Dip to black is a cinematic editing technique used to connect two images, two spaces - with nothing. What is codified through its usage is an indication of an undefined passing of time through dislocation. Film’s concern with the plasticity of time (owing to its spatio-temporal split) is well documented; it is a unique quality of film. The use of the black screen (or other devices of absenting) more than just making this temporal relationship perceivable, foregrounds the fundamental expectation of film: that there is something to be watched. This is the core of the reading that I want to interrogate through exploring techniques of disappearance in these selected works. The unstable image - whether absent, disappearing or manipulated, asks us: what is an image? What are we looking at? Ranciere addresses this saturated dilemma: “if there is now nothing but ímages, there is nothing other than the image. And if there is nothing other than the image, the very notion of the image becomes devoid of content.” (2009). Complicating this: the introduction of digital and computational imaging - our contemporary idea of virtuality - further leans towards the disembodiment of the image as content. Deleuze notes: “the black or white screen no longer has only structural value, but a genetic one” (2005). In other words, omission presents itself as connected to the filmic image - on the one hand, through the absence of image but fundamentally, as light.
The lack of image prompts two questions: firstly, the implication that there was something once present but since removed, and, the issue of whether the void denotes something is obscured or it is lacking. It is necessary to detour via the earliest documented example of an imageless film - here defined by the presence of the camera yet the absence of the image. Walter Ruttman’s 1930 ‘Weekend’, is a work in which the filmmaker shot the streets of Berlin with lens cap firmly in place. Recording only the sounds of the city and the plastic surface of the cover, this split can be read in the lineage of Musique Concrete whose central motivation was the severance of sound and source. Ruttmen’s gesture shares auditory similarity with the work of Luc Ferrari and Pierre Schaffer’s earlier pieces and was itself broadcasted on the radio as well as screened. When confronted with an unstable image in the domain of filmmaking, the sound provides an authorial direction in it’s *almost* visible presence. Where Michel Chion, himself a colleague of Schaffer, posited the notion of power of acousmetre: the disembodied sound; it is in this exhibition that the image lacks a reliable body.
Dip to Black circles the notion of medium specificity through the haunting of imageness and the perceptible importance of sound in circumstances which render the image without a body. Each work selected points towards a different quality of absence with varying erasure techniques and intentions. What is consistent is the notion that the unstable image is both aesthetic and political. The technology of recording - of holding moving images in space-time, highlights the inconsistency of what we perceive versus what is documented. We are vulnerable to the reading of the image - a task that becomes increasingly complicated as computer generated imagery further disrupts the authority of the image; the additional layer of apparatus further mediating the projection of an idea. Deployable here is Flusser’s notion of techno-imagination, a kind of call to action in critical image literacy. Power, impermanence and deception are at play here.
ANTECHAMBER AND FINAL ROOM:
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Theatre Series, 1978-present.
Figure 1: Hiroshi Sugimoto, Cinerama Dome, Hollywood . Medium format black & white photograph, 1993
Sugimoto’s ongoing photographic series depict entire films in a single frame: photographs generated in empty theatres, drive throughs, and other sites of spectatorship. We see a glowing screen, empty seats and the architectural features of the space itself. Present is: the light of the projection, the missing bodies of the spectators, and the assumed body of the medium format camera and its operator. By photographing everything, Sugimoto has in fact produced an image of nothing except the imaging capabilities of his apparatus. He states: “the image was something that neither existed in the real world nor was it anything that I had seen. So who had seen it then? My answer: it was what the camera saw” (2016). These black-and-white, long-exposure photographs expand our perception of the photographic apparatus as integral to imagemaking (Flusser, 2011). These works self knowingly operate within Flusser’s “world of concepts” through the notion of the surface: “images signify – mainly something ‘out there’ in space and time that they have to make comprehensible to us as abstractions” (2011).
The instability of the filmic image depicted in Sugimoto’s photographs provides connective tissue to the relationship between filmic time and plasticity, precisely because the image is not moving. The notion of film as a unique medium that enables this experience of durational plasticity is problematised as these images in their stillness do not depict filmic time running in linear fashion, but the totality. Duration is vertical.
FIRST ON THE LEFT:
**please note - a holographic double of Frampton will perform as his substitute in his absence**
Hollis Frampton, A Lecture, 1968.
Frampton’s A Lecture begins and ends with the request to turn off or on the lights in the room. The condition of darkness is fastened to the practice of viewing. Performed in 1968 by the artist at Hunter College, New York, Frampton played the pre-recorded text (the voice of filmmaker Michael Snow), while operating a 16mm projector from the back of the room: illuminating a screen in its conventional location. Throughout the performance, interventions using a red gel and a pipe cleaner occurred.
In many ways, the magnetic pull of Frampton’s work is the incandescent disembodiment, positing the performer as a ‘precision machine’ subject to the apparatus. Meanwhile, in darkness, we are invited to remove our shoes “if that will help us remove our bodies” (2009). Tangentially, Frampton’s own displacement of his authorial voice through the adoption of Snow’s voice as his mouthpiece - not live but recorded - is further a testament to this corporeal splitting after-the-fact.
The glow of the white screen shares an aesthetic similarity with Sugimoto’s photographs:
“Our rectangle of white light is eternal… It is only a rectangle of white light. But it is all films. We can never see more within our rectangle, only less” (2009).
This particular interpretation of filmic practice at this particular moment can be expanded upon: several years earlier in 1965, Nam June Paik’s silent Zen for Film (in many ways, a visual companion to John Cage’s 4’33”) was screened. An empty film leader runs through a 16mm projector in an activity of inviting the viewer to look at nothing. There is an absolute and iconic dematerialisation of the image - what we see are particles of dust, scratches, effectively making visible, while the silence of the film allows us to hear the sound of the projector motor as a validation of a present corporeal contributor.
What Frampton’s lecture highlights, through the notion that a film is “anything that may be put into a projector”, is more than the material reality of the filmic apparatus (2009). His mouthpiece declares that “we have come to watch this”, an activity only possible with human eyes through the activity of light hitting a surface (2009). He shifts the focus of the filmic medium not as merely an object or image, but to the projector as a light source which enables us to see. Through absence, Frampton makes present the act of looking:
“The projector accelerates the small still pictures into movement. The single pictures, or frames, are invisible to our failing sense of sight, and nothing that happens on any one of them will strike our eye… Sight itself is learned.” (2009).
SECOND TO THE LEFT:
Sonia Boyce and Ain Bailey, Oh Adelaide, 2010.
Figure 2: Sonia Boyce and Ain Bailey, Oh Adeliade. Digital film (8 mins), 2010.
The question of visibility is central to Boyce and Bailey’s collaboration. Using found footage of singer and entertainer Adelaide Hall (1991-1993), there is a light; a dazzling ectoplasmic material presence which threatens to obliterate the singer. In the first instance, the reimagining of her image through erasure, can be read as a whitewashing: a literal gesture that makes visible the cultural erasure of black figures. Through making the image less distinct, the singer becomes a proxy; both a symptom and an emblem of the political act of forgetting. The ethereal Adelaide is estranged and appears dispossessed. The modified performance largely consists of wordless vocals, further obscured by Bailey’s haunting soundtrack. The absent-ing of the image is matched with an increased focus on the vibratory presence of the soundtrack. The sound itself even feels overly present, the mechanical industrial noise a device which further separates the internal rhythms of the body with its environment, as the archive separates from the subject.
Boyce defines the film as a digital mash-up in which sound and vision sit awkwardly side by side: “I decided to treat this digital footage as something elastic” (2013). The elasticity of the footage is in part due to its nature not only as something which is digital, but rather, something which has been digitised. The presence of the past through the unearthing of the archive lies at the core of the work, realised by Boyce and Bailey through the manipulation of this official document. Adelaide is reactivated and revived through techniques of digitisation in audiovisual domain. The glowing intervention, more than just destabilising the notion of history as-something-which-is-defined by an authority, makes noticeable the limited scope of practices of official remembering. What the archive is unable to find form for - the non-validated, the politically ‘forgettable’ - reveals the lapses of memory and cultural software.
It is as much a site of invisibility as visibility.
Martin Arnold, Deanimated, 2002.
Figure 3: Martin Arnold, Deanimated. Digital film (60 mins), 2002.
Where Boyce’s Oh Adelaide takes aesthetic pleasure in making visible the tools of vanishing, Martin Arnold’s approach in Deanimated is surgical. Taking the 1941 film The Invisible Ghost as the source material, the artist gradually vaporises all the characters, moving from presence to total absence. Through a series of interlocking voids, what we are left with are empty rooms, decontextualized objects, and silence. The remnants of action. The vaporisation is a getting-lost-in in the visibility of the filmic construct through, or, even as a result of, the invisibility of key players.
Remes notes that beyond the silencing of the characters through sonic means, Arnold uses editing techniques to weld their mouths shut - the muted and mutilated characters are constrained by digital tools so that, as the film progresses, both the characters and their voices are gradually ghosted (2020). There is an acousmatic separation primarily of the voice from the body through varying degrees of silencing, but also in (expanded in the language of medium specificity) of the alienation of content from the filmic body. The film concludes with 6 mins of complete blackness, punctuated by scratchy ambient sounds of the original - a cinematic auditory void. The ending, although severe, introduces an uncertainty of its presence - positing a similar question outlined by Frampaton: are we still viewers?
The source material - a horror b-movie - stars Bela Lugosi, better known for his iconic performance as Dracula in the 1931 film. The erasure of this iconic vampire is particularly appropriate as this gothic figure is defined by its lack. Therein lies the power, not only of the fictional character who is able to shapeshift and dislocate at will, but further as the most reproduced literary figure of all time. In this sense, Arnold’s film alludes to not so much the death of the image, but the un-death. It alludes to the iconic disappearance of Murnau’s Nosferatu, a cinematic dissolution: the editing evaporation and ultimate medium specific death of a monster through cross-dissolve.
Diego Marcon, Monelle, 2017
Figure 4: Diego Marcon, Monelle. Installation view of 35mm film (17 mins), 2017.
Monelle is perceived, rather than seen. It is a bodily experience. We spend a lengthy duration of the 35mm film in the dark, anticipating the image. The 4:3 projection, complete with rounded corners, gestures towards the filmic format past - a similar encounter with the archive-as-concept explored by Boyce. Our confrontation with the sound is synchronised with sudden flashes of images depicting a series of sleeping adolescent girls and uneasy supporting characters dwelling in the iconic Italian modernist building, La Casa del Fascio. The rhythm of illumination is clockwork-ed, materialising with precision as if from behind the black screen, in the same way a character in a horror genre film might be confronted with a monster in the darkened corners. This meticulousness of timing does little to comfort the viewer, but rather introduces a tone of inevitability in the guaranteed appearance of the vignettes. The austere and severe architectural space is in many ways the protagonist of the film, haunting the viewer in a similar way to Arnold’s emptied images. Despite the formal architecture of visibility - in which the previous inhabitants could monitor each other's work in panopticon fashion - the space becomes almost virtual as, rather than coming to an understanding of the layout of the building (achieved in conventional cinema through continuity editing), we are disoriented, severed.
This power play is enhanced in the uncertainty of the image-flash which appears so briefly, the viewer is seldom able to make sense of it. It is uncomfortable to be a witness. The effect is that of an after-image which haunts the darkness through its false presence. Through this, Monelle deals with the issue of what we see and what we believe. The way in which we construct images is further interrogated through the combination of the ‘real’ performances of the stationary sleeping girls and contrasting movement of computer generated characters. In the moment, they are hard to distinguish as the two distinct modes of image making that they are - a ‘real’ celluloid presence versus ‘synthetic’ encounter. If, following Delueze’s assessment, we agree that the use of black or white screen demonstrates that “what is important is no longer the association of images…but the interstice between two images”, we become less certain when reading CGI moving images (2005). Where moving-image shot on film (or digitally for that matter) is a series of still images with a marked gap between frames, computer generated imagery can infinitely produce material to fill this latent space.
The coexistence of these techniques of making visible foregrounds the increasing distrust of images in contemporary culture. Moreover, the use of the flash as a revelatory gesture points towards the apparatus in a similar way to Sugimoto’s Theatre Series, albeit in a much more sinister fashion. This is a film about filmic techniques and attitudes. The use of rapid dip to black does not evoke a lack, but an overbearing presence; reinforced by the slippage of aliveness which is replicated in the soundtrack, seeping beyond the image into the void in a flurry of oscillating diegetic and seemingly non-diegetic sounds. Exhibited as a loop, there disappeared a concrete sense of the beginning or end, further enhancing the plasticity of filmic time as the core of dip to black deployment.
Gilad Baram and Adam Kaplan, The Disappeared, 2018
Figure 5: Gilad Baram and Adam Kaplan, The disappeared. Digital film (46 mins), 2018.
Described as an experimental documentary, this film gives an account of an unreleased feature Hane’elam (2000) produced by an officer of the Israeli army. The original film was subject to censorship before it’s completion for drawing attention to the rising number of suicides among soldiers. As noted on the artist’s website, the disappeared, disappeared. What remains are the memories of the participating crew, actors and extras, many of whom were ex-soldiers themselves, providing the source material for this work. This runs in parallel with Sonia Boyce’s treatment of the undead-archive in Oh Adelaide.
No images are present. Through the use of voiceover and subtitles, the work leans on the imagination of the viewer, guided by the soundscape. The formal aesthetic qualities emerge from the difficulty of showing what is a hypothetical - the filmic if: “we wrestled with the question of how to represent something that can’t be seen” (Baram, 2018). This reliance on imagination gestures towards the final notion of a specific narrative experience in film. While, on the one hand, there is not a technical separation from writing as a medium which elicits an imaginative experience, however, the framing of this work as a film complicates our relationship to the image in the filmic space, making us aware of the role of the imaginary agent. As a witness.
The use of black screen amplifies not only the censorship of the original film project on which this documentary is based, but the censorship of the subject. It is a political act which makes the viewer in the film complicit in rendering these images visible using their imagination. The visible emptiness of the screen contrasts with the rich, detailed recollections of people involved in the original filmic project: contradictory, misremembered moments. Meanwhile, the castrated, translated and subtitled voices of the various protagonists further displace.
In many ways, this film can be opened up by reading it in parallel with Guy Debord’s first feature 1952 Hurlements en faveur de Sade. In this film, alternating black and white screens accompany an aggressively chaotic audiotrack assaulting ‘spectators’ with graphic language depicting war, murder, rape and suicide, comprised of a wide range of repurposed moments ranging from John Ford’s Rio Grande to the French Civic Code . This film concluded with 24 minutes of silence and blackness - a final gesture of vacating which must have been somewhat appreciated. The use of the absent image, far from relieving us from the excess, renders us imaginative workers in this relationship.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, Theatre Series, 1978-present.
Hollis Frampton, A Lecture, 1968.
Sonia Boyce and Ain Bailey, Oh Adelaide, 2010.
Martin Arnold, Deanimated, 2002.
Diego Marcon, Monelle, 2017.
viewed at Sadie Coles, 2023. More information and interview: https://www.sadiecoles.com/video/632-diego-marcon-in-conversation-with-alessandro-rabottini/
Gilad Baram and Adam Kaplan, The Disappeared, 2018.
viewed at ICA Frames of Representation, 2019. Extract: http://giladbaram.net/the-disappeared/
Walter Ruttman, Weekend, 1930.
Nam June Paik, Zen for Film, 1954.
Guy Debord, Hurlements en faveur de Sade, 1952.
Hito Steyerl, How not to be seen, 2013
Shilina-Conte, Tatiana, This video does not exist, 2015
Jane and Louise Wilson, Stasi City, 1997
Tony Conrad, The Flicker, 1966
Elisa Caldana, Topography of Terror, 2017,
Hollis Frampton, (nostalgia), 1971, 38 mins
Nam June Paik, Zen for Film, 1965
Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone, 1973
Gilad Baram and Adam Kaplan, The Disappeared, 2018
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