Saturday, January 2, 2010

anemic cinema 1926

mabsurda: This characteristically dada film by Marcel Duchamp consists of a series of visual and verbal puns with nonsense phrases inscribed around rotating spiral patterns, creating an almost hypnotic effect. Silent.

Anemic Cinema (various versions were made in 1920, 1923 and, finally, in 1926). Essentially a film by Duchamp with help from Man Ray. Calvin Tomkins: "Duchamp used the initial payment on his inheritance to make a film and to go into the art business. The film, shot in Man Ray's studio with the help of cinematographer Marc Allégret, was a seven-minute animation of nine punning phrases by Rrose Sélavy. These had been pasted, letter by letter, in a spiral pattern on round black discs that were then glued to phonograph records; the slowly revolving texts alternate with shots of Duchamp's Discs Bearing Spirals, ten abstract designs whose turning makes them appear to move backward and forward in an erotic rhythm. The little film, which Duchamp called Anemic Cinema, had its premiere that August at a private screening room in Paris."


Pompidou Centre: Rotoreliefs were originally cardboard discs with spiral patterns printed on them, made to be watched whirling on record players. They are “toys” that produce an illusion of volume. Duchamp got that idea after producing Anemic Cinema, an optical-illusion film, in 1925.

If the film was only shown privately, these discs were produced to be sold. Duchamp applied for a patent from the Seine Department’s business court on 9 May 1935 and introduced them to the public in August that year, at the Lépine innovation show. He produced 500 envelopes, each containing a number of models.

Business-wise, the venture flopped in France and in the United States (where he also tried to sell his discs). From an artistic point of view, however, these Rotoreliefs show that Duchamp had his hands in a variety of endeavours: he worked as an engineer and entrepreneur, and was one of the first artists to offer multiple works of art in boxes. It was this idea that later sparked the concept of a box containing objects from his full legacy, La boîte-en-valise (the Box in a Valise).

aqualoop (Taketo Shimada): The Rotoreliefs were first shown at opening of the 33rd concours lepine, the salon des inventions, at the parc des expositions, porte de varsailles. Duchamp has taken a tiny stand of three square meters to exhibit Rotorelief. In a joint venture with Henri Pierre Roche, 500 sets of six colored disks have been produced and were designed to be placed on a gramophone. Turningat the certain speed the disk give an impression of depth, Duchamp suggested that the optical illusions becomes more intense when viewed with only one eye.

Situated in alley F, stand number 147, some of the disks were turning horizontally and some vertically. Sandwitched between incinators and a rubbish-compressing machine on the left and an instant vegetable chopper on the right, Duchamps invention, which is awarded an "honorable mention" in the industrial art categoly, goes practically unnoticed by a public whose interest is in a serch for more practical and useful gadgets.

Wall hanging units were later foblicated on the occasion of 1965 Milan reproduction. It consists of a wooden box (37.5 x 37.5 x 8.5 cm) which is covered with black velvet; the motor is behind, in the center of the box, and drives a revolving magnetized turntable which enables one to use, according to the disks to be shown, either one of the two circular magnetised black flames of different width supplied with this unit.

Set of six disks (20cm), which a drawing on each side printed in color by offset lithography, to be seen as they rotate at the speed of 33rpm.

First disk front: No1 Corolles / back: No4 Lampe

Second disk front: No2 Oeuf a la coque / back: No3 Lanterne Chinoise

Third disk front: No5 Poisson Japanais / back: No6 Escargot

Forth disk front: No7 Verre de Boheme / back: No8 Cerceaux

Fifth disk front: No9 Montgolfiere / back: No10 Cage

Sixth disk front: No11 Eclipse Totale / back: No12 Spirale Blanche

Several editions were issued: 1935 Paris, 1953 New York, 1959 Paris, 1963 New York, 1965 Milan.

Michael Betancourt: The name 'rotoreliefs' refers to optical illusions which appear as three-dimensional forms when displayed on a rotating surface such as a phonograph turntable. Superficially, they present an apparent contradiction to this prohibition against "retinal art."' Once in motion they display a pulsating "relief" that oscillates between positive and negative space. Duchamp used these illusions in Anémic Cinéma (1926) alternating them with a series of French puns, each arranged into a spinning spiral:
Something else happens when we begin to allow the puns to have their play. The figurative meaning of “la moelle de l’épée” and “la poele de l’aimée” over powers the literal (non)sense. The reference to sexual intercourse could hardly be more evident. Furthermore, once we recognize its figurative character, our reading of the other disks begins to reveal sexual allusions. ...Suddenly the abstract gyrating shapes which rise from and sink into the plane of the screen come to resemble the igloos, breasts, welts and genitalia evoked by the words. The sexuality is neither in the literal meaning of the words, nor represented in the optical illusions, seen by themselves.

P. Adams Sitney recognized that sexuality is the subtext to this film, but it is a subtext which requires the interpretation of the viewer looking at the juxtaposition of rotorelief and the text. The meaning produced is an overlay onto the image; this overlay does not resolve the issue of the (potential) retinal nature of these images. The sexuality which Sitney notes is a result of the punning character of the statements; these "word plays" act through a double meaning which becomes apparent when they are read aloud. The doubling of the puns parallels the doubling of the 'rotoreliefs.' The gyrating shapes Sitney describes are the retinal aspect of the 'rotoreliefs.' This effect originates in the inconsistency of human perception which optical illusions exploit. It is the interpretative shift of the "precision optics" which moves the experience of looking from the purely visual into the mental realm:

"Painting should not be exclusively visual or retinal. It must interest the gray matter; our appetite for intellectualization."

Rhonda Roland Shearer and Stephen Jay Gould: "Although Italian scientists (unaware of Duchamp's work) found and named this particular form of illusion as "the stereo-kinetic effect" in 1924, Duchamp apparently discovered this perceptual phenomenon independently in the early 1920s, and completed his first set of discs in 1923. Duchamp recognized that by spinning designs composed as sets of eccentric but concentric circles, a viewer would see the resulting pattern as a three dimensional form even through one eye alone, without the supposedly necessary benefit of stereoscopy! By the 1930s, Duchamp had constructed from his experiments a wonderfully whimsical set of 12 spinning images--from a goldfish in a bowl, to the eclipsed sun seen through a tube, to a cocktail glass, to a light bulb--in order to emphasize his discovery of these three-dimensional effects. (Ironically, as another example of harmful separation between truly unified aspects of art and science, art museums almost invariably exhibit these discs as framed, static objects on a wall--whereas they have no meaning, either artistic or scientific, unless they spin. We are constrained to present a similarly static image in this printed magazine, but readers can observe the discs in their proper motion at

Duchamp knew what he had done, and he explicitly regarded the Rotoreliefs as a contribution to science. He wrote to Katherine Dreier in 1935: "I showed it to scientists (optical people) and they say it is a new form, unknown before, of producing the illusion of volume or relief. ... That serious side of the play toy is very interesting." Moreover, Duchamp took great pleasure in the efforts of a professor who wished to use his Rotorelief discs to retrain the three-dimensional insights of soldiers who had lost one eye in the First World War. [At a recent talk, one of us (R.R.S.) demonstrated the rotating discs to a physics professor, blind in one eye for more than a decade, who almost wept for joy at his first sight of three dimensions in so many years]. Duchamp also understood the general basis of his illusion when he wrote in a letter: 'I only had to use two circumferences--eccentric--and make them turn on a third center.'