File Note 75: Film in Space: An exhibition of film and expanded cinema selected by Guy Sherwin - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Guy Sherwin



Film in Space Images References Quote Biography Credits

Film in Space

Film, as distinct from video, is like paint; it’s a tactile material that can be used to make powerful spatial illusions. In painting, light reflects off the surface of the material; in film, light passes through the material and reflects off a surface at a distance. As a painter-turned-film-artist I’ve worked with both painting and film as flat material and as illusory space, most often in the same work. I’ve found this contradiction to be a powerful dynamic.

However, to think about the three-dimensional space of a gallery is quite a new experience for me. And space is the central question of this exhibition; for how can a work of expanded cinema, originally made as live performance of finite duration, be re-configured to the space of a gallery to be viewed as an ongoing, cyclical installation? What happens to the work and how is it changed by this process? 1

The term ‘expanded cinema’ has several possible meanings.2 Here, I refer primarily to the movement that had a strong influence on my practice when I began working with film in the early 1970s. This was the exciting, inventive, rigorous and sometimes spectacular work being made at the London Filmmakers’ Co operative (LFMC). Films were made as live projection events, often using multiple 16mm projectors. They were performed in alternative spaces that largely bypassed the film world and the art world. It was my involvement with this movement, and my reluctance to abandon film in these digital times, that led to the invitation to be artist/curator for this exhibition. The challenge was there in the invitation: ‘to curate a gallery exhibition of expanded cinema’. 

Reflecting my own film practice, the curation of this show has been an evolutionary process that passed through many stages, traces of which can be found in the exhibition. An early working title Film as Transducer featured Steve Farrer’s 10 Drawings (1976) as a prime example of a work that crosses media boundaries – drawings that are transformed by the film projector into moving images and into ‘optical’ sounds (sounds made from light). Here, six of the ten drawings are projected alongside darkroom prints made directly from the drawings. A conversation with Annabel Nicolson led me to an article by David Curtis [David Curtis in Nicholas Cullinan (ed.) FILM  Tacita Dean, Tate (2011)] in which he describes his experience of projecting a hand-painted film by Len Lye and ‘the extraordinary transformative power of the projector’. This became the focus of the first part of Gallery 1, i.e. how the tactile, material stuff of film gets transformed into moving shadows, and sometimes into sounds too; these processes are partly explained by the manner in which the works are exhibited. Annabel’s hand-printed film Slides (1971) is shown next to a separate print of the film that the viewer can wind by hand across a light-box. My own film Newsprint (1972/2012) is projected onto a table near which hangs the original roll of newspaper/film that it was printed from, complete with optical soundtrack. A different kind of transformation takes place through the process of rubbing shellac-coated silk, enabling Rob Mullender in Eidola Series – Debrie Contact Printer (2012) to transform the solid industrial film-printer (on which the above-mentioned films were made) into a flat surface. Also in this gallery are two photographic filmstrips from Clawless Bolex (1978 – 9), Steve Farrer’s study for his remarkable The Machine (1978). The film was made by removing the claw and shutter from a cine-camera to record the landscape rolling past a train window.

The key question of this exhibition Film in Space is most evident in the second part of Gallery 1 and the adjacent Gallery 2: how much of what Lucy Reynolds describes as ‘expanded cinema’s beguiling combination of radical intent and visual spectacle’ [Lucy Reynolds in Tate Etc. Issue 25 (Summer 2012)] would survive the transformation of these performative works into cyclical installations, bearing in mind that in some instances, it includes a change to a different projection format? 3 Each of these galleries will feature a single work of expanded cinema for three weeks before changing to another (a total of six works). All the works were made on film.  Four are from the 1960s and 1970s and were made for live projection. They were films that made a big impact on me when I first saw them. Malcolm Le Grice’s Castle  1 (1966), known as the ‘light bulb film’, has been re-constructed here as an installation that includes paintings and other objects, as previously exhibited in 1968. William Raban’s Diagonal (1973) for three projectors; the original idea used a single roll of film passing through each projector in turn. Pan Film (1972) by Gill Eatherley is a classic of filmic economy; three shots, day and night, positive and negative, across three screens. Together with Annabel Nicolson these artists occasionally performed under the title Filmaktion. Chris Welsby’s trio of wind-assisted films is a further example of transduction, in this case camera functions controlled by forces of nature. In Anemometer (1974) wind-speed controls the speed of film through the camera, the faster the wind blows, the slower the on-screen effect. In the two-screen Wind Vane (1972) and Tree (1974) the wind-direction shifts the framing of the camera.

The two other works in these galleries are more recent and were designed from the outset as installations. Steve Farrer’s ambitious Good Night Ladies (1999) is shown for the first time projected onto a large back projection screen that forms one wall of a corridor from which the film is viewed. This is the first time it has been shown in this way.4 It was shot using a loop of 35mm film that cycles ten times through the camera, thereby layering a continuous action into a spiral of time. For Song of Grief and Bore Song (both 2011) Louisa Fairclough stretches long loops of clear film across the space using the light of 16mm film projectors in combination with the analogue power of the projectors’ optical sound.

Expanded cinema is live performance and for the Artists’ Studio, artist Lynn Loo has compiled a two-hour selection from documentary video recordings that she made since arriving in England from Singapore in 2004. Lynn was surprised that much of the work she was so struck by was not being recorded. Many of her recordings, which include works of her own, 5 were made overseas and point to the international dimension of expanded cinema.

Annabel Nicolson’s early work in film led to some remarkable, ephemeral performances in which the transient quality of light was a crucial factor. Many of these performances are too difficult to re-create without Annabel’s presence now and were impossible to capture as documentary. 6 Her later work extended into areas such as writing, the voice and weaving. The Reading Room provides a space for Annabel’s work and ideas through words and images.

Lucy Reynolds was commissioned to make a new film installation and designed it specifically for the Central Space. Lucy previously conducted research into Annabel’s work and her new piece carries forward some of the ideas concerning women and language as well as light and projection. For Anthology (2012) she has invited 17 women artists who work with language and text 7 to come up with an idea for a film, to be made into looped film projections that change at weekly intervals throughout the show.

Both the Reading Room and the Central Space are bright spaces lit by skylights (Camden Arts Centre used to be a library). I wanted to keep as much daylight as possible in the show and this had a bearing on the works selected for Gallery 3, the theme of which eventually emerged as Light, Colour, Painting. It provided a nice opportunity for me to re-connect with my origins as a painter and to show Painted Screen (1970 – 2012) a work that I made as a student in 1970 but which has not been shown publicly; it’s a transitional work, halfway between painting and film. In the original version pure colour frames of Standard 8 film were projected onto a painting. Another combination of paint and film is in Angela Allen and Nicky Hamlyn’s Correspondences (both 2011) two connected works with the same title. Nicky’s 16mm film is a re structuring in time of Angela’s painting in four parts. They are shown alongside each other. Process-based, materialist works such as these share the phenomenological and perceptual concerns of expanded cinema. This approach continues in the work of a younger generation of artists that includes Simon Payne. His digital video Window Piece (2012) was commissioned for the show and designed specifically for the end window of Gallery 3. An analytical and perceptual approach to the digital image is also found in the paintings of Dan Hays whose Late Snow (2011) and First Light (2012) require viewing up close and at a distance. In a different way Nicky Hamlyn’s Risoni (2005) examines the granular structure of film (and pasta) using two 16mm film loops that pass together through a single projector. One of the loops is one frame (1/24 sec.) longer than the other, so exact repetition of the ten-second loops happens only every 42 minutes. Denise Hawrysio and Emma Hart work directly with light. Denise’s Score for Future Performance (1989/2012) features a transparent book on a transparent stand, lit by a fluctuating studio light as well as light from a window. In Emma Hart’s Blind (2006/2012), light from a slide projector alternately passes through, and is blocked by, the opening and closing of a motorised Venetian blind.  

The programme of live performances of expanded cinema includes, with help from Lucy Reynolds, a re-enactment of Annabel Nicolson’s Precarious Vision (1973) and Neil Henderson will present his projection event for 50 8mm projectors Black and Light Movie (2002/2012). 

I imagine that some curators prefer to maintain a sense of mystery about their choices, but for this exhibition, as in my own art practice, I have sought a dialogue between the work as seen in front of you and an understanding of how it was made (and in this case selected).

For these ‘reflexive’ works, the work really lies in the relation between the specific material processes and the ‘finished’ piece. 8 Here the medium of film is crucial since it leaves traces that are absent from digital video. Images are formed through certain processes and that affects our understanding of them (in a similar way our attention to a piece of music can be altered by knowing that a ‘cello-like’ sound is, in fact, produced by a computer). 9

Having little time to research new works it was necessary to select from what I already knew. Included are works by several of my contemporaries, artists I grew up with that influenced my practice (but who are still, regrettably, relatively unknown to the art-world). I singled out works that might adapt well to a gallery space, or even suggest new possibilities for them – I was curious how these would look. Not wishing to entirely black-out the beautiful spaces of Camden Arts Centre to create a featureless walk-through space, I looked for films and projections that could survive in a partly-lit environment alongside wall-mounted works such as paintings – for expanded cinema has strong connections to other material art practices. I wanted to include more recent developments (such as the two commissions: one film, one video) by a younger generation of artists. 10 Finally, although expanded cinema is very much an international movement, I limited my choices to artists working in this country. 

Regarding my own work the exhibition includes adaptations of two of my films from the early 1970s: in Painted Screen (1970/2012), described earlier as a transitional work, the screen is an enlargement of a small gouache sketch from that year, with a digital projection transferred directly from the original Standard 8 film. Newsprint (1972/2012) was made without a camera by sticking newspaper directly onto clear film. It is part of an extended enquiry into optical sound (sounds made from light) that I began in the 1970s and resumed in the 2000s under the heading Live Cinema, often performing in collaboration with Lynn Loo. Lynn’s documentary section of the exhibition includes an extract from Cycles #3 (2003) for two projectors and optical sound; also from Vowels & Consonants (2006–), our joint performance using six projectors, which we perform as ‘instruments’, often in collaboration with musicians.11 Also included are extracts from recent performances of Paper Landscape (1975–) and Man with Mirror (1976–), both live projections in which I interact directly with projected film of myself. 12

It became clear in the course of preparing this exhibition and contacting the various artists, how vulnerable much of the work is. Some films were initially hard to locate or were in varying states of preservation. Steve Farrer had to re-make 500 splices in his film 10 Drawings for it to run through the printing machine. Gill Eatherley had no negatives for Pan Film that matched her projection print – the only copy in existence, and badly scratched.

Furthermore, during the preparation of this exhibition another big film laboratory, Cineco in the Netherlands, closed; and we were obliged to find an alternative lab at short notice. As commercial operations become unviable and film passes from being a medium identified with the film industry to a medium of fine art, the significance of the archival and artist-run labs, such as in London, WORM in Rotterdam and Double Negative in Montreal, increases.

Today, the use of film as material is in a process of redefining itself against the dominant background of the digital world. The supposedly imminent extinction of film is an over-hasty (and commercially invested) dismissal of a medium of extraordinary visual richness and continuing relevance. 13

Angela Allen (b. 1948, London) is a painter who lives and works in London. She studied Fine Art at Wimbledon School of Art and received an MA from Coventry University.

Painting in four parts:
Correspondence, blue and orange,
2011, Oil on canvas
Correspondence, red and green,
2011, Oil on canvas
Correspondence, yellow and purple,
2011, Oil on canvas
Correspondence, black and white,
2011, Oil on canvas

Gill Eatherley (b. Central Africa) is a film and performance artist. She studied at St. Martin’s School of Art and Royal College of Art and began making films in 1971 as a member of the LMFC. She lives in France.

Pan Film 1972, Three simultaneous 16mm film projections (8 mins. each), shot in Winchester.

Louisa Fairclough (b. 1972, East Sussex) is an artist, filmmaker and curator. She studied at Slade School of Fine Art and lives and works in Bristol.

Song of Grief 2011, Two 16mm film loops (variable length)

Bore Song 2011, Single 16mm film loop projected onto glass (28 secs.); Purchased through the Contemporary Art Society’s Acquisitions Scheme for Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, 2012.

Steve Farrer (b. 1951, Manchester)  is a visual artist and experimental filmmaker living and working in London. He studied Fine Art at N.E.L.P and Film at the Royal College of Art.

10 drawings (6 of 10) 1976, 16mm film projection (20 mins.)
10 drawings (6 of 10) 1976, Photograms, framed
Footage from Clawless Bolex  c.1985, Photogram made from film footage
Good Night Ladies 1999, 35mm film transferred to HD video (2 mins.)

Nicky Hamlyn (b. 1954, London)is a film artist and writer. He studied Fine Art at Reading University. He is professor of Experimental Film at the University for the Creative Arts, Maidstone, Kent and a visiting lecturer to the Royal College of Art.

Risoni 2005, Two film loops of 249 and 250 frames long, shown simultaneously through one 16mm projector (10 secs. each)
Correspondences 2011, 16mm film projection (15 mins.)

Emma Hart (b. 1974, London) is an artist based in London. She graduated from MA Fine Art at the Slade in 2004 and is currently researching her PhD at Kingston University.

Blind 2006/2012, Motorised blind, slide projector with Kodak 26mm lens. Courtesy the artist and Matt’s Gallery, London.

Dan Hays (b. 1966, London) is a painter. He studied Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London and received his PhD from Kingston University in 2012.

Late Snow 2011, Oil on canvas, 122 163cm
First Light 2012, Oil on canvas, 180 240cm

Denise Hawrysio (b. 1957, Toronto) is a visual artist currently living in London. She received her BFA from Queen’s University, Canada and MFA from San Francisco Art Institute.

Score for Future Performance 1989/2012
Acetate book & Perspex plinth, spotlight and dimmer rack

Malcolm Le Grice (b. 1940, Plymouth) is an artist, writer and founding member of the LFMC. He began to make film and computer works in the mid-1960s. He is a Professor Emeritus of University of the Arts London and co-director of British Artists’ Film & Video Study Collection.

Castle 1 1966, Installation composed of: 16mm film transferred to HD video (22 mins.); lightbulb; paintings and other artefacts

Lynn Loo (b. Singapore) is a film artist living in London. She graduated from The Art Institute of Chicago in 2001 and moved to London in 2004. She works in video, celluloid film and multiple projection performance.

Expanded cinema documentary extracts, 2004 – 2012, Recorded by Lynn Loo. Two, one-hour long DVDs played alternately every three weeks

Rob Mullender (b. 1971, Exeter) lives in London. He is an artist working in sound, sculpture, 2D, moving image, text and performance. His works are linked by a preoccupation with sound, and its seemingly limitless variety of roles in how we know and shape the world.

Eidola Series – Debrie Contact Printer 2012
Rubbing (shellac on silk)
With thanks to lab

Annabel Nicolson (b. 1946, London) is a visual and performance artist working across a variety of media. She studied at Edinburgh School of Art and St. Martin’s School of Art. During the 1970s she was involved with the LFMC, where she developed a unique series of expanded film performances, and where she was cinema programmer. She is a co-founder of Circles, the Women Artist Filmmakers’ distribution organisation. She lives in Scotland.

Slides 1971, 16mm film projection (16 mins.)
Slides 1971, Slides on hand wound viewer
Archival installation, various documentation

Simon Payne (b. 1975, Southampton) is a video artist and writer. He studied Time Based Media at the Kent Institute of Art and Design, Maidstone and Electronic Imaging at Duncan of Jordanstone, Dundee. He received a PhD from the Royal College of Art in 2008.

Window Piece 2012, Site-specific looping video projection

William Raban (b. 1948, Fakenham) started making films whilst he was a painting student at St. Martin’s School of Art in 1970. He has made over 40 films, many of which have London as their subject.

Diagonal 1973, Three simultaneous 16mm film projections (5 mins. each)

Lucy Reynolds (b. 1966, London)
is a writer, artist and independent film programmer, whose doctorate research explores British expanded cinema.

Anthology 2012, A collective film work including Ami Clarke, Annabel Frearson, Lizzie Hughes, Gil Leung, Liliane Lijn, Sharon Kivland, Hélène Martin, Annabel Nicolson, Sharon Morris, Sally O’Reilly, Clunie Reid, Lis Rhodes, Audrey Reynolds, Cherry Smyth, Erika Tan, Anne Tallentire and Sarah Tripp

Guy Sherwin

Newsprint 1972/2012, Installation for 16mm film projector, table (5 mins.)
Newsprint 1972, Original roll of newspaper film
Painted Screen 1970/2012, DV loop projected onto printed screen, transferred from Standard 8 film projected onto painted screen

Chris Welsby (b. 1948, Exeter) is a film and digital media artist currently living in Canada. He studied at Chelsea School of Art and the Slade School of Art, and was an early member of the LFMC.

Wind Vane 2 1972, 16mm film transferred to HD video, two simultaneous projections (8 mins. each).
Anemometer 1974, 16mm film projection (10 mins.)
Tree Fragment 1974, 16mm film projection (4 mins.)

As well as performances by Steven Ball, Neil Henderson, Rob Mullender, Marcus Orlandi, Ruth Proctor, Lucy Reynolds, Duncan White and Laura Wilson


1 For different reasons a few of the artists have chosen to show their original films on digital video. This raises further questions: to what extent is it the same piece? It’s like the philosophical question about the hammer: if you change the head of the hammer and then the handle of the hammer, is it the same hammer? And does it matter?

2 ‘Expanded cinema’ is also a term that can suggest a visionary technological futurism (Youngblood, 1970). For this exhibition I refer not only to the work of the London Filmmakers’ Co-operative (LFMC), the ad hoc group Filmaktion, Anthony McCall, etc. but also to later incarnations such as Housewatch and Loophole Cinema in the UK, Tony Conrad, Ken Jacobs and Michael Snow in North America and more recently Metamkine in France, Greg Pope in Norway and many others. What these groups and individuals have in common is that their work is performative, to be performed live to an assembled audience and almost always in the dark.

3 The films Good Night Ladies, Castle 1 and Wind Vane are shown here on digital video.

4 Although it has yet to be shown according to his original intention.

5 …and mine too! Since combining forces with Lynn we have found new ways of performing with live 16mm projection, examples of which are included.

6 Among them was Reel Time (1973) featuring a film projector, a sewing machine and a loop of film (see cover image). This performance made a big impression on me, no doubt inspiring my own live interactions with film and the material of projection, for example Paper Landscape (1975).

7 A collective film work by Lucy Reynolds including Ami Clarke, Annabel Frearson, Lizzie Hughes, Gil Leung, Liliane Lijn, Sharon Kivland, Hélène Martin, Annabel Nicolson, Sharon Morris, Sally O’Reilly, Clunie Reid, Lis Rhodes, Audrey Reynolds, Cherry Smyth, Erika Tan, Anne Tallentire and Sarah Tripp.

8 For some artists a work is never ‘finished’ but always ‘provisional’ or ongoing.

9 This formed part of the argument behind Tacita Dean’s polemical exhibition and book FILM, Tate Modern (2011), in which she argues that celluloid film must be given equal status to digital film.

10 And I was pleased that several artists chose to update their works specifically for the exhibition.

11 See also my book and DVD Guy Sherwin: Optical Sound Films 1971 – 2007 LUX (2007).

12 16mm has important performative advantages over video. It is a raw medium and more direct: switch on, the projector comes on, switch off, the projector goes off. This doesn’t happen with video! And of course the quality of light is entirely different.

13 One thing that will ensure film’s survival is that it’s by far the safest archival medium of the moving image. A film, if stored well, can last at least a hundred years whereas the digital moving image must be transferred to the most recent format every few years; a never-ending logistical and financial burden.

David Curtis in Nicholas Cullinan (ed.) FILM  Tacita Dean, Tate (2011)

Chrissie Iles (curator) Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art, 1964 – 1977 (exhibition catalogue) Whitney Museum of American Art (2001)

Matthias Michalka (curator) X-screen: Film Installations and Actions in the 1960s and 1970s (exhibition catalogue) Museum Moderner Kunst, Austria, Walther König (2004)

A.L. Rees, David Curtis, Duncan White, Steven Ball (eds.) Expanded Cinema: Art, Performance, Film Tate (2011)

Lucy Reynolds Experimental Fields of Light and Shadow: Light Projections in The Tanks, Tate Etc. Issue 25 (Summer 2012)

Federico Windhausen Patterning Time: on Guy Sherwin’s Sound Cuts Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) Issue 1.2 (2012)

Gene Youngblood Expanded Cinema Dutton (1970) 

British Artists’ Film & Video Study Centre:

LUX: Artists’ Moving Image: &, artist-run film agency:

'A film projected in space would be invisible, for one can only see light when it encounters a surface, such as the moon, particles of dust, or the walls of a gallery'. Guy Sherwin


Guy Sherwin (b. 1948, Ipswich) is an artist filmmaker. He studied painting at Chelsea School of Art in the 1960s. His subsequent work with film was influenced by the radical practice of the LFMC. The work engages with light, time and motion as fundamental elements of cinema and takes the form of installations, expanded cinema and live performance. Recent performances, made with artist Lynn Loo, use multiple 16mm projectors and optical sound (sounds made from light) with improvised music. These have toured to Europe, USA and Asia. Recent solo exhibitions have been at Siobhan Davies Studios (2011) and Atopia Oslo (2011). He lives in London and teaches at University of Wolverhampton and Middlesex University. Two books combined with DVD have been published by LUX: Guy Sherwin: Optical Sound Films 1971 – 2007 (2007) and Messages (2010).


Guy Sherwin.

Putting together this exhibition has been an education for me, and a privilege too. This is a great team to work with. Thanks to Jenni Lomax, Anne-Marie Watson, Gina Buenfeld, David Martin, Ben Roberts, et al. A particular thanks to Mike Sperlinger and Ben Cook at LUX for supervising the film prints in difficult times; to David Leister for his inimitable projection expertise, to Lucy Reynolds for valuable advice throughout; to Joao de Oliveira at Prestech, James Holcombe at, Simona Monizza at EYE Institute, Steven Ball at BAFVSC; to Paul Martin for his support; to Lynn Loo for her encouragement and crisis management. Finally, thanks to all the artists for their enthusiasm and cooperation and for contributing many new ideas towards the development of the exhibition.

Guy Sherwin