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Breaching Transmissions – can expanded cinema expand your mind?

Viewers can stand, sit, or be positioned in patterns and relations that breach the traditional movie theatre encounter. Breaching Transmissions/Images courtesy of MIFF

Breaching Transmissions – can expanded cinema expand your mind?

Expanded cinema, a term coined in the mid-1960s by American experimental filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek, extends and enriches the way cinema can engage with its viewers. The art form is taken into galleries, museums, subterranean vaults and installation spaces, and the moving image is opened up to the different shaped walls and surfaces found there.

Viewers can stand, sit, or be positioned in patterns and relations that breach the traditional movie theatre encounter. The space can itself move, living performances can interact with the screen, sound can bleed out from the floor, and bodies can be literally touched.

This expansion in screen, space and self is explored in Breaching Transmissions, British-Australian director Sally Golding’s new immersive audiovisual performance, which premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) last night.

Breaching Transmissions. Images courtesy of MIFF

The audience is, according to the festival program:

taken on a hallucinogenic dark carnival ride exploring the slippage between parapsychology and technology.

In her artist’s statement, Golding has defined her work as focusing on the:

experience of the audience, pushing the boundaries of visual and auditory perception through the breakdown of the cinematic system into flicker, wave forms and colour fields.

Participatory by design, the viewer is invited to be a:

collaborator within the work, evoking a form of autoscopic hallucination.

As the reviewers of this piece, we wanted to test this assertion: we wanted to immerse ourselves in the work and respond to the hallucinations offered to us. We wanted to see whether our senses had indeed been breached in the expanded contours and liquid horizons of the work.

Our individual impressions follow.

Hypnotic Machine, by Polly Stanton

Part performance and part screening, Breaching Transmissions uses the body as an intervention between projection and screen space. The performance begins with Golding hovering around one of the 16mm projectors, putting out candles and executing ritualistic gestures. They in turn instigate flashes of light and high-pitched noises that slice though the sonic pulse that already fills the room.

Breaching Transmissions. Images courtesy of MIFF

An opaque suspended screen, hovering in the middle of the room like a piece of flotsam, catches the light of the projectors. As the film threads through the machines, I notice the used film strip pooling behind the projector like a pile of shiny celluloid guts. It’s a simple reminder of the materiality of the medium, an appearance that suddenly seems foreign in the digital area.

Golding physically approaches these projections as though they are something tangible to be shaped and seized. Moving around the screen with a small circular mirror she catches flickers of projected light and reflects it back out into the room, as though she had plucked a solid piece of light from the screen.

Working in tandem with Golding, sound artist and musician Spatial has created a bristling mass of notes and frequencies in response to her visual work. Dull and deep modulations pulse in time with the projections that are then broken up by high inflections that constantly resonate and seep through the space and crowd.

Breaching Transmissions. Images courtesy of MIFF

Golding’s interactions with the projectors, screen and space are formal, her movements deliberate. There’s an odd sense of the theatrical to her muted performance, which is highlighted when two strategically placed members from the audience break away from the encircling crowd and weave their way around the screen, mirroring the projected shapes and forms in a what soon becomes a choreographed set of reciprocal actions between the screen and participants.

Suddenly the wall of sound cuts out and the hiss of quiet is a shock to the system. The whirring of projectors slow and the last flickers of light fade, leaving the empty screen swaying in the dark like a lifeless spectre.

Get out of My Body, by Sean Redmond

My impressions watching this performance? Well, let’s see …

Get out of my head. Noise. Shadows. Headlights steeped in nitrous oxide. Dead candles flickering. A sea of disconnected atoms. The universe laid out on a worn bed-sheet. A snake emerging without its head from the film projector. It crawls along the floor into my wide-open mouth …

Get out of my head. Static. Nylon. Scouring pads on soft skin. The scarring sounds of red. Black clouds vibrating on a hot summers day. Decay …

According to the American cinema theorist Vivian Sobchack in her book Carnal Thoughts (2004):

As “lived bodies” … our vision is always already “fleshed out” – and even at the movies it is “in-formed” and given meaning by our other sensory means of access to the world: our capacity not only to hear, but also to touch, to smell, to taste, and always to proprioceptively feel our dimension and movement in the world. In sum, the film experience is meaningful not to the side of my body, but because of my body.

Breaching Transmissions. Images courtesy of MIFF

I engage with Breaching Transmissions on similar terms, as a living and fleshed encounter. I meet the installation on synesthetic and haptic terms and in the realm of the senses: in the eyes that taste and the mouth that sees and in the brain that feels.

The senses that Golding’s work evokes and stimulates are connected to the processes of dissolution or a deterittorialisation of the self, a becoming animal, to draw on Gilles Deleuze. I feel myself vanishing, being emptied, being poured out, being remade into something else as I feel my way through Breaching Transmissions. This is a something more wild, a something else freer.

This is what great visual art does – it sensationalises our carnal beings – it takes us home. It screws us up. It sets us free.


Breaching Transmissions was as the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 13. Details here.