Stefanie Schulte Strathaus
Think:Film, the title of this congress, refers to a mode of thought.
During the preparations for the congress, people often asked me if there would be another one of those panels that many of us have sat on many times over the years: the visual art vs. cinema panel. Nearly two decades have now passed since this debate started . But much has changed over these two decades. New generations have grown up, there has been a huge transformation in media, the discourse has been recognized as mainly western, and above all the institutions of art and cinema have each undergone a differentiation that no longer matches up to the fixed images that each had about the other side. I would say we have in fact begun to learn from one another.
Nonetheless, I would claim that artists and filmmakers have already come further than the institutions that represent them, at least those that already existed beforehand.
For a while, I would have thought that the debate might have the potential to create something like a genuine institutional critique.
In 2005 the artist Andrea Fraser stated: “Describing Institutional Critique as a reflexive relation to such social spaces means saying that in the circumstances that define every space we include our relationships to this space as well as the social conditions of this relationship. Describing this relation as critical means that we are not aiming to affirm, expand, or reinforce a space or our relationship to it, but to problematize and to change it.”
In a certain way, many works from the visual arts in recent years have taken this task on, so to speak, for the cinema, just to name the example of THE CLOCK by Chris Marcley. At any rate they have brought in a critique from the outside, and right at a time when cinema finds itself at a transitional period due to digitization. At a time when everyone seems to be talking of the end of cinema, it would seem clear that cinema sees itself as being colonized by art. What seems to some as a “liberation” of the image, now coming into motion and therefore transitory (which unfortunately often leads to the state that no one reflects on images any more), appears to others as a gain: One can now show several images alongside one another or cause a single one of them to stop. Filmmakers also expanded their field, they work with installation, in non-linear forms, or in collaborative projects, without, however – and this distinguishes them from institution-critical art – necessarily producing what Andrea Fraser calls “the reflexive relation to the social spaces,” which in this case could be the field of visual art or the cinema. Still, in a way they are practicing this critique as well, sometimes unconsciously, by overburdening institutions, or by setting conditions that exceed the usual practice. A cinema might now have need for an exhibition space, or it might need to extend the artistic field even further, perhaps by having a dressing room for performers. Above all, however, not only galleries but also the cinema needs growing competency and a changing distribution in budgets.
What is “the cinema” anyway, and what is “art”? If we take Fraser’s lead and understand an institution not only as an organization like a museum, or an object, but as something internalized, embodied, something in which is acted out what Bourdieu called “habitus”: competencies, dispositions, forms of perception and practice, interests and ambitions, which define both ours membership in the field as well as our capacity to produce effects in it, then today we can in fact confirm that the visual art vs. cinema debate has changed somewhat. This change, however, is only just beginning and has hardly begun to effect the organizations that exercise power. Art and cinema still face each other like two monolithic blocks, which can also be seen in the fact that panels on this topic tirelessly go around in circles, since forming theories is also part of the institutional field.
In this panel, we want to try to point to a way out. We’re going back and asking how moments were created in which institutions were brought to life for the very first time. Moments in which the energy of the new arose–or is still arising–by several factors coming together. Whether in the 1960s in western avant-garde cinema or recently in relation to the so called “Arab Spring“. It has always begun with the production of images, not just any image, but images that had significance within the aesthetic, cultural, or social environment that they came from directly, or out of which they fell, which can of course be the same thing. They were images that had a transformative effect on the institutions that produced them.
It is certainly not by chance that in both the world of art and that of film, interest in film history, in archives, is greater than ever before. But it seems that the interest in images from the changing Arab world in the west is at least as great. As if everyone were looking for such moments.