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Malcolm Le Grice is a key theorist and artist in this field, his conceptual art comes from the same base of thoughts as his academic writings and as a filmmaker, rather than an installation artist, his work interrogates the conventional passivity of a cinema audience member in the context of an alternative arena. Aiming to create a more active and participatory experience – re-imagining the possibilities for film projection as a live event – Le Grice’s work tries to create experiences that “emerge from sensation from colour, image, sound, movement and time” (Le Grice, 2005) and distances these experiences from the conventions of mainstream cinema. Yet the features of cinema often shadow over in his work; but there are present a deconstructed form.

“If the general and overwhelming experience of cinema is one that represents coherent narrative space, then Le Grice’s work tends to disavow the capacity for the transparency upon which cinema depends. His exploration of printing and projection is ‘anti-illusory’ and illuminates many of the elements of cinema that usually remain hidden.” (Payne, 2005)

It is this emphasis on and use of the constructive elements of cinema that forges his work into the customs of expanded cinema. He uses the identity of cinema, reveals its workings to the audience but then altering them to result in an unsettling of the audience’s conventional viewing mentality.
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Castle 1 (1966) (figure 1) forms as an emblematic attack on audience passivity and their viewer experience. On the front of it the installation is a straightforward film watching experience, with the projected film on one wall of the gallery and rows of chairs for the viewers to sit directly in front of it; the space is thus laid out in much the same way as a conventional cinema. However, the most evident feature of the installation is a bare light bulb that hangs barely away from the wall and directly in front and center of the screen. Flashing intermittently during the film it’s light obliterates the projection and illuminates the audience. With the bulb on the audience become aware of themselves and each other as light is cast across them and the feature that the collective audience creates becomes a sight to consider as much as the film itself. The light bulb virtually blocks the viewer’s ability to watch, its too bright, and the viewer almost wants to look away, breaking their connection with the screen and reconnecting with their body and surrounding space. Its an opposite of the breaking of the fourth wall, the flash of the bulb puts back up the fourth wall of real life before turning off and taking it away again reveal the void to the elsewhere and elsewhen.

Castle 1 (1965)

Figure 1: Castle 1 (1965)


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The piece brings the body to the forefront, not by its physical use specifically, but by an aim to reveal the audience and their watching state to themselves; turning the gaze back on the audience thus making them self-spectators, obliged to consider the nature of their own situation. Le Grice’s own description of the piece points out the importance of the issues raising light bulb: “the awareness of the audience is returned to their actual situation (viewing a film by reference to the bulb) and the perceptual problems which it’s flashing creates.” (Le Grice, 1970). The problems of not being able to see the screen reveals to the audience the illusion of the film and thus makes the audience’s relationship to the film/screen the subject of the work.

“The light bulb was a Brechtian device to make the spectator aware of himself. I don’t like to think of an audience in the mass, but of the individual observer and his behaviour. What he goes through while he watches is what the film is about. I’m interested in the way the individual constructs variety from his perceptual intake.”
 (Le Grice, 1971)

Le Grice’s attack on the audience through the use of a Brechtian device is to effect the individual viewer to construct for them an alternative perception on the space. Castle 1 is essentially following Merleau-Ponty’s theory that “in order to see the world and grasp it as paradoxical, we must break with our familiar acceptance of it” (Merleau-Ponty, 2002 [1945], p. xiv), in that by the bulb flashing the reality of the situation is revealed. From the first person point of view, the light bulb creates a new physical space for the viewer to interact with and the experience in this space can entirely alter the viewer in their watching of the film. As Nicky Hamlyn’s analysis of Castle 1 discusses “the effect of the light bulb is not only to break the spell of cinema, but potentially to offer the audience an alternative experience. [The audience], silhouetted or half-lit, become part of an audiovisual experience in which they are participant-observers.” (Hamlyn, 2003, p. 44) This elusion to the viewer becoming an active participator within the piece places the question on the role of the viewer and place Courchesne’s theories of transforming ‘spectator into visitor’ within a live projection event. With a change in the physical surroundings of the viewer, the body perceives surroundings that change the way the body act and the mind interprets. The viewer becomes a spectator; watching a unique event by the other members of the audience who could each react differently to the flashing light bulb. The alienation of the audience becomes the overriding experience of the film watching; their presence and how they are revealed in turn effects the way they perceive and experience the piece.
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www.youtube.com/castle-one

www.youtube.com/mlegrice

www.luxonline.org.uk/malcolm-le-grice

www.studycollection.co.uk/legrice

Abstract Film and Beyond

Experimental Cinema in The Digital Age

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Hamlyn, N. (2003). Film Art Phenomena. London: British Film Institute.

Le Grice, M. (1970). Malcolm Le Grice: Castle 1. Retrieved 3 19, 2013 from Luxonline: http://www.luxonline.org.uk/artists/malcolm_le_grice/castle_1.html

Le Grice, M. (1971, February). Films and Filming .

Le Grice, M. (2005). Malcolm Le Grice. Retrieved 3 29, 2013 from Lux Online: http://www.luxonline.org.uk/artists/malcolm_le_grice/index.html

Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002 [1945]). Phenomenology of Perception. (C. Smith, Trans.) London: Routledge Classics.

Payne, S. (2005). Malcolm Le Grice: Featured Essay: 3. Critical Cinema. Retrieved 3 29, 2013 from Lux Online: http://www.luxonline.org.uk/artists/malcolm_le_grice/essay(3).html

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