【Lexicon Research】Expanded Cinema

Author: X.Y. Huang

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Stan VanDerBeek‘s Movie Mural, 1965–1968. Quoted from https://www.artbasel.com/catalog/artwork/55877/Stan-VanDerBeek-Movie-Mural

“Expanded Cinema” can be understood in a historical context and as a general post-cinematic condition. On one hand, it is difficult to position expanded cinema as a historical movement in the strict sense due to its heterogeneity. It may be better understood as a constellation, connecting to different conventions in art. One may trace it to the postwar experimental music of the so-called ‘Fluxus’ artists,¹ whose performative video art began in 1960s in Europe and the U.S.A.² A most notable example of their work is John Cage’s (1952), which put forward the idea that sound is not about sound itself but about the environment surrounding that sound. Their distinctive focus on environment further involved the activation of spectatorship through the creation of a or Much like Cage’s work, Nam June Paik’s (1964) presents a performance in front of a projection of nothing but a white field of an unexposed filmstrip.³ Uroskie (2014) notes that “this formal reductive […] was not a reflexive investigation of the essence of the material itself, but rather a foregrounding of particular situation of spectatorship, the manner in which the aesthetic event must always take place within a given environment.”⁴ Additionally, combining performance and video art is one of the ways to activate the spectator, as performance creates a unique moment in the present that requires the spectator’s embodiment, whereas the traditional function of screening took the form of mechanic repetition.⁵

However, the “Fluxus” movement is only a point of departure of the understanding of the openness of expanded cinema. The earliest definition which attempted to encapsulate expanded cinema as a whole is one proposed by Sheldon Renan in 1967. Renan argued that “a whole new area of film and film-like art has appeared in the sixties (in America): expanded cinema.” He framed expanded cinema not as the name of a particular style of film- making, but as a name for a spirit of inquiry that is leading in many different directions: “it is cinema expanded to include many different projectors in the showing of one work. It is cinema expanded to include computer-generated images and the electronic manipulation of images on television. It is cinema expanded to the point at which the effect of film may be produced without the use of film at all.”⁶ Under this definition, we can reaffirm the heterogeneity of expanded cinema in another way. While Fluxus artists focused on happenings and environment, Renan draws our attention to the use of intermedia in these works. That is to say, the development of technology in part shaped the interdisciplinary practice of expanded cinema.

While Renan’s idea of expanded cinema is a “spirit inquiry” embedded in history, another scholar Gene Youngblood’s idea of expanded cinema, although also based on the historical arrival of technology and the practice of intermedia like Renan’s definition, extended to an even broader domain: human consciousness. His definition, published in 1970, proposed that the works that belong to expanded cinema are those works that involve intermedia. For him the term alludes to “a human-machine environment afforded by new communication technologies that went beyond traditional notions of cinematic reality and apparatus.”⁷ In this sense, artists use advanced technologies to create a new kind of reality, a new sensorial experience. Youngblood even goes so far as to say that “‘expanded cinema’ is ultimately nothing less than life itself: ‘a process of becoming, man’s ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind.’ ” 8

In short, one may understand expanded cinema as “expanded consciousness.”⁹ For example, Stand VanDerBeek (1927-1984)’s (1957) is a multimedia artwork that presents the audience with a sensorial spectacle of images and sounds that do not depend on the objective form, but rather on the participants’ experiences.¹⁰ Through this example, we may gain insight on another form of expanded cinema, one not so much revolving around the happenings and performance, but rather on the constant developing of viewing experience with sensory impression in an immersive environment conditioned by new technology.

As a general idea of post-cinematic conditions¹¹, expanded cinema may be understood as a conceptual force that destabilizes the total conditions of screening, and is as such opposed to the modernist aesthetics. Post-cinematic screening is not constrained by traditional conditions, i.e. passive viewership indulgent in an illusionist and narrative film in a darkened cinema, but instead creates new forms of screening situations. The total conditions of screening have been deepened through theory of apparatus or In these theories,¹³ included not only the material conditions of production, but also the institutional conditions of screening and the psychological conditions of spectatorship.

Awareness of the material condition of screening can be found in Claes Oldenburg’s (1965), in which he prohibited the audience from sitting in their seats, and instructed them to do actions that disturb the normal concentrated viewing. Some works even ‘display’ material condition itself as artwork, for example, Anthony McCall’s (1973), in which the artist put the projection of light in fog to make it visible.¹⁴ In this way, the spectator “experiences light not as the mere bearer of coded information made visible on the screen as illusionary image. Moving free from the room, he or she interacts with a light figure that indexes no reality beyond here and now.”¹⁵

One of the alternative screening institutions is a gallery or a museum in which a spectator becomes an active agent rather than passive consumer. The gallery itself can activate the spectator because the film in the gallery is an installation that requires spectator’s embodiment. It is an experience of existence in between “the fictional time and space of the cinematic image and the literal time and space of the exhibitionary situation”¹⁶ An example of this is Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s (2001), in which the artists create a staged cinema environment in gallery to let the audience experience the physical space of the theater, while distinguish it at the same time due to the fact that they are in a gallery.

The psychological conditions of spectatorship can be found in Andy Warhol’s (1963) – a nearly six-hour long film without sound, color and narrative – where the audience cannot concentrate on the film but instead gradually become aware of the environment in the theater. It is a statement of anti-illusionism through non-narrative film.

From the above-mentioned examples, we can conclude that the destabilization forces are anti-illusionist which leads to the activation of spectatorship as well as anti-institutional which leads to the reorganization of the space in both the material architecture and the institutional/ideological context of the artwork.

As an antithesis to modernist aesthetics, expanded cinema can be understood through Rosalind Krauss’ distinction between structuralist and other films one which focuses on the apparatus that emerged in 1960s. Andrew V. Uroskie took this one step further by saying that these films focusing on apparatus counted as expanded cinema for their subversion of the idea of medium-specificity through their “constitutive heterogeneity.”¹⁷ More precisely, Krauss positioned structuralist films as modernist because they single out one specific trait of film as a reduction of the of film. A marvelous example of this is the reduction of the essence of film to a 45mins zoom-in.¹⁸ This is quite contrary to expanded cinema, as the latter pays attention to apparatus or . Agreeing with Krauss, Andrew V. Uroskie argued that the term expanded cinema entails elimination of cinematic ontology, by reformulating the question “what is cinema?” and starting to ask “where is cinema?” Artists in expanded cinema no longer concern themselves with the ontological/timeless form of film but rather the historical, cultural contingency of film. Expanded cinema challenges the exhibitionary model of this historical contingency. It expands screening place to in-between space of the gallery and other media environments.

However heterogeneous expanded cinema is, there are still some notable common features. The inter-medium and apparatus or is common to most definitions and consists of two aspects – spectator’s active role, and institutional dislocation. As Uroskie argued, these features foster a destabilizing force over the modernist aesthetics,¹⁹ offer a critique of established institutions, and disorganize spectatorship. These conceptual forces are the general idea of post-cinematic conditions, which pose the theoretical distinction between art and non-art, and therefore position expanded cinema in the practice of contemporary art.

1 A loosely organized international group of avant-garde artists set up in Germany in 1962 and flourishing until the early 1970s. There was no common stylistic identity among the members, but they revived the spirit
of Dada and were opposed to artistic tradition and everything that savoured of professionalism in the arts. Their activities were mainly concerned with happenings. ( Ian Chilvers. The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (5 ed.), Oxford University Press 2015.)
2 Liz Kotz 2003, p.47.
3 Liz Kotz 2003, p.46.
4 Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.33. 5 Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.34.
5 Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.34.
6 Sheldon Renan 1967, p.227.
7 Ji-hoon Kim 2011, p.33.
8 Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.9.
9 Gene Young Blood 1970, p.41.
10 Gloria Sutton 2003, p.143.
11 The reasoning for why expanded cinema can be viewed as a post-cinematic “condition” can be traced back to Rosalind Krauss’s Sculpture in the Expanded Field in which “she argued that her field as ‘logically expanded’ yet contained by a ‘finite set of related positions […] there was a more specific discursive lineage from which Krauss would have wanted to distance herself: Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema.” (Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.9)
12 The term dispositif is commonly translated into English as “apparatus” or “device.” These translations however tend to obscure the original meaning of the word (from the Latin dispositio) by focusing on its technical dimension. (André Parente et Victa de Carvalho 2008, note 1.)
13 “Dispostif has been defined by Jean-Louis Baudry and Christian Metz as “how spectators situate themselves in relation to filmic representation,” more precisely, “a particular set of technologies […] and conditions of projection […].” (André Parente et Victa de Carvalho 2008, p.41)
14 Eric de Bruyn, 2004, p.168.
15 Eric de Bruyn, 2004, p.168.
16 Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.33.
17 Krauss takes the term “constitutive heterogeneity” from Samuel Weber’s important essay “Television, Set, and Screen,” in Mass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 110.
18 Rosalind Krauss 2000, p.25.
19 Andrew V. Uroskie 2014, p.237.


André Parente et Victa de Carvalho. . In: Cinémas: , vol. 19, n° 1, p. 37–55, 2008.

Eric de Bruyn. . In: Matthias Michalka. . Köln: Walther König, 2004.

Gloria Sutton. . Cambridge: MIT

Press, p. 136–143, 2003.

Gene Youngblood. . New York: Dutton, 1970.

Ji-hoon Kim. in Doctor of Philosophy Department of Cinema Studies New York University, May 2011.

Liz Kotz. . In: Matthias Michalka. . Köln: Walther König, 2004.

Rosalind Krauss. . New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Sheldon Renan. New York: Dutton, 1967.

Andrew V Uroskie. . University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Freelance artist and researcher based in Taiwan/ the Netherlands. For work inquiries, please contact at cloudartcritics@gmail.com FB:Floating Clouds

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