Critics’ Picks

Len Lye, A Color Box, 1935, still from a film in 16 mm, 4 minutes.

Len Lye, A Color Box, 1935, still from a film in 16 mm, 4 minutes.


“Celluloid. Cameraless Film”

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
June 2–August 29, 2010

This exhibition traces the evolution of experimental filmmakers and artists who have dispensed with the camera altogether by directly manipulating film. Twenty-one creators to 160,000 images is an impressive ratio for any show, and for the most part these works were created via industrious means of production including (but not limited to) painting, drawing, etching, and collage. From the Minimalism of Dieter Roth’s Dot, 1956–62, a 16-mm film reel repetitively stamped with a leather punch, to Stan Brakhage’s frenetic moth-wing collages on celluloid, curator Esther Schlicht has considered a diverse range of artistic positions that have altered the cinematic medium, treating it as if it were a kineticized canvas or sculptural tableau.

Among the earliest works here are the painted films of Len Lye and his contemporary Norman McLaren. Lye’s A Color Box, 1935, and Free Radicals, 1958/1979, typify early attempts to sever film from its narrative conventions and industrial ties. In the notable example of Takahiko Iimura’s White Calligraphy, 1967, celluloid film is further removed from its indexical relation to the world and pushed into the figurative. Twelve thousand ideograms etched from the Kojiki (a principal text in Japanese mythology) explore the structural relationship between language and film. Although Iimura’s work and many of the films presented here are now classics of the experimental film genre, their presentation en force captures a spirit of inexhaustible experimentation that continues today with contemporary artists such as Bärbel Neubauer and Jennifer West.