Let’s talk about Expanded Cinema


Do we overlook what’s in front of us because there’s a hole in the centre?

A.A. Phillips’ seminal essay on the cultural cringe first appeared in Meanjin in 1950, describing an internalised inferiority complex … The cringe’s historical origins lie in the material reality of colonialism … Colonists denied and evicted the cultures of this continent’s custodians and supplanted it with their own. That process cemented a displacement of culture at Australia’s heart … When we talk about the cultural cringe, we’re really talking about the colonial cringe … Lauren Carroll Harris (2020)

Expanded cinema is a little-known practice that arose in the late 1960s. It has a limited but devoted international audience but is barely known in Australia. In a year-long dialogue with Melbourne scholar and artist Dirk de Bruyn (see note 1) about local practice, I learnt of his emphatic agreement with the legacy of displacement Lauren Carroll Harris points out. Expanded cinema has been and continues to be a vibrant component of Australian creative practice, taking place right under our noses, yet those of us in the business of cultural circulation have chosen to persistently overlook it. Understanding why was the motivation for Dirk, myself and some colleagues[i] to meet regularly last year. 

I must start by explaining expanded cinema. It combined movie technology with live events, literally expanding cinema beyond immersive stories on a single big screen. In Annabel Nicolson’s Reel Time (1973), the film literally wound its way through the room while it was punctured by Nicolson’s sewing machine, then projected, while another artist read aloud from the machine manual. In Malcolm Le Grice’s Castle 1 (1966), the image of re-edited newsreel footage was intermittently obliterated by flashes from a large light bulb hung adjacent to the screen. In Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone (1973), smoke in the room made a 3D cone from the projected film image of a line making a circle, the audience moving around inside the cone and its smoke. 

These examples come from British artists. In the UK, effort to remember this work by curators, scholars and institutions has been underway for some time, a similar situation across other parts of Europe and the US. 

What about in Australia? I can expand my definition using local works citing 2007 research from artist and scholar Danni Zuvela, evidence there has been some research into the situation here. Zuvela’s definition includes Poem 25 (David Perry and Albie Thoms, 1965) in which a performer faces the projector bulb, caught in the cone of the projection, reading (or shouting, Zuvela 2007, 9) out numbers as they appear as white words on the black 16mm film: ‘two, twenty, four’. Also part of her definition is Boiling Electric Jug Film (Arthur and Corinne Cantrill, 1970) in which an  electric kettle sat on stage coming to the boil with a film of the same image (Zuvela 2007, 9). To round out Zuvela’s picture, I add Jeffrey Shaw’s Corpocinema (1967) involving an inflatable dome for projection (Duguet, Klotz & Weibel 1997, 11); and Hugh McSpedden’s light shows shown on Melbourne beaches during hot nights in which he took his set of Hokushin 16mm projectors in his modified van and projected dots and colours over night time beach goers. 

Our 2021 expanded cinema dialogues resolved that Australian audiences should know about this stuff. Back in 2007, Zuvela was motivated by a flurry of international programming of both contemporary and historical expanded cinema to wonder, as we did, what about Australia? (Zuvela 2007, 14).  Our group spoke about evident continuities between historic Australian practice and contemporary exhibitions like Sally Golding’s at Metro Arts in 2020.

What follows are three angles we explored in our dialogue about why attention has been so limited in Australia. 

Is Australian expanded cinema not known because the works are not collected nor preserved and the records are poor? Our dialogues identified archiving as a problem. These works were and are made as part of raucous events or ‘nights’. Hived off in the archives as items to preserve, as some of them have been in programs like those at the Tate Tanks (Gronlund 2009), are they stranded from that contact with the program and communities that produced them?

Is Australian expanded cinema work known but ignored due to its limited aesthetic power? Disheartenment is a factor here. Dirk shared his experience in a recent project to digitise uncollected Melbourne experimental films (not the same as expanded cinema, but many makers made both). He noticed the makers were suspicious and incredulous there could now be an audience for work they literally garaged a long time ago. Thus they were reluctant to actually hand over their films.

Or is Australian expanded cinema vaguely known but not talked about, slightly embarrassing, a local version of better stuff that happened in Europe and America? Zuvela noted that in Australia it is saddled with ‘psychedelic connotations’ that make it ‘critically unattractive’ to scholars of Australian film (2007, 13-14). 

But in conversation with Dirk, we also identified evidence of the cringe Lauren Carroll Harris writes about. Several times over Dirk and I dwelled on the reality that expanded cinema happens/happened here. Could the denial about it be a pertinent example of this deeper denial? Over to Dirk to get into some productive discomfort to tease this out.


A Circular Path

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago. Pete Seeger (1958)


I sit in front of a blank page and I try to invoke the erased, denied and ignored memories of my own practice and community which straddles both performance and cinema experimentation. These traces are cradled in the volunteer developmental, curatorial and infrastructure projects undertaken from the 70s on till now, not my more recent academic work. There has been no interest emerging from there and that is one of the roadblocks. Until now, Louise?

Melbourne events, particularly, have fallen through the gaps. Further, as Jonathan Walley intimated on the AAANZ panel, it is in the elusive performative register where the expanded cinema sits that effuses the most precarious invisibilities. Yet this situation also produces a fertile site ready for re-colonisation and re-classification by a forward-looking next generation.

The precarity of Australian Expanded Cinema is doubled up by the marginal position of the Australian Experimentation generally (or whatever it is elusively named- Personal Cinema, Artist Film, Avant Garde, non-narrative etc), which I mark as outside the outside or at the margins of the margin. Such double negatives express a particularly Australian traumatic colonial legacy: ‘we of the never never’, ‘never say never’ or ‘Australia is not a bad place to be’. This way of thinking relates to Judith Herman’s view of trauma: ‘The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which George Orwell, one of the committed truth-tellers of our century, called “doublethink”, and which mental health professionals, searching for calm, precise language, call “dissociation.”’ (Herman, 1992 p.1)

The history of Expanded Cinema in Australia is a traumatic contested space, that requires a re-narrativization. Zuvela’s welcome work barely scratches the surface. It does not challenge what has fallen from the record, especially in Melbourne. For example: What about James Clayden, Chris Knowles’ musical performances, Lynsey Martin’s High School slide projections. Jo Hampton, David Cox, and Chris Mann’s performances. Chris and David both ‘escaped’ to America. There is also Peter Tammer’s 20 minute (1983-5) Triptych of My Belle, Hey Marcel…, Queen of the Night. I have written elsewhere that Cantrills Filmnotes has historically and visibly marked the practice of its publishers, while those often documented in its pages remain invisible. (de Bruyn, 2014)

Hugh McSpedden’s beach projections are also the tip of an Iceberg. He is recognised as “god-father” for Gertrude St Projection Festival. As Edison Light Company from (1968-80) he, with Michael Lee as assistant, provided projections at the legendary TF Much Ballroom gigs at Central Hall, Fitzroy for bands such as Daddy Cool, Tully, Spectrum, Lipp and the Double Decker Brothers, Tamad Shud. Is this the hippiedom that Zuvela identifies as critically un-attractive to scholars?

After creative presentations in Belgrade, Zagreb, Karlsruhe, Jena, The Hague, Lisbon and Vienna I no longer situate Australian Expanded Cinema practice in a derivative echo of a British or American avant-garde Canon that processes Australian presence as marginal, second-hand, derivative or lagging. Internationally, the story is more ambiguous and infected with ‘double-speak”. Mihovil Pansini, one of the founders of the Festival of Experimental Film (GEFF 1963 -1970) in Zagreb, his formalist washed-out K3 (cloudless sky) (1963) makes Peter Gidal’s later Clouds (1969) seem illusionist and derivative in comparison.

And finally, is it more productive to identify with those forces that have shaped indigenous culture and critically interrogate the impact of the settler’s colonial eye? When I read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, he finds evidential traces of a denied sophistication and depth of indigenous culture, registered in the diaries of the first settlers and explorers like Mitchell and Sturt. In the next step of their own settlement and loyalty to Empire this settler class buried and ignored this knowledge of village life, extended housing and land management that had evolved over thousands of years. Why do we keep doing that to ourselves?



What, however, might a contemporary Australian practice be that visits the avant-garde of the ‘old country’ head on, not temporally, as mimetic descendent, but spatially as coevally related? This would primarily be a spatial practice, its consciousness of its own relationship to an earlier avant-garde an explicit and integral contingent component of the work. Perhaps something like the performance practice of Louise Curham and Lucas Ihlein’s Teaching and Learning Cinema (TLC) project (Ball 2016).

Steven Ball is writing about Australian artists bringing their wares to London. This is all about me in so far as I am one half of TLC with my colleague artist and scholar Lucas Ihlein. But this also not about me at all, it’s about ways to tell the story of expanded cinema in our region.

What’s caught Ball’s attention is that TLC and the other two artists he writes about in this article, Sally Golding and Sue K, have up-ended a long standing cultural model in which there is a well worn path taking Australian art to northern hemisphere cities, perceived as centres. Recognition there means acceptance as good art back in Australia. Ball quotes Terry Smith (1974) on New York as the centre of the art world.  Ball is saying that TLC, Golding and Sue K up-end that: rather than a model where London is the centre and Australia is the periphery, less good because it’s far away, instead distance is a useful condition that enables different and productive relationships. 

Dirk has called for a new narrative that allows Australian expanded cinema to circulate. The spatial approach Ball uses might be part of the solution. 

Ball writes about relationships that are ‘coevally related’, finding coevalness in writing by cultural geographer Doreen Massey (Massey finds it in the writing of anthropologist Johannes Fabian (1983)). The colonial story of progress (the story of modernity as Massey puts it) involves a normative path where some societies (the colonisers) are ahead on the path and others are behind (the colonised). Instead, if they are coeval, they face each other with space as the key dynamic rather than a narrative of progress, establishing and maintaining it as a norm.  A spatial model undercuts judgement against a norm. In facing each other in a coeval relationship, ‘“ a stance of recognition and respect in situations of mutual implication … an imaginative space of engagement” ‘ can be adopted, Massey quoted in Ball, 2016. Massey calls it an attitude. 

Coevalness has merit to overcome the denial Dirk graphically explained. Going a bit further than Ball, TLC is instructive as an example of how coevalness might work for telling expanded cinema history in our region.

Ball writes about TLC’s work re-enacting British cinema. Why did two Australians put some growth rings around some British history rather than re-telling, and therefore strengthening, Australian work? Ball reports Lucas on this point: why should TLC have to carry the can for Australian culture? I’d add that TLC’s decisions were driven by aesthetics and curiosity, we were both intrigued by work that arose from the London Film Makers’ Co-op. We were also aware that to make sense of these works, experience of them was required, not documentation. 

However, part of the reason we could focus outside Australia was that we spent time learning about some Australian work and others were bringing it to local audiences. 

OtherFilm brought re-enactments and performances such as Poem 25, Cantrills expanded cinema, film performance by Australian artists such as Dirk. 

Our explorations into Australian work included sitting down with Jeffrey Shaw, David Perry and the Cantrills to explore an exhibition of British and Australian expanded cinema. We concluded an institution needed to do it, our effort was better spent generating experiences for our community.  TLC screenings included artists’ film as well as expanded works eg Joan Grounds came along when we showed her collaboration ‘We should call it a living room …’ (1975); we organised an evening with Mike Leggett showing his Image Con Text work (1978-2005) and some of his very early work with Ian Breakwell. 

From this TLC experience, some qualities of coevalness are detectable: 

space of engagement: we actually did this work and brought it before audiences

an attitude of recognition: we had a hunch it was important

and some glimpses of mutual implication: we knew/know it’s part of a bigger story. 

So where does that leave us? Coevalness offers a spatial way to think about relationships and therefore history. Ball used it effectively in his article and it has potential for history telling in our region. In our 2021 expanded cinema dialogues Dirk and I were part of that I referred to in my first post, we talked methods to tell the history. Cathy Fowler, in dialogue with Sally Golding, identified ethnographic methods as relevant, bringing more than one account, avoiding establishing a canon (and therefore a norm). 

Part of the answer to overcoming denial and oversight is quite practical: tell these stories non-hierarchically, with more than one voice as Cathy and Sally identified. Draw on coevalness via Ball via Massey (via Fabian 1983), so they are in relation to each other and work in other parts of the world (mutually implicated, in a space of engagement) but without judgement against a norm. 

This process of overcoming denial will feel forced and strange initially. Be motivated by the 20 year olds of the future who need to stumble across this work and be inspired by it in their own way and in their own time.


From Colonial to Coeval Vistas

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Canada as a whole is a victim, or an ‘oppressed minority’ or ‘exploited’. Let us suppose in short that Canada is a colony”. (Atwood, 1972)

The idea of Massey’s coeval that Louise introduces is a productive one that extends the detailed expression of Louise’s long running and durational TLC project with Lucas Ilhein. Her outline situates the Man with Mirror project as the tip of a Janus-faced iceberg. Where TLC’s (Wo)Man with Mirror faces and engages with an Expanded Cinema canonical work from the “old country”, as Ball calls his English home (As an Australian I nominate our indigenous past as the real “old country”), their community focus revives an array of precarious local work only remembered by a few. Unfortunately the centralised funding structures, funding Australian Art Practice impacted TLC’s ability to manage this important cultural work. Curham’s current interest in Australian Expanded cinema extends and vitalizes this thread. TLC’s engaged history places Curham at a turning point for the re-narrativization of this contested space.

The precarity of Australian Expanded Cinema history is uncannily reflected in Steven Ball’s incisive cultural work both in Australia and England. His work on innovative film in Australia which included co-ordination of the Melbourne Super 8 Group, the performance of Un-Australian with Nicole Skeltys and myself and other performances and screenings at Café Bohemio (all important experiences that expanded my own creative practice). Ball’s management and cultural developmental skills were never institutionally rewarded in Australia with long-term employment, whereas on his return to London his commitment was quickly identified at St. Martin’s Artist Film and Video Archive by David Curtis. It is also worth mentioning Mike Leggett’s migration to Australia in 1988 with his partner Deborah Ely. Knowledge of Mike as a seminal figure with his conceptual experimental works at the London Film-maker’s Co-op, recognised by TLC, is not generally known in Australia, whilst his knowledgeable ground-breaking work with New and Interactive Media in Australia makes the case for a historical connection between both old and new media practices that Malcolm Le Grice stressed in Experimental Film in the Digital Age (2001)

The responses to colony by Canadians, writer Atwood and theorist Harold Innis, provide a useful parallax to examine Australia’s marginal cultural position. In Survival Atwood names four victim positions for individuals and national groups. These partly echo Franz Fanon’s three stages in the development of Third World colonial art. This moves from the native intellectual adopting the coloniser’s culture, through the past being romanticized but one’s fate remaining inevitable, to where you identify your victim position but refuse its cage. For Atwood these are: denial of victimization, general victimization and righteous anger. Atwood adds a fourth empowering position to Fanon’s trinity, that of the creative non-victim, one also taken up by Feminist Cinema in the 1970s. Victor/victim games are obsolete. Otherwise, as my friend Tony Beilby texted me “…one becomes one’s abuse…”. This is the view that Pascoe moves into (as do filmmakers Ana Vaz and Cauleen Smith) and that a revitalized history of Australian Expanded Cinema needs to develop. Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines also connects indigenous memory paths to Ley Lines and nomadic Arabic knowledge systems.

Harold Innis, Canadian communications theorist (the Bias of Communication (1951)) and mentor to Marshall McLuhan’s media thinking argued that Canada, to evolve culturally, needed to accentuate technologies of time (e.g Song, Film, performance) to counter the bias of technologies of space (e.g. Telegraph, Television, Internet) that the United States used to dominate Canadian culture. This is an argument for de-centralization and an embrace of the local.

I understand this as the point that Ilhein and Curham make with their (Wo)Man with Mirror. Their framing delivers the work’s visceral impact through a well ordered DIY script. There are examples of Man  with Mirror performances documented online on YouTube (Space Biased) but when you hear everyone in the audience react simultaneously, you do not feel or understand why. When you are physically present, the impact of Sherwin’s performance (Time Biased) viscerally reaches your body-centred perceptual apparatus at the same time as every other audience member. Does this view run counter to Massey’s stressing of the importance of space in enabling a coeval approach? A coeval approach disintegrates space. I suggest that a dialogic approach through its gaps produces a de-centralised space, is critical to both Innis and Massey and was one of the outcome insights of AAANZ panel discussions for me and present in Curham’s design for the panel dialogue. Canadian film-maker Mike Hoolboom’s multi-voiced book on the history of Toronto’s Funnel “Underground: The untold story of the Funnel Film Collective similarly points a way forward. Australian Expanded Cinema needs such considered multi-voiced TLC.


Atwood, Margaret, 1972 Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, Toronto: House of Asansi Press.

 Ball, Steven. 2016. ‘Beyond the Cringe: Australia, Britain, and the Post-Colonial Film Avant-Garde’. Sense of Cinema, no. 78 (March). http://sensesofcinema.com/2016/british-experimental/post-colonial-film-avant-garde/.

Carroll Harris, Lauren. 2020. ‘The Arts Crisis and the Colonial Cringe’. Kill Your Darlings, 15 October 2020. https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/the-arts-crisis-and-the-colonial-cringe/.

Duguet, Anne-Marie, Heinrich Klotz, and Peter Weibel, eds. 1997. Jeffrey Shaw: A User’s Manual, from Expanded Cinema to Virtual Reality = Jeffrey Shaw: Eine Gebrauchsanweisung, Vom Expanded Cinema Zur Virtuellen Realität. Ostfildern: Cantz.

Fabian, J. (1983) Time and the Other: how anthropology makes its object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Golding, Sally. 2020. Assembly Now. Metro Arts, Brisbane, exhibition 30 Sep to 14 Oct 2020. https://metroarts.com.au/assembly-now-online/

Gronlund, Melissa. 2009. ‘Define Intervention – Melissa Gronlund at a Tate Modern Conference on Expanded Cinema’. Artforum International, 6 May 2009. https://www.artforum.com/film/melissa-gronlund-at-a-tate-modern-conference-on-expanded-cinema-22777.

Harris, Lauren Carroll (2020)  ‘The Arts Crisis and the Colonial Cringe’, 15 Oct 2020, Kill Your Darlings https://www.killyourdarlings.com.au/article/the-arts-crisis-and-the-colonial-cringe/

Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery. New York. Basic Books. 1992

Massey, Doreen. 2005. For Space, London: Sage Publications, 66-70.

Zuvela, Danni. 2007. ‘“Yes, but How Do We Place You?” Expanded Cinema in Australia’. Brisbane: Griffith University.


(Note 1) These meetings were preparation for the Art Association of Australia and NZ 2021 conference panel, Let’s talk about expanded cinema. Meeting participants included Dirk De Bruyn, Louise Curham, Cathy Fowler, Sally Golding, Jonathan Walley and Mark Williams.

Louise  Curham (1,3)

Dirk de Bruyn (2,4)

Louise Curham is an archivist, media artist and researcher lecturing in the School of Information and Communication Studies at Charles Sturt University,





One explanation for surveillance capitalism’s many triumphs floats above them all: it is unprecedented. The unprecedented is necessarily unrecognizable. When we encounter something unprecedented, we automatically interpret it through the lenses of familiar categories, thereby rendering invisible precisely that which is unprecedented….A tragic illustration is the encounter between indigenous people and the first Spanish conquerors. (Zuboff, 2019 p. 12)

When the conquistadors beached in America the natives could not comprehend that the new arrivals would undertake a pandemic of slavery and murder in Christ’s name, an unprecedented face-off that flipped daily life for the welcomers. Today, led by the data mining mobilised by Google in Fordism’s footsteps and in the name of open democracy, for Zuboff, an unprecedented digital frontier opens up that globally colonises and infects all our bodies and behaviours.

At the 2018 Virtual Reality Software and Technology conference in Tokyo I witnessed a keynote by Prof. Masatoshi Ishikawa from the University of Tokyo. His high-speed image processing technology exceeded the human perceptual apparatus, referred to as meta-perception: “Processing speed faster than human and total latency lower than human”. He presented moving imagery of a maintenance van with this technology on the roof moving down a tunnel at a breakneck 100mph, filming at 1000fps, inspecting the tunnel for cracks. This patterned imagery looked like Thorstein Fleish’s Silver Screen (2000). Ishikawa also demonstrated a robot hand holding a baseball bat, that hit a pitched ball without fail. He explained that with this processing speed it was now possible to build a robot that would hit a home run every time.

I imagined in human terms it was like the ball was moving so slow that the hitter could dance around it, ruminate to uncover the best move, and swing; plenty of time. For the computer a second was like a human hour. Through such ever-expanding processing speed an unprecedented invisible superhuman vista had opened up for AI that can move Google’s surveillance mining into a pre-cognitive space. It is a space predicted in Superman movies (from 1978) and comics (from 1938). Such frozen or bullet time vistas was envisioned by Samantha’s twist of the nose in the Bewitched (1964-72) television series, performed by Marty McFly as he replaces a Coke with a Pepsi in a person’s frozen hand in Back to the Future (1985) and explored in features such as Dark City (1998) and Clockstoppers (2002). I am also reminded of Tim Mcmillan’s Time Slicing Experiments (1983) explained in this BBC short (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIpmUi8HI1k) which led to the bullet time sequence in The Matrix (1999). In Time Slicing when the viewer moves through space, time appears frozen.

For me the technological moment signified by Masatoshi Ishikawa’s keynote was as significant as Muybridge’s animal locomotion studies in 1877 that revealed the pacing of a horse’s feet and informed the nature of cinematic illusion. Ishikawa’s research marks the moment when we have time-travelled past the limits of human perception through AI. Importantly the humans that predictively perform their superhuman skills in popular culture are a metaphor for a technology whose benevolence, for Zuboff, is of concern. Who controls this contested space? Hannah Arendt predicts a profound impact on the human condition ‘It is quite conceivable that the modern age—which began with such an unprecedented and promising outburst of human activity—may end in the deadliest, most sterile passivity history has ever known.’ (Arendt, 1998 p. 322)


New Aesthetics, New Anxieties

How do we think about media art aesthetics and the production of critical knowledge as the creative industries paradigm consolidates around us, amidst ongoing financial, environmental and political crises? Can we still claim a special place for media art given the increasing ubiquity of informational technologies in everyday life and the intensification of cultural distribution through social media platforms? (Michel Van Dartel, 2012 p.11)

Of course, your concerns about AI reflects the ambivalence toward complete surveillance. Well, yes, on one level, it has become that as a result, alas, of the mere total military entertainment complex which has emerged in the years since, I think, the end of World War II and the rise of what should we call the “Mad Men” period of the consolidation, really, of corporate and public relations interests working together to form what Guy Debord called the Society of the Spectacle. This is the global expansion of consciousness and image and ideological expansion globally to form a kind of seamless, uninterrupted globalized monoculture that we’ve all had to experience in our generations in Western Europe and Australia and the U S. 

How do algorithms fit into this? Well, the feedback loops that were required during World War II in order to calculate the best way to fire artillery were the impetus for the first computers.

Alan Turing also was able to adapt ideas from the Poles to use computers to automate the decrypting of codes sent using the Enigma cypher machines during the war. So these two sort of extreme developments of decryption/encryption and solving tabulation problems were the latest in a long line of earl computer development. Note that both computing solutions combined space and navigation. Range and distance of artillery, and the location and meaning and time of an encrypted message. Tabulation was thus linked early on managerialism, management, coordination as well as mapping and terrain. Babbage’s idea for the Difference Engine for example was to solve a problem with tabulating tables for mapping and charts for the Royal Navy.

So we see a trend. We see a trend of computers in the service of the management and organization of fleets. Fleets carry guns, fleets represent nation states, fleets do trade, trade, guns and this all adds up to a managed imperialism. So algorithms from day one have net by necessity by virtue of their context within the military system, have had that association.

However, on a purely independent route, from the point of view of mathematics and the public use of ideas and tools, algorithms have also enjoyed a non-ballistic, non-space aerospace context as well, although the rapid rise in algorithms emerged from the space race with telemetry for Rockets and so on, and communications and so on. The Apollo 11 mission being a very good example with the DSKY navigation computer ((for “display and keyboard”), and the Apollo code used for that, some of it written by Margaret Hamilton, which I did a mini opera about, about such characters but also the technologies used. In retrospect these technologies were the beginning of microelectronics and the small portable computer industry.


The Glitch = Grinch

Apparatuses were invented in order to function automatically, in other
words independently of future human involvement. (Flusser, 1983 p.73)

The glitch, the error codes 1202 and 1201 that came to screen in the Apollo 11 landing, mark an important historic moment in the emergent relationship between human and non-human computational control of technology, and was dependant on software engineered by Margaret Hamilton. Just seven and a half minutes away from landing on the moon the 1202 and 1201 codes unexpectedly hit Buzz Aldrin’s screen. There was a scramble at base to decipher their meaning. The code signposted a task overload: ‘I’m overloaded with more tasks than I should be doing at this time and I’m going to keep only the more important tasks’. ‘If the computer hadn’t recognized this problem and taken recovery action, I doubt if Apollo 11 would have been the successful moon landing it was.’ (Margaret Hamilton, 1971)

I am drawn to locating such a human/non-human transitions in Photography and Cinema? In Photography Bernd and Hilla Becher’s 1960s typologies documented the architecture of industrialisation through the programmed serial accumulation of water towers, gas tanks, and factory facades, predicting the repetitive algorithmic strategies of internet image searches and grazing.

Does a formal cinema’s structural language of logic and repetition predict AI? When Takashi Ito’s Spacy (1981) was shown at Oberhausen Peter Weibel told the audience that this film marked a new aesthetic of machine language. Masatoshi also showed a video of a robotic hand playing rock paper scissors which always won and a video of a camera locked into the centre of a moving ping pong ball. (https://www.edge-ai-vision.com/2012/08/vision-superior-robot-trumps-humans-at-rock-paper-scissors-ping-pong-balls/) That document was predicted by Croatian Ivan Galeta’s Water Pulu 1869 1896 (1987). Through optical printing the ball in a water polo match is fixed at the frame’s center, forcing the action to rotate around its still core.

Laura Kraning’s more recent digital landscape film Meridian Plain (18 min, 2016) shifts and extends the scene of the human/non-human dialogue from the Apollo Moon landing to Martian terrain. Reminiscent of Michael Snow’s approach to his surveyed landscape in La Region Centrale (1971, 180 minutes) employing Pierre Abeloos’s robotic “Camera Activating Machine” (CAM), Kraning samples and animates an extensive archive of hundreds of thousands of images captured by the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) between 2004 and 2015 to unravel a perceptually challenging portrait of the planet’s terrain. Holly Willis’s description of Meridian Plain that ‘we might consider it not time-lapse so much as space-lapse, wherein spaces collapse and give way to each other’ (https://arts-sciences.buffalo.edu/media-study/news-events/recent-news/kraningfilmlabocine.html), resuscitates the pre-cognitive terrain envisioned and narrativized in the previously mentioned Bewitched (1964-72) and Clockstoppers (2004) as viscerally embodied perception.

Kalpana Subramanian connects Meridian Plain back to a cinema of attractions, especially early train films and phantom rides. (Subtramanian, 2021 p.71) Kraning’s non-human machine looking is predicted by Dziga Vertov’s Kino Eye. Kraning transfers the kinetic material force from Vertov’s ‘man with the movie camera’ into the inner networked circuitry of the Rover’s mechanical eye. (Subtramanian, 2021 p.69)   This networked eye consists of two cameras set 12 inches apart, like a pair of human eyes, and three stereoscopic cameras on the front, back and top of the Rovers, with another camera on the robotic arm. This stereoscopy extends the stereoscopic flicker strategies Ken Jacobs developed in his stereoscopic image films Capitalism: Slavery (2006) and Capitalism: Child Labor (2006).

‘Kraning juxtaposes images from the stereoscopic cameras alternately (left and right), causing them to veer in extremes and twist in our perception, creating a bodily experience of distortion and instability. Some juxtapositions produce after-effects that appear like solarization or positive-negative inversions.’(Subtramanian, 2021 p.71)  



In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm (/ˈælɡərɪðəm/ ( listen)) is a finite sequence of well-defined instructions, typically used to solve a class of specific problems or to perform a computation. (Algorithm meaning: Google)

So algorithms. I taught an algorithm several years ago at City College of San Francisco Computer Science Department when I was teaching Video Games, and I worked with an instructor who wanted me to explore teaching the games engine Unity from the context of games and simulation, where the simulator would be a pathfinding algorithm called Dykstra’s Algorithm. We were building 3D CGI grids using unity, where a “traveler” entity would traverse the grid.

The grid was made up of sort of cylinders and cones, and the cones would be nodal points, and the cylinders would make up regions (between the cones) made up of triangles like a Geodesic Dome Lattice and the traveller would find the best way to get to where it was going across this lattice based on different elements you would put into the algorithm to facilitate the quickest route. And you could vary elements within the terrain as it were (such as elevation, scale), and the terrain, of course, being made up of nodes and nodal points. There were variables you could change. 

And this simple algorithm, pathfinding algorithm, it turns out it’s an excellent introduction to the idea of what algorithms actually are. They deal with regions they deal with recognizing if something is there or not, or if something is available or a condition is met. It’s basically basic computer science done where events have to unfold in a way where the machine itself has to take on board some of the computation, or if not all, of the computation, which leads to a sense of its own autonomy. And of course, algorithms and artificial intelligences can be autonomous, and the best uses for them are when they are able to be autonomous. Now this autonomy is in and of itself, of course ideologically neutral.

But this fear of loss of agency and the anxieties surrounding loss of agency have fed into a whole new aesthetics, like the New Aesthetic concept, which came out about 12 years ago, 11 years ago out of London’s design centre: Hoxton and Shoreditch.

James Bridle’s New Aesthetic Archive (https://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/archive) on the Tumbler looked at this kind of interesting hybrid between people and AI. The AI is indicative of a new kind of formulation which is neither, let’s say, of human agency or non-human agency, but a kind of hybrid which has its own identity in its own codes and references. It is a form of agency online which is not human but should not be seen in any way, shape or form as separate from the normal functioning of the Internet. 

So you have these parallel agents online which do as they do, and things happen as a result of what they do, and we have learned to live and work alongside them seamlessly and only now do we really really understand what this situation actually means.

And in the interest new ways of seeing, led by James Bridle, would have us bridge this gap consciously or overcome any automatic apartheid that might emerge as a result of anxiety about the AIs that are out there and now apparently outnumber human agency on the Internet. So just as with the emergence of steam and telegraphy and the main technologies at the turn of the previous century, from the 19th to the 20th, as Robert Hughes talks about in shock of the new, you know how this new shock of the of the new with AI cloud computing, sensor driven technologies. 

It’s not so much the technologies, it’s really the public use of reason – Slavoj ZIzek has talked a lot about this. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftI8IW_aItY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWkL0QwLllw)

As always, the tools are nothing inherently problematic in the tools. It’s in the systems to which they are deployed and the long term aims and objectives of those who operate the levers of power.

Let a thousand wikileaks bloom, as we might say. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCRJfitEueU

Dykstra’s Algorythm Unity Demo on YouTube https://youtu.be/bGsrnJN7iwU

Known Unknowns – Harpers  https://harpers.org/archive/2018/07/known-unknowns/


Arendt, Hannah (1998) The Human Condition Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Flusser, Vilém. (1983) Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books.

Hamilton, Margaret. (1971) “Computer Got Loaded”, Datamation, March 1.

Subramanian, Kalpana. (2021) “Esoteric Archaeologies and Interplanetary Becoming in Laura Kraning’s Meridian Plain”, Papers on Language and Literature, suppl. Special Issue: Landscape, Travel, and the Gaze in Experimental Film and Video; Edwardsville Vol. 57, Iss. 1, (Winter 2021): 67-83,116.

Van Dartel, Michel (2012) Introduction in New Aesthetics, New Anxieties. V2 Publishing

Zuboff, Shoshana. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Public Affairs, New York.

Dialogue Authors:

1and 3. Dirk de Bruyn

2 and 4. David Cox

David Cox is a filmmaker, artist, writer and teacher based in San Francisco. His films include Puppenhead, Otherzone, and Tatlin. His books include the nonfiction “Sign Wars: The Culture Jammers Strike Back”, published via LedaTape as well as the novella “Dr. Yes” and “The Mystery of the Mission” also published via Ledatape (Winter 2013).