DON’T LOOK NOW. The Cinema Project

The most impressive cinema experience one can imagine, is an empty, carefully illuminated white canvas inside a movie theatre, unveiled by an opened curtain: no filmic performance can ever reach this.

And when my brain talks to me
he says: /[...]/
Take me to the movies
’Cause I love to sit in the dark...
Laurie Anderson, Baby Doll, 1989.

The Cinema Project.

The Cinema Project is led by two arts-based researchers – Christian Fröhlich and Johanna Digruber – and complemented by three additional researchers – Carola Dertnig, Michael Stadler and Niels Wouters.

The value of going to the movies, sitting in the dark (together) and experiencing the cinema situation is still considered to be a key phenomenon of media perception in the modern world. This project aims to establish artistic research concerning the fact that “cinema” is not solely the film itself, but contains the whole situation in which the film is projected: the dark hall, the white canvas, the light beams hitting the canvas, reflecting the light, slightly illuminating the space in front, the permanent change of light and darkness, sound and silence, the “inoccupation of bodies“ within the space, viewers cocooned in their seats. Within this research project we will demonstrate that the most impressive cinema experience one can imagine, is an empty, carefully illuminated white canvas inside a movie theatre, unveiled by an opened curtain. We argue: No filmic performance can ever reach this.


The experiments will take place in selected movie theatres in Vienna and will be either recorded via videography or performed live for the public in the Invisible Cinema of the Austrian Film Museum. The selection of movie theatres is based on the typology of the cinemas. We are looking for so-called “Ladenkinos” (Nickelodeons), which are usually set up in converted storefronts. While in other European cities, cinemas were installed in their respective buildings from the very beginning, Vienna established so-called “Ladenkinos”, located in abandoned street shops, restaurants and former narrow business stores and which marked the first years of Viennese cinema. This tradition has been continued and is still visible in well-known examples, such as the Vienna Film Casino. All chosen cinemas have two characteristics in common: the entrance is located within a converted facade and the cinema space is inside the building block.


Research Context.

  • Peter Kubelka and the Invisible Cinema
  • Architecture and the cinema space
  • Atmospheres in Architecture
  • Video Paintings
  • Theaters – Lichtspiele
  • A Cinematic Atopia
  • The Cinema Situation

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“The cinema is a dark space, a protected silent space, and people sit in their seats and have to concentrate on what they get from the screen: sound and image. (...) And this precious situation is only there because film cannot work by daylight because it’s a shadowplay.”
Peter Kubelka, 2012.
“The concept of atmosphere troubles architectural discourse – haunting those that try to escape it and eluding those that chase it.”
Mark Wigley, 1998.
“Video is a way of configuring light, just as painting is a way of configuring paint. What you see is simply light patterned in various ways. For an artist, video is the best light organ that anyone has ever invented.”
Brian Eno, 1985.
“One night I had an idea while I was at the movies: to photograph the film itself. I tried to imagine photographing an entire feature film with my camera. In my imagination, this would appear as a glowing, white rectangle; it would come forward from the projection surface and illuminate the entire theatre. This idea struck me as being very interesting, mysterious, and even religious”.
Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2004.
“The ultimate film goer would not be able to distinguish between good or bad films, all would be swallowed up into an endless blur. He would not be watching films, but rather experiencing blurs of many shades. Between blurs he might even fall asleep, but that wouldn’t matter.”
Robert Smithson, 1971.
“There is a 'cinema situation', and this situation is pre-hypnotic. I do not consider cinema to be solely the film itself, but the whole situation: the dark hall, the 'inoccupation of bodies' within it, viewers cocooned in their seats. Unlike television, whose domestic space holds no erotic charge, cinema’s urban darkness is anonymous, exiting, available.”
Roland Barthes, 1986.