Pants off, Party on

OK – this blog entry is dedicated to exploring the fleshy world of Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1. If we are to plunge further into the project of re-enacting this work (and it seems that we are!) then we need to have a think about some corporeal issues.

The facts:

  • In its current manifestation, Horror Film 1 involves Malcolm Le Grice performing live in the projected light of three 16mm projectors.
  • The performer has his back to the audience. Beginning at the screen, he proceeds, walking slowly backwards, to the projectors (more will be said about this choreography in another blog post).
  • The performer is shirtless.
  • In some early performances of the work (in the early 1970s) Malcolm would perform nude.
  • At some point later on (when exactly?) he decided no longer to be completely nude for the performance of Horror Film 1. From then on, to this day, he performs wearing pants but no shirt. (Over here you can see some documentation of Malcolm performing with trousers on; and here’s another image.)
  • Apart from this, the choreography of Horror Film 1 as it is performed now (nearly 40 years later) is very similar to how it was originally performed.
  • Malcolm has confirmed that the physical moves which constitute the live action in Horror Film 1 are very similar to how they have always been. He discovered this by looking at freeze-frames from the documentation embedded within William Raban’s timelapse film from the FILMAKTION events.

Questions arising:

  • Why did Malcolm feel the need to perform nude in the early performances of Horror Film 1?
  • Why did he change his mind and only perform shirtless after a certain point?
  • What are the implications of all of this (in terms of the work’s meaning and reception)?
  • What are the implications of all of this (in terms of our job of re-enacting the piece)?

First of all – we don’t have very much information from Malcolm himself about his reasons for performing nude or not. I do remember him joking, something along the lines of this:

“When I performed it nude… after I switched off the projectors at the end of the piece and the audience was clapping, it was always a race to see whether I could get my clothes on again before the house lights went up!”

Apart from this, we have this snippet from 2000

“Thirty years ago I normally did this naked but now only venture to remove my shirt – when I did it at the Whitechapel show I decided I should soon need to train a stand in.”

OK at the moment I’ll leave it at that – with more questions than answers. Louise and I are here at the CCAS in Canberra, and we’re discussing the particular readings that the work will take on, depending on whether a man or a woman performs it, and depending on how much (if any) clothing the performer is wearing.

The other thing we’re delving into in our chats, is to do with the “spell” that the piece potentially creates. My feeling is that the work’s ingredients are as such:

  • The room (dark)
  • The sound (breathing amplified)
  • The projections (3x 16mm with coloured loops) – and the wall being projected on
  • The body of the performer (a single body)
  • The audience

If you take away any of those basic ingredients, the work as such disappears. Or rather, the “spell” of the work begins to dissipate. The feeling I’m getting as we muck around with the loops in the gallery here in Canberra, is that the piece needs to cross a threshold from the everyday to the special. Well, all cinema does this: the lights go out, a hush goes across the cinema space, people turn off their phones and stop muttering, and the spell begins.

In some ways, to claim that a piece by Malcolm Le Grice also subscribes to this transition into spell-state is odd. He’s the great debunker of hollywood spectacle, the iconoclast – he wants us to uncomfortably shift ourselves out of our seduction by the spectacle. But…but… his works do have a visual pleasure and a social specialness, and that’s one of the things that makes them endure.

Anyway, my thought is this – hanging out here in the gallery space, I become acutely aware that we need to create the conditions for this spell-state, to have ourselves cross a threshold into something ceremonial and ritualistic. This is not just to generate something special for the audience, but also for ourselves.

And one of the big things to consider is how the performer can get into that state. It’s a sort of mindfulness so that a charged atmosphere is generated, so that the performer is tuned into his/her body and its relationship to the projectors, the screen, the room, the amplified breathing, the audience.

My feeling is that one factor that could contribute strongly to the transition from the casual everyday, to the generation of this mindful state, is the shedding of the trappings of the everyday – in other words, nuding up.

In the half a dozen times I’ve been employed as a nude life model for a drawing class, I’ve had that threshold-crossing experience, which creates an calming, embodied and mindful state. It might be that performing the piece without any clothes can help the performer of Horror Film 1 to do that.

– – –

In relation to this line of enquiry, other things we could also consider –

  1. Lucy Reynolds’ article on shadow play
  2. Sally Potter book – on difference between men and women expanded cinema
  3. Vitruvian Man – male=universal (in relation to whether Louise or I perform the work – but this is a matter for another blog post)

Horror Film sketch No. 1

By 450pm today we had a rough sketch of the work running in the space. We relied heavily on the audio recordings of our conversations with Malcolm last year for this (audio file 2). Still lots to do – key is finding zoom lenses for the projectors. We also hope to try a lapel mic for the breath track.

Numerous small hurdles encountered on the way today – not least battery terminal issues on the 1985 Toyota Corolla and of course friends help us out – Danny (Wild) and Jess loaned us not just a projector but also a car.

Achievements: 3 x 16mm projectors running in roughly the correct alignment with breath track on mono speaker. This allowed us to both pace through the c. 30 metres from wall to projectors in the main gallery at CCAS.

Tasks carried out today: looked at the loops, projectors running the loops, projection frame sizes and height. We had a cursory look at the breath track.

Critical facts:

The fade to black in the loops makes one of the three projections disappears during the fade which makes the shadow move around on the wall – very important.
Loop length is c. 40-120 cm.
The loops need some tension, Malcolm’s paper system (read more below) works quite well.

Frame size – centre projector is the large image, the outer two overlap to produce the smaller rectangle in the centre.
Must have at least 2 zoom lenses, ideally 3. Best scenario seems to be two on c. 80 mm (ie very small), one on c. 30 mm (ie very wide). We started with 3 x 50mm lenses – this can’t work as the projectors need to be on a table all within arm’s reach at the conclusion of the piece. We progressed to 2 x 50mm and 1 x zoom on 30mm. The size difference between 30 and 50 was not significant enough.

Height of projectors – projector lens needs to be at about 160cm so that the body does not fill the frame during the walk back towards the projectors.

Focus – make the frame edge sharp. The image area will be soft focus. Loops can be reused until they are scratched to the point you recognise when the loop repeats.

The walk from the wall to the projectors- big hair doesn’t work – it just looks big, seems to lose the expressiveness of the body attached to it.

And here’s some detail with transcript from our 2013 conversations with Malcolm about how to construct the piece.

The loops: before we could lace anything into the 16mm projectors, we studied the loops – how exactly do Malcolm’s loops work? What’s in the footage he’s given us and can we afford to waste any? How will we reproduce them in the future?

LC: Have you made new loops?

MLG: I do frequently. There’s a film called Love Story 2 which is full frame colour, I use a print of that to generate the loop material I need for Horror Film and for Matrix. I waste a huge amount as the beginning part of Love Story 2, the changes are too slow. the end, which is the double screen bit with the screen split in the middle which is Matrix, the movements are too fast. So I waste a huge amount but it’s probably the easiest way to regenerate this material.

LC: So does that mean you’ve got a neg?

MLG: I didn’t but Lux does now have a neg and they reprint it as I need it.

LI: You basically put in an order to the Lux?

MLG: They last a long time. That’s probably enough loops now to last me for the rest of my life. If I’m careful the loops will go on for 6 or 7 screenings. If they get too scratched [or damaged] they get past the usage point. I’ll go through this lot and get you a little usable set.

Some critical points we observed – their length varies from c. 40 cm to c. 120 cm. The splice must fall in the fade to black. The nuanced colour changes are impressive even through they have been created using a process that’s simple in a 16mm projector (changing the filter lights – I’ve never done this so I don’t really know if this is as simple as it sounds, I’m guessing it is).

For today we used some spacer rather than Malcolm’s loops.

Here’s what Malcolm told us about the loops:

14:00 LI: when you were making these in the printer, say how you transition here between the yellow and the green, you’ve got a yellow and a green gel and they overlap each other. See how that so smoothly goes between the yellow and the green.

MLG: It’s soft focus anyway, the gels are so far away, you don’t see any sharp. I don’t think I overlapped. It’s soft focus and you just go through the spectrum order. You can see the spectrum there.

LI: It goes to blue and then to purple. There’s a kind of diagonal.

MLG: That’s because I was pulling them left then right. That diagonal movement isn’t important.

Our problems with the projectors:

About the frame size – the frame within the frame is important for the projector position as you can see in the online documentation of Malcolm performing. We have a Hokushin, and two Eikis all with fixed 50mm lenses. This is a problem! We need zoom lenses. Lucky for us our friend Danny Wild helped us out with a Hokushin with a zoom. However, we realise we need at a minimum 2 zoom lenses.

The belt on my Hokushin broke – a problem as I do have a zoom lens for that. I have spare belts but getting them on is  never easy.

About the loops – Malcolm describes a system using paper to hold the loops in place without reels:

10:45: MLG: I usually try to use the simplest possible passage for the loops … I fold a bit of paper and put that onto the surface where the projector is and run the loop through there to keep the tension. At the bottom, at the back. I rarely use anything terribly complicated.

12:30 LI: You have the reels in and it goes around the reels?

MLG: I try not to use the reels if I can I just use the arms, come around the back of one of the arms, out the back and keep a little tension somehow on the back so it doesn’t flop around.

We tried this out and it seems to work quite well.

About the height and position of the projectors – again the reality that there’s about a 40 cm height difference between Lucas and I will be a factor as it was with Man With Mirror.  Projector positions progressed from floor, to projector stands to a table top at a low height with projector stands on top. This gets the lens to about 160cm which is where it needs to be so that hands can be held up into frame towards the end of the walk.

The projectors need to be close to each other, the central one should be the large image, the outer two overlap in the centre as the smaller one. Here’s what Malcolm had to say about it:

17:18 LI: There’s something about what’s going on here, the fact that each of the loops is somewhat a different length, so the projectors will be running at a different rate. Even though each loop is finite, it would take a very long way to repeat itself.

MLG: If you’ve got a dirty loop, you can notice the repetition.

LI: So just to remind ourselves here, this is the central projector.

MLG: Yes, the outer one.

LI: The other two are focused on the same position.

MLG: That’s right. Before the audience comes in I try to run them so you don’t get the frame line. I don’t like the audience to see the set up. I wouldn’t be too happy about that line you saw there. That line, I would do everything I could in the set up to get rid of it (rack line).

LI: This moment here is very gloomy, it’s lovely, where it was red on red, just before.

MLG: I mean in a funny way with this randomness of the loops you can’t go wrong with the colour effect.

MLG: When you’re setting up, focus on the frame edge, then any scratches on the film are out of focus.

LI: Get a sharp edge …

MLG: That’s right and then you don’t see the dirt and scratches.

LI: The focus is on the edge of the frame, this is something you never do in a film screening. Instead of focusing on the surface of the film which would make the scratches in focus …

Horror Film 1 – Re-enactment in Progress at CCAS, Canberra

oliver thomas practicing horror film1
Oliver Thomas practicing Horror Film 1 at CCAS

Between 23-28 June, the Teaching and Learning Cinema (Louise Curham and Lucas Ihlein) is in residence at Canberra Contemporary Artspace.

We’re continuing on with the research we began last year in the UK, towards a re-enactment of Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1 (1971).

We’re not sure how far along we’ll get this week, but on Saturday June 28, at 3pm, we’ll be presenting a work-in-progress showing of this piece.

There’ll be cups of tea, and discussion about re-enactment of performance and expanded cinema, and the particular projects we’ve done in this area.

It’s free and all are welcome. The gallery is nicely heated, thank goodness.

As a bonus, we’ve got all our Super 8 gear with us, so we’ll be presenting a performance of (Wo)man with Mirror – our re-enactment of Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror (1976-now), and we’ll have some of our (Wo)man with Mirror Users Manuals to hand out too.

Here’s the event on Facebook, in case you lean that way.

Canberra screening 5 October 2013

Photo Chemical Games for blog

‘Photochemical Games’ is a film screening of works by Australian film artists at Belconnen Arts Centre on Saturday 5 October, 6-730pm.

Film is dead! This pronouncement rears its head so frequently that for those who still like making images from chemicals reacting to light, it’s nothing to be alarmed by. Like the claims about one of its analogue cousins, the book, film looks set to continue to occupy a dusty but cosy corner, celebrated and loved by its acolytes. Continue reading ‘Canberra screening 5 October 2013′

Hollow in the Paper

hollow in the paper invitation

Teaching and Learning Cinema is contributing to this exhibition in Hobart.

At the invitation of curator Bec Stevens, we’ve sent an installation based on our work with the project (Wo)man with Mirror (2009-) – our re-enactment of Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror (1976-).

We’ve enjoyed our discussions with Bec, in the lead up to this show. We’d not thought about this work in relation to the idea of the ‘infra-slim’ before, even though it has strong resonance with what we’re doing.

Here’s more info about the show, which will be at CAST, Hobart, from 13 July-18 August 2013.

– – –

Hollow in the Paper* was initiated through readings of two intertwined notions proposed separately by Duchamp. The initial text included the succinct idea of a transformer to utilise slight, wasted energies – with these mostly bodily energies being, for example, “sneezes and sighs” or “the movements of fear, astonishment, boredom and anger”.

And the second notion being the infra-slim, infra-thin or infra-mince. A term chosen for its “human, affective connotations….not an exact laboratory measure”. A somewhat slippery and elusive term which amongst many manifestations is suggested as a “conductor’ that eases the natural and infinite passage from one dimension to another”.

At a similar point in history, when these ideas were conceived, Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Institute was investigating Orgone energy as an anti-entropic, cumulative and omnipresent force, exploring an alternative idea of how we perceive and direct energy. Georges Bataille also published The Accursed Share, where his theory of a general economy gave particular emphasis on understanding the portion of excess energy that is inherent within any system of production and exchange.

The works within this exhibition reflect on the process of becoming: on transductions of states of energy; and of processes of perception and ‘flexible subjectivities’. Amanda Davies, Fiona Lee and Maria Kunda, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Pat Brassington and the Teaching and Learning Cinema, present paintings, prints, performance, Orgone altering devices, and heightened states of consciousness as a means of exploring various states of the infra-slim.

* “The hollow in the paper between the front and the back of a thin sheet of paper….To be studied!…” appears in Duchamp’s descriptions of the infra-slim

(Wo)man with Mirror at Apiary Studios

Lucas Ihlein media release-1

Here’s the same flyer as a pdf.


Lucas Ihlein: Mediating Experience in Expanded Cinema Re-enactment

The following is a contribution to ISEA 2013 – presented as part of this panel session.

The panel, organised by Brogan Bunt, was set up to address the broad notion of mediation – and to respond to his assertion that “artists themselves, in their practices, have begun to move fluidly between paradigms.”

“How,” Brogan asks, “does the experience of digital processes inflect work produced in the broader social field? How are issues of concept, process, event, participation and interaction remediated through intimate experience of digital media?”

I’ve attempted to answer these questions, in my rather folksy way, by thinking about the work that Louise Curham and I do as Teaching and Learning Cinema.

If you like, the text may be accompanied by a slideshow of images from our work in re-enacting expanded cinema:

Continue reading ‘Lucas Ihlein: Mediating Experience in Expanded Cinema Re-enactment’

After meeting Malcolm – top of mind

Notes in response to specific questions have been started by Lucas and we will continue them but it seems important to capture what’s stayed at the top of the mind after visiting Malcolm:
– we covered a lot of ground!
– Malcolm says that when he made these performance film works (eg Horror Film, Gross Fog, Matrix, 4 Wall Duration), his orientation was cinema rather than live art as we now think of it (eg performance art, happenings), the dialogue/position was with/against screen and film culture. This is true for his film works of this era too.
– in a conversation about the context for making his work around the time of Horror Film, Malcolm made the point that at the time and in the whole era, experimentation in media other than film drew upon long lineages. He used the example of music where things have seemed strange and new to makers and audiences many times before. As a young form, cinema didn’t have this lineage and so things really could be new in this form, energising and exhilarating in its newness, difficult in the lack of context and language for audiences.
– Malcolm advises that the first performance of Horror Film 1 (1971) was at Arts Lab – an interesting question because we found nothing about it in the files we have consulted to date at BAFVSC about Malcolm, Filmaktion and London Filmmakers Coop 1966-74.
– White Field Duration is effectively a scratch film where transparent leader is slowly marked with vertical scratches until it is evident they are intentional. Then horizontal scratches emerge. In the end the two fields of scratches seem to be rain over a body of water. The image is then reprinted in neg/pos. The sound is created by the image which runs into the optical sound track space. We understand from Lux that as Malcolm told us, there is just one print of this and no neg.

MLG Questions 01: Breath

When we started thinking about re-enacting Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1 a year ago, several questions popped up straight away.

These were mainly technical issues about the source material for the three colour projections, and how the audio is produced while the piece is being performed. Some of these questions were answered by Malcolm here – but it’s only now that we’ve spent several days hanging out with him that we begin to understand these answers.

Bit by bit, I’m going to flesh out some of the answers based on notes that Louise and I made while we were in Devon…


Our instinct was that the amplified breathing which provides the sonic undertone of the work would be produced live – a live feed from a lapel microphone, for example. This would seem to fit with the live-ness of the projected shadows produced by the body in front of the three projectors, and could operate as a kind of index of the performer’s own physiological state (calmness, exhaustion etc) during the performance.
Continue reading ‘MLG Questions 01: Breath’

TLC Public Events, June 2013

Louise and Lucas are busy this month.

Here’s what’s happening:

Wednesday June 12, 4-5pm
ISEA, New Law School Lecture Theatre 106, University of Sydney

Lucas is presenting (via Skype from London), speaking briefly about our work re-enacting Expanded Cinema from the point of view of medium and materiality. You can read the abstracts and the panel synopsis here.

Friday June 14, 2:30pm-4pm
Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL

Lucas and Louise will be performing (Wo)man with Mirror and engaging in discussion afterwards, at a conference in London. The conference is called “Museum Futures in an Age of Austerity” and the details are here.
Here’s the draft conference schedule.

Tuesday June 18, 7pm onwards
Apiary Studios, 458 Hackney Rd.

Louise and Lucas are performing (Wo)man with Mirror and engaging in discussion afterwards, together with Dr Patti Gaal-Holmes & Dr Kim Knowles. Guy Sherwin “himself” will be there, along with his partner and collaborator Lynn Loo.
All the details are here.
This event was kindly organised by Sally Golding and is an Unconscious Archives Salon.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, with support from ACME studios in London. Here is a flyer from ACME studios as a PDF.
ozco logo

Wednesday June 19th, 7.30pm onwards
Cafe Oto
18-22 Ashwin street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL
Tickets : £8 adv / £10 on the door

Louise Curham will be showing her handmade super8 films in collaboration with musician Alison Blunt. The evening also features the work of Karel Doing and Pierre Bastien. This event is number 8 in the Unconscious Archives series organised by Sally Golding and James Holcolmbe. All the details are here.