A Window into Dreamlands

by Matthew Ari Elfenbein

On a recent visit to the Whitney Museum’s exhibit, Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, I wanted to explore how the artists had placed their pieces in a gallery setting in order to imitate film as reality.  This concept of film as actuality appears throughout film history, and Gregg Toland – cinematographer of Citizen Kane  beautifully conceptualizes this by writing,

“The picture should be brought  to the screen in such a way that the audience would feel it was looking at reality, rather than merely a movie.” (Toland 54).

There were a couple notable pieces that created the perception of looking through a window to the real world, outside of the gallery.

The first piece to mention is Bruce Connor’s Crossroads  from 1976.  In this installation, spectators are placed before a larger-than-life screen, witnessing slowed up accounts of the nuclear underwater testing at Bikini Atoll.  What this giant screen attempts to evoke is the feeling of seeing these events as if the spectator was actually there.  The largeness of the explosion image becomes amplified in slower speed, forcing spectators to sit in awe of the spectacle of the image.  This provides the experience of witnessing the image as if it was actually happening on the other side of the screen, making it like a window.  As theaters are promoting larger screens nowadays to encapsulate the audience, this specific exhibition renders the audience as mere observers of the onscreen explosions.


The floor to ceiling screen creates a window to the massive events.

Another piece that recreates the act of looking out a window would be Artie Vierkant’s 2009 piece, Exposure Adjustment on a Sunset.  This particular exhibit uses a television and plays the action of an ocean with the sunset.  This might be the most literal piece of looking out a window, but it does beg to differ the technology to create this.  While it is simply a video recording, the changes in exposure attempt to mimic the effects of the sun’s brightness to an onlooker.  The image becomes harder to see as the sun becomes stronger, and vice versa.  What is also being played around with is the fact that the gallery is in New York City, far from the sights of the video; therefore, spectators are looking through a window of fantasy, being transported to a tropical-esq environment through vision.


This “fantasy” window of the ocean.  The quality of the image was victim to the technology of the time.

In retrospect, Dreamlands provides an afternoon filled with pieces that forces spectators to re-conceptualize film as a medium and projection.  By including the pieces that insinuate windows into other events, the exhibition creates a meta-window into the materiality of the light being projected all over the space.


“Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016.” Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 | Whitney Museum of American Art. Audi, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

Toland, Gregg. “Realism for ‘Citizen Kane,'” American Cinematographer 21 (Feb. 1941). 54.


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