16 / 11 / 02 – 15 / 12 / 02
Exhibition / Films / Talks / Performance

Coming Attraction
X Characters in Search of an Author
Constanze Ruhm (A)


Poster Series: Memory, Character, Script, Ride (2002)



Movie Ride


Installation view in "Future Cinema", ZKM, Karlsruhe

1. Identities: Coming Attraction
The thematic framework of ”Coming Attraction” is a consideration of what the century-old apparatus of cinema offers as a future language at the start of the twenty-first century, and within which kind of operating system it is imagined and projected. The original, primeval image at work in the early Operating System of modernist cinema linked the camera with the eye, understood motion as life, and developed the then new technique of editing over time into a language that camouflaged the machinery behind the seemingly seamless visual narrative. This "'body" of cinema encapsulates the notion of a dynamo founded on the technology of the nineteenth century, a mechanics of governors and gears that ushered in a twentieth-century ideology of modernity. It emerged with and corresponded to the new science of psychoanalysis concerned with developing ways of "governing" the (female) psyche. These psychoanalytical models - like the psychological conditions they were trying to analyze - were conceptually suspended between the notions of attraction and repulsion. They operated as desire machines situated between a repulsive past (containing the traumatic event to be unearthed) and a nameless, mysterious future shaded by still-to-come desires and promises of libidinal fulfillment. The condition of the psychoanalytical subject was thus always nostalgic for a past that had never been, and for a future that would never take place. From an early time on, the identity of modernist cinema reflected these obsessive economies of desire, often located within the terminology of the mechanical.

The project "Coming Attraction" tries to outline a contemporary interpretation, as well as a continuation, of the theory and practice of this modernist apparatus. A possible "future" cinema is encapsulated in the complex identity of a cinema shifting from "apparatus" to "operation". Thus, cinema is being transformed into an operating system founded on contemporary concepts of programs, codes and new forms of scripting. It deals with the cinematic spectacle's past, and its narratives grounded in either a subjective (auteur) perspective or institutionalized (Hollywood) tale. The future of cinema (endowed with all forms of nostalgia generated by the utopian spectacle) evolves around the imprints of its own apparatus indelibly left as a sign, or marker, on the memory (1) of the viewers. Not only are these contours transmuting into templates that develop a life of their own, but they suggest a new and coming inscription of voices emerging from forms of radicalized scripts, setting in motion new narrations about subjects, different points of identification, perspective and visions (as opposed to the stereotypic convention of "artistic vision").

What became visible within a whole range of artistic strategies in the past decade(s) was a desire for the history of the relation between modernism and cinema to be safely interred within ”cinema nostalgia.” These practices focused only on a safe review of the subjects of cinema history, widely ignoring (academic) discourses on the play and conflict of the forces at work between spectator and screen. An uncritical yearning for the past came to view in cinema’s re-institutionalization as instrument of power within the art context. Subsequently, the point of departure was often located at a "degree zero" of cinematic production that would not take into account the established discourse between modernist cinema and avant-garde practice: the then ”coming attractions” of a century now already belonging to a cinematic past. This project attempts to shape a new ground for future ”coming attractions” drawn from a wide range of fragmentary instances from scripts (2) of all kinds (cinema, the web, and so on). Within the specific condition of the ”Future Cinema" exhibition, the mechanical apparatus fuses with the textual, language-only based script. This fusion also marks the turn from the "script" (on which a film might be based) understood to be a homogenous entity and self-contained work of narration, towards interpreting it as a text that belongs to a wide field of texts, writings, scripts and sub-scripts outside of one specific production (one script, one film). Through a strategy of re-reading, re-writing and re-shooting, "Coming Attraction" deals with the process of the production of meaning through the identity of the cinema apparatus now linked to contemporary media. The fusion of and dialog between scripts thus constitutes the identity of a New Cinema constructed within a spatial arrangement of different historical and contemporary media, and built on the very imprint of the cinematic apparatus.

Installation floorplan

2. Spatial Configuration

The character of the new spaces of relations in "Coming Attraction" is derived from the old model of cinematic "identity" -- the projector. The architectural space defines an area, a perceptual cosmos grounded on its mechanics, and joins together different scripts by taking its blueprint from these components of cinema that are usually hidden away from the black box of cinema space. The projector reels and the synchronization of light, shutters and sprockets are converted into a spatial analysis of patterns of communication models turned inside out and through themselves. The reels embody notions of past and future, and as mechanical templates leave gaps and openings for ”coming attractions” which channel and process words, lines, dialogs, actions. "Coming Attraction" is laid out to be a contemporary projection room designed not to hide the apparatus but instead to combine cinema and web in the form of a ride (3) understandable as that of ”auteur” versus "Hollywood."

The projector's machinery becomes the foundation where the mechanical transforms into an informational model, into a "system of signs." The zone in which the transmission reels intersect bridges the space from self-contained work (a film, an artwork) to a text that remains open. It is from this zone, which mutually outlines the eye of apparatus and viewer, that the concept of subjective perception emerges. It renders a spatial configuration that refers to the early "cinematic eye" as identity and communication model encapsulated in the camera's subjective perspective, which understood the notions of "vision" and "perspective" to be central to identity formation. This cinematic "eye" was joined to the market-demographic eye of identifying brands, superseding the cinematic spectacle of the past with the branding strategies and forms of identity production of the Hollywood System (as every studio represented a specific market identity in terms of subjects, style, actors, production design) -- an economy whose early disposition already anticipated the structure of the web. The architectural space of "Coming Attraction" allows these structures, links, and areas of intersection belonging to a contemporary understanding of cinema to be seen as the embodiment of the economies and techniques of modernism. Here, the nineteenth-century models of cybernetics and projectors intertwine with present-day communication networks, synthesized through a twenty-first-century scripting and mapping technique, a spatial analysis of desires and relations operating between and within (mass) media. "Coming Attraction" deals with the zones of translation from modernist cinema through video and computer to web.

The architectural signifier collapses with what it signifies. It bridges and renders the space between the reels of a projector: a space that is shaped by the bending and twisting movements of the filmstrip running through the mechanical guides. It investigates contemporary forms of distortion that affect visual and textual information and codes passing through the fiber-optical cables of the big networks. Thus, the space of "Coming Attraction" is set out to be a "filmless" set joining the past to the present. The mechanics of the projector and what it projects are understood to equal body as well as psyche: a translation machine suspended between analog and digital worlds, a tenuous construction of tensions and weights bridging and connecting the past with possible future scenarios.

clockwise from l. to r.: Jane Fonda, Monica Vitti, Anna Karina, Bibi Andersson, Faye Dunaway, Sean Young

X Characters in Search of an Author – Production Model

"Coming Attraction" constitutes the environment for the production X Characters in Search of an Author .

As an art practice, "Coming Attraction" illuminates cinema operating in terms of its subject(s), and not just as screens enlarging ”life.” Cinema is a code-breaking and code-making synthesis engine. It has the ability to format different scripting devices, assemblages of diverse labors, aesthetic practices, technologies, architectural, temporal and spatial paradigms – all expressed in a tenuous unity set within languages of montage and performance. While cinema’s patterns of identification reveal symptoms rooted in the scopic regime, its identity can be seen clearly configured through a history of programming languages. These are based on various source codes from which "Coming Attraction" as environment and X Characters… as its program draw on directly. .

The production model for X Characters… synthesizes the mainstream cinema syntax to script, character, and immersive (movie) ride. In order to re-circulate ”cinema” inside a new economy of contemporary media logic, it disassociates, re-codes and reconstitutes the basic elements linked to the identity of a movie. The emphasis is on characters ”on the verge,” agents in a moment of synthesis, thus shifting attention from the realm of the scopic onto scripting languages: not to mechanics but towards transforming identities, not to formulate canons or a nostalgia for ”new media” or cinema, but to continue discovery of and desire for the new scripts initially embedded within these technologies.

Installation View (Detail)

Therefore, the navigational space of "Coming Attraction" is a computer-based storyboarding device that develops in linkage with a process of the realization of a performative space, which in turn feeds back to the navigational script. This sense of a continuity produced through a staging of movements, both physical and emotional, is oriented along the basic principles constituting the movie ride. The rules of this ride have been applied to a computer-based web navigational device. This new ride becomes visible on the computer screen, as a guideline whose scripted flow repeats the form and motion of one specific actual movie camera path. This navigational thread routes through filmless sets and character-defined spaces.

Website: Navigation System

This scripted space X Characters in Search of an Author develops a performative site between cinematic and new media that is character-driven. It is situated through an array of iconic female characters joined together as a gang of fellow travelers in a cosmos of shifting identities. They are selected from different film scripts, spanning eras from auteur through modernist to post-modern cinema. They were chosen not according to conventional qualities and values formulated in cinema history, but as signifiers, icons, outlines that might enable the shaping of new dialogs. What the original movie scripts avoid making evident in the characters’ psyches are omissions that X Characters… takes as openings to begin routing through the new narratives.

The plot of X Characters… does not pertain to the realm of narrative, therefore, but instead is concerned with the development of the character. As opposed to a story about a character and her experience, X Characters in Search of an Author scripts the ”character’s story” as ongoing production.

Chatroom/Excerpt from 1st Chat, Februayr 2002

4. Production

X Characters in Search of an Author releases a set of female characters (4) from the film scripts through which they were originally developed. In the framework of the project, each character is providing one initial profile to be transformed over a number of ”movements,” first through a performance-oriented project, followed by scripts and the final realization process.

In the first project movement, these profiles are being reconfigured by invited actor/operators in performance-based formats. The participants come from different fields in the realm of cultural production. Their script is to reconfigure and adapt the original profile of the character’s script, operating essentially in a gap between their own fantasies and the character’s desires. The actor/operators each play one character, meeting on a virtual media stage for improvisational performance ”workshops” on set dates. Thus, the accent is on the improvisational and live interaction and on the characteristics of the specific medial situation. Instead of one scriptwriter there are characters who each follow their own logic, structuring a manifold dialog while being recorded. These documents of the live ”workshop” interactions with the environment develop a set of possible situations and materials by which new sets of dialogs and scripts can be established. The results obtained with this first performative movement are condensed into a script form, which signals the beginning of the second movement – the realization of a script to chart the development of both the characters’ passage and the rites of the story, followed by a third movement onto realization.

The use of media forums (from digital chat rooms to analog radio call-in programs through the reality of workshop meetings) suggests the notion of different communities of interests at work. The project’s focus on identity-interaction and groups supporting new discussion formats in inter-communicative and interactive environments is an important feature of its foundation in media. X Characters… is a work between research and practice, suggesting that the selected character icons of cinema modernity function as ”re-links” to a cinema informed by critical feminist practice. This ranges from the discourse on authors and ”authorless” worlds to an essential discussion of feminist research into cinema and representation, indexed to a re-reading of gendered dialogs and continuing onto emerging cyber-fields. This foundation sets the project within the fields of cinema, language and identity. The script and production of X Characters … is a process that converts the character templates into projection screens, channels of desire that constitute a switchboard for networking sets of communicative signals.