On “Jeffrey Shaw: From Expanded Cinema to Virtual Reality,” Anne-Marie Duguet
The concept of ‘expanded cinema’ referred to a group of experimental works with varying and sometimes contradictory aims, ranging from critiques of the standard mechanisms behind the cinematic apparatus to efforts to heighten sensory stimulation ‘expanding our apprehension of reality’ and thereby attaining new levels of consciousness.
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In “From Expanded Cinema to Virtual Reality,” Anne-Marie Duguet assesses the introduction of installation art as a revolutionary medium to convential cinema, which traditionally operates within the parameters of a given screen size, theatrical space, and framing ratio. In contrast to the history of fluxus-rooted work and performance art, the aim of installation not only depended on an audience (like in performance art), but also depended on the audience as the reciprocators of the artwork, an element that enlivened the experiential factor of the art experience as the viewer was also invited to walk through a virtual reality.
A key concept Duguet introduces (and was also most refreshing to me), is materialization— the notion that the materiality of objects are further brought to light when a certain tension between them elevates their presence: interactions. A sculpture for instance stands on its own, possessing the quality of materiality only because it generates a static, holistic ‘summary’ of its processes (in being developed, and the the nature of the material itself) through one, artistic gesture: its exhibition state. As Duguet references Gerard Genette, she crucially writes that unlike material objects which have a ‘procedural duration’ (a beginning and end), installations have an experiential duration, characterized and opened up to constantly change meaning, interpretation, and temporality. In addition to allowing chance, incident, and the intervention of the audience, the now “ritualistic” and “provocative” character of installation thus become the key elements in creating these virtual realities profoundly.
Through the confrontations of materials, and eventually, the people themselves, installation personifies and further elevates the status of any given object at any given moment in time. For example, by projecting the moving image on sculpture, or designating a certain color to conceptually symbolize the changing forms (or lifetime) of an object, installation further expands the possibilities of the endless virtual realm in space— there is no end, and no beginning, as also, concretely said, that some artists create many of their media channels in a “loop”– the only way, through “technicality,” to achieve this very notion. In Jeffrey Shaw’s “Waterwalk Tube” from 1970, for example, Shaw encouraged the public to “walk on water”– by “entering hermetically sealed, inflated transparent or colored tetrahedrons… Or by using a 250-metre long floating transparent tube that served as a bridge.” As theorist Rosalind Krauss is mentioned, Duguet references, “Whatever the medium employed…The possibility explored in this category is a process of mapping the axiomatic features of the architectural experience– abstract conditions of openness and closure– onto the reality of a given space.”