Ways of Seeing

In a new exhibition, the Whitney Museum of American Art explores the evolution of cinematic art since its early twentieth-century beginnings.

Published in S/ magazine, Fall 2016. Read it here.

After pondering the dramatic changes that have occurred in our visual experience of the world as cinematic technology has advanced, curator Chrissie Iles decided to explore how artists have been articulating that shift. The product of this train of thought is an upcoming exhibition on cinematic experimentation, Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, which will open at the Whitney Museum of American Art this fall.

“The term ‘film’ is fluid,” says Iles. “It can mean anything from a celluloid film loop to a digital video or a virtual reality piece, and everything in between.” This exhibition takes into account a host of artists and filmmakers’ work that plays with elements of cinema—multiplying and dismantling the screen and the moving image, and the manipulation of colour, light, and special effects are a few examples. In addition to important pieces by Alex Da Corte (in his signature colourful and immersive style), Oskar Schlemmer and Trisha Baga, exhibition highlights include Oskar Fischinger’s 1926 work in abstraction, titled Space Light Art, and an analysis of Disney’s 1940 film, Fantasia, which marked the end of pre-World War II utopian cinema.

One of the fascinating themes woven throughout the exhibition is the way in which film can shift not only our perception of the world, but our understanding of the human body as well. For example, the exhibition includes production designs by artist Syd Mead from the classic science fiction film Blade Runner (1982), in which the boundary between technology and the human body is blurred through its portrayal of synthetic human androids. In another piece exploring the relationship between technology and the human body by Lynn Hershman Leeson, actress Tilda Swinton plays an artificial intelligence persona, speaking to viewers through a mirrored screen. Reflecting on Dreamlands, Iles hopes that viewers leave with a transformed appreciation of film. “The moving image, the cinematic, explorations of the body, immersion, and optical space in art can open up new ways of seeing and experiencing the world,” she concludes.

Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016 is on view at the Whitney from October 28, 2016—February 5, 2017.