Narrative Exploration in Expanded Cinema

Lead Research Organisation: University of the Arts London
Department Name: Central St Martins Coll of Art & Design


In expanded cinema the notions of conventional filmic language (including dramaturgy or narrative) are extended outside the boundaries of the single screen, and often amalgamate interactivity, performance and technological experiment as part of the cinematic experience. Current practices of digital expanded cinema emanate from a broad historical trajectory that includes expanded film of the 60s and 70s; closed circuit multi channel participatory video of the 70s and 80s; the performative and synaesthetic spectacles of the Futurists; Bauhaus; Fluxus and technological experiment in art. Whilst there are uncertainties around definitions of narrative in the critical histories of the avant-garde, experiment with narrative permeates expanded film and video practice. More recently digital and computer based systems and interface evolution have widened the sensory and tactile possibilities for audience participation with the image and enabled artists to re-conceptualise narrative cause and effect, dramaturgical structuring and cinematic codes. For example, in the 1960s, extending the artwork beyond the boundaries of the single screen, expanded film often explored narrative simultaneity, and multiple layers of images, widening the sensory and tactile possibilities for spectator participation. In the 1970s, trigger controlled cctv installation further extended the possibilities for audience participation, the subject as active becoming was accomplice in the composition of images, and by their dynamic intervention they discontinued linear narration, playing with narrativity, cause and effect, and notions of dramaturgy.

As well as the theories of the avant-garde (Brakhage, Deren, Gidal, Le Grice, Sitney etc), there are discourses in the fields of media and film theory that provide a dynamic context for the assessment of narrative and the formulation of a working theoretical definition specific to experimental expanded cinema (for example: Catherine Russell Experimental Ethnography (1999), Laura Mulvey 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' (1975), Constance Penley 'The Avant-Garde and Its Imaginary' (1977), Peter Wollen 'The Two Avant-Gardes'; 'Ontology and Materialism in Film' (1^), Peter Gidal 'The Anti-Narrative' (1978); Christian Metz, Stephen Heath, Colin McCabe, etc). The current critical writing in the field by Le Grice, Hatfield, Jeffrey Shaw, Peter Weibel, Dennis Del Favero, Neil Brown, Grahame Weinbren, Lev Manovich and Sean Cubitt, continues the critical tradition of the experimental avant-garde and recognises that narrativity and dramaturgy are determinants within the practical histories. However, in light of the non-linear cinematic languages emerging through artists' exploration of participatory technologies, more research is needed to establish a clear working theoretical definition of narrative as it relates to experimental expanded cinema, with careful consideration of the historical theorisation of narrative derived from the wider area of media and film theory.

The research will establish a working theorisation of narrative from analysis of the practice; oral testimony; the relative theoretical research undertaken in the study of narrative in the fields of media and film theory and the critical histories of the avant-garde. It will explore the territory between, narrative, dramaturgy, and the representational and clarify Issues of narrative in light of interactivity and paradigms of spectatorship opened up by expanded cinema past and present. The research will establish a theoretical framework to apply to current interactive cinema, and will consider whether it is possible to re-conceptualise notions of narrative, non-narrative and dramaturgy as understood through the critical histories and theories of the avant-garde.


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