Review of Line Describing a Cone, 2005

A review of our Perth presentation of Line Describing a Cone, 2005.

Anne-Marie Archer – Line Describing a Cone (written 01 June 2005) at State of the Arts (now no longer online):

The idea of walking into a smoke filled room to be part of an event is quickly becoming a thing of the past. However, Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone demands such an environment to truly appreciate the impact of his innovative work from the ’70s.

Entering the room was an unusual experience as the crowd disappeared beyond the fog and a single beam of projected light captured not only the attention, but also the fingertips and hands of the audience as they played with the medium.

The half hour evolution of the cone’s arc lit the faces of many Western Australian art identities and enthusiasts who had taken the opportunity to witness and engage in this three-dimensional, unique participant-driven experience.

Artist Lucas Ihlein, instrumental in the event and its delivery, described his passion for ‘Expanded Cinema’, designed to extend and expose the cinematic apparatuses to create a live experience for the audience.

Throughout the film, the crowd roamed around, within and into the projected physical space. Aside from fellow attendees, there were no images or theatrics to distract you from the raw and abstract understanding of cinematic projection. Yet there was still a climax in the film as the two streams of light drew closer to finally complete the cone.

The projector becomes the source, yet it was the audience’s management and manipulation of the projected light that was most fascinating and the Bakery Artrage Complex provided the ideal space to explore this light sculpture phenomenon from every vantage point.

Take advantage of the rare opportunity to see this work, as it evokes elements of your personality that respond to an external stimulus that is both inviting and memorable.

– Anne-Marie Archer

Review of Line Describing a Cone

The following review was originally posted on a blog called File Thirteen, back in 2001. We linked to it in 2005 when we organised our first Australian tour of Line Describing a Cone. The File Thirteen blog doesn’t seem to be online any more – the review is on the Internet Archive, but we’ll re-post it here for an extra backup, and because we think it’s a nice piece of writing.

Line Describing a Cone (1973)
Perhaps the most original performance art film ever created, Anthony McCall’s ground-breaking 1973 “Line Describing a Cone” can be summed up pretty basically. McCall uses a projector to create a light beam that runs through a space filled with smoke. His 30 minute film begins with solid black; soon a single point appears, causing a shaft of light to be emitted across the room. Finally, the dot builds, becoming a line, than an arc, then semi-circle, before finally being completed as a circle projected on a black. This process takes about 30 minutes. When finished, the light beam emitted from the projector, through the black film with circle drawn upon it, shown across a smokey room, appears to be in the shape of a cone with tip at projector’s lens and base at the wall on which the light beam is projected.

The curious thing about this film is that the audience is urge, in fact expected, to not simply sit and watch the film, but to move about the room (where there are no chairs) and inspect and play with the light beam. This becomes fascinating as the projected light beam can be interesting when viewed from different angles about the room. Also, the audience playing in the light beam can create myriad interesting visual images. It’s rather astounding for something so seemingly simplistic.

By creating a film, and determining the space and manner in which it should be projected, McCall creates a “performance film.” “Line Describing a Sphere” is perhaps the first (and only?) avant-garde “audience participation film” as well. Watching the film, in a pitch black space, one initially moves through the space with trepidation, afraid that they will run into another audience member. Recollections of bathhouses and adult book stores struck me in this early period of the film. But as the light beam projected grows and eyes become adjusted to the space, one begins to move more comfortably around the room and experiment with the context of the piece. The blackened room becomes a playground where our imaginations and creativity are allowed to flow. It is interesting to note that if this film was shown to children, they would play quite freely in the space and with the projected lights. But adults are far more restrained and aware of others’ “personal space.” We are curious yet cautious, experimental yet apprehensive. We don’t want to diminish the experience for the others in our “audience.” So, sadly, we don’t play as freely… at least initially.

But as the film unwinds during it’s 30 minute running, we become more free and more relaxed. Eventually, everyone begins to play in the light and often the experience of seeing someone else playing in the light is as amusing, interesting, and surprising as our own self-revelations. The audience becomes more than simply just a group of strangers. We become “audience” sharing an experience. Because the film is silent, we become more relaxed about speaking out or laughing or showing awe verbally while as a group. It becomes a heightened “shared” experience. It brings a sort of “togetherness” to the group. It’s very “70’s” and very communal.

“Line Describing a Cone” is beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s amazing it took someone over 8 decades after film was invented to create such a piece. But the beauty of the film is it’s ability to incite imagination and curiosity and experimentation in a group of random viewers who all happen to be sharing the same cinematic and artistic experience.

This is as much a film as a statement on film. The piece shares many common bonds with more traditional films. It takes film to a more basic level where audience interacts more exactly with film. Like all film, it requires no live physical person to represent the film at it’s viewing (except perhaps, like all film, the projectionist). It requires only film, projector, projector operator and audience. And like all film, the audience often has shared reactions to the playing out of the film. There is shared moments of laughter, awe and interest, even if we are strangers at the event, even if we all arrive and depart separately, even if all of our perspectives are different.

And, after all, isn’t that one of the greatest magics film has to offer?

Line Describing a Cone – Projection Specifications

The following info is copied across from Canyon Cinema’s website:

Line Describing a Cone, Anthony McCall | 1973 | 30 minutes | B&W | SILENT
Rental Format(s): 16mm film, 24 fps

Note: Special projection requirements – see below.

Line describing a cone is what I term a solid light film. It is dealing with the projected light-beam itself, rather than treating the light-beam as a mere carrier of coded information, which is decoded when it strikes a flat surface (the screen).

The film exists only in the present: the moment of projection. It refers to nothing beyond this real time.

The form of attention required on the part of the viewer is unprecedented. No longer is one viewing position as good as any other. For this film every viewing position presents a different aspect. The viewer therefore has a participatory role in apprehending the event: he or she can – indeed needs to move around, relative to the emerging light-form.

“… Anthony McCall’s LINE DESCRIBING A CONE [is] a film which demanded to be looked at, not on the screen, but in the space of the auditorium. What was at issue was the establishment of a cone of light between the projector and the screen, out of what was initially one pencil-like beam of light. I consider it the most brilliant case of an observation on the essentially sculptural quality of every cinematic situation.” – P. Adams Sitney, Artforum

SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE PROJECTION OF “LINE DESCRIBING A CONE” TO AN AUDIENCE
Please note: there is, obviously, especially for one-time showings, a certain necessary improvisatory spirit. So these specifications should be taken as guidelines rather than imperatives. However, I can say that the most successful showings that I have witnessed have been reasonably close to these recommended conditions.
-Anthony McCall

  1. That projector should be inside the viewing space, not inside a projection booth.
  2. The projection space should be entirely empty of chairs or other furniture.
  3. The projection space must be absolutely pitch-dark. Owing to the delicate nature of light, even a slight spillage of ambient light from poorly masked windows or doors can seriously affect the film’s visibility. A five or six-inch-wide strip of thin black card loosely looped over the top of the projector casing to minimize light spillage from the heat vents up onto the ceiling, can also help.
  4. Whenever possible, use a 16mm projector with a 350 watt Xenon lamp (and this would be essential for the longer projection throws). The Xenon lamp is significantly brighter than that of a standard projector.
  5. The projector should stand on a plinth of about 4-5′ in height (the ideal height would place the lens of the projector at approximately half the height of the projected image). [Metric: 1m – 1.5m]
  6. The ideal projection distance between projector lens and wall is between 30′ and 50′ feet. The ideal frame height at the wall is between 7′ and 11′ (ie giving an ideal ratio between beam length and frame height of between 4.5 and 5 to 1). The base of the frame should be about 1′ from the floor. [Metric: 9m – 17m throw, 2m – 3.5m frame height, 30cm from floor]
  7. The light of the beam is visible through its contact with tiny particles in the air, be they from dust, humidity or smoke. The most effective and controllable method of ensuring visibility is by hiring or borrowing a “Hazer”. These can usually be rented by the day from theatrical or lighting supply firms. See, for example, the Martin/Jem ZR24/7 Hazer. A Hazer fills the projection space with a safe, odorless haze similar in appearance to a sea mist, which is extremely effective in rendering the beam of light palpable and visible.

TLC re-enactment of Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1 – documentation

From Canberra Contemporary Artspace, June 2014. Performer is Louise Curham.

Performance Matters Journal: Re-enactment of Malcolm Le Grice’s “Horror Film 1″

horror film 1 - TLC re-enactment louise curham

Performance Matters is a new journal published by the Simon Fraser University (Canada). The journal is especially interested in:

work that focuses on the materiality and the consequentiality of performance: the objects that comprise it, the labour that goes into it, the physical sites that give shape to it, as well as the effects it has — what, in short, performance does, and why that is meaningful.

Teaching and Learning Cinema has contributed an article to the first edition of the journal which is themed “Archiving Performance”, and edited by Peter Dickinson.

Our contribution is entitled “Reaching Through to the Object: Reenacting Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1“. The article begins like this:

In July 2014 Teaching and Learning Cinema, an Australian artist group coordinated by Louise Curham and Lucas Ihlein, presented a reenactment of Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1 (1971) at Canberra Contemporary Art Space. A key work of Expanded Cinema, Horror Film 1 involves a live performer playing with shadows, interacting with the overlapping beams of three 16mm film projectors. Our reenactment was the first time in the work’s 40 year lifespan that it had been performed by anyone other than Le Grice himself. In this paper we offer some reflections on the process of making our reenactment, which we regard as ontologically double: simultaneously “the original object” and an entirely new entity. We discuss our methodology of tending the archive–an activist strategy for operating at the borders of archival and artistic practice. And we suggest that reenactment, as a creative practice, can be a way of “reaching through to the object” which sheds new light on the artwork and its cultural-technological context.

You can read the whole article online at Performance Matters Journal.

Line Describing a Cone in 2015

line describing a cone in kandos - photo by alex wisser

[Anthony McCall’s “Line Describing a Cone”, presented by Teaching and Learning Cinema in Kandos in April 2015, as part of CEMENTA festival. Photo by Alex Wisser]

* * *

Louise Curham and I first “met” Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone in 2005, when we took it on an Australian tour to Kellerberrin, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

For me, that tour was characterised by great anxiety and great joy:

anxiety sparked by a technical mishap at our first scheduled screening in Kellerberrin (a tiny town 3 hours drive from Perth) which left us with a blown bulb, a derelict cinema full of artificial haze, and an assembled group of quizzical sheep-n-wheat farmers who I’d cajoled into coming along to see this amazing piece of 1970s avant-garde cinema;

…and joy arising from every subsequent presentation of Line Describing a Cone, which never failed to delight those in attendance.

Ten years later, we’re in the process of presenting our second “tour” of the Cone. We brought the 16mm print out from LUX in London to show at the CEMENTA festival in Kandos (about 4 hours inland from Sydney). Perhaps this was to some extent an effort to exorcise the demons of that failed Kellerberrin screening. Both Kandos and Kellerberrin are small towns a long way from any sort of projector spare parts; both places are unfamiliar with the experience of expanded cinema.
Continue reading ‘Line Describing a Cone in 2015′

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.
Continue reading ‘Pants off, Party on’

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.
Continue reading ‘Horror Film sketch No. 1′

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′