Flicker and Shutter

Curator's Note

Theorists of the cinematic apparatus described a definite cinema: rich in illusory pleasures, powerful in ideological effects, both constructing and flattering the transcendent ego of an omnipotent spectator… An all-consuming apparatus of the visual. Yet as Tom Gunning reminds us, “if cinema is about seeing, it also fundamentally depends on a rhythm of not seeing, a pattern of recurrent obscurity that we would call flicker.”

My video essay explores this emphasis on cinema’s material vulnerability. The porous and indefinite nature of cinema is foregrounded in avant-garde films that playfully and perversely indulge continuity’s “dark shadow,” giving free play to the flicker, the shutter, and the black leader that comprise cinema’s own repressed unconscious. Using video clips of both avant-garde and narrative films, this videographic work simulates the flicker effect and foregrounds its ability to “usher our perceptual being into the unknown—not simply the false illusion of Plato’s cave, but the darkness of our pre-conscious and unconscious being.” Like Tony Conrad’s The Flicker from 1966, my work hopes to incite both a physiological and a cognitive response, providing a unique embodied experience of spectatorship that leaves the viewer pondering cinema’s material foundation and ultimately recognizing the common nature of avant-garde and narrative film.

And yet, this is not a film. This is an attempt to mimic film’s sensory effects within a videographic form that has its own unique material foundation. As Gunning writes, cinema is “undefined, and constantly in a process of reinvention.” It is rare these days to encounter “the cinema” as a film. Yet the same questions about material vulnerability apply to videographic representations of cinema. “As a virtual medium,” Gunning writes, “cinema, and even more its electronic descendants, seem to teeter on the edge of the immaterial and unreal.”