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Francis Picabia.

Set and
dancers costumes for the
ballet Relche, 1924.

Film Beyond Its Limits

When Godard says everything has two parts, and that in a day theres
morning and evening, hes not saying its one or the other, or that
one becomes the other, becomes two. Because multiplicity is never
in the terms, however many, nor in all the terms together, the whole.
Multiplicity is precisely in the and, which is different in nature
from elementary components and collections of them. . . . AND is
neither one thing nor the other, its always in-between, between two
things; its the borderline, theres always a border, a line of flight or
flow, only we dont see it, because its the least perceptible of things.
And yet its along this line of flight that things come to pass, becomings
evolve, revolutions take shape.1
Gilles Deleuze, Three Questions on Six Times Two

In 1920, when the Parisian Dadaists asked Francis Picabia to design a

stage set for one of their manifestations, Picabia responded by cre-
ating a transparent set, an accumulation of ropes, placards, and
suspended objects set up in front of the stage instead of behind it.
And in 1924, when Picabia was invited to create a full-scale
ballet that he entitled Relche (Performance Canceled), the artist
designed a notorious set of some 370 spotlights which were now
placed behind the stage instead of above or before it. Gazing at the
space of the stage, spectators were forced to stare headlong into an
immense wall of light that would burst periodically into full illu-
mination, like so many car headlights or camera flashes, in time
with the changes in volume of the ballets musical score. Through
such precise reversals or inversions of theatrical conventions,
Picabia highlighted the space of the auditorium over the stage, the
audience over the spectacle, an audience whose response was to be
an intrinsic part of both Dada manifestation and avant-garde ballet.
But to what effect?
In a book composed in the 1970s on the history of modern sculp-
ture, Rosalind Krauss looks back at the set for Relche as a key pre-
cursor of then-current sculptural concerns. As opposed to other
modernist light-sculptures such as Lszl Moholy-Nagys Light
Prop for a Ballet (or Light-Space Modulator), 19231930, which
Krauss sees as merely a kind of anthropomorphic or robotic actor,
a technological contribution to the conventional sense of dramatic
space and time, the set for Relche was involved in a movement
to radicalize the relationship between theater and its audience. For,
in an unexpected and even gratuitous fashion, rupturing the cause

Grey Room 25, Fall 2006, pp. 92125. 2006 George Baker 93
and effect logic of narrative and its rationalist basis, Relche strikes
out at the audience directlyabsorbing it, focusing on itby lighting
it. So the audience is blinded even while it is illuminated, and that
double function demonstrates that once the watcher is physically
incorporated into the spectacle, his dazzled vision is no longer
capable of supervising its events.2
Absorption, incorporationthe metaphors of Krausss descrip-
tion speak as well to the situation created some fifty years after
Picabias set by the first of Anthony McCalls solid light films,
Line Describing a Cone, 1973. McCalls inversion of cinematic con-
ventions was slightly different than Picabias inversion of the hier-
archy of theater audience and stage, although both would prioritize
light and its effects. Asking his viewers, like the prisoners in Platos
canonical Parable of the Cave, to turn away from the scene of rep-
resentation, McCall proposed that the audience for his film should
face the projection apparatus directly, gazing into a source of light
and attending to the light beam cast into space by the apparatus.
Presaged by performances close in spirit to happenings that the
artist often produced to be filmed, and by sculptural experiments
with solid light that involved the partial masking and thus
manipulation of sources of daylight in given architectural spaces,
Line Describing a Cone began with a single beam or point of light.
Over the course of thirty minutes, this beam slowly and inexorably
developed into a circular shape, ultimately describing a hollow
cone of light that pierced the darkened space of its exhibition
or projection.
As if this turn away from the scene of representation was a
simple rationalist move, a true analog to the Platonic parable, McCall
described his intentions in words characteristic of the still-residual
modernism of the time. Line Describing a Cone is what I term a
solid light film, McCall asserted. He then announced a hostility to
representational or narrative content that had been endemic to
visual modernism for almost a century: It is dealing with the pro-
jected light beam itself, rather than treating the light-beam as a mere
carrier of coded information, which is decoded when it strikes a flat
surface (the screen).3 To face the source of the projected light of
film, to turn all of ones attention to the projection apparatus itself,
was seemingly to disallow ones mastering by the cinematic specta-
cle; it was to face the medium as a material that could be perceived
directly and thus understood. McCall continued:
Line Describing a Cone deals with one of the irreducible, nec-
essary conditions of film: projected light. It deals with this
phenomenon directly, independent of any other consideration.
It is the first film to exist solely in real, three-dimensional,

94 Grey Room 25
This film exists only in the present: the moment of projection.
It refers to nothing beyond this real time. (In contrast, most films
allude to a past time.)
It contains no illusion.4

Echoing one of the key ambitions of minimalism, put in place defin-

itively by the Jewish Museums Primary Structures exhibition in
1966, McCall concluded: It is a primary experience, not secondary:
i.e., the space is real, not referential; the time is real, not referential.5
We seem far with this statement from the absorption and
incorporation attributed by Krauss to Picabias Relche, far from
a spectacle that cannot be supervised in an a priori or rationalist
fashion, and yet there are paradoxes writhing, in fact, beneath the
smooth surface and confidence of McCalls explanatory words. We
may doubt, for instance, that any film could escape the condition of
the mediums dedication to the production of illusion, no matter
how directly it might analyze the conditions of this illusions pro-
duction (the raison dtre of the so-called flicker film, and one of
the interests of the series of works that McCall created in the wake
of Line Describing a Cone). To gaze at the films cone of light devel-
oping and being shaped still depends, of course, on the persistence
of vision, on our inability to perceive the individual still frames
consisting here of the line animation of a white circle growing
slowly on a black groundas anything but the illusion of continu-
ity and unimpeded flow. In a further paradox, while the purpose of
McCalls turn away from the cinematic scene of representation may
be to rupture traditional cinemas dependence on narrative or extra-
filmic conventions, narrative is of course still foregrounded here.
The works title makes this inescapable, with its play on the word
describing, as if McCall recognized films inability in its tempo-
ral extension to divorce itself of a narrative dimension: Line
Describing a Cone.6 We watch as a line of light grows into a curved
plane, and then a semicircle, and then a full, conical form. There is,
as one critic put it, an almost structurally conventional narrative
development, and one wonders if the form described by McCalls
film, poised like a living object in the projection space, is not
indeed another anthropomorphic type of actor, a conventional
analog for the centered and unified human body as well as a tech-
nological contribution to a conventional sense of dramatic space
and time.7
While the full series of solid light films that would descend from
Line Describing a Cone seem in one sense dedicated to confronting
and frustrating any remnants of this conventional readingthe
work of analytic decomposition elaborated by the later cone films
(Partial Cone, Conical Solid, and Cone of Variable Volume), or
the dispersed form of Long Film for Four Projectors and its own

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 95

progenythe full range of paradox presented by McCalls first
abstract film has not yet been confronted. For if, on the one hand,
a simple narrative progression was involved, that transformation
did not evolve and could not be received in a unified or uniform
manner. No longer, as McCall stressed about his film,
is one viewing position as good as any other. For this film,
every viewing position presents a different aspect. The viewer,
therefore, has a participatory role in apprehending the event:
he or she can, indeed needs to, move around, relative to the
emerging light form. This is radically different from the tradi-
tional film situation . . . [where] the viewer sits passively in
one position . . . [and] can only participate vicariously.8
And if, in one sense, the film medium was here subjected to an
analytic strategy of potentially rationalist implication, the result
was indeed, on the level of spectatorship, less a move of critical
distanciation than one that produced a new field of both the
absorption and incorporation described by Krauss.9 For, as the
spectators of Line Describing a Cone moved in an aleatory fashion
in relation to the slowly emerging film form and to the other members
of the audiencedeveloping in this way in a fashion as marked
as, and yet much more random than, the filmic transformation of
line into conethey would be lit by the film just as they could
examine its productive apparatus, they could interact with and be
both illuminated and blinded by its light form in a myriad of ways.
In a counterintuitive manner, unlike the metaphoric entrance
promised by so much traditional narrative cinema, spectators of
Line Describing a Cone could enter literally into the film; one
could walk inside or touch its cone; indeed, one ramification of
its transformed projection scenario was that in every moment of its
apperception, one was somehow newly in or a part of the film.
True to an analytic strategy that broached no separationthat
was in fact dedicated paradoxically both to anti-illusionism and to
a new realized form of immersion or continuitythis is a con-
fusing situation to describe. Our task is made that much more dif-
ficult by the most important of the incorporative or absorptive
moves that Line Describing a Cone makes. This is a move that, while
not stressed by Krauss, was also central to the strategies of the Dada
moment, and to Picabias Relche. Throbbing in time to the ballets
music, the lights of the Relche set were made thus to communicate
with another medium or form, just as they insinuatedin their
repetitive flashing and concomitant freezing of the balletic move-
ment itselfa metaphorically photographic dimension to the
theatrical spectacle. Sculpture touches music and photography and
dance, and in Relche the communication of mediums did not stop
here. For the reversed theatrical scenario proposed by the set, its

96 Grey Room 25
inverted projection onto the audience
during the course of the dance, would
be answered by an actual cinematic
projection, the film Entracte by
Picabia and Ren Clair that was pro-
jected onto the stage as the ballets
intermission, a moment when the
stage is usually unoccupied, when the
audiences activity is usually priori-
tized.10 This movement of reversal
and inversion, a concerted communi-
cation of disparate mediums around
a palpable limit or threshold, is pre-
cisely the strategy resurrected by
McCalls invention of the solid light
film. For the most striking paradox of
McCalls Line Describing a Cone is
that in its extreme analytic work upon
the medium and the materials of film,
the medium achieves a real (as opposed
to represented) spatial dimension;
film in fact accedes to the condition of
It is as though, the critic Scott MacDonald noted to McCall, Anthony McCall.
filmmaking had led you out of film.11 We might say that a similar Line Describing a Cone, 1973.
Installation at Artists Space,
dynamic dominated almost every form of advanced art practice in New York, 1974. Photograph
the wake of minimalism, ranging from painting to music to dance. by Peter Moore The Estate
A commonplace now of critical understanding, minimalism repre- of Peter Moore/VAGA, NYC.

sents the moment when the various modernist mediums achieved

both the apotheosis of their work of self-definition, as Clement
Greenberg would have put it, and in this extreme self-objectifica-
tion reached a limit where they fell as objects into the world.12
Painting, for example, in delimiting as never before its material flat-
ness as a field, would court the condition of becoming merely a lit-
eral flat object, an object that an artist like Donald Judd would begin
to call a specific object, somehow positioned at or beyond a limit
such that it was now neither painting nor sculpture. In fact, an
artist close to Judd such as Dan Flavin provides the closest parallel
or immediate predecessor to McCalls desire to solidify and to work
with light, to push the medium of film into a sculptural dimension.
But Flavin, of course, took the path diametrically opposed to McCalls
work upon film, using light instead to de-solidify and thus com-
plicate that which constitutes the object form and experience of
sculpture, to dematerialize the most material or solid of medi-
umsto use a slightly misleading term in use at the time. Flavins
light sculptures, too, of course, posed a crossing of mediums; while

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 97

their potentially cinematic dimension has hardly ever elicited com-
ment or has not even been seen (but which perhaps McCall allows
us to see anew), their play with color and light betrayed such
works allegiance more to a reflection upon the transformation of
the medium of painting, to their new suspension between illusion
and a real three-dimensional object, between, in fact, painting and
sculpture.13 In a paradox that brings us back to McCall, the crucial
point however is this: in this suspension between mediums
(understood by many minimalists as an escape from the medium
altogether) a new form of continuity was again devised. In Flavin,
this took the form of the light sculptures inherent suturingthrough
the incorporative play of lightof the individual art object to its
surrounding space, a suturing that ultimately would include as well
the spectators body in its all-encompassing embrace.
We know now that it was this new experience of continuity that
was everywhere radicalized by the artistic strategies that have since
come to be known simply as postminimalism, and it is to this
artistic formation, I believe, that McCalls films must be related.
This continuity has been understood, to date, in terms limited to
the phenomenological concerns introduced by the minimalist
artists themselves. That is, if one of the implications of the mini-
malist literalization of aesthetic form was the emptying out of all
internal formal play within the art object, a voiding of its substan-
tive being, then that art objects relational existence would now
become all-important. It would be the art objects relation to the
space of its exhibition that would become of marked value, as well
as the spectators changing phenomenological apperception of the
object in and through both space and time. It was a short step from
such an understanding of arts vocationstressing not internal and
autonomous being but rather relational interdependenceto pro-
claim that the phenomenological and durational horizon of per-
ception in itself was in some form the new modality of artistic
practice, an understanding that would not allow art to be artificially
constrained into a self-enclosed object form. From such an under-
standing would stem the radical procedural strategies of the process
art of Eva Hesse or Richard Serra, as much as the environmental
experiments, performances, and films of both Bruce Nauman and
Dan Graham, where the practice of art was first aligned with a series
of transitive actions upon artistic materials and then opened up to
transitive action in the world directly. Such was the radical conti-
nuity of space and time broached by postminimal art, one that
would suffer no conception of art limited to the production of
isolated, self-contained objects.
Yet it has been overlooked how once again the postminimal
interpenetration of art and spectator was articulated in relation to,
and perhaps depended upon, a new interpenetration of artistic

98 Grey Room 25
mediums or forms. For, as opposed to the marked de-specification
of art embraced by some forms of Conceptual artConceptual arts
investigation of the condition of what Joseph Kosuth called art-in-
general (although our understanding even of this investigation
needs to be complicated)the strategies of postminimalism expanded
rather than voided what we might understand an artistic medium
to be, freeing, we could say, a mediums specificity from the for-
mer constraints of its materials or object-forms, allowing that speci-
ficity to act upon the world in new ways.14 At its most challenging
moments, the postminimal quest for spectatorial continuity opened
up a quest for a radical continuity of forms, which we might call a
transgressive model of medium-belonging that sought to take medi-
ums to the limits where they began to touch and shape other forms,
but only by othering themselves in the process.15
Everywhere we look in McCalls early projects we see a similar
desire to open radically the object of art to a phenomenological and
durational experience, one that would however in the process artic-
ulate the interpenetration of the remnants or concerns of individ-
ual mediums and forms. There would be slide projections such as
Slit Scan or Miniature in Black and White, 1972, that would play
with the temporal concerns of film as well as the film mediums
dependence on the persistence of vision in an entirely other medium
and apparatus. There would be seemingly static photographic works
such as Water Table, a series of six images of a table in a sunlit
room that cataloged a concerted and progressive interaction of dis-
parate forms. Dribbled with water, the table was also covered with
wooden elements whose linearity and repetition was reminiscent
of the primary forms of minimal sculpture, arranged in a random
manner however close to the concerns of process art and distrib-
ution sculpture (i.e., Carl Andres scatter works). As the photo-
graphic series progressed, these linear elements were gradually
removed from the scene, allowing the sunlight in the space to reflect
more directly off the spilled water, ultimately dematerializing the
very solidity of the table through the mirror play and incorporative
sheen of light. While holding various forms and elements some-
what awkwardly togetherthe linearity of drawing, the modular-
ity of sculpture, the documentary inscription of photography, the
sequencing of a narrative form or of filmWater Table ultimately
both exhibits and thematizes continuity in its dematerialization
of matter through light (the works title is an obvious pun, literaliz-
ing the term used for the level of flowing water beneath solid
ground, and the work itself belongs to a larger interest on McCalls
part in using elemental materialsfire, water, lightthat explicitly
exceed the boundaries of clearly delineated forms).
And, in McCalls early development, there would also be envi-
ronmental and performative works made to be filmed, such as

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 99

Landscape for White Squares, where the performers marching of
squares of canvas material into real space could only call up the
material substrate of painting as well as the material manipulations
of sculpture, while the arrangement of the performers bodies and
their canvas squares in space articulated in a startling way the lin-
ear arrangement of film frames following one upon the other, as if
the material of film had been translated into a newly sculptural or
spatial form in literal and extreme interdependence with and upon
the human body.16
By 1973, however, McCalls invention of the solid light film
brought the interaction of disparate mediums to a place they had
never before been, inventing a more precise form of what we might
call filmic sculpture. At the limit of the articulation of the mate-
rials of film, McCall would locate specific points of connection of
the film form to an entirely other medium. The specific idea that I
was working on was that the projectors light beam was not only
visible, but physical and space-occupying, McCall recalled, and it
could be shaped, both in space and in time, using film as the
medium.17 To name McCalls cone films and their progeny filmic
sculpture is to put such work in explicit dialogue with the type of
artistic project emerging from postminimalism that has been given
the linked but reversed name sculptural film. The term is the

100 Grey Room 25

critic Benjamin Buchlohs. It is a term that attempts to account for Opposite: Anthony McCall.
the generation of postminimalist sculptors in the late 1960s and Water Table, 1972. Set of six
gelatin silver prints.
early 1970s who found themselves ineluctably attracted to work
Above: Anthony McCall.
within film, as if the concerns of sculpture could only be articulated Landscape for White Squares,
now in this entirely other medium. In an early essay on Richard 1972.
Serras films, Buchloh is at pains to describe the precise manner in
which sculpture and film come to be co-articulated in Serras pro-
ject. What distinguishes Serras films, Buchloh writes, is that, in
arriving at a new definition of plastic phenomena through the nec-
essary use of film, they demonstrate their own necessity as films.18
Immediately, it seems as if the interplay of sculpture and film at the
moment of postminimalism would not lead to a simple fusion of
disparate forms; something essential to the logic of each medium
was being discovered through breaking the modernist taboos
around medium specificity, through exposing each form to the other.
For Buchloh, the initiation of sculptural film in the late 1960s has
nothing to do with the ghost of the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk
haunting all of modernism and twentieth-century artistic culture;
this is rather an ambition that (inaccurately) Buchloh ascribes to the
artistic formation of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert
Rauschenberg; instead, the new forms were based on an awareness
of the objective correspondences between the investigations in the
plastic and the temporal arts.19
In order to clarify what these correspondences might be, Buchloh
traces in meticulous detail the manner in which process sculpture
came to break down the false separation of the artistic object, a
development in which postminimal sculpture comes to understand
its operations as opening onto a continuum of spatial exploration
(hardly separated, that is, in terms of object and architecture, or of
architecture and observer). Through sculptures discovery of its
operation in a spatial continuum would come its new awareness
that such a continuum necessitates thinking of the sculptural oper-
ation in duration as well, for any thought of a spatial continuum is

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 101

equally temporal. If the temporal field, Buchloh explains, as a
mode of experience is linked in this way with the spatial field of
perception, then the technical formal necessity of the step from
process sculpture to sculptural film becomes evident, since the per-
ception of a spatial-temporal field is the very mode of film.20
Buchlohs point is that the new awareness of the durational field of
sculptural activity led to a realization of an objective correspon-
dence between sculpture and film, a linkage that had never been
articulated before. Suddenly, to begin to work in film could be
claimed, logically and formally, to be a clear extension of the radical
sculptural principles discovered in the late 1960s. But more,
Richard Serra. Frames from Buchlohs point is that an awareness of this new correspondence of
Hand Catching Lead, 1968.
sculpture and film produced the most radical and consequent work
16mm film.
of that moment. [S]culptural reflection reaches its most advanced
position precisely at the point where sculpture as a concrete phe-
nomenon is transcended and transformed into sculptural film,
Buchloh concluded, pointing to works such as Serras early films
Hand Catching Lead or Hands Scraping. No longer sculpture or
film, these works induce the viewer to perceive active physiologi-
cal and psychological identity in more modes than the traditions of
these two categories permit.21
Buchlohs last sentence above is an extraordinary statement; its
implications need unpacking. We need to know what the new per-
ception of physiological and psychological identity might mean
for artistic experience; we need to question why suddenly Buchloh
retreats from his own term sculptural film to lapse into a formula
reminiscent of Judd, calling the new work no longer sculpture or
film. We seem to be attending to a description of the birth of a new,
as yet properly unnamable form (or strategy, or, perhaps better,
practice). Ironically, however, it would be Richard Serra himself
who would later question Buchlohs use of the term sculptural
film in a well-known interview with film historian Annette
As soon as the term sculptural film comes up, I get very con-
fused about what I understand sculpture to be and what I
understand film to be. When someone uses a slow dolly with
a camera, or progressively moves into a foreshortened space,
it still seems to me that you are dealing with an illusion on a
flat plane which you cant enter into. The way it is understood
denies the progressive movement of your body in time. Its
from a fixed viewpoint. It takes into consideration the very
flatness of the screen. Ive always thought that the basic
assumptions of film could never be sculptural in any way, and
to beg the analogy between what is assumed to be sculptural
in sculpture and what is assumed to be sculptural in film is

102 Grey Room 25

not really to understand the potential of what sculpture is and
always has been. I have always thought it was a bit journalese
to discuss it that way. That is not to say that you cant talk
about languages people share, languages in different material
manifestations. But to say that an experience of sculpture can
be similar to or influenced by the illusion in filmIve always
thought that was nonsense.22
We might wonder in the face of these words whether or not we are
witnessing a sculptor in full retreat from the radical implications
opened up by an earlier, now rejected body of work. More likely,
however, critic and artist simply misunderstand one another here
in a manner where their concerns come to communicate without
their knowing it. For later in the same interview, Serra explains that
his reason for making films was to distinguish sculpture from film
even more radically, in fact to use the parameters of one medium to
launch a critique of the other. That this work of distinction might
not oppose but in fact could simultaneously produce a more true
form of correspondence between two mediums hardly occurs to
Serra. Speaking of his film Frame, where spatial measurement is
deployed to underline the spatial illusions produced in represen-
tational films, Serra explains:
I think that what the film points out is that there is a basic flat
illusion of film, there isnt any real space. And I think that
probably my need to demonstrate that was the need to make
the distinction from sculpture even clearer to me. At the time
I probably didnt realize it, but it has since seemed to be one
of the reasons for doing the film.23
It was perhaps not Anthony McCalls primary intention to use
film to critique the medium of sculpture. It is a fact, however, that
the new collision of these forms in McCalls project articulates a set
of sculptural concerns in ways that radicalize (another under-
standing of critique) the traditional practice of that medium. It is
interesting as well to note that the pathway followed by both Serra
and Buchlohfrom sculpture into filmwas also reversed in
McCalls project. In other words, while the transition from the fixed
object-form of sculpture to the immaterial flux of film was seen as
a kind of teleological progression in the visual arts, McCalls move-
ment from film back into sculpture proposes that the process is less
a teleology than a porous limit, a boundary that can be crossed in
myriad ways. Methodologically, we seem then to face not a dialec-
tical historical development, as the art historian might have us
believe, but a moment in history when development was precisely
thrown into question, when the expansion of forms rather began to
circulate around a limit and its transgression. For transgression, as

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 103

understood by twentieth-century thinkers from Georges Bataille to
Michel Foucault, follows no set direction or pathway, but rather
takes both thought and form into pathways that are inherently mul-
tiple and disorienting, that disorient in fact by the ways in which
they allow multiplicity to come into being. In McCalls project, we
face a radical co-articulation of film and sculpture, as Gilles Deleuze
might have put it, rather than a dialectical development leading
from sculpture into film.
The transgressive movement between film and sculpture, with
neither form given priority over the other, finds its precise echo in
the diverse formal strategies that McCall would begin to employ,
strategies that indeed show that distinguishing these mediums
would only highlight their correspondence more directly. At times,
in the cone works, film would be the medium used to articulate a
sculptural and physicalor at least space-occupyingform, and
yet at other times undeniable sculptural principles would equally
come to modulate the films. At first seeming to break with the intense
logic of development or becoming inherent in the action of Line
Describing a Cone, McCalls subsequent (and shorter) cone films
took up the original form in parts, and shifted the first films self-
evident becoming into other, less obvious domains. For McCall,
though, becoming was still the issue; each cone film to follow
Line Describing a Cone systematically develops a scale along
which a form becomes or ceases to become a solid.24 The becom-
ing at stake in the subsequent cone films, then, seems less about
the transition between line and cone, or between two- and three-
dimensions, than between film and sculpture themselves as forms
and as mediums, the becoming solid of light.25
In Partial Cone, 1974, a half-circle of light is put through three
different types of formal modulation. These modulations are caused

104 Grey Room 25

by the manipulation of image frames, producing different patterns Opposite: Anthony McCall.
of full and blank black frames, the latter of which produce non- Partial Cone, 1974. Film frame.

light. In a first modulation, the frames are presented in units orga- Above: Anthony McCall.
Partial Cone, 1974. Schematic
nized around matching pairs: one frame of a half-circle followed by diagram showing the distrib-
one blank frame, two frames of the half-circle followed by two ution of image and non-image
blank frames, and so on. In a second variation, the fully solid pro- frames within a 72-frame
(3 second) section of the film.
jection of the half-circle dominates the inserted blank frames at
first; McCall proceeds to insert one blank frame every twenty-four
frames, then in units composed of decreasing gaps (1 every 12, 1
every 8, 1 every 4, etc.). The last variation reverses this progression,
allowing the blank frames to dominate, into which one frame of the
half-circle is inserted in units of now steadily increasing intervals.
The flicker effect achieved in each variation passes through and
beyond the human capacity to register the perceptual change of the
frames flying by at twenty-four frames per second; in McCalls
words, a threshold moment is quickly reached in which at certain
points the solid ceases to appear as such as its fabric increasingly
assumes the quality of pure, agitated light, or, of course, vice
versa.26 It is crucial to note, however, that while McCalls Partial
Cone explores film illusion again in ways that connect the work to
the genre of the flicker film, his manner of modulating the film form
takes its structural principlemodularity and permutationfrom
formal procedures that seem closest to those of minimal sculpture.
With the obsessiveness and compulsion of a Sol LeWitt progression
of modular cubes, McCall exhausts the structural permutations of
his patterns of film frames, treating and ordering the individual
unit of the frame, in fact, in a manner absolutely parallel to the
manner in which industrial materials were deployed in minimalist
sculptural form. Sculptural modularity here produces cinematic
modulation, no matter the attempts of some film theorists to keep

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 105

these domains separate, to claim modulation as the sole and proper
domain of film.27 And, equally as important, the threshold reached
by Partial Cone lies not just at the limits of cinematic perception
but at its sculptural apperception as well. If the variation of the
flicker effect pushes the form in and out of solidity, and thus in
and out of the sculptural field altogether, the viewers bodily move-
ment around the now partial form radically alters its perceptibility
too. For, from the exterior side of the half-circle, the curvature and
three-dimensionality of the form is easily apparent; and yet, made
of light, from the other side this three-dimensionality simply can-
not be spatially perceived, as the form collapses into an illusion of
a seemingly two-dimensional plane. Crucially, now, just as a sculp-
tural procedure had produced cinematic effects, it is a cinematic
property and its limits, the projection of light and the creation
of illusion, which produce sculptural volume and depth or its
perceived lack.
If Partial Cone collapsed from certain angles into an illusion of
flatness and was at times only able to be perceived as a plane,
McCalls Conical Solid, 1974, was made only of linear or planar ele-
ments. And yet it, too, carries within itself a perceptual thresh-
old, as McCall put it, where a plane of light rotating like the second
hand of a clock attempts to describe a conical form.28 Broken down
at first into the positions possible in a rotation that takes only four
frames of film, the viewer perceives an X of light made up of the
four planar positions, more or less constant due once more to the
persistence of vision. Expanding the positions traced by this plane
into those allowed in a 6-frame rotation, an 8-frame rotation, and
then a 12-, 16-, 24-, 48-, and 120-frame rotation, McCall slowly
allows the plane of light to be seen describing a newly solidified
conical form. The movement of Conical Solid becomes one of per-
petual rotation, a repetitive and obsessive circling like the endless
ticking of a clock. This rotation occurs, however, in a counter-
clockwise direction in real space, and indeed the rotation progres-
sively slows in speed, as if time itself was being thickened, or
metaphorically run backwardwhich is more of a spatial as
opposed to a temporal experience and possibility. And yet slowed
in this way, it is also as if time in Conical Solid has now been solid-
ified into space, as the solid traced in this film does not take the
form of a cone of light but can only be perceived in negative by the
temporal slowing of the planar rotation itself. Cinematic time, that
is, becomes transformed at a certain limit into sculptural space, in
the same manner as light can be said to become solid.
Conical Solid departs from the other cone films in its interdic-
tion, however, of spatial incorporation. While the viewer can surely
enter into the field of light of this film, the planar movement
within the cone form now seems to push the viewer out of the

106 Grey Room 25

form itself, perhaps accounting for McCalls choice of the title for Anthony McCall.
this piece. McCall, of course, was testing limits, of both perception Conical Solid, 1974.
Twenty-four frames (one
and of mediums; both the outside and inside of these limits would second) from each of the
be explored. The last of the cone films, Cone of Variable Volume, films eight parts.
returns to the hollowness of the cone form and articulates this
volume in a concerted way. By moving his camera up and down
above a solid white circle filmed on an animation stand, McCall
was able to play with a range of movement in which the size of the
cone now seems to expand and contract in space. Starting with an
almost imperceptible slowness, the movement in and out of the
cone gradually increases in speed, accelerating in four perceptible
stages. While from the exterior of the pulsating cone form, the
movement of the film does seem to push the viewer spatially just
as vehemently as Conical Solid, the hollowness of the cone ultimately

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 107

pulls the viewer into its confines, articulating a limit
around the spectators body that constantly shifts in space.
While comparisons with the ur-image of Western human-
ism may seem aproposLeonardos Vitruvian man, per-
fectly inscribed in the ideal geometry of the circle and the
squarethe endless throbbing of McCalls form undoes
this apparent call to tradition. Inscribing a geometry that
given over to filmwill not remain constant, Cone of
Variable Volume calls out for the human bodyinvited to
move back and forth and thus in and out of the limits of
the moving cone formto submit to flux as well. And of
course the predecessors of Cone of Variable Volume lie
less in the Renaissance than in avant-garde experiments
with film such as Marcel Duchamps Anemic Cinema or
his Rotoreliefs.29 Rather than a spatial exploration of the
seamless merging of geometry and the logic of the human
body, McCalls film, like Duchamps, stages the encounter
of body and film as a cinematic experience of both dizzy-
ing excess and inescapable sexuality. This had always
been at least a horizon of McCalls early performance
works, where happenings that seemed to deploy the most
stable of geometries, like the grid forms of his Landscape
for Fire performances, were played off against the aleatory
if not utterly orgiastic principle of movement underlying
the progression of a happening like Circulation Figures,
1972. In the latter work, a large group of filmmakers and photogra-
phers were invited to bring their cameras to a space surrounded by
mirrors, in order to move about and film both the space and each
other with a cinematographic promiscuity that would put more
mainstream films like Antonionis Blow Up to shame.30
We are not used to a sculptural space varying in volume at

108 Grey Room 25

every moment of its apperception. The last of McCalls cone films Opposite, top:
highlights then the strangeness of the filmic articulation of sculp- Anthony McCall. Cone of
Variable Volume, 1974.
tural form, a form that will occupy space and with which we can Film frame.
interact, but will never remain stable, fluctuating as pointedly as Opposite, bottom:
the spectatorial body itself. Consequently, Cone of Variable Volume Marcel Duchamp.
seems to throw off a dizzying series of experiential analogies, shift- Anemic Cinema, 1926.
Film frames.
ing in character over time in ways that are similarly unstable. If,
here, McCall was testing the incorporative logic of his new film Above: Anthony McCall.
Circulation Figures, 1972.
forms, that dynamic of incorporation became vehemently corporal. Photograph by
The cone film, always like an actor in its exhibition space, now David Crosswaite.
became more explicitly like a body, seeming, at the slowest pace
of its expansion and contraction, to breathe in a rhythm that
roughly matched the human bodys own. As the variation sped up,
however, the Bolero-like inevitability of its acceleration brought to
mind quite different corporal rhythms, producing a sexual inten-
sity that, as Derrida might put it, invaginated the spectator in a
manner whose effect seemed to want to assert the undeniable phys-
icality of the process of cinematic incorporation itself. On the one
hand, we might read Cone of Variable Volume as proposing that
the cinematic modulation of sculpture, the crossing of the limit
between these two forms, is a transgression operating in a manner
as radical as that in which we can experience the intermingling and
sharing of separate bodies; on the other hand, the works chiastic
exploration of a sculptural embodiment of film proposes in fact a
sexualization of the logic of cinematic incorporation that creates an
entirely new sociality and politics of and for film. It has long been
mentioned that McCalls solid light films contained of course an
implicit politicnamely, the idea of using film to communitize
the film audience.31 At a moment when the worlds increasingly
total mediation through the illusory powers of film and the image
in general was being denounced by tracts such as Guy Debords The

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 109

Society of the Spectacle, the false commu-
nity of spectacle was here countered by
the real, physical incorporation of the
spectator posed by McCalls films. Cinema,
in other words, had always been involved
in a kind of false captation of the social
body; McCall countered this capture not
by simply dissecting the logic of cinematic
identification and incorporationby
countering puritanically the false plea-
sures of cinematic illusionbut by collec-
tivizing the process, by sexualizing it, by
making it excessive, physical, and quite
literally real. And, in a crucial counterde-
velopment, the incorporation of the spectator by the film now
effects the film form in turn, which begins to share the charac-
teristics of the body just as it reaches out to engulf it, becoming in
some sense a corporal form as well.
We thus arrive at the logic of the last development of McCalls
solid light films, the invention of what the artist began to call the
long film, first posed in Long Film for Four Projectors, 1974. Such
a film would literally be long in a manner that was obviously
temporal; relying on a logic of permutation that had once more both
sculptural and cinematic relevance, McCalls piece used four forty-
minute reels of film that were shown on four projectors set up in the
four corners of a room, pointing inward. Rotated so that the film
was fed through each projector in the four potential waysforward,
backward, inside out, and right way aroundthe film became now
more properly an event that lasted some six hours in total.32 But if a
spatial manipulation of the film reel created such temporal elonga-
tion, this was a film that also became long spatially and sculp-

110 Grey Room 25

turally due to its transformed projection scenario, breaking up as it Opposite, top: Anthony
did the volumetric unity of the individual cone films. Spatially, McCall. Long Film for Four
Projectors, 1974. Installation
this film is very different from the four Cone films, McCall has view. Photograph Henry
written. Each of these presents a single volumetric object that Graber, 2003.
occupies the center of a surrounding space. In Long Film, there is a Opposite, bottom: Anthony
field created by the film. It surrounds the visitor. As long as you are McCall. Long Film for Four
Projectors, 1974. Installation
in the room, you are within the film.33 Crucially, while McCall drawing. Photocopy and
makes the logical step from the physical incorporation of the cone pencil on paper.
films to a newly all-encompassing cinematic and spatial field, the Above: Anthony McCall.
invention of this field depended in Long Film for Four Projectors Four Projected Movements,
on McCalls abandonment of the conical form of his earlier films. If 1975. Announcement card,
Serpentine Gallery, London,
this conical form had allowed for a literal spatial incorporation of 1975.
the spectator, Long Film radicalized this incorporation by taking up
instead the planar form used only thus far in Conical Solid. And if
there the planar form had blocked the incorporative destiny of
the other cone films, in Long Film it was precisely the intersection
and crossing of the barrier of multiple planar forms that allowed for
the dissolution of cone into spatial field. In Long Film for Four
Projectors, the lessons of the form of the planeits physical embod-
iment of a barrier or a limitand the incorporative form of the cone
came together in that paradoxical wedding of distance and conti-
nuity which since the outset of McCalls work seems to have been
his formal (and political) goal.
The planar forms deployed in Long Film would call up their own
analogs, as had the cone; in a one-hour distillation of the principles
of the longer projection that McCall entitled Four Projected
Movements, 1975, the film plane deployed in space was forced to
coincide with the planar articulation of space itself, by which I
mean to highlight the coincidence of this film form with the artic-
ulation, not of sculpture, but of architecture. Like all of McCalls
titles, Four Projected Movements was multivalent in the extreme,
indeed as multiple in its connotations as its planar form was in its
medium-belonging. Consisting of a single plane of light that moved

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 111

slowly in a ninety-degree rotation, the film was again pushed
through the projector in the four possible permutations. It thus had
four movements, like a musical composition (each fifteen min-
utes long); and its movements were not only projected but also
forced again upon the spectators body, aligning its scenario
perhaps with a spatial and temporal form such as dance.
Projected here also takes on an ambivalent existence, as these
movements literally depend upon projection for their substance,
but are also projected in the sense of anticipated bodily on the
part of the spectator. Aligning the projector with one wall of the
architectural container in which the film is shown, McCall assured
that this filmic plane would coincideliterallywith an architec-
tural one. Flipped in its various ways, the rotating plane would
push out from the wall toward the floor or from the ceiling toward a
wall. Instead of existing in an open empty space, McCall clarified,
Four Projected Movements was presented against a wall, so that
the plane of light was always experienced in relation to the wall or
the floor: it pushed people against the wall, away from the wall,
down onto the floor.34
This is a startling assertion when read in terms of McCalls pre-
vious work. We have become habituated, perhaps, to the cone films
freeing of the spectators body; unfettered from the prison of what
has been called cinemas Institutional Mode of Representation,
the cone films opened up a potential infinity of spectatorial inter-
action.35 This freedom however, perhaps relied on a crossing of
the limits of cinema with the medium of sculpture, an embodiment
that pushed the two mediums toward an opening up of limits them-
selves. Looking now to the institutional emplacement of architec-
ture, film would seem to engage instead with a situation of marked
spectatorial control, as if the crossing of film into architecture
produced not an opening of limits but a new awareness and rigid
assertion of the limit itself. While pushing the spectators interac-
tion with the field and the form of film to a new extreme, Four
Projected Movements becomes, however, rather unlike the other
solid light films. In its solidity it seems to take on what Michel
Foucault would call a disciplinary dimension, as if film had been
infected by its crossing of the limits of architecture, only to allow
us to feel in an achingly corporeal way the limiting core of archi-
tecture itself.
This double movement, of course, is what I have been trying to
explore throughout this essay. As film takes on the shape and para-
meters of architecture only to display the limitations of the form it
has inhabited, we understand anew what it means for a form to
transgress the limits of its form, to correspond to the limits of
another. But we must consider as well that this disciplinary
film would be, more or less, the last of McCalls solid light films for

112 Grey Room 25

some twenty-five years. A form had been
invented only to be almost as quickly
abandoned. Two years of life seems
tremendously, even painfully, short. It
was as if McCalls concerted crossing of
aesthetic limits had run its course, if not
exhausted its potential permutations. But
more, it was as if crossing such aesthetic
limits was suddenly seen as potentially
inadequate as an avant-garde strategy, if
not compensatory to other limits, politi-
cal and social limits, that could not be
crossed at all. In one of the most impor-
tant accounts of the aspirations and place
of avant-garde film in our culture,
Annette Michelson has described pre-
cisely what we may take to have been
McCalls dilemma:
In our country, the questioning of the
values of formal autonomy has led
to an attempted dissolution of dis-
tinctions or barriers between media.
Perhaps, however, this is because our
social and economic hierarchies and
distinctions remain pretty well imper-
vious to the radical aspiration of film-
makers and of artists in general. The
hierarchical distinctions, the barriers
between forms are, of course, infinitely
more vulnerable. Cinema, on the verge
of winning the battle for the recogni-
tion of its specificityand every major
Anthony McCall. Found Solid
filmmaker and critic of the last half-century has fought that Light Installation, 1973.
battleis now engaged in a reconsideration of its aims. The Offset lithography on paper.
Victor now questions his Victory. The emergence of new Anthony McCall. Found Solid
intermedia, the revival of the old dream of synaesthesia, the Light Installation, 1973. Detail.
Offset lithography on paper.
cross-fertilization of dance, theatre, and film, as in the theatre
pieces of Robert Whitman . . . constitute a syndrome of that
radicalisms crisis, both formal and social.36
Here, then, is a dilemma that would seem to explain McCalls sud-
den abandonment of the solid light film in 1975, turning thereafter
to authorial collaborations and to what was called the new talkie
a reconsideration of narrative and directly political cinematic con-
tentin works like Argument, 1978, and Sigmund Freuds Dora, 1979.
And yet, as I have been at pains to show in this essay, McCalls

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 113

invented film forms were not exactly intermedia, perhaps far
from a dissolution of distinctions, surely nothing like synesthe-
sia. Their attention to cinema, their opening up of this form to other
mediums, was much more specific and incisive than such terms
imply. One might instead argue that the films transgression of aes-
thetic limits, their analogical work between forms, was hardly
compensatory but in fact visionary, and that this transgression was
less an escape from the putative autonomy of cinema than a
realization of a cinematic logic that both formal and political
exigencies had previously thwarted. To understand this long-
thwarted and then short-lived realization, we need to understand
precisely what the marked cinematic abstraction of McCalls project
in fact achieved.
One of the most puzzling aspects of the limited reception that
McCalls films have thus far received, but also one of the most
consistent, lies in viewers inability to resist analogizing McCalls
forms to other kinds of objects and events.37 Thus, the solid light
films have been compared to the man-made forms of a lighthouse
or a beacon (and this by the artist himself); their play with light
linked with natural forms such as the sun, an eclipse, or the glim-
mer of a shooting star.38 The films use of light and geometry, then,
seems constantly to tempt viewers into modes of reading that are
hardly true to the forms abstraction (a common dilemma), as if
these light forms glowing in dark space can only be comprehended
through categories of experience to which we have previous access:
the cones are like beacons, the line describes a cone with the same
slow march as an eclipse. More puzzling however are the readings
of McCalls materialist project in terms of a connection to ritual
or even to the mythological, perhaps both subsumed by a need to
read the films as opening onto a kind of spiritual experience.39
Myth, we might say, does seem to act in an inherently analogical
way, always proposing that this is like that, always searching for
the connections between things rather than imposing the rational
separations required by the logic of analysis.
We may want to dismiss such readings as obvious and willful
projections, hardly appropriate to a project of cinematic abstrac-
tion. And yet the analogical force of the films does seem to match
their own opening onto other mediumstheir becoming sculp-
tural, their becoming architecturaljust as it speaks to their en-
gulfing of our own bodies as spectators of these events. The
abstraction of the solid light films, then, might be an extremely
complicated beast to comprehend. McCall has helped us a little in
this matter; he long ago provided Line Describing a Cone with a cru-
cial origin story that seems to speak to the key ambition of all of
the solid light films. While made in August of 1973, Line Describing
a Cone was conceived much earlier. McCall relates how the idea for

114 Grey Room 25

the film came to him during a voyage by boat from England to
America and to his new life as an artist in New York. I conceived
Line Describing a Cone in the mid-Atlantic, two and half days out
of Southampton, when Carolee [Schneemann] and I moved to New
York. This was January 1973. I made the film in August.40 It is a
short story, true, but one repeatedly clung to and quite often told.
Showing Line Describing a Cone to have been conceived while lit-
erally in transit, McCalls origin story is a tale about transition; it is
a tale about flow, about speed, passage, and time. Conceived
between two different continents, between the past and the future,
McCalls film would inhabit this condition of transition, making it
over into both form and content. A line would describe a cone; two
dimensions would slowly shift into three; film would become
sculptural; cinema would be harnessed to a project that would lit-
eralize change, that would make visible the inexorable, but usually
imperceptible experience of becoming. In this, McCalls solid light
films show that the project of cinematic abstraction as perhaps
desired by modernism amounts to a quite literal impossibility. For
if cinema could be said to be a medium to which the experience of
becoming always in fact adheres, cinema could never be reduced
to a stable and fixed essence. It could never be produced as mod-
ernist and abstract (in itself) but only as a form that would be ana-
logical and relational (quite literally for another). Like the transitivity
isolated in Serras process-based sculpture, McCalls light films pro-
claimed that it was the essence of cinema not to have an essence.
Cinema could only be particularized as the movement of form into
becoming, multiplicity, and difference. The basis of film form
would be its undoing of a fixed basis; the content of its abstract
transitivity the paradoxical revelation of its inherent embodiment
of becoming, a movement that thus is always, logically, a becoming
other. Line would be line, and it would also become cone. Light
would be light, and it would also become solid. Time would be
time, and it would also become space. Cinema would be cinema,
and it would also become sculpture. But this is hardly all. In a
dizzying magnification of the anti-essential essence of the medium,
McCalls light films would then grasp that it would have to be the
vocation of cinema, in its becoming other, to allow us to think and
to produce the becoming other of other forms as well.
With this thought in place, we can perhaps finally understand
the most radical of McCalls early works and proposals, the last of
his long films: the installation Long Film for Ambient Light, 1975.
While perhaps also the last of McCalls early abstract or solid light
films altogether (in fact it is quite different from the preceding
series), it should be obvious by now that this film was far from
being an endpoint or even an endgame for the practice of film, as is
often asserted.41 Consisting of no actual film or film projector and

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 115

thus seeming to dispense with the conventional material support
of the medium, Long Film for Ambient Light followed instead a
more explicitly Duchampian logic, whereas in one understand-
ing of Duchamps readymadean object extrinsic to the world of
art would be pronounced to be one: this is art.42 In McCalls pro-
ject, three distinct elements combined to form the film, signifi-
cantly in quotes in McCalls description: a time-schema posted on a
wall, a two-page written statement entitled Notes in Duration,
and an altered architectural space. With a sloping roof such that it
resembled a projection apparatus or a camera, this space contained
a single electric light hung in the center of the room at eye-level.
The windows were covered with white paper, limiting them to
being light-sources during the day and reflective surfaces during
the night (screens).43 What at first seems a dissolution of the phys-
ical medium of film into a purely nominalist gesturea film
made up of an architectural container, a light source, a given dura-
tion (in this case, the installation lasted twenty-four hours, although
the included time-schema charted the waxing and waning of
light intensity in the space over fifty days)becomes quite obvi-
ously the opposite of a dissolution, but rather an expansion of
film into entirely other forms. This expansion rests once more on
a quite marked labor of analogy, as the shape of the architectural
space comes to resemble a projector, the windows come to oper-
ate in turn as both screens or as projectors, the lightbulb begins
to recall the lamp inside the film apparatus. In a logic not so far
from McCalls early films and performances such as Landscape for
White Squares, the windows in the space also come in their serial-
ity and uniformity to call up the endless progression of film frames
and blank leader, producing yet another spatial and architectural
analog for the now putatively missing medium of film.
But as the insistent presence of all of these formal analogies
might suggest, the medium of film can hardly be said to be missing
in Long Film for Ambient Light; it has, rather, been radically rede-
fined. It has been pushed as far as possible into the transgressive
form of the analogical, pushed as far as possible into cinemas para-
doxical dedication to the loss of boundaries and separation, its con-
certed search for all potential forms of continuity. Long Film for
Ambient Light, indeed, makes the wild assertion that film and cin-
ema can be made continuous with almost all the objects in the
world, by chiastically turning the world itself and its conditions
into film or cinema. This double movement has long been seen as a
dissolution if not a disappearance of the medium itself or of art in
general; but the logic of transgression proves it to be a much more
radical event than we have heretofore been able to comprehend.
For, of course, working via the concretization of film through the
play of light over time and a series of spatial or architectural analo-

116 Grey Room 25

gies, Long Film for Ambient Light might not be accurately described Above: Anthony McCall.
Long Film for Ambient Light,
as abandoning the conventional medium and materials of film at
1975. Installation view, 2 p.m.,
all. It is not a pure readymade or nominalist gesture. If in his early June 18.
work, McCall jettisoned both screen and image as necessary to the Below: Anthony McCall.
definition of film, now celluloid and projector would go by the way- Long Film for Ambient Light,
side as well, only to find two essential components of film still very 1975. Time schema.

much in play: light and time. The wondrous thing about both of
these components of the film medium, however, is their belonging
not just to the medium of film but to the larger world itself. By
which I mean to say that in Long Film for Ambient Light McCall
could be said to discover that light is an essential condition of film,
but it is also a condition of the worldand this films action
would be caused by that ambient lights actions itself, the action
of the light of the world (the gesture is essentially Cagean, of course,

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 117

and linked to the composers complex notion of musical silence).
And just as centrally, time is a condition of film, duration is its
medium, but it is also a condition of the world and of every object
and being within it.44 In a marked expansion rather than a reduc-
tivist dissolution, we have passed from the incorporative form of
McCalls cone films, to the all-encompassing spatial field of the
long film, to a film newly as long as the world itself, with
whose conditions it is now coexistent.
McCall has continually described Long Film for Ambient Light,
as he did other of his solid light films, as sitting upon a threshold:
The installation sat precisely on a threshold, on one side of which
was time-based art, and on the other, non-time-based art. Or:
This film sits deliberately on a threshold between being consid-
ered a work of movement and being considered a static condi-
tion.45 Continuing on from the latter statement, McCall would
register his protest against the categorical divisions imposed by
modernism upon aesthetic forms, a protest now driven by a radi-
calized conception of what films dependence on time and duration
might entail: Formalist art criticism has continued to maintain a
stern, emphatic distinction between these two states, a division that
I consider absurd. Everything that occurs, including the (electro-
chemical) process of thinking, occurs in time.46 McCalls critical
script for Long Film for Ambient Light, the posted essay Notes
in Durationfrom which the preceding statements are taken
would propose an almost strictly Bergsonian critique of the false
divisions imposed by human consciousness on the continuity and
multiplicity, the ungraspable mutability, inherent to both time and
to film, inasmuch as the latter belongs to the former. Our insis-
tence upon static, absolute lumps of experience, McCall pointed
out, as opposed to continuous, overlapping, multiple durations,
shows a warped epistemology, albeit a convenient one. That noth-
ing was static, that time was a base condition not only particular to
the medium of film but ultimately providing a continuity between
all things, was McCalls assertion. He proceeded first to redefine
artistic categories on the basis of duration: Art that does not show
change within our time-span of attending to it we tend to regard as
object. Art that does show change within our time-span of attend-
ing to it we tend to regard as event. Art that outlives us we tend to
regard as eternal. And then McCall concluded, What is at issue
is that we ourselves are the division that cuts across what is essen-
tially a sliding scale of time-bases. A piece of paper on the wall is
as much a duration as the projection of a film.47
There is a limit being proposed here, a limit to understanding
and representability that other aesthetic philosophies have named
the sublime.48 It is a limit located in the immense ungraspability
of time itself, a limit displaced around the human bodys channel-

118 Grey Room 25

ing of intellection through the arbitrary limits of this same body. It Joseph Mallord William
is a limit transgressed in every direction by the temporal, which Turner. Regulus, 1828.
Tate, all rights reserved.
links a piece of paper and a film projection, a thought and a tree.
That such radical continuity would only be augmented by films
dependence not only on time but on lightthis adds to the wild-
ness of McCalls position in Long Film. For light is as all-encom-
passing as time and as violent to the limits on vision and visuality
put in place by our bodies as is time. That film would expand to
become coextensive with both these conditionslight and time
would be to propose an almost primordial coextensiveness of film
and other aesthetic forms, but also of film and the world, and most
crucially of film and the observing subject.
Here we return to the scene of absorption and incorporation
with which this essay began; we reach the culmination, that is, of
the logic begun as the viewers were asked to face the projector in
the first of McCalls solid light films. In a beautiful essay on J.M.W.
Turnera painter of not inconsiderable interest to an account of the
issues raised by McCalls filmsJonathan Crary describes precisely
this radical understanding of light, its elimination of the distance
between subject and object, that is, between a viewer and the
world, in favor of a physical inscription of light within the body.
Looking to paintings by Turner such as his Regulusa scene of a
punishment enacted by being forced to stare directly and without
respite into the sunCrary concludes:
The direct interface of sun and eye is what overturns a stable
separation between the subject and the object, between inte-
rior sensation and exterior stimulus. To distinguish between
the radiance emanating from the sun and the subjective lumi-
nous effects in the eye of the observer becomes meaningless

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 119

for Turner: they are inherent in each other. The lived body of
the spectator and the exterior world of physical events are one
indivisible field.49

It was this radical continuity that McCall understood to be

repressed in the institutional modes of cinemas existence, but
which could be released by the transgressive movement of film into
a communication with other forms. It was this continuity that the
solid light films explored, overcoming the limits, in Crarys words,
between figure and ground, subject and object, interior experience
and outer events, light and darkness, near and far, center and
periphery.50 And it would be this continuityonce more to use
Crarys wordsthat would present us with another moment in
which the aspiration to expand radically the limits of sensory
experience parallels the convulsive unfolding of social, political,
and technological change.51 As McCall himself has recently gone
back to pick up the form of the solid light film, returning to their
production in the course of the last few years, we may want to won-
der quite a bit more about this transgressive continuity proposed
through the medium of film. In other words, what I have called the
radical becoming other of the film medium may be an important
lesson to relearn today, at a moment when it could be proposed that
projection, film, and cinema have begun to recode definitively the
existence and continuation of almost all the previously static forms
of contemporary art.

120 Grey Room 25

This essay was first published in the exhibition catalogue Anthony McCall: Film
Installations, ed. Helen Legg (Coventry, U.K.: Mead Gallery, University of Warwick,

1. Gilles Deleuze, Three Questions on Six Times Two, Negotiations, trans.

Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 4445.
2. Rosalind Krauss, Mechanical Ballets: Light, Motion, Theater (1977), Passages
in Modern Sculpture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 212213.
3. Anthony McCall, Two Statements, in P. Adams Sitney, ed., The Avant-Garde
Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism (New York: New York University Press,
1978), 250.
4. McCall, Two Statements, 250.
5. McCall, Two Statements, 250. On the Primary Structures exhibition,
curated by Kynaston McShine with the aid of Lucy Lippard, see the opening chap-
ter of James Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2001), 22: Structures seemed an appropriate label for the kind
of pared-down objects being produced by artists like Judd, Flavin, Morris, and
LeWitt. In fact, it seems likely that LeWitt, a close friend of Lippards at the time,
provided the term. . . . Primary seems to have been added during a later brain-
storming session with Lippard. This denoted a form so basic that it did not have
to be invented, so standard that it did not reflect the artists personal decision-
making. A primary shape was socially given; the cube or pyramid was part of a
common vocabulary.
6. It should be noted however that there exists a Marxist narratological tradition
that explicitly opposes the modes of narration and description. See, for example,
Georg Lukcs, Narrate or Describe? (1936), in Georg Lukcs, Writer and Critic
and Other Essays (London: Merlin, 1978), 110148.
7. Scott MacDonald points out the conventional narrative structure of Line
Describing a Cone in his interview with McCall: MacDonald: One thing Ive noticed
with Line Describing a Cone and other minimal films is that they do create a nar-
rative experience, but they change its location: Line Describing a Cone takes the
narrative off the screen and locates it in the theater space. McCall: Yes, Line
Describing a Cone is a type of narrative film. MacDonald: And not only narrative,
but structurally conventional. Theres a sort of climax of activity and then a period
of denouement near the end. See Scott MacDonald, Anthony McCall, A Critical
Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California, 1992), 167.
8. McCall, Two Statements, 250251.
9. The production of distance and the logic of spectatorial incorporation
may not be as diametrically opposed as my description here implies, however. In
a recent text, film theorist Kaja Silverman embraces the interplay of both terms as
a recipe for a contemporary political cinema. See Kaja Silverman, Political Ecstasy,
The Threshold of the Visible World (London: Routledge, 1996).
10. Of course, these short sentences do little justice to the full communication
of forms posed by Picabias spectacle, which, contrary to the critical tradition, I
understand as an explicit anti-Gesamtkunstwerk. A full reading of both Picabias
Relche and Entracte will be included in my forthcoming book The Artwork
Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris (Cambridge: MIT Press,
2007); a telescoped account can be found in Entracte, October 105 (Summer
2003): 159165. Relche was followed by a theatrical sequel entitled Cin-Sketch

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 121

that proposed an even more radical communication between theater and cinema,
and, as its title suggests, drew on the correspondences that could be drawn
between a theatrical sketch and the sense of the term that relates more directly to
pictorial arts such as painting and drawing.
11. MacDonald, Anthony McCall, 165.
12. For the clearest and most incisive formulation of this moment of shift, see
Hal Foster, The Crux of Minimalism, The Return of the Real (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1996).
13. This is close to the reading long ago proposed by Rosalind Krauss in
Allusion and Illusion in Donald Judd, Artforum 4, no. 9 (May 1966): 2426.
14. We must look again to Rosalind Krauss, the greatest critical advocate of both
minimalism and postminimalism, for the key articulation of postminimalisms
work of medium expansion. See Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded
Field, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1985). A transformed definition and reexamination of the very concept
of a medium stands at the center of Krausss recent work. See, for example,
Rosalind Krauss, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium
Condition (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1999).
15. I have sketched this transgressive model briefly in relation to sculpture in
a review of Pamela Lees book on the art of Gordon Matta-Clark, Object to Be
Destroyed (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000). See my At the Limits of Sculpture, Art
Journal 60, no. 3 (Fall 2001): 105107. Matta-Clark was of course an important con-
temporary of McCalls, and their projects should be compared on every level (espe-
cially Matta-Clarks own linkage of sculpture and film); one of Matta-Clarks most
important works, Conical Intersect, was directly inspired by or indeed an homage
to McCalls Line Describing a Cone.
16. On McCalls early performances and on Landscape for White Squares more
specifically, which seems to have been filmed as part of a commission by the BBC
to produce short films for children, see Felipe Ehrenberg, On Conditions, Art
and Artists 7 (June 1973): 3943.
17. MacDonald, Anthony McCall, 160161. It should be noted of course that
McCalls films also involve a concerted reflection upon drawing, dependent as
they are upon basic and quite primitive techniques of line animation (the out-
modedness of which is perhaps also crucial to reflect upon today, as McCalls more
recent resumption of solid light films now depends on digital animation tech-
niques). The place of drawing in the larger interplay of mediums at the moment
of process art and postminimalism is a topic I cannot confront here; but it has been
articulated very well elsewhere, for example, in the essays contained in the cata-
logue Afterimage: Drawing through Process, ed. Cornelia H. Butler (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1999).
18. Benjamin Buchloh, Process Sculpture and Film in the Work of Richard
Serra (1978), in Richard Serra, ed. Hal Foster and Gordon Hughes (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 2000), 4.
19. Buchloh, 5.
20. Buchloh, 13.
21. Buchloh, 13.
22. Annette Michelson, The Films of Richard Serra: An Interview (1979), in
Richard Serra, ed. Foster and Hughes, 25.
23. Michelson, The Films of Richard Serra, 33. Hal Fosters recent essay on
Serra isolates the manner in which Serra has long used the medium of sculpture to
critique other mediums, especially architecture, often highlighting repressed

122 Grey Room 25

points of connection in the process. See Hal Foster, The Un/making of Sculpture
(1998), in Richard Serra, ed. Foster and Hughes.
24. Anthony McCall, program note for a 1974 screening at Collective for Living
Cinema/Film Forum, New York City, n.p.
25. J. Hoberman points out that McCalls Line Describing a Cone is a diametric
reversal of the logic of what he calls the Lumire apparatus, which was designed
to have a cone describe a plane. J. Hoberman, Celestial Events, The Village Voice,
13 November 2001, 109.
26. McCall, program note.
27. I am thinking here of Gilles Deleuze, who opposes the mold to modula-
tion in his books on cinema. In a part of his book that should be more fully con-
sulted for its thoughts on analogy as well (key to later thoughts in my own essay),
Deleuze writes, The movement-image is the object; the thing itself caught in
movement as continuous function. The movement-image is the modulation of the
object itself. . . . The similar and the digital, resemblance and code, at least have
in common the fact that they are moulds, one by perceptible form, the other by
intelligible structure: that is why they can so easily have links with each other. But
modulation is completely different; it is a putting into variation of the mould, a
transformation of the mould at each moment of the operation. If it refers to one or
several codes, it is by grafts, code-grafts that multiply its power (as in the elec-
tronic image). By themselves, resemblances and codifications are poor methods;
not a great deal can be done with codes, even when they are multiplied, as semi-
ology endeavors to do. It is modulation that nourishes the two moulds and makes
them into subordinate means, even if this involves drawing a new power from
them. For modulation is the operation of the Real, in so far as it constitutes and
never stops reconstituting the identity of image and object. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema
2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 2728; emphasis in original.
28. McCall, program note.
29. Here I register my partial disagreement with the recent essay of Philippe-
Alain Michaud, which takes very seriously the connection of McCalls project to
tradition and to the art of the past. See Philippe-Alain Michaud, Line Light: Le
cinma gomtrique de Anthony McCall, Les Cahiers du Muse Nationale dArt
Moderne 85 (Fall 2003): 7889.
30. Perhaps only fellow members of the postminimalist context in fact produce
anything even remotely close to this promiscuity of bodies and cameras. I am
thinking of Dan Grahams more or less contemporaneous films such as Body Press.
31. MacDonald, Anthony McCall, 164.
32. It is important to note the manner in which McCall seems to work with
factors of four throughout this work, a number seemingly arrived at through a
sculptural consideration of architectural space (with its four corners) as well as a
sculptural treatment of the projection apparatus (with its four spatial possibili-
ties). One wonders if the fact that there exist only four cone films carries significance
in this sense as well.
33. Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone and Related Films, October 103
(Winter 2003): 52.
34. MacDonald, Anthony McCall, 163; emphasis added.
35. The term is Nol Burchs. See, for example, Noel Burch, Life to Those
Shadows, trans. and ed. Ben Brewster (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California, 1990).
36. Annette Michelson, Film and the Radical Aspiration (1966), in The New

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 123

American Cinema, ed. Gregory Battcock (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1967), 101.
37. As is so often the case, my use of the term analogy throughout this essay
must be seen in light of Kaja Silvermans recent elaboration of the meaning of the
analogical via a reflection on the painting of Gerhard Richter. As yet unpublished,
Silvermans reflections were presented in two public lectures in New York City
entitled How to Paint History, Part I (CUNY, 3 December 2003) and Part II
(Columbia University, 8 December 2003).
38. At the moment of his initiation of the solid light films, McCall would appro-
priate a map detailing all of the lighthouses dotting the coast of England, a work
he would entitle Found Solid Light Installation, 1973. I also point the reader to the
description of McCalls work by J. Hoberman, Celestial Events, 109: Watching
McCalls movie, one watches the gradual transformation of the projector beam as
one might an eclipse. To add to the effect, the various imperfections that fleck the
film base send out split-second rays that explode like shooting stars.
39. Ehrenberg, in On Conditions, reads McCalls early work in terms of rit-
ual; more recently, Michaud, in Line Light, appropriates the project for a reflec-
tion upon the mythological. The reading of the project as spiritual emerges in
McCalls interview with Scott MacDonald, where the interviewer states, On one
level, the film [Line Describing a Cone] is a product of serious, analytical thinking
about the structure of film exhibition. On another, its close to a spiritual experi-
ence. Later in this interview, McCall agrees that the work has a spiritual qual-
ity. MacDonald, Anthony McCall, 161.
40. MacDonald, Anthony McCall, 161.
41. Including, previously, by myself: I point the reader to the roundtable dis-
cussion organized by myself and Malcolm Turvey, where I ask McCall directly
about this putative endgame. See The Projected Image in Contemporary Art,
October 104 (Spring 2003): 7196.
42. More than any other of McCalls previous works, then, Long Film for
Ambient Light might pose a connection to the artistic practices that most specifi-
cally radicalized the linguistic basis of the Duchampian readymade; namely,
Conceptual art. An argument has recently been made that such indeed is the arena
and the frame through which we should come to understand the logic of McCalls
project. See Jonathan Walley, The Material of Film and the Idea of Cinema:
Contrasting Practices in Sixties and Seventies Avant-Garde Film, October 103
(Winter 2003): 1530. While Walleys model of what he names para-cinemain
his words, an array of phenomena that are considered cinematic but that are not
embodied in the materials of film as traditionally defined (18)should be taken
in dialogue with the expansion of mediums that I explore throughout this essay,
his argument rests upon a false and ultimately Platonic separation of matter and
idea that is one of the most common and banal of the misreadings to which so-
called Conceptual art has been repeatedly subjected. I would insist that is quite
precisely to the intransigently material practices of postminimalism that all of
McCalls early work and Long Film for Ambient Light need to be related. And, on
the subject of film and cinema, McCall himself hardly separates the two forma-
tions on the level of matter and idea: for McCall, film is, quite precisely, an artistic
medium, but cinema is just as earth-bound, being instead a social institution.
See McCalls remarks in the roundtable discussion The Projected Image in
Contemporary Art, 74.
43. McCall, Two Statements, 252.
44. I am using the word condition in a purposeful way, and it should recall the
critic Felipe Ehrenbergs use of the term to name McCalls early, prefilmic events

124 Grey Room 25

or happenings. Ehrenberg seems to have elaborated this term in dialogue with
McCall himself. See the definition of the term in Ehrenberg, On Conditions, 41.
In the essay (script?) Notes in Duration included in the installation of Long Film
for Ambient Light, McCall points to both light and time as the elements of film that
he has retained: I am now interested in reducing the performance aspect, in
order to examine certain other fundamentals, viz. temporality, light. I am presently
assuming that it is possible to do this without using the customary photochemical
and electro-mechanical processes. See McCall, Two Statements, 253. Jonathan
Walley points out that such a redefinition of film was not peculiar only to McCall
but was contained in certain theorizations of film from the period, such as that of
Sheldon Renan. See Walley, 16. In his recent October text, McCall points to the
happenings movement as essential to his own artistic development and ends his
text with an otherwise enigmatic assertion that John Cage was perhaps the key fig-
ure not only for that movements elaboration but for projected image work gener-
ally and for his own work specifically. Long Film for Ambient Light allows the
connection to Cage in McCalls project to become unmistakable, although my
characterization of the effects of this aesthetic hardly conforms to conventional
understandings of Cages contribution. See McCall, Line Describing a Cone and
Related Films, 6062.
45. McCall, Line Describing a Cone and Related Films, 56; and McCall, Two
Statements, 252.
46. McCall, Two Statements, 252.
47. McCall, Two Statements, 252253.
48. That the sublime would become a stake for postmodernism has been the
position associated with the philosophy of Jean-Franois Lyotard. That it would
hold a central place in the radicalization of the limits of the phenomenological
project of minimalist art by the strategies of postminimalism has been the contri-
bution of Pamela Lees recent work on Gordon Matta-Clark. See Pamela Lee, On
Matta-Clarks Violence; Or, What Is a Phenomenology of the Sublime? Object to
Be Destroyed.
49. Jonathan Crary, The Blinding Light, in J.M.W. Turner: The Sun Is God,
exh. cat. (Liverpool, UK: Tate Liverpool, 2000), 20.
50. Crary, 25.
51. Crary, 25.

Baker | Film Beyond Its Limits 125