The current issue of Afterall is the first to be produced under the auspices of a new partnership. From now on, the journal will incorporate the quarterly visual culture journal AS, a magazine formerly published by MuHKA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp.
Andere Sinema (later abbreviated to AS) was founded in 1978 by a loose grouping of critically minded film amateurs with strong political ideas and an unshakeable belief in the ability of the cinematic experience to transform both the viewer’s life and his or her world. The magazine’s publishing body, an association called De Andere Film that was later to become the Center for Visual Culture, had strong roots in both 1970s film culture – think auteur and apparatus theory – and the political utopianism that propelled so many of that decade’s experiments in adult education. Strongly cinephiliac in its early years, Andere Sinema gradually broadened its critical scope to include reflections on a variety of aspects and effects of the 1980s explosion of visual technologies, in the process becoming a forum for broad discussions of early video and computer art, and for a balanced critique of televisual culture. In the 1990s, the magazine was among the first to seize upon the importance of the burgeoning Internet as a cultural force and realm of artistic and political possibilities, thus closing the circle of what had in the meantime become a veritable academic cottage industry of the first order – ‘visual culture’. Finally, in 2003 the magazine
and its publishing parent the Center for Visual Culture were incorporated into MuHKA – a move which had been prepared by the journal’s gradual distancing from film culture and subsequent turn to the field of contemporary art, the last turning point in the AS‘s long history before its submersion into Afterall.
Naturally, this merger was preceded by long discussions and conversations between the partner institutions and their representatives. It does signal the end of ASas an autonomous publication and concrete space of thought, but simultaneously also secures – a much more important point – the continuation of AS‘s critical legacy, and we are greatly pleased that Afterall provides this ‘shelter’.
Indeed, as AS‘s initial cinephiliac impulse became more and more diluted by the magazine’s moving away from the critical film culture it partly owed its existence to, its focus inevitably shifted towards film, video and digita artswithin the field of contemporary art, and finally towards that field in and of itself. The reason for this move – which was of course strongly determined by local conditions – was simple: the ‘alternative’ politicised film culture of the 1970s was fast disappearing as the film establishment readied itself for the onslaught of blockbuster monoculture that would characterise the 1980s; ‘film’, as an independent environment for critical practice, was losing much of the vitality and flexibility that had attracted so many renegade minds in the first place, and the sphere of visual arts began to present itself as an asylum of sorts for said intellectual practice. The so-called ‘cinematic turn’ of the 1990s, one of the defining characteristics of the art of that decade, was not only due to the groundbreaking ‘discovery’ of cinema as an artistic form alongthe traditionally more dominant modes of drawing, painting and sculpture (the dominance of which it would eventually even eclipse), but also owing, I believe, to the ‘flight’ of many marginalised aspects of film practice from its erstwhile stamping ground (the spaces of cinema proper) into the art world. As repertoire cinemas began to give way to the advent of the multiplex steamroller, and as the film industry replied in kind by churning out ever more multiplex drivel, museums, galleries and other art spaces became the refuges of choice for film’s disenchanted ‘art’ audience. Inevitably, this move has been followed by a similar one in the field of discourse: some of the best writing on film or television is no longer to be found in their respective specialised publications, but has migrated into the orbit of art writing and criticism – as is attested, among others, by the pride of place given in this issue of Afterall to the work of German filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger. There are many reasons for this dynamic: in contrast to the world of film, the art world is still relatively free from the pressures of marketing that have contributed so damningly to the demise of critical film culture; moreover, art’s in-built ‘vagueness’ and resistance to definition and circumscription (it is much easier to answer the question ‘What is cinema?’ than ‘What is art?’) has meant that the various ‘spaces’ of the art world have become a safe haven of sorts for any critical cultural practice that cannot be pinned down with
the immediacy required of them by our tightly disciplined capitalist society. Lastly, however, it seems that the art world – represented here, symbolically, byAfterall, as journals are one of its most vital spaces of enquiry and research- is now home to much more than mere ‘art’, accommodating types of research and critical (political, scientific, sexual, social, etc.) practice that have come to the art world as if to their last resort – as is testified here by the present
adoption of AS‘s own history – only to find that it is truly (t)here that they have come to blossom, in dialogue with and in a situation of equality to more orthodox art practices.
Even though Afterall has long reflected the irreducible heterogeneity (and subsequent riches: nothing would be as damning to art’s mental health as monoculture) of contemporary art practice – the merger with AS only serves to further cement this tradition of open-minded criticism – the current issue ofAfterall surely serves as a fine, programmatic example of this inclusive approach: in it, Ottinger’s films appear alongside very different types of practice, such as Christopher Williams’s and Yto Barrada’s photographs, Gillian Carnegie’s paintings or Palle Nielsen and Chris Gilbert’s socio-political experiments in the form of exhibitions. Afterall‘s long-standing commitment to balanced critical analysis and intellectual rigour is also well reflected in the inclusion of lengthy essays by Jeff Wall and Anthony Huberman, which simultaneously provide a critical framework in which to read (and rephrase) the art world’s exact penchant towards the sloppy thinking that is the bane of so many generalisms and generalisations. They are forceful reminders that the heart of Afterall is in art: a sympathetic environment in which the legacy of AS looks certain to flourish.