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The Paradigm Case

The Cinema of Hitchcock and the Contemporary Visual Arts

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Bernard McCarron

With the migration of cinema into the art gallery, artists have been turning, with remarkable regularity and ingenuity, to Alfred Hitchcock-related images, sequences and iconography. The world of Hitchcock’s cinema – a classical cinema of formal unities and narrative coherence – represents more than the spectre of a supposedly dead art form: it transcends its own filmic and institutional contexts, becoming an important audio-visual lexicon of desire, loss, mystery and suspense.
Through a detailed study of the Hitchcock-related work of artist-filmmakers Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet, Johan Grimonprez, Pierre Huyghe, Douglas Gordon and Atom Egoyan, this book facilitates a dialogue between the creative appropriation of Hitchcock’s films and the cinematic practices that increasingly inform the wider field of the contemporary visual arts. Each chapter is structured around a consideration of how the artwork in question has reconfigured or ‘remade’ key Hitchcockian expressive elements and motifs – in particular, the relationship between mise en scène and the mechanics of suspense, time, memory, history and death. In a career that extended across silent and sound eras as well as the British, European and Hollywood industries, Hitchcock’s film œuvre can be seen as a history of the cinema itself. As the work of these contemporary artist-filmmakers shows, it was also a history of the future, a paradigm case par excellence.
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Chapter 2: Found Footage in Flames: Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet’s Phoenix Tapes

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CHAPTER 2

Found Footage in Flames: Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet’s Phoenix Tapes

Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet’s Phoenix Tapes serves as the opening case study for this book. Phoenix Tapes demonstrates the suitability of Hitchcock’s films for use within the gallery space. It is a work of ‘found-footage’: a subcategory, or artistic tendency, within moving image art, valued for its potential to reveal psychological processes that are activated during film viewing. The found footage medium emerged with films such as Adrian Brunel’s low-budget independent short Crossing the Great Sagrada (UK, 1924) and the early hand-painted films of Len Lye, such as A Colour Box (UK, 1935). A number of later films helped define the found footage tradition, for example Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (USA, 1939), a re-edit of sequences featuring the actress’s performance in East of Borneo; Bruce Conner’s A Movie (USA, 1958), an accumulation of archival footage and celluloid, and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (USA, 1971) by Stan Brakhage, a film documenting an autopsy in Pittsburg Morgue. Inspired by the increased availability of film technology, the found footage paradigm has recently become more concerned with latent meanings emerging with passing time. The found footage film’s dependence on new technology and its potential to multiply meaning make it a viable strategy within contemporary art in an era distinguished by increased hybridity between media and a sharp focus on the relationship between the spectator and the...

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