Project description: Experimental Film Rediscovered

From the experimental film 'Krag-filmen' by Jørgen Leth and Ole John (1969).
Project description by PhD-fellow Birgitte Thorsen Vilslev. Research project: "Experimental Film Rediscovered. An art historical analysis of Danish experimental film in an international perspective".

Birgitte Thorsen Vilslev is a PhD fellow at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen and employed at the research departments of SMK, Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) and DFI, the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen. Her current research project concerns the role of Danish experimental film in art history – a largely overlooked and somewhat disregarded field of research. The project involves a thorough research into archival material in both of the affiliated institutions, and a main part of the project thus consists in identifying and analysing the film material. The aim is to contribute to the description and understanding of early film works by Danish artists within an interdisciplinary field between film history and art history and in an international context. 

The first part of the project concerns early Danish experimental film from the 1940s to the early 1960s – including works by artists such as Albert Mertz, Jørgen Roos, Richard Winther, Robert Jacobsen and Wilhelm Freddie – and investigates the connections to early cinema as well as relevant international avant-garde movements of the 20th Century such as abstract film, surrealist film, Sovjet montage, Russian constructivism, German Expressionism, Dadaism, Cinema pure, and Situationist film.

The second part of the project follows the development of experimental films through the late 1960s and 70s and the revolutionary ideas of art and film in this period of history in especially the film collective ABCinema – a group of visual artists and film artists working together in the late 60s in Copenhagen including for example Per Kirkeby, Bjørn Nørgaard, Jørgen Leth and Ole John. Among other things, the film-group was inspired by the French new wave filmmaker Godard as well as the American pop-artist Warhol´s experimental film. In this period of time female artists such as Ursula Reuter Christiansen, Lene Adler Petersen and Jytte Rex created another important body of feminist experimental film.

A main concern of the project is the definition of the term experimental film. When is film considered to be experimental? How has the meaning of the term changed throughout history? In what way does it relate to other terms such as art film, avant-garde film and expanded cinema? What are the potentials of a study of the history of this regional and minor cinema? And what are the perspectives of experimental film in the complex field of contemporary art today with influences from video art and the rapid developments in media art? The intention is that the research into experimental film will help provide a better historical fundament for the understanding of the exchanges between film and art with relevant perspectives for contemporary art and film today.