Close-Up: The Black and White Box

In preparation for the May 24 Research Lab A Sensorium of Cinematic Apparatuses, the students of the UvA MA seminar Curating the Moving Image reflect in their blog posts on a particular aspect of the themes in the required theoretical readings or on the development of the curated EYE on Art evening.

Curating Cinema and Galleries
By Sam Duijf

Tentoonstelling LICHTJAREN in het Kunstfort bij VijfhuizenCineChine (2012-2016), by Mariska de Groot

Close-Up – A New Generation of Film and Video Artists in the Netherlands is the name of the current (31 January – 22 May 2016) exhibition at the EYE Film museum in Amsterdam.

Aside from the permanent exhibition, the temporal exhibition changes two times a year for a new focus on a specific topic. The temporal exhibition is often devoted to a well-known filmmaker (auteur), a specific thematic film topic, or on avant-garde films. Mostly, the EYE provides a platform for these underexposed cinematic ’treasures’ in the hope that these exhibitions attract (new) attention of visitors. We already saw exhibitions which included these sort of topics, for example the various collections of specific early color films by Jean Desmet and the ‘auteur’ exhibition about David Cronenberg. However, the theme of The Close-Up slightly differs from the rest: it is namely devoted to the boundaries between cinema and visual art. The topic of The Close-Up seems to follow an artistic trajectory, especially in comparison with the other temporal exhibitions. Artistic in the sense that the essential meaning and articulation of media within art is being questioned. Boris Groys’ formulation of “media art” tries to conceptualize this process: “When we speak of media art in the arts system today, we mostly mean video or film installations that present, contextualize and assess pictures in a different way than the commercialized movie industry or television”. With various films and installations by a new and young generation, the art gets incorporated into the film museum, or the other way around: cinema gets intermingled with modern art. The architectural basics for these works form, as I will elucidate, a major importance for the works themselves.
As scholar Brian O’Doherty states: “We have now reached a point where we see not the art but the space first”. The space where art ‘flees around’ becomes almost part of the artwork itself. What is an object without its space, and what is the space without its objects? The interwoven art-space relation has caught more and more attention of curators, academics, critics and so on. Thus, a contextualization of the gallery space at the EYE is useful to bear in mind.

The EYE’s temporal exhibition space is a relatively large space and the room has no average, clear-cut size and form. Although the room can be seen as a (sort of) rectangular space, the space itself blends smoothly into the overall architecture of the whole building because of the uneven walls and sizes of the exhibition space. The exhibition space echoes the “dreaminess” and mystique that the three cinema rooms inhabit at the EYE. These, of course, are set up with a projector and a screen in a darkened auditorium in order to perceive images and (re)create psychological functions like dreams and reverie.

O’Doherty’s article “Notes on the Gallery Space” can be seen as an itinerary for the correlation between history and the gallery space and how these two relate to each other. O’Doherty sketches out an assumptive formulation about how such space “normally looks like”:

A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as this for building a medieval church. The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically, or carpeted so that you pad soundlessly, resting the feet while the eyes have at the wall. The art is free, as the saying used to go, “to take on its own life (15).

Albeit slightly exaggerated, this is the basic idea of a so-called white cube. The white cube externalizes modern ‘simplistic’ thought in which minimalistic surroundings are the norm. Possible detractors are removed in order to experience and understand art ‘just as it is’. Opposed to the white cube model, there is its postmodern follow up: the black cube model.
Close-upAn example of how art in the black cube attract attention and ‘visually speaks’.
Void Fires (2015), by Florian and Michael Quistrebert.

The focus is being put on the art/installation itself.  The visitor’s subjectivity is addressed within the black cube, in contrast to a stationary well-lit white room, where everyone is able to see each other while perceiving art. One can say that a black cube deliberately creates an impersonal sphere, because it is not essential for visitors to see other visitors; it is only essential to see the works.

Nevertheless, one can state that in line with the basic principle of claire-obscure, our perception within a black cube can change and thus becomes more dislocated from the actual art. Although in my opinion, and definitely in the case of The Close Up, perception is not being harmed, but, instead, being fortified. In contrast to a white cube, a black cube adds value to specific artworks by interrelating the two actors (space and art) in a savvy and striving way. In The Close Up we see this for instance with the work by Janis Rafa. The slowness of the shots, the lack of editorial interference and especially the uplifting camera in her film about a car crash run parallel with our (forced) need to come closer to the screen; to the light so to say.

The architectural transformation from white to black is in line with that of dusk going eventually into dawn; the latter creates the mystique, the mysterious, and the unknown. Instead of painting all white walls into black ones, one must, instead, bear in mind what the context and content is of the space. What is it that is being presented; and where? Considerations in selecting, positioning and so on work together with the features of a dark, oblique space in the case of EYE. Due to this synergy, we perceive an active and fruitful collaboration of artworks that try to grasp the viewer’s subject all the more.

Groys, Boris. “Media Art in the Museum”. Last Call 1 (2001) 2:
O’Doherty, Brian (Patrick Ireland). “I. Notes on the Gallery Space”, in Inside the White CubeThe Ideology of the Gallery Space. Santa Monica: The Lapis Press, 1984: 13-34.

Unkown. 2013. 16 April 2016.
Van Der Kooy, Christian. CineChine. 2012. 16 April 2016.
Willems, Gertjan. Void Fires. 2016. 16 April 2016.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s