THE QUESTION:
Are Artists the Innovators of Cinema?

Classical cinema seems to be dissolving. Not only is a younger generation increasingly watching films on smart phones and tablet screens, many film talents now work for television, and today art-house movies are shown on TV. At the same time, more and more Hollywood actors are appearing in elaborate art productions. But: Are artists really innovating cinema?

Benjamin Heisenberg
Film director, Berlin, Photo: Franziska Krug
Benjamin Heisenberg

I don’t think that the exchange between the visual arts, film, literature, and theater is much stronger than it used to be. Strategies of nonlinear narrative and performative effect logic were used back in the 1920s, in Buñuel’s day, as well as in feature films and series in the 1970s and 1980s. Conversely, filmic strategies for image design and montage have constantly been incorporated in the visual arts. Since film production became easier and more universities started teaching different art forms in parallel, there have of course been more people working both in the art context and on feature and documentary films, including Weerasethakul, Serra, Corbijn, Farocki, and others. I myself also have this two-track background as I studied both sculptor and feature film. The same is true of curators and program makers who are at home in many worlds between film, theater, literature, and the visual arts. That was less common before the 1990s and it surely has to do with the fact that a kind of creative class has grown that floats internationally between institutions, art genres, financing forms, and cities and has found its own success model in this.
For films and series that are not as elitist as the international art market, however, it is also true that only a small part of viewers are open to narrative forms that radically turn away from classical narrative logic, in other words from “hooks,” “plant and payoff,” from identification, psychological narrative, and drama as a basis. Therefore, viewers’ puzzlement due to new narrative elements or unexpected strategies is always well measured and clearly in the service of a narrative.
For me as a storyteller it was never decisive how modern or contemporary a form of expression is. I simply ask myself what this form of expression can do for me personally and how it fits in with my work—regardless of whether it happens to be running today in a Nestlé advertising clip or was painted 10,000 years ago on the wall of a cave.




Cao Fei
Artist, Beijing, © BMW AG Photo Myrzik und Jarisch
Cao Fei

First of all, not all artists want to show their videos at movie theaters or bring them out as mainstream films. Naturally, many artists want to make films, and many—like myself—are inclined toward narrative.
Among commercial films there are hardly any explicitly experimental films. These are still found under the label of art films and independent film productions. There are some truly outstanding American TV series that can hold their own against big commercial film productions in terms of production, theme, and conception. The trend toward diversification is obvious.
What we understand as “film” is presented in all kinds of channels and platforms in myriad media. Cinema’s supreme position is waning. It is being replaced by the Internet, computer screens, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. If we are interested in a film by an important director, on the Internet we can quickly find a link to all his or her films. A few days after a new blockbuster comes out it can be watched on a pay-TV channel. Therefore, we are gradually losing our desire for “film.” It is so easy to watch them, buy them, download them, store them, and collect them.
Is it the artist’s task to revive the world of film? Since any of us can make films with our cell phones, film is experiencing a democratic liberation. On the one hand, the amount of information and images transmitted is expanding at an incredible speed. On the other, they are being forgotten just as quickly. That is not only true of film, but also applies to many other areas of life. How can we filter out the best information (including the best films) from this overwhelming offer? Hopefully in the future this will not become a search for a needle in a haystack.




Douglas Gordon
Artist, Berlin, Photo: Martin Hunter
Douglas Gordon

what do you want

from me?

time?

space?

darkness?

light?

escape?

closure?

an end?

Dgx














Keren Cytter
Artist, New York, Courtesy: the artist
Keren Cytter

These are two different industries that, as far as I can remember, no one has really tied together. There are some artists who work as Hollywood (or European) directors but are not the authors of their own films. And there are others who do write their own cinema films but adjust them to the rules of cinema (focusing on a specific genre and using conventional production methods). On the other hand, there are many artists who are using cinematic language or borrowing Hollywood stars to criticize or praise the world of cinema, but they have no apparent influence on cinema itself. When an artist is exhibiting his own feature film at a film festival, he’s presented in a special section that is separated from the main festival selections. These sections address art consumers and curious crowds that are interested in art.
There are some notable film directors who are breaking the rules of cinema and experimenting with its language. Those filmmakers are presented with the main selections at film festivals and attract large audiences, but they are not taking part in the art world. They are not preparing videos especially for galleries and museums. I think there’s a great connection between art and cinema, but a true homogenous interaction doesn’t exist.




Raphael Gygax
Curator, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zürich & Frieze Projects, London, Photo: Nicolas Duc
Raphael Gygax

The possible assumption that there’s a “renewal” from the visual arts for cinema implies that there something like a “pure cinema,” that needs “renewal” because it’s isolated, on its own. It’s not—it’s polyamorous from the very beginning. I see “art” as a whole. If we look at art and film history you see very early on important reciprocal influences, hybridizations; “Absolute film” from the 1920s, e.g. Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, and Oskar Fischinger, influencing later Disney animation or Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) with its expressionist stage sets. The list goes on and on. The other way around I see influence from Hollywood editing and storytelling in contemporary novels by Bret Easton Ellis to Sibylle Berg. Or I see Ryan Trecartin’s hyper-speed films echoed in film productions like Sean Baker’s Tangerine (2015). A wonderful pluralist world of art!



















Maike Mia Höhne
Curator, Berlinale Shorts 2017, Berlin & Jury "MACHT KUNST! city video future", Photo: Konstanze Habermann
Maike Mia Höhne

The development of cinema and narratives in film is inconceivable without kinetics, without artists like Birgit and Wilhelm Hein, Michael Snow and Hans Richter, to name but a few, who expanded the framework of the visible on the screen by adding the experience of the corporeal to this frame of reference. Bas Jan Ader investigated the moment of falling as though in a continuation of kinetic movement. The kinetic painting of Carolee Schneemann added the coveted body to the screen. The conjugation of the polyphonic narrative and variations of viewing stereotypical attributions, the interruption of the narrative with the means of artistic intervention—these are instruments of the future for cinema. Narrative needs a different perspective. The view of the artist is inherent to a different perspective. Twenty-first-century kinetics thinks along with the cinema as a place—film is strategy, communication, and distribution, film is the ephemeral in the glue of social relationships. The ephemeral has overtaken the concrete.













Wolf Bauer
Producer and former managing director UFA, Berlin
Wolf Bauer

Cinema is and remains the medium of grand narration. Nowadays it is supplemented by online and high-end dramas. Artists set new impulses in the visual language and help us implement new themes adequately.