Edward S. Small: Direct Theory: Experimental Film/Video as Major Genre (1994)

6 September 2011, dusan

“Undulating water patterns; designs etched directly into exposed film; computer- generated, pulsating, multihued light tapestries—the visual images that often constitute experimental film and video provide the basis for Edward S. Small’s argument for a new theory defining this often overlooked and misunderstood genre. In a radical revision of film theory incorporating a semiotic system, Small contends that experimental film/video constitutes a mode of theory that bypasses written or spoken words to directly connect Ferdinand de Saussure’s “signifier” and “signified,” the image and the viewer. This new theory leads Small to develop a case for the establishment of experimental film/video as a major genre.

Small contends that the aesthetic of experimental film/video would best be understood as a coordinate major genre separate from genres such as fictive narrative and documentary. He employs eight experimental technical/structural characteristics to demonstrate this thesis: the autonomy of the artist or a-collaborative construction; economic independence; brevity; an affinity for animation and special effects that embraces video technology and computer graphics; use of the phenomenology of mental imagery, including dreams, reveries, and hallucinations; an avoidance of verbal language as either dialogue or narration; an exploration of nonnarrative structure; and a pronounced reflexivity—drawing the audience’s attention to the art of the film through images rather than through the mediation of words.

Along with a theoretical approach, Small provides an overview of the historical development of experimental film as a genre. He covers seven decades beginning in France and Germany in the 1920s with European avant-garde and underground films and ends with a discussion of experimental videos of the 1990s. He highlights certain films and provides a sampling of frames from them to demonstrate the heightened reflexivity when images rather than words are the transmitters: for example, Ralph Steiner’s 1929 H2O, a twelve-minute, wordless, realistic study of water patterns, and Bruce Conner’s 1958 A Movie, which unites his themes of war-weapons-death and sexuality not by narrative digesis but by intellectual montage juxtapositions. Small also examines experimental video productions such as Stephen Beck’s 1977 Video Weavings, which has a simple musical score and abstract images recalling American Indian rugs and tapestries.

Small adds classic and contemporary film theory discussions to this historical survey to further develop his direct-theory argument and his presentation of experimental film/video as a separate major genre. He stresses that the function of experimental film/video is “neither to entertain nor persuade but rather to examine the quite omnipresent yet little understood pictos [semiotic symbols] that mark and measure our postmodern milieu.”

Publisher SIU Press, 1994
ISBN 0809319209, 9780809319206
122 pages


EPUB (updated on 2012-7-9)

Charles A. Csuri (ed.): Interactive Sound and Visual Systems, catalogue (1970)

29 July 2011, dusan

“Charles Csuri organized and participated the Interactive Sound and Visual Systems exhibition, which included the installation of a large computer system with which visitors could interact. In the catalogue introduction, Csuri states, “Interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving represent the frontiers of research and education in the modern university.” The Interactive Sound and Visual Systems exhibition was held in the Hopkins Gallery, Hopkins Hall, The Ohio State University. The exhibition had to be closed early due to political demonstrations and subsequent riots on campus. Only this small catalogue remains to document the exhibition.”

College of the Arts, The Ohio State University, 25 April – 12 May 1970
Design by Eric Marlow
Photographs by David Hlynsky
Collages by Edd Benton
31 pages


PDF (updated on 2016-2-17)

Cybernetic Serendipidity: The Computer and the Arts (1968)

17 July 2009, dusan

Cybernetic Serendipity was an exhibition of cybernetic art curated by Jasia Reichardt and shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, from 2 August to 20 October 1968. Later it moved to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., running there from 16 July to 31 August 1969; and finally to the recently founded Exploratorium in San Francisco, where it ran from 1 November to 18 December 1969.

The show featured a comprehensive assortment of pioneer techno-artists including Edward Ihnatowicz, Liliane Lijn, Gustav Metzger, Nam June Paik, Nicolas Schöffer, and Jean Tinguely, and as represented by a number of their more noteworthy pieces including Paik’s Robot K-456 (1964), Schöffer’s CYSP-1 (1956); and Tinguely’s Méta-Matic (1961). It also included works by engineers, mathematicians, composers and poets. Reichardt also went on to serve as the editor of a book, Cybernetics, Art and Ideas (1971), extending this study of the relationship between cybernetics and arts.

Special Issue of Studio International
Edited by Jasia Reichardt
Publisher Studio International, London, 1968
1st edition July 1968
2nd edition (revised) September 1968
Book edition, Praeger, New York, 1969
Reprint of book edition, Studio International Foundation, London, 2018
101 pages

Reprint (2018)

PDF (2nd ed., b&w, 8 MB, updated to OCR on 2015-12-17)
PDF (2018 repr. of 1969 ed., color, 253 MB, added on 2018-10-26, via)
Flipbook (2018 repr. of 1969 ed., added on 2018-10-26)