21 Oct


I’ve been saying for years that old projectors and other modernist paraphernalia in art galleries are tropes, affectations, bourgeois set dressing rather than meaningful vehicles for a 21st century artist to express themselves. Here is artist Hito Steyerl’s splendid volley against the practice. She nailed it.

Next time I see another 16mm film projector rattling away in a gallery I will personally kidnap it and take the poor thing to a pensioners home. There is usually no intrinsic reason whatsoever for the use of 16mm film nowadays except for making moving images look pretentious, expensive and vaguely modernist, all prepackaged with a whiff of WASPish art history. It made sense to use Bolexes in 1968, and indeed people used them to brilliant end. But today people use cellphones, Kinnect sensors and After Effects to deal with the present and shape it. And if artists do not expose themselves to the workflow and economies that come with contemporary means of production, they become souvenir peddlers. Or worse trying to conveniently package a bygone radical moment as a collectors item.

On this blog, see also TACITA DEAN (congratulations, you’ve made a screensaver twenty meters high) and ARSENALE VI: FILM PROJECTOR MORATORIUM, PLEASE


  1. anitachowdry 21/10/2014 at 12:21 PM #

    Hi Alex, that is an interesting perspective… there is a great deal of reworking of technological history at present, indeed it is something that I personally find interesting to explore. Have you seen the recent Kinetica Art Fair? I would be really interested to hear your vews on this.

    • Alistair 21/10/2014 at 1:14 PM #

      I haven’t been to Kinetica. It can be interesting to look at technological history, obsolete media or obsolete usages. I’ve done it myself. In one of the linked blog posts I mention an artist who in my opinion did something worthwhile with nostalgic technology and technological nostalgia. Where I have a problem with it is the same as Steyerl, i.e. when technological nostalgia or low-tech becomes a mannerism, a style or a smokescreen for lazy thinking. As she points out, using 16mm film projectors at this point is usually an exercise in historical re-enactment because it’s a dead medium. Or possibly a living dead medium since some people are determined that it live on beyond it having any reason to.

      Modernist art/design or Abstract Expressionist painting are zombie genres, and artists who practice them without critiquing or flipping them in some noticeable and radical way are just pasticheurs too. There’s certainly a massive disdain, snobbery and tacit fear in galleries and the art press about artists (or people who don’t even claim that title) making art using genuinely contemporary and widely available tools, whether it be a smartphone camera and other consumer level devices, platforms like YouTube, commercially available software, or whatever. There’s a converse cachet and snob value to using otherwise superceded old media. See T.Dean, also linked above, for an example of somebody who has allowed nostalgia, snobbery and “when I were a lass…” obstinacy override any concern she may or may not have formerly had for the importance of content or quality control.

      • anitachowdry 21/10/2014 at 1:25 PM #

        Thanks Alistair, perceptive as ever. I have just reviewed the last Kinetica show in my blog (just click my logo to access) – I was fascinated that they included an art-historical collection of mostly 60s kinetic artists in the show. It provided an historical reference point, and also, very interestingly, the juxtaposition of these pioneering artists with the contemporary installations really highlighted the contrast in aesthetic sensibility. I was intrigued that many contemporary artists re-worked 19th century technologies and earlier – with varying degrees of success… and that there is an inherent difference in the way all this is presented by contemporary artists….the most successful, to my mind, were those that underplayed the role of technology in general.

  2. anitachowdry 21/10/2014 at 1:30 PM #

    Sorry – that was just a gravatar link! here it is: http://anitachowdry.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/kinetica-art-fair-2014-review/ – but please dont feel obliged to post it as I dont wish to impose on your site!

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