British Artists. YBAs appear in the mass media today for work in many genres, including media art, particularly experiments with single channel video and feature film.

Aligned with the YBA phenomenon, Glasgow based Douglas Gordon presented his Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait feature at the Cannes Film Festival. He used 15 synchronized 35mm cameras and 2 high-performance film cameras, loaned by the U.S. military, to focus purely on French football star Zinedine Zidane playing in a stadium. London based Sam Tyler Wood, former YBA and famed photographer, directed an Elton John video and several films, while American born Matthew Barney, in Korea recently to present Drawing Restraint 9, produced numerous films following his Cremaster cycle, which explored new avenues multi-media artists might take in the 21st century.


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© Copyright Douglas Gordon

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© Copyright Douglas Gordon



In 2006 Barney and Marina Abramovic, plus other video artists, also co-produced the omnibus Districted, for The Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, and International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9 and the documentary of its making were also present at such film festivals. Artists’ films now prove their presence at such film festivals beyond the galleries and museums.

Alongside artists, it has been essential for art museums to recognize the changing face of film. The presentation of films in art museums becomes essential for many exhibitions. Tate Modern in London; The Pompidou Center, Paris; MoMA in New York and The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, all operate independent film and video departments. In particular, The Walker has run a film-screening program since the 1940s. MoMA’s first director Alfred Barr established a film department in 1935, to meet artistic interest in movies, or moving images and moving pictures. He also wrote film essays arguing cinema as a seventh art, at once proving its presence in New York, a contemporary art hub.

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   L:Drawing Restraint 2 © Copyright Mattew Barney R: Drawing Restraint 2 © Copyright Mattew Barney



Media artists in the contemporary art scene are particularly interested in films and moving images in a broader sense. What is its background? And, what do movies mean for media artists? For them, are movies just a means or medium for expression?

Filmmaker Michael Rush asserts in his book New Media in Late 20th Century Art that early films and avant-garde films are predecessors to media art. He also recognizes the influence of Muybridge’s photography; early cinematic work by Edison and Lumiere; the influence of 1920s European avant-gardism, mid 20th century New York based film movements, and the Fluxus group.

With these influences, film’s effect on contemporary art is open I think to more scrupulous analyses. Citing French critic-curator Anna-Marie Dughet, Rush argued modernism focused on “time”, in accord with Walter Benjamin, who argued in his book The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, film’s reproductive technology shatters and disperses the aura of an artwork or thing, beyond the control of a mass audience. Benjamin also claims a cameraman, using close-up and speedy shooting techniques, can infiltrate and observe a human’s inner side like a surgeon, beyond natural human perception. He also states, quickly changing scenes in a film can present new cinematic experience, like “visual unconsciousness” that has never been experienced by humans. At this Benjamin media-aesthetic, is “timeness” and “movement”, which features also at the heart of early movies, and so Benjamin considered films shocking as flying bullet, but also seductive.

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  Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)

As Benjamin emphatically says, early 20th century art was profoundly influenced by this new, reformative, attractive medium, still shaping and informing contemporary media artists today, and prompting more and more questions about their work.

Futurists also showed a particular concern with films, while Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray produced their own movies under the influence of 1920s European avant-garde artists. Prior to this, a group of abstractionists including Oskar Fischinger, Walter Ruttmann, and Hans Richter experimented with geometrically abstract animations. When Walter Benjamin discussed movies in Europe, art historian Earwin Panofsky popularized debates on its artistic achievements and trends, and greatly contributed to raise movies to the level of arts in America.

He had close connections with Siegfried Kracauer, a film theorist who analyzed German national cinema, expressionist film. Professor Panofsky elucidated film’s artistry through lectures at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1936, analyzing Burster Keaten’s films. One of film’s most important features is “spatial dynamism, spatialization of time”, he stressed.

These lectures were based on his unofficial lectures in the early 1930s for Princeton University professors and students. His connection with movies has continued to the 1950s. MoMA’s film department he worked for as an advisor still maintained its reputation as the best film archive. MoMA presented Eisenshtein and Griffith movies in the early 20th century as its popular screening list, and screened movies by media artists. Recently, the Museum exhibited artworks by conceptual artist Richard Serra and presented his 60s films.

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  Un Chien Andalou, 1929

In Britain, Tate Modern presented Dali: painting & film to demonstrate surrealist Dali’s painting and film world. Dali co-directed with his friend, Luis Bunuel An Andalusian Dog in the 1920’s. This special presentation, now traveling through the American continent, is enough to draw the public’s attention on Dali’s film and art. In the 1960s pop, video, and conceptual artists were closely engaged in film making. Andy Warhol pursued about 600 avant-garde cimematic works including Kiss, a parody of Edison’s early movie of the same title, and left a chronicle of cinematic experiments by Marcel Duchamp who visited his factory. Fluxus members including Ono Yoko and Nam June Paik also practiced experimental filmic work like Zen for Film.

A legacy and experiment by main large-scale art museums and forerunners of contemporary art such as Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol offer a clue to the study of contemporary media artists’ concern with movies and their filmic work. It means films are not a new concern of only contemporary media artists. They are perhaps small giants dominating great precursors like Duchamp and Warhol. In the 21st century we go through at museums, galleries, art fairs, or even film festivals a variety of moving images undistinguishable between film and art. Cinema and Art, especially media art continue their cross-appropriation and pastiche. At this point, any interdisciplinary study and in-depth study are required to elucidate this relation. Near at hand is the opening of Nam June Paik Art Center. It is time to start our journey to reflect on the present through the past, dreaming of the advent of another Nam June Paik.

written by_ eyeball director IAN
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Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine


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