The Walker’s Expanding the Frame series, which is now in its fourth year, is dedicated to showcasing artists who are willing to traverse and explore the gaps between mediums and challenge the audience to reconsider traditional modes of cinematic experiences. As a result of the ongoing contemporary bombardment of moving-images in everyday life, one could argue that audiences have been lulled into a kind of dreary cinematic passivity. One of the chief aims of the series is to break this behavior and build a better, more active dialogue between the moving-image artist and the audience. This notion of activating the spectator has its most famous origins in Bertolt Brecht’s Epic Theater; Brecht strove to alienate his audience from the spectacle of theater so they could develop and maintain a criticality of the work. In many ways, the artists that are featured as part of Expanding the Frame go even further than Brecht by synthesizing, and paradoxically fragmenting, theater, film, sculpture, and music. What emerges out of this combination of mediums is a new genre: performative cinema.
The Series begins with Bonanza: A Documentary for Five Screens. Created by the multimedia collective Berlin, this singular documentary explores the smallest official town in Colorado and its seven inhabitants. Although the town of Bonanza provides the filmmakers with material of considerable merit, it’s the structural and formal aspects of the documentary that prove to completely transform the spectator’s relationship to the work. Five screens present five different sequences of images that are all networked to one story. Not only is this visually demanding but also potentially distracting. Because the viewer has to decide where he or she will look, the very notion of choice is embedded within the experience itself. To make the experience even more complex, a static model of the town is situated above the five screens, which gives the work a heightened sense of verisimilitude. These stylistic demands make it impossible to be submerged in the entire event, and the audience is left to reevaluate and rethink everything they are seeing. Paradoxically, in going beyond cinema, the documentary Bonanza returns to cinema’s roots insofar as it’s an ephemeral, communal experience, which requires you to leave your home just as audiences did in the era between the nickelodeon and television.
Bonanza: A Documentary for Five Screens will play in the McGuire Theater from Thursday, January 20th to Saturday, January 22nd and is presented in collaboration with the Performing Arts department’s Out There Festival.