Material motions


The inanimate conceptualisation of cinema seems to take a very obvious and belittling turn of reducing it to machinery – functional, to bridge a gap between the eye and the image, a tool that exists solely to be of use. I don’t blame anybody who may forget how a camera apparatus may be the bridge between mere sight and full vision; if anything, it may say more of how efficiently this gap has been bridged.

Many classic stories about the birth of cinema start with the birth of the apparatus, and almost all of these stories have less to do with the intention of creating a new artistic medium that led to the birth of cinema, and more to do with having an apparatus to answer scientific questions. It is as though we were looking for an apparatus to enhance the apparatus that is the human eye, to help the functionality of the eye itself – not the poetic and heartfelt creation of Cinema. Take for example, the Edwaerd Muybridge experiment to study the galloping of horses. The fact that that experiment started off with the purpose of answering questions about the movement of animals, which then led to advancement in the field of motion photography is poetic, and it is in this poetry that the moment of triumph of the inanimate apparatus lies.

The camera is a marvel of technology first, which is definitely beautiful in its functionality, and that can be said in appreciation of any and all tools and apparatus in art. But what are the tools used to build tools? Art is a tool, a lens if I may call it that, but the apparatus to make art is the only apparatus of its kind that has been held so integral to the process of creation unlike any other creation process. And even that notion is crumbling, in this post-purpose, post-function world.

Motion is not necessarily cinema, but cinema is definitely motion. It is that which has adopted movement, animation, expression to become life as opposed to just replicate it. Cinema has broken the notion of replication by being one of the most precise forms of replication, but has also built replication to its highest form where the replicated is the real. It is in the poetic movement to build these tools for other tools. The eye is a tool, and the camera is a tool that can build the eye, and vice-a-versa. It is the inanimate tool that enhances the animated tool. It is in the inanimate existence of the camera as mere metal, glass, and plastic equipment that I think makes it a humbling and humiliating effort towards the continuing pursuit of new forms of cinema. The evolution of tools leads to the evolution of new forms and new mediums.

The inanimate aspects of art, namely the apparatus responsible for its creation doesn’t seem inanimate when given the credit of facilitating creation. If the animate were the facilitator it couldn’t possibly fully be the creator. If it took people – animate creatures –  to make art, then art is held responsible for the creation of people. Dance for example, is an art form that seems to ‘use’ the body and imply animation of a certain method to ‘create’ dance. ‘Regular’ movement is not conventionally seen as dance or art, but that is starting to change as the lines between inanimate and animate are blurring due to a better understanding of semantics and its arbitrary nature. And yet, these theory can’t only layer this apparatus reality we talk of, not fully seep into it, so as to fully crush the primal notions of what counts as inanimate and animate.

Nevertheless, it is this interplay that makes for interesting discussion, not because I personally think there is some track to follow, or some destination to reach within this discussion, but actually because this realisation is meditative and humbling. It brings up that basic feeling of wonder that existed when the camera was a spectacle, and a matter of fascination in its mere existence – nothing more . Today, it is obviously more than we can ever imagine, and it is worth looking forward to the evolution of the apparatus, as it continues to be rooted in the first faith we hold in the power of motion.



Words: Nivedita Nair

Edits: Amal Shiyas

Illustration: Tara Anand

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