This article explores the relationship between film, contemporary art and cultural memory. It aims to set out an overview of the use of film and media in artworks dealing with memory, history and the past. In recent decades, film and media projections have become some of the most common mediums employed in art installations, multi-screen artworks, sculptures, multi-media art, as well as many other forms of contemporary art. In order to examine the links between film, contemporary art and memory, I will firstly take a brief look at cultural memory and, secondly, I will set out an overview of some pieces of art that utilize film and video to elucidate historical and mnemonic accounts. Thirdly, I will consider the specific features and challenges of film and media that make them an effective repository in art to represent memory. I will consider the work of artists like Tacita Dean, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Jane and Louise Wilson, whose art is heavily influenced and inspired by concepts of memory, history, nostalgia and melancholy. These artists provide examples of the use of film in art, and they have established contemporary art as a site for memory.
Along Laura U. Marks’s thoughts on the “disappearing image” as embodied experience, the article proposes to bring into discussion particular modes of occurrence of “past images,” whether in form of the use of archival/found footage or of creating visual archaisms in the spirit of archival recordings, within the practice of the Hungarian experimental film making of the 1970s and 1980s, more speciflcally, in Gábor Bódy’s films. The return to archival/found footage as well as the production of visual archaisms reveal an attempt of remediation (Bolter and Grusin) that goes beyond the cultural responsibility of preservation: it confronts the film medium with its materiality, historicity, and temporality, and creates productive tensions between the private and the historical, between the pre-cinematic and the texture of motion pictures, between the documentary value of the image and its rhetorical dimension. The paper argues that the authenticity of the moving image in Gábor Bódy’s American Torso (Amerikai anzix, 1975) is achieved through a special combination of the immediacy and the hypermediacy of experience. Bódy’s interest in “past images” goes beyond the intention of experimentation with the medium; it is aimed at a profound, reconsidered archaeology of the image and a distinct sensing of the cinema.
The paper discusses pertinent aspects of the screen as a device of framing and re-ordering. Television and video screens introduced in filmic diegesis are attributed three main functions (spatial, temporal, and topical re-ordering) and are related to the relationships Gerard Genette establishes between first-order narrative and metadiegetic levels (1987), as well as to Lars Elleström’s extracommunicational and intracommunicational actual and virtual spheres (2018). The visibility through noise of the televisual and of the video media is theorized based on Sybille Krämer’s media theory (2015) and three pre-digital arthouse films: Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1984), Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996), and Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997).1
Benford, Steve and Gabriella Giannachi. 2008. Temporal Trajectories in Shared Interactive Narratives. In CHI 2008 Proceedings. Stories and Memories , April 5–10, 2008, Florence, Italy, 73–82.
Benford, Steve and Gabriella Giannachi. 2011. Performing Mixed Reality . Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Benford, Steve. 2013. The View From the Other Side: Being a Visiting Professor at BBC R&D. https://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/blog/2013-04-steve-benford-being-a-visiting-professor-at-bbc-rd . Last accessed 19. 07. 2019.
Baguer, Ignacio Domingo. 2004. What Time Is It?: New Temporal Regimes in Science-Fiction Cinema. In Memory, Imagination and Desire in Contemporary Anglo-American Literature and Film, eds. Constanza del Rio Alvaro and Luis Miguel Garcia Mainar, 245-251. Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag Winter.
Barker. Jennifer M. 2009. The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bianco, Jamie Skye. 2004. Techno-Cinema. Comparative Literature Studies vol. 41 no. 3: 377
László Krasznahorkai wrote two different texts (the second being the script of Béla Tarr’s film) from two different perspectives starting from the well-known scene in Turin, Italy, where Friedrich Nietzsche embraced a horse beaten severely by the carter. Why does the interpretation of the Nietzsche-scene change? What kind of temporal, historical or ethical relationship does the differentiation between the two texts depend on? How can the beauty of the crumbs of life be perceivable? This article argues that in these works - in contrast with the commonly assumed precognitions about apocalyptic art - life and humble living creatures are celebrated.
Sion Sono’s Guilty of Romance (Koi no tsumi, 2011) was adapted from an actual crime in Tokyo’s love hotel: an educated woman (a prostitute at night) was found decapitated and her limbs were re-assembled with a sex-doll. Sono renders this through his cinematic narrative blurring the distinction between true crime and fictional sin like Rancière’s idea that everything is a narrative dissipating the opposition between “fact and fiction,” and “quasi-body” becomes a product of human literarity while an imaginary collective body is formed to fill the fracture in-between. In Sono’s story, the victim is a literature professor tormented by an incestuous desire for her father, whose favorite book is Kafka’s Castle. Thus she compares the love-hotel district where she turns loose at night as a castle of lusts. Here the narrative becomes a collective body that puppeteers human “quasi-bodies” in a Kafkaesque spatio-temporal aporia, and time’s spatialized horizontally with the germs of desire spread like a contagion on a Deleuzian “plane of immanence.”
Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) is one of the most written about avant-garde films. It has served as “a blue screen in front of which a range of ideological and intellectual dramas have been played out,” as Elizabeth Legge put it in a book-length study of the film, whose recent publication testifies to the continuing relevance of the film (Legge 2009). This paper takes Annette Michelson’s article, Toward Snow, one of the first and most often cited encounters with Snow’s cinema, as its point of departure (Michelson 1978). Michelson sees the film as a reflection which reveals the cinema as a temporal narrative medium. Drawing on Husserl’s phenomenology of time-consciousness, she argues that this reflection on the medium is at the same time a reflection on the structures of consciousness. However, the paper also draws on the work of Gilles Deleuze, whose two-volume study of the cinema has opened up new possibilities for thinking about time and the cinema (Deleuze 1983, 1985). The paper is not an interpretation of Deleuze. It appropriates and puts to work his idea that the cinema is not essentially a narrative medium; but a medium that disrupts linear time, making visible a non-chronological dimension of time, which fragments the subject and exposes it to liminal situations. Wavelength, I argue, reverses the flow of time, to make visible an abyss at the heart of time, which shatters the unity of the subject
Bergman’s cinema does more than just focus on a personal reflection of the body as an emotive and emotional vector; his cinema, through the transitory fragility of the human body as represented by his actors, defines the possibilities of a perceptive horizon in which the experience of passing time becomes tangible. Even though the Swedish director’s entire opus is traversed by this reflection, it is particularly evident in the films he made during the 1960s, in which the “room-sized” dimension of the sets permits a higher concentration of space and time. In this “concentration,” in this claustrophobic dimension in which Bergman forces his characters to exist, there is an often inflammable accumulation of affections and emotions searching for release through human contact which is often frustrated, denied, and/or impossible. This situation creates characters who act according to solipsistic directives, in whom physiological and mental traits are fused together, and the notion of phenomenological reality is cancelled out and supplanted by aspects of dreamlike hallucinations, phantasmagorical creations, and psychic drifting. Starting from Hour of the Wolf, this essay highlights the process through which, by fixing in images the physicality of his characters’ sensations, Bergman defines a complex temporal horizon, in which the phenomenological dimension of the linear passage of time merges with, and often turns into, a subjective perception of passing time, creating a synchretic relationship between the quantitative time of the action and the qualitative time of the sensation.
Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Didi-Huberman, Georges. 2002. L’image survivante: histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg [The Surviving Picture: History of Art and Time of Phantoms at Aby Warburg]. Paris: Les éditions de Minuit.
Fontanille, Jacques. 2007. Le temps de la compassion. La diffusion thymique et ses régimes temporels [The Time of Compassion. The Thymic Diffusion and its Temporal Regimes]. Le plaisir des sens