From Flying Carpets to Experimental Cinema
The art of carpets has a great influence on the art of the 20th Century : the fauvism and abstract art were inspired by Islamic rug art and foregrounded the visual effects produced by the flatness of carpets, the harmonious repetitions and variations of their patterns or their decorative characteristic. Such concepts are based on the assumption that the carpet represents a flat and abstract surface. However, through the Flying Carpet exhibition (held in Académie de France – Villa Medici in Rome ; dates : May 30~ October 21, 2012), Philippe-Alain Michaud (curator of the Film Department of the Centre Pompidou) proposed a different conception : the carpet is regarded as a metaphor for movement. Through the repetitive patterns, various compositions and textures, the surface of carpet is animated and thus becomes interwoven images and cyclic representations of figures. Such ‘carpet effect(effet-tapis)’ is represented in certain experimental films and the Flying Carpet exhibition attempts to reveal the similarities between the art of film and the conception of carpets (such as flying carpets) through juxtapositions of experimental films and contemporary artworks from the collection of Centre Pompidou with carpets from the collections of Musée du Quai Branly, Musée des Tissus de Lyon, among others.
Some of the experimental films shown in the exhibition echo the rhythms and changing shapes that can be associated to certain compositions and patterns of carpets, such as Harry Smith’sAbstractions series which represent changing forms through batik decorative techniques. Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight was made by sticking branches, leaves, petals or insects’ wings unto a white background on the footages ; when the film runs through, the images represent a certain visual transparency and decorative intersections. Certainly, the imagery and the concept of flying carpets are related to floating and to agravic states. When Ernie Gehr shot Side/Walk/Shuttle(1991), he took an elevator to film the city. In the film, the gravity is abandoned so as to show all kinds of perspectives of San Francisco’s cityscape in constant shifts ; sometimes the buildings seem to rise up from all sides or hang against the sky. The entire city thus becomes a giant image-machine ; the vertical movement of the elevator and the horizontal flow of passengers and vehicles echo the weaving principles of carpets based on the knotting and crossing of threads. The exhibition also shows one of the pioneers of abstract film, Hans Richter : Rythmus 21(1921) shows intersecting rectangles of various dimensions moving vertically or horizontally ; the shapes, sometimes hollow and sometimes filled with single colors keep on growing or shrinking, resulting in continuous inversions of the background and the foreground.
In his essay “Movements of Surfaces/Mouvements de surfaces”, Michaud described how the fundamental characteristics of cinema are related to the projection and the running footages ; this is similar to the process of weaving carpets : when the process terminates, the carpet’s structure is dissolved in the knotting procedures〔note〕. The structuring and weaving principles of figures, the dialectic process in which images are revealed, constructed while also being dissolved – these are the fundamental similarities between carpets and the cinema. By analyzing the parallels between carpets of past centuries and contemporary experimental image-making, Flying Carpetsexhibition reflects the basic elements of cinema and how the cinematic effect is incarnated in visual experiences beyond the cinematic realm.
【Reference：Flying Carpets, ed. by Philippe-Alain Michaud(Drago, 2012, Rome)】
〔Note〕See Michaud, Sketches. Histoire de l’art, cinéma, p. 176~177(Kargo & l’éclat, 2006, Paris). The quotation is translated into English by Sylvie Lin. Besides, Michaud had juxtaposed experimental films and modern/contemporary artworks in Movement of Images : Cinema, Artexhibition held in the Pompidou Center in 2006. See Sylvie Lin’s interview withMichaud: https://sylvielin.wordpress.com/2010/08/01/interview-with-philippe-alain-michaud/. Also, see Lin’s another interview with Michaud, “The Disappearance of Film”, http://www.atfm.asia/en/article.php?id=80
(The article was originally published on Art Taipei Forum Media, http://www.atfm.asia/en/article.php?id=175, 2012/10/08)