What follows is the first part from the main text of my book Cinéma et abstraction: des croisements, (Cahiers de Paris Expérimental n° 25, 2007) – and which first appeared in Zeuxis magazine, in four issues from April to June, 2006 – which deals with the notion of abstraction in experimental films from a particular point of view enabling me to formulate some personal hypotheses and also to write a brief overview about French contemporary filmmakers. During the last century, abstraction in the realm of painting brought about one of the major revolutions in fine arts. How has this notion been considered and integrated by avant-garde and experimental filmmakers?

I. Historical Background

Abstraction appeared in painting around 1910. Its principle objective was to liberate painting from the subject, allowing both intellectual and sensitive expression, giving value to the pure expressive mechanisms that came from colour and form itself. Many painters (Kupka, Picabia, Valensi), who belonged to the avant-garde movements of that time (Futurism, Dada, Constructivism, De Stijl), wished, at least at first – as did avant-garde filmmakers a little later – painting to become autonomous and rid itself of the obligation of figuration, using music as an ideal model to create new kinds of art forms.

The Artists

The playwright Bruno Corra and his brother, the painter Arnaldo Ginna, both great figures of the Italian Futurism movement, wanted to create what they called, “chromatic music”, by developing a scale of the same name comparable to the notes made by a chromatic piano that they wanted to create. Because of the practical difficulties they encountered when creating real sonatas in colour by using this technique, the artists turned to cinema, which they considered to be simply a means and not an end in itself. They created thus, in 1911 and 1912, The Rainbow and The Dance, two strips of approximately two hundred meters painted directly on the filmstrip therefore anticipating, by more than twenty years, “direct cinema” practiced by Len Lye and Norman McLaren.

In 1913, Léopold Survage theorized his concept of “rythme coloré” (coloured rhythm) and marked a step in the origins of purely cinematographic abstraction:

“The coloured rhythm is by no means an illustration or an interpretation of a musical piece. It is an autonomous art form, although based on the same psychological data as music… The basic element of my dynamic art is the coloured visual form, similar to the role of sound to music.

This element is determined by three factors:

1 – The specific (abstract) visual form,

2 – Rhythm, meaning the movement and transfiguration of this form,

3 – Colour.(1)

Survage recommended the simplification and geometrization of everyday objects (trees, pieces of furniture). Nevertheless, this would not be sufficient, it would be necessary to have these simple forms communicate with one another through movement; they would then blend together and be transfigured. One must, indeed, go a step further so as to give all these forms an order through rhythm, thus, end up connecting colour to rhythm. Survage was very aware of how difficult a challenge this was: “To have a three minute piece, one has to project 1,000 to 2,000 images in front of a projector.” (2)

Seventy-one drawings painted in gouache still exist today. A sequence of twelve sketches are at the French Cinémathèque. Standish D. Lawder had them reproduced in his book TheCubist Cinema. This sequence anticipates Walter Ruttmann’s work: “The plastic transfiguration of one form into another, the integration and the disintegration of the form, the movement of colour changes, the movement of forms in and out of the field of vision.”(3)

At the very beginning of the 1920s, the first school of thought around abstraction through cinema appeared in Germany. Four pioneers: Viking Eggeling (of Swedish origin), Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter and Oskar Fischinger initiated this movement. Except for Eggeling, who died in 1925 after having completed only one work, Diagonal Symphony (1923-24), the three other main initiators continued an authentic trajectory of filmmaking.

After his four abstract opuses (1920-1925), Ruttmann went on to make rhythmic documentaries (Berlin, Die Symphonie der Grosstadt/Berlin, Symphony of a City, 1927, the first and best) but unfortunately he died in 1941. Richter (1888-1976) moved on from his Dada convictions to Surrealism all the while remaining in the line of the avant-garde movement. Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967), after discovering, in April 1921, Ruttmann’s Opus 1 (also known as Lichtspiel Opus 1), started working in this way and remained an adamant defender of absolute and abstract cinema all through his life.

Repressed in their artistic expression under the Nazi regime, Richter and Fischinger had immigrated to the United States. Through their oeuvres and teaching they became the link between the first European avant-garde movement and the movement that was going to develop on the new continent as from the forties. Creator of styles, of processes, of specific machines, Oskar Fischinger became a reference figure of the avant-garde from that moment on. As from 1922, he created a “machine to slice wax” (it cut out fine slices of different colours of blocks of wax which he would mix to reveal, image by image, the interior circumvolutions of the mixture); in spirit, these attempts anticipated a certain form of programmed animation. Later, he and Rudolf Pfenninger carried out the first experiments of sound drawn on the filmstrip; it produced a synthetic sound which would also inspire Norman McLaren.

From Eggeling to Fischinger, the motifs in play and in space in the films become denser. We go from the animation of simple geometrical lines (Diagonal Symphony) to the constitution of an authentic “expression” of filmic musicality (The series of Studies created, between 1929 and 1934, by Fischinger, formalizes visual counterpoints with compositions by Brahms, Verdi and Beethoven). Because he wished to animate his drawings, Hans Richter created a typology of forms articulating with one another in Rhythmus 21 (1921-24), animating geometric planes with white, black and grey figures moving on the surface. Filmstudie (1926) mixes these geometrical figures with elements taken from reality and establishes a bridge between graphic abstraction and the “cinéma pur” theorized by Germaine Dulac.

In 1921, Walter Ruttmann was the first of the group to show a film, Opus 1, publicly. In this work the original filmstrip is directly painted on with a stencil. (4) This short film exceeded by far Eggeling and Richter’s “geometric exercises.” Ruttmann showed an authentic sense of composition with the film medium:

“Opus 1, by Walter Ruttmann, is an example of composition in every meaning of the term: musical, i.e. composed, orchestrated and temporally structured; pictorial, as it is spatially structured, masterfully using colours and forms, similar to abstract painting. Finally, it is chemical because the composition is not pure. In fact, when Opus 1 was created in 1920, the various colour emulsions were intended to be produced separately and then stuck together so that each copy would be a complex combination of various emulsions.” (5)

Richter, Ruttmann and Fischinger did not have the same philosophical ideas. Richter, who belonged to the avant-garde movements, worked on animation of forms using the camera. In his work, Ruttmann, a painter and a violinist, had a similar point of view to that of 19th Century German philosophers formalizing what Nietzsche called “the spirit of music”. Fischinger, inspired by Tibetan Buddhism, was in search of an expression combining plasticity and spirituality. “While Richter and Eggeling used music as a structural model to analyze movement through time, Ruttmann was more interested in translating the emotional overtones of music into moving coloured images.” (6)

The Filmmakers

One of the goals of the filmmakers, especially French filmmakers, was to specialize and produce a pure and specific art. At its beginnings, narrative cinema was not regarded as an art in itself. Strong currents of thought appeared aiming to legitimize it. After several attempts, the theorist Ricciotto Canudo named it, after architecture, music, painting, sculpture, poetry and dance, the 7th art. (7)

Abel Gance was the precursor of “impressionist cinema” (cinéma impressionniste) (8) and its variation in cinéma pur. In 1915, he shot La folie du Docteur Tube, a short science-fiction film in which a crazy scientist invents a way to change people’s looks. This gave the author/filmmaker a great opportunity to use deforming lenses producing nonfigurative images from original realistic images. This film made the transition – perhaps involuntarily? – between the films by Georges Méliès and the historical avant-garde films of the twenties. Many filmmakers, such as Jean Epstein, Marcel L’Herbier and Germaine Dulac, introduced nonfigurative sequences in their films. Some, such as Henri Chomette with Jeux de reflets et de vitesse (1925), made “pure films” from realistic images: the rhythmic filming of faces, streets and objects, brought about abstraction out of concrete elements.

In 1927, Germaine Dulac theorized her own work: “I evoke a dancer! A woman? No. A line leaping in harmonious rhythms. I evoke a luminous projection on veils! Precise matter? No. Fluid rhythms. The pleasure that movement procures at the theatre, why shun it on the screen? Harmony of lines. Harmony of light. Lines, surfaces, volumes evolving directly, without evoking them artificially, keeping in the logic of their forms but stripped away of any sense that could be too recognizable thus making them more abstract giving more space to sensation and dreams: Integral Cinema.” (9) She created three major works according to this principle: Disque 927 (1928), Thèmes et variations (1928) and Étude cinématographique sur une arabesque (1929).

The historical avant-garde (multi-disciplinary, founded on programs and manifestos) entered history at the beginning of the 1930s. The arrival of sound increased the cost of filmmaking considerably and the experiments of the avant-garde filmmakers, dependent on private patronage, became difficult to realize. However, outstanding filmmakers such as the veteran Oskar Fischinger and newcomers such as Len Lye and Norman McLaren, revived graphic abstract film creating a mixture of practices from various artists and their environment.

The introduction of sound in film made it possible for Fischinger to work on coloured synchronism between image and sound. He aimed for “cinéma absolu” and produced masterpieces such as Komposition in Blau (1935) and Allegretto (1940). Inspired by Germanic philosophy, Fischinger sought to create this very “spirit of music” in his works which Nietzsche spoke about.

As it was very difficult to find grants to shoot experimental films in the 1930s, the New Zealander Len Lye, who lived in London, found a way around this by drawing and scratching his drawings directly on the transparent celluloid filmstrip. The first complete film made by this technique is A Colour Box (1935). Even though this film broke away from the method and cultural background of his first experiment, Tusavala (drawings in black and white and then filmed), Len Lye continued wholly with his heterodox, organic way of art. Lines and forms superimposed over pop music did not seek perfect synchronism but equivalences. Len Lye is not the inventor of what is known as direct cinema. Man Ray used this technique right from Le retour à la raison (1923) but it was the New Zealander who continued to use it till the end of his life. Norman McLaren – who preceded Len Lye with Hand Painted Abstraction (1933), his first film painted directly on the filmstrip – was a contemporary of Len Lye, who more than anyone else applied the method of direct animation, but he did not use it exclusively as Len Lye did.

In the beginning of the 1940s when McLaren arrived in New York he discovered while visiting the Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Painting that the museum bought not only abstract paintings but also films of the same nature. Full of self-assurance he offered to sell the director of the museum his work but as he had none available he just went home and painted two short films, which the museum purchased. “That’s the true story behind Dots [1940] and Loops [1940]. As I didn’t have any money for the soundtrack, I decided to paint sounds as images.” (10) After the film without a camera, McLaren developed synthetic sound in the 1950s, pushing its semantic potential as far as he could: In Blinkity Blank (1955), he elaborated a complex structure of visual intermittence (as did Peter Kubelka and Paul Sharits); Synchromy (1971) is a perfect equation of equivalencies between sounds and images scratched on the filmstrip.

Contrary to his Scottish counterpart, Len Lye often worked on found footage (an aesthetic style founded on the recycling of pre-existing film footage used in many of the practices in experimental filmmaking, especially in Lettrism), and like Fischinger remained faithful to a certain type of research related to the avant-garde spirit. He was thus recognized as being a part of the history of experimental cinema of the 1960s more than McLaren was.

A pioneer of kinetic art (especially regarding colour), Jim Davis (1901-1974) didn’t consider cinematographic abstraction as did Hans Richter or Oskar Fischinger (animation on surfaces or forms drawn and painted more freely) nor as Len Lye or Norman McLaren (drawing and scratching on the filmstrip), but rather mixing, editing, working on rays and streams of light. With Light and Reflections (1952) and Fathomless (1964), he reached an extreme sophistication in his work: new layers of light were added to the first layers; the whole was worked as though a kind of immaterial alluvium. In Death and Transfiguration (1961) he hybrids, forty years before Hugo Verlinde and Philippe Cote, filmed body elements and immaterial plasticity.

Denys Riout writes in The Encyclopaedia Universalis (2002): “In its four definitions, abstraction is a formal piece of work structuring data according to four distinct mental processes: simplification, generalization, selection and schematization. These correspond to four processes of cognition: ideation, conceptualization, classification, modelling”. If the first three processes had already been thought of by Léopold Survage, the modelling stage was only approached at the beginning of the 1940s by the brothers James and John Whitney. William Moritz writes,

“James devised a system of stencils, through which images could be traced or air-brushed onto animation paper, creating hard or soft-edged forms. John had become aware of the 12-tone music theory through René Leibowitz in Paris and the first of these 8mm films, Twenty-Four Variations on an Original Theme, was visually constructed by analogy to Schoenberg’s series principle, with a given optical “tone-row” (a “P” shaped configuration formed by an overlapping circle and rectangle) undergoing various inversions, clustering, retrogressions, counterpoints, etc. The film proved not only aesthetically gratifying to the young artists, but also caused a sensation to the willingly small audience that saw it. The silent images performed a cogent dynamic all of their own and the intimate format of the film had a feel of exquisite chamber music”. (11)

The filmmaker made the dot his principle artistic element and conceived, with Lapis (1966), a bewitching film on the meditative mode of a Mandala. He used the support of programmed animation invented by his brother John who made Homage to Rameau (1967) entirely with an analogue computer. In this short movie, he tried to realize a new synergy between image and sound, because the one experimented by Fischinger seemed to be too weak for his taste as it was founded on mimesis.

II. Contemporary Works

The pioneers essentially used four techniques to find equivalencies for abstract painting: Direct painting onto the filmstrip, initiated by the Corra brothers and largely spread by Len Lye and Norman McLaren; animation by geometric forms (Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter) more fluid forms (Walter Ruttmann, Oskar Fischinger) or more ether-like forms (Jim Davis); a graphic portrayal of existent filmed motifs (Henri Chomette, Germaine Dulac) and the modelling of simple shapes (the Whitney Brothers). In the same way, a work such as Ballet mécanique by Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy (1924) opened the way to a large number of modern expressive practices conforming to contemporary experimental film:using single frames instead of shots (the very foundation of editing so important to the Soviet School), introducing the dynamics of objects, or playing with asynchronous perceptions.

Structural Cinema

In the beginning of the 1960s, a specific cinematographic alternative was found by some artists, especially Americans, who challenged the figurative form by questioning it. They did this by pure filmic parameters (reproduction in a loop of different motifs, thickening of the film’s grain). Amongst these were artists from the United States, Paul Sharits, Ken Jacobs, Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, the Canadian Michael Snow and the Austrian Peter Kubelka. The critic and theoretician P. Adams Sitney called this “school” Structural Cinema.He writes:

“The structural film insists on its shape, and what content it has is minimal and subsidiary to the outline. Four characteristics of the structural film are its fixed camera position (fixed frame from the viewer’s perspective), the flicker effect, loop printing, and re-photography off the screen. Very seldom will one find all four characteristics in a single film and there are structural films which modify these usual elements.” (12)

With his film Arnulf Rainer (1958-1960), Peter Kubelka immediately imposes this cinema, in a kind of proud radicality. This six minute short film is composed of variations of very simple elements and the purest of mediums: light, darkness, silence and sound. It is a suite of black and white pulsations with modulating sounds. Arnulf Rainer would be in experimental cinema, equivalent to White Square on White Background (1918) by Malevitch. Tony Conrad, in The Flicker (1966), orchestrates the same principle by alternating between black and white frames, a long variation of flickering intensified almost to the point of the unbearable. (13)

But reference to pictorial abstraction is not the only reference here. Other figurations or de-figurations were also at work, at stake or questioned by filmmakers such as Paul Sharits, Ken Jacobs, Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton. By working with frames and flickering, Paul Sharits created, in his film T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1968), new signs that he “put into grammar” (as one would say: put into equation) to convey death impulses or ambiguous sexuality. Frames, in colour, of a naked boy alternating between two series of images in positive and negative.

In one, his tongue is about to be cut off by a pair of scissors, in the other, a woman’s nailsrip into his face. While the letters of the title are spelled out, frames of an operation and sexual visions in black and white cross over it. The soundtrack is composed of the uninterrupted repetition of the word “Destroy.” It is no longer the story that has a meaning here but the variations which are, all at once organic, chemical, and representative of the running filmstrip, apparently rhythmic, opening the way to a sensuality directly perceptible by the brain. Figurative opposing images are coupled: a hand/a face; copulation/a scalpel; a positive frame versus a negative frame.

Creativity defies theory and dogma. It can be seen in most radical works – Arnulf Rainer, for example: this structural film flirted with other tendencies and art schools. Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son (1969) by Ken Jacobs is at the same time a structural work and a film made with found footage. Zorn’s Lemma (1970) by Hollis Frampton leans towards conceptual art. Within our research around abstraction we can use some film examples and illustrate them by the films themselves. For example, the film Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son reorganizes in two hours by slowing down and successively re-filming a short film of a few minutes bearing the same name and dating from 1905.

Enlarging of motifs, variations of speed and thickening of the grain on the film: we have here a real symphony of whites, blacks and greys constantly oscillating between figuration and abstraction. The central piece of Zorn’s Lemma (covering 9/10th of the length of the film) shows twenty-six shots in a loop, over and over again. Each shot contains a word that can be read in a sign on the front of a store or on a wall. The first shot frames a word starting with the letter A, the second with the letter B, and so on. Every turn of the “cycle” presents different words. Little by little the words are replaced by motifs (a red ibis, reeds) or little sketches (a person tying his shoelaces). Then, progressively, the words disappear getting us to follow the progression of motifs of substitution, which do not have any kind of rapport with one another. Here, we have yet another example of a polysemic legacy of the diachronic editing structure of Ballet mécanique. A kind of abstraction in reverse arises from the great dexterity of textual and plastic organization.

Like Paul Sharits, Michael Snow dramatizes and fills cinematographic parameters with meaning. Here, it is not the flickering that motivates him the most but the movements of the camera. Thus, the zoom is the star of Wavelength (1967) and the horizontal and vertical panoramic form, the texture of <—> (Back and Forth, 1969). With La région centrale (1970-1971), Snow conceives the most radical of his films. In 1969, he had expressed the desire to make a “landscape film,” which, in pure cinematographic terms, would be the equivalent to paintings by Cézanne, Corot, Monet and Matisse. Especially for this project, Pierre Abbeloos conceived an apparatus with movable “arms” on which the camera was placed, sweeping a mountainous and deserted region of Quebec not only horizontally but also in circles and spirals, with no human intervention. For three hours we watch, by the vertiginous movements of the camera, a desolate landscape and an empty sky giving birth to a series of abstract compositions where time and space are as if suspended. Snow separates himself from the Brakhagian concept of the liberated eye, as with the author of The Dead, the eye here, rid of its perspectivist education, makes no less reference, to the subjectivity of the artist.

The Contemporary French Scene

In two essays written at the end of the 1970s, “Du Ballet mécanique au cinéma structurel” and “Voici le Cinéma Post-Structurel”, Christian Lebrat delineates his expressive world as filmmaker. (14) In the first essay he isolates the film by Fernand Léger from the work of his epoch to portray it as an ancestor of structural cinema. “In effect, Ballet mécanique,” writes Lebrat, “sets out stepping stones for radical cinematographic research which finds its expression in structural films and in the form of three essential questions: the film object, the speed of integration of information and finally the global configuration of the film.” Léger filmed objects in close-up with no connection to what they represented. He isolated details for their simple plastic configuration. Then, through rapid editing or structuring of heterogeneous elements, using black images and a few image frames, he created a sort of partition that would lead to the construction of a machine to transform energy. This would become one of the goals of structural cinema. The second essay separates the practices of Lebrat and his colleagues from the Paris Films Coop. (Claudine Eizykman, Guy Fihman, Dominique Willoughby, Jean-Michel Bouhours) from structural cinema strategies. These filmmakers were no longer researching significant processes: “With the post-structuralists… the process is already there, it is shown just as it is right from the start and the filmmaker makes sure it will function to the height of its intensity.”(15)

In Trama (1978-1980), Lebrat divides a surface vertically to be filmed in six equal segments of colour (yellow, red, blue, green, violet, orange). The composition stays exactly the same all the way through the film. The filmmaker puts a band on the side of every two or three frames. Constructed step-by-step, using ten bands, the optical mixture of colour induces strange pulsating effects. With Holon (1981-1982), the filmmaker obtains a very intense conjugation of colours. He creates a totally self-sufficient coherent system functioning in vitro. Here, nine perforated ribbons form a kind of machine varying shades of pigmentation or colours, spaces, speed and rhythms, able to cross one another infinitely by parthenogenesis. If Trama shows the vertical position of the band so as to “explode the screen from the interior,” as the filmmaker says, Holon, in turn, transforms the film into a real vibration of colours. Of course the description of these films doesn’t replace the experience of seeing them or feeling the sensation they procure as during their screening.

Abstraction today – going from figuration to de-figuration – can be seen through ways elements have been mixed and used together. This renders a rich result. Nearly all the aesthetic strategies elaborated hereunder have been used in contemporary creative works.

In his films, Dominik Lange goes back to a certain practice of cinéma pur, theorized in the past by Germaine Dulac. In Romance d’automne (2000-2001), he uses as his motifs places that have been abandoned, such as gardens, benches… He transforms them by working plastically with the camera (as though he were kneading clay) into abstract and lyrical living paintings: he does this, without the least use of animation or drawings, which Oskar Fischinger and Len Lye obtained through drawn or painted figures. This film is like an ascension into the light: we go from seething dark, bushy, gossamer-like forms, towards the sky, towards the light. Every opus of his trilogy, Soupirs d’écume (Soupirs d’écume 1,Vagues tourments, Au-delà du néant, 2000-2004), right from the start and contrary to his other films, it introduces us to dense and picturesque motifs within a sequence. Across the screen appears a slow metamorphosis of abstract leitmotifs.

Soupirs d’écume 1 draws its plasticity from church stained glass windows: speed, slow motion, blurry contours, mixing parameters (the filmmaker usually edits “in the camera” while he shoots) making a real symphony of fluid abstract forms. Vagues tourments was filmed at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris soon after a big storm in 1999. The intertwining of abstract forms disappears only in parts so that we recognize different places now and again. In Au-delàdu néant, he uses, as he does in his two other short films of this ensemble, long pauses, as long as two seconds, transforming a grave in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery into a moving, abstract, sensitive and sensitive painting.

Philippe Cote has been making films since 1998. He has been spontaneous and has used a form of lyrical and polysemous abstraction. Sédiments (2004) is the film which most resembles Dominik Lange’s work: a series of images taken from the outside world (water, ground, sky) and mixed in a kind of dense matter. However, even though sometimes we can recognize some of these elements, one doesn’t really recognize how Cote has done this as we do in Romance d’automne by Lange. The images are already there, they are initially on Super 8, then are filmed and worked over again in 16 mm.

In Ether (2003), these become vaporous, run and overlap into one another; the eye can’t grasp the form which is transmuted into a play of colour. The filmmaker sometimes dissects and scans elements of his own body. In Figure (2004) or Repli (2005), he himself becomes the foundation of his work: his face, enlarged and dissected by the use of filming in variable speeds, takes part in and nourishes the line he chooses for his project.

In 1998, Philippe Cote began making films by painting directly on the whole length of the transparent filmstrip and without taking the frame into consideration. What interested him most was the final result. In Émergences 1 (1999-2003), the artist films parts of the fragments of his painted strip over again. The running filmstrip, charged with coloured matter, gives the ensemble an extraordinarily sensitive, flamboyant effect. This experiment does not seem to have any direct affiliation. Paradoxically, in Dissolution (2001), one of his early films,the artist deploys his poetic treatment: natural material, body parts, painted filmstrip, all fusing in an incredible rich texture.

Using a five-minute film, shot in Super-8 at nine frames per second and a twenty-two minute audio recording, both taken at a “Charlemagne Palestine” concert in Paris in 1998, Pip Chodorov, a prolific filmmaker, gives us the 22-minute film Charlemagne 2: Piltzer (2002), a major contribution to contemporary experimental film work. He builds a visual partition by synthetically translating music note by note and by stretching out the shots, thus rendering, on one hand, a live homage to this musician adept at repetitiveness, and on the other hand, he re-analyzes abstraction as a formal structural work. Chodorov uses all of the 6945 notes recorded during the concert and almost the totality of the filmed frames. He translates the impact of the notes into images, the editing of images in positive and negative, black and white, blue and yellow, red and green; the pulsating and spreading of colours give us the entire range of abstract images in movement from its beginning until today. The filmmaker methodically tells us how he worked on this film, explaining that the celerity of the pianist induces the projection speed of the images and that he had chosen visual equivalents for the different categories of notes and chords for the range and the rhythms proposed by the minimalist artist.

As for Hugo Verlinde, he has trained both as cameraman and mathematician. His preferred works are those of the Whitney brothers and computer-programmed abstract works. Nevertheless, he does not call himself a computer graphic artist but a filmmaker. In his computer-assisted works, Aldébaran (2001), Géminga (2003) and Bételgeuse (2004), he continues to research experimental cinema focusing on the heterogeneity of textures and various materials.

Starting in 1998, Verlinde conceived the Abécédaires (a suite of permutations of computerized images based on the same mathematical model) each ten seconds long. He then filmed these loops, frame by frame, with his 16mm camera. His aim was to put the elements of the alphabet he created into space. Concluding that by projecting them on another surface other than on a screen (in this case the body of a dancer) he had obtained a very attractive film plasticity. The three films use a different part of the body. As he explains, “My goal, in this series of films, is to rethink the body by the moving image and to reinvent the idea into a form that is more fluid.” (16)

In Géminga, the body, which serves as a screen and a receptacle for projecting mathematically patterned motifs or various inks, is rarely visible. The hands appear, often alone. Sometimes, sparks of anatomy, bits of material attract our eye. The motifs highlighted by light, visual and coloured motifs, obtain an incredible plasticity and abandon their original coldness to become almost alive, carnal. The present/absent body is not envisaged by Verlinde as it is in a structural perspective when creating a device of some sort. It’s a spontaneous creation of a new computerized alphabet which crosses the plasticity of a body. The whole thing giving birth to and bearing a surface of microorganisms in continual protuberance. “For me,” Verlinde underlines, “the idea of abstraction is inseparable from the notion of language. It is about… defining a vocabulary of adequate forms and building a sensitive expression from the mastering of that language. My approach aims at constructing abstraction out of a mathematical language. I look at the notion of space and computer programming as a new frontier in a spiritual adventure initiated by painters.” (17)

Translated from the French by Viviane Vagh and Jonathan Levine.


  1. “Cinéma: theorie, lectures”, collection of texts presented by Dominique Noguez (Klinksieck, 1978, p. 275).
  2. ibid.p. 277.
  3. Standish D. Lawder. The Cubist Cinema,(New York: New York University Press, 1975).
  4. The first abstract film was projected the 1st of April, 1921, in Frankfurt, in a theatre called ‘U. T. Im Schwan’. A remarkable text by Bernard Diebold published on the 2nd of April, 1921, talks about it in the cultural section of the Frankfurter Zeitung. Diebold writes about the first public screening of a film still untitled (which he calls, Photodrame no.1) made by Walter Ruttmann. In his description, we immediately recognize the succession of abstract forms of which Opus 1 is composed.”(Gérard Talon, “The giving birth of a film by the spirit of music. La Revue du Cinéma, no 359, March 1981). As from 1916, Bernard Diebold himself put forward the hypotheses of a new art founded on a musical dramaturgy of forms. To know the aesthetic views that Diebold had at that time, one has to read – according to Gérard Talon – his articles on Expressionism and Cinema, published the 14th, 15th and 16th of September, 1916 in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung.
  5. Pip Chodorov “Tone Colour”, Exploding no. 3 (June, 1999).
  6. Standish D. Lawder. The Cubist Cinema, (New York, New York University Press, 1975).
  7. L’Usine aux images (Séguier-Arte, 1995) p. 41.
  8. A French avant-garde film trend, later called by Henri Langlois and Georges Sadoul, “impressionism”, which brings together “formalistes” filmmakers (Marcel L’Herbier, Germaine Dulac, Abel Gance, Louis Delluc, Jean Epstein) emphasizing image itself to create sense and harmony.
  9. Germaine Dulac. Writings on cinema (1919-1937), texts compiled and presented by Prosper Hillairet (Paris Expérimental, coll. “Classiques de l’Avant-Garde”, 1994) p. 89.
  10. Raphaël Bassan, Norman McLaren, le silence de Prométhée(Cahiers de Paris Expérimental n° 17, 2004) p.16.
  11. William Moritz in Program Catalogue of the Canadian International Animation Festival, Toronto (1984).
  12. P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film, the American avant-garde(New York Oxford University Press (1974), pages 407-408.
  13. Dominique Noguez attributed to the American Robert Breer – who, like Norman McLaren was doing a lot of experimenting – the paternity of the film which was entirely composed of frames: “On this year, 1954, by audacity or humour he marks a new turn by making the first film in the history of cinema, where no shot is longer than one frame (i.e. visible for more than 1/24th of a second): Image by images 1 (colour, silent) is a ten second film in a loop (therefore indefinitely repeatable) of which the 240 frames are completely different from one other. In this way, he pushes to the limit a principle that Léger, Clair and Gance had adopted in certain passages of rapid editing of Ballet mécanique, Entr’acte and Napoléon, Dziga Vertov in the paroxysm of Man with a Movie Camera, Maurice Lemaître, finally, in certain flickering passages of Le Film est déja commencé?”(1951), Dominique Noguez, Une renaissance du cinéma: le cinéma underground américain(Paris Experimental, coll. “Classiques de l’avant-garde”, 2002) p. 329.
  14. Du Ballet mécanique au cinéma structurel, was initially published in Melba Magazine (number 4-5, December 1977) and printed again in Cinéma radical (Christian Lebrat, Paris Expérimental, coll. “Sine qua non”, 2008). Voici le cinéma post-structurel was published in Entre les images(Christian Lebrat, Paris Expérimental, coll. “Sine qua non”, 1997).
  15. Lebrat specifies: “In structural cinema, the process has yet to be discovered (for example in Wavelength, by Michael Snow, we don’t know how or where the film is going to end). Structural films have an identifiable beginning and end. There is thus an embryo of a story, of narration: in some cases the story of the process itself. On the other hand, post-structural cinema introduces the process right from the beginning, it is immediately there. It is like a machine, a system in which the spectator has to enter. As for the filmmaker, he activates the process to the maximum of its capacities. This is why films are often made up of patterns which succeed one another and which represent different ways to activate the process (for example, Trama, but also Vitesses Women [1972-1974], by Claudine Eizykman, works in this way). The model resembles a whirlwind. The films do not have a beginning or an end, they roll into themselves. You could alternate the different parts almost without changing anything of the film. This is the case with my Autoportraitau dispositif (1981), which can be screened in one direction or another, indifferently, that is why at the end I show the title upside down. It is a two sided mirror or feedback: a double focal effect, a mise en abîme. (Conversation with the author, Paris, November 2005.)
  16. Extracts of an interview published in Bref Magazine number 70 (January – February 2005).
  17. ibid.