PRINT Summer 2004



More than thirty years after British-born artist Anthony McCall created his now-legendary Line Describing a Cone, the first of his “solid light” films, the elegantly simple 1973 work—a projected white dot that slowly grows over thirty minutes into a circular line on the facing wall, eventually filling the dark space with a conical “volume” whose vivid corporality is a beguiling trick of light and atmosphere—remains one of postwar art’s signal explorations of perceptual boundary states. Light and dark, stasis and movement, substance and immateriality, cinema and sculpture: As with all McCall’s early projections, Line Describing a Cone tests the thresholds between these essential conditions. Like the post-Minimalist program within which they are conceptually situated, the “solid light” works—at once emphatically filmic and ineffably sculptural—recalibrate the relationships between audience, space, and “object,” immersing the viewer in an activated matrix that foregrounds movement, duration, and participation. McCall stopped making art for two decades following the “solid light” films but, happily, in recent years has returned to his practice. This year’s Whitney Biennial included Doubling Back, 2003, an installation featuring two projected traveling waves engaged in a graceful curvilinear dance with each other in the darkened gallery space. And the artist’s early work is also again receiving well-deserved attention. In October, the Centre Georges Pompidou will show the entire suite of “solid light” films, and later this autumn McCall’s six-hour installation, Long Film for Four Projectors, 1974, tours to Tate Britain in London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and MoMA in New York.

Jeffrey Kastner


I began making the “solid light” films in 1973, but my work as an artist began earlier, with sculptural performances involving rectilinear grids of small fires. My first film, Landscape for Fire, 1972, was an attempt to describe one of these pieces. But after completing it, my attention pulled back from events in front of the camera and became engaged by the possibility of a film that could exist only in the moment of projection with an audience, without reference to an “elsewhere.” The thirty-minute Line Describing a Cone, made soon after I moved to New York from London in 1973, took the form of the gradual coming-into-being in midair of a complete, hollow cone of light. The proportions of this projection vary, but the scale is large. The base of the cone, an emerging circle of light projected onto the wall, is tall enough, at between eight and eleven feet, to fully incorporate several spectators, and the length of the beam may be anything from thirty to sixty feet. This three-dimensional object, like sculpture, calls for a mobile, participating spectator, and, like film, it takes time. To fully see the emerging form it is necessary to move around and through it, to look at it from the inside and from the outside.

Over the course of the following year, 1974, I made three additional “cone” films—Partial Cone, Cone of Variable Volume, and Conical Solid—each investigating different ways to render and modulate this single volumetric object. Later the same year, I made the large-scale installation Long Film for Four Projectors. Instead of a single object that you can walk toward or around, or turn away from, here there is an active field defined by four projected, flat, interpenetrating blades of light that repeatedly sweep through their individual arcs of space and through one another. The film is in constant motion, composed of the shifting relationships between each of the four planes. If you are in the space, you are in the film, for you are surrounded by it. Similarly, you are surrounded by its durational length; at six hours, Long Film for Four Projectors precedes the arrival of any visitors, and it continues after they have left.

All of the “cone” films except Conical Solid were made from a single circular line, and the pieces that followed—Long Film for Four Projectors and Four Projected Movements, 1975—were made from a single straight line. The new installations, such as Doubling Back, have grown out of this original series from the ’70s, but with the addition of a new linear form, the traveling wave. This is perhaps a hybrid of the two, for a wave is a curved line that repeatedly changes direction along a straight axis. Doubling Back is based on two identical traveling waves that very, very slowly advance through one another. In three-dimensional space, this progressive shifting creates a single, mutating, curvilinear volume. Halfway through the thirty-minute sequence, the form reverses direction, retracing its outward route. It is hard to catch any part of the form, or the lines on the wall, actually moving. Yet over the course of fifteen minutes the entire object opens up, turns inside out, and closes down. Unlike an earlier film such as Line Describing a Cone, the mutating form is complex and irregular, and as a result, the process of watching, of remembering what has occurred, and of anticipating what may happen, is, if not thwarted, at least challenged.

I find that I am now asked a particular question that used not to come up: “Are you making sculpture or are you making films?” The way that this question is phrased puzzled me for some time, for it seemed to me that my installations have to be viewed as both to be fully appreciated. I have personally found it useful to group art into three sets of practices: the sculptural, the pictorial, and the cinematic. The sculptural, post–expanded field, is very broad, of course, but loosely covers all work that explicitly engages three-dimensional space. The pictorial covers painting and all work related to the making of images, including photography. The cinematic, a relative newcomer, covers all time-based or movement-based work, including performance, sound, film, and video. These three groups of practices are not rigid categories so much as centers of gravity that now routinely exert an influence on one another. For instance, surely, some of the power of Richard Serra’s torqued spiral sculpture, or the more recent hybrid Blindspot, 2003, is derived from an unmistakably cinematic slowing down of disclosure as the visitor walks carefully along those immense, curving, destabilizing corridors, where something uncertain is always just ahead. And Roni Horn’s recent Whitney Biennial installation, Doubt by Water, 2003–2004, consisting of a spread-out group of stanchions, each holding a two-sided photograph, as well as the anamorphic objects of Robert Lazzarini, are neither purely sculptured nor pictorial but bring the two together. This isn’t intended to be a didactic model—it started as a way to think about my own practice, and then I began to see just how much current work, like mine, occupies a not-quite-one-thing-or-the-other position, hovering in the area between these porous discourses or setting up bridges that connect them.