François Giraud, “Thinking migration through expanded cinema”

<<< back to Migrations 2015

François Giraud is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh.

After the Second World War, especially from the sixties, a new form of cinema began to emerge. Experimental filmmakers exhibited moving images in museums and art galleries. This artistic migration is referred to by different names: “expanded cinema”, “post-cinema”, “othered cinema”, “third cinema”, “unstable cinema”. The variety of notions reflects the difficulty to define precisely this experimental cinema that developed in close relationship with contemporary arts. Between the seventies and the beginning of the XXIst century, filmmakers such as Chris Marker, Chantal Akerman, Agnès Varda, and Jean-Luc Godard explored the space of the museum and created installation works. These installations usually involve the use of multiple screens. For instance, in Zapping Zone, designed by Marker, the screens show a large variety of images, filmed in different places, such as Paris, Tokyo or Sarajevo. There is a mixture of documentary and fictional short films, as well as computer-generated works.

Dominique Païni defines the visitor of the museum or gallery space as a flâneur[1]. The modernist notion of the flâneur emphasizes the idea of movement, observation in an urban sensorium. His or her fleeting perception of urban life is fragmented, shaped by modernity. In the context of expanded cinema, the multiple screens and objects exhibited in the space of the museum aim to create a new sensorium for the visitor. His or her senses are distracted by the heterogeneity and the juxtaposition of various images and objects. The visitors are physically involved in the installation; they are invited to become active participants.

Moreover, according to Païni, expanded cinema is a “cinéma traversable”[2], a cinema that people can traverse but not interpret. The suspension of interpretation in expanded cinema can also be fostered by the disorientation of the visitor within the space of the installation. In Zapping Zone, the visitors have difficulties to find their bearings, to understand where and when the installation starts or ends. This unstable space endows the visitor with a relative liberty. But the infinity of possible montage associations provided by the installation also tends to impede meaning construction.

If expanded cinema changes the way we think about the artistic migration of moving images, it also offers the possibility to reflect on migration in a more political perspective. Chantal Akerman uses expanded cinema to deal with issues of geographical borders, diaspora, migration, uprooting, identity and memory. For instance, in 2002, she makes a documentary and an installation, entitled From the Other Side (2002), that focus on the US-Mexican border. Akerman records the testimonies of Mexican families who have lost a relative, and questions the American immigration policy. The documentary is fragmented into 18 monitors and 2 projection screens. The last part of the installation, entitled “ A voice in the desert”, consists of a big screen placed on the Arizona-Mexican border. The documentary is projected on this screen during the night until sunrise. At sunrise, the image fades away. Thus, the whiteness of the screen becomes symbolic of the sense of loss, disappearance, and absence developed by Akerman in the other parts of the installation. As Giuliana Bruno writes, in this installation, “we are given the opportunity to reflect in particular on the inner workings of displacement, migrancy, and diaspora”[3]. Akerman uses the space offered by the museum to reflect on political, social and historical issues. At the crossroads of multiple migrations, expanded cinema raises questions regarding our contemporary world and invites the spectator to become an active participant in a collective process of reflection.

[1] Dominique Païni (2008), “Pourquoi expose-t-on le cinéma?”, 24 images, No. 140.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Giuliana Bruno (2012), “Projection: On Akerman’s Screen, From Cinema to the Art Gallery”, in Chantal Akerman: Too Far, Too Close, Ludion/ M HKA