'Polyekran' is a special Czech term compounded from two foreign words – Greek poly (more) and French ecran (screen). First used by the Research Institute of Audio, Image and Reproduction Technique in Prague, it was shown for the first time at the EXPO Exhibition 1958 in Brussels in the Czechoslovak pavilion.
'Polyekran', based on the projection of several parallel images, has its roots deep in the prehistory of cinematography in the forms of diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs that were usually related to interpretation of sacred stories. Provided with the very fi st preserved painting of a buffalo in various phases of its movement in the Polychrome hall in the Cave of Altamira, we can discover the origins of systematic segmentation of objects in Late Antiquity where we come across wooden, ivory or metal boards of various sizes, usually joined together with a buckle. Diptych as an art work was used as kind of a precious writing board with engraved images on the exterior side of the ivory, often with illustration of a consul or the ruling emperor. Ivory diptychs were used in the period of early Christianity as a representation of religious matters. The popularity of diptychs changed throughout the centuries and reached its peak in the 14th century, particularly in the Netherlands where it was employed by Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.
The structure of polyptych is dominant in the Byzantine painting, folding objects served as icon models, in 16th century Russia there is a multiboard portable iconostasis. The altarpiece usually has the form of a triptych with movable leaves. Frequent themes are portraits of benefactors since the 16th century. One of the most signifi ant is Peter Paul Rubens. After decades of stagnation, the triptych achieved its success again in the 19th century when naturalistic and symbolic painters deliberately used the triform to add a religious dimension to their themes. This tendency was carried on by German expressionists, such as Otto Dix and Max Beckmann. The most prominent painter dealing with triptychs in the 20th century, was Francis Bacon.
The dynamicity of multiple images was evident in the usage of films and general moving images during the 20th century. French filmmaker Abel Gance, one of the film impressionists, can be regarded as the pioneer of polyekran. His Napoleon, conceived as a triptych of many hours, was shown for the first time in 1927. The polyekran form had little opportunity to spread widely and the technological demands of his projects forced its creator to make rather more private experiments.
The development in the usage of polyekran can be observed at so called Expanded Cinema; a film movement without a program that was formed by experimental filmmakers and visual artists. The second sphere that works with decomposition of image in this period contains examples from videoart production, where countless modifications of multichannel projections are produced. At first they use only televisions that form sculptures, broadcasting area, etc., eventually the multiple projections are managed through "videoscreens" (after the introduction of projectors), today with LCD monitors and others.
Expanded Cinema is a movement that tried, probably in a most distinctive way, to disrupt cinematographic conventions within a theoretical as well as practical platform of the creation of moving images. The origin of experimental film, regarding the expanded cinema, has reached the size of a mass movement that is adherent to a wave of pop music, to progress in visual arts where plenty of new trends have been formed – conceptual art, land art, performance art, video art. Very expensive projections take place in USA in halls for several thousand people (the authors are, e.g. John Cage, Ronald Nameth, Stan VanDerBeek, Jud Yalkut, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg). American projects are typical for their monumentality. In Europe, it is rather a deep analysis of individual units of a film that is emphasized (reality in front of the camera, nature of substance etc.; works of Peter Weibel, VALIE EXPORT, Ernst Schmidt Jr., Malcolm LeGrice, David Lamelas and others.)
Visual installation, performance, happenings; the products leave classic place of a cinema or accent some other technical or semantic unit. Film is being gradually expanded to galleries and museums through this expressive form. As a result one can see Visual multi-projections, double-sided projections, specially constructed projection halls, shaped screens and other expansions in the ordinary perception of a moving image. Mostly the analyzed process and time of projection is the elementary testimonial unit of a work without any emphasis on delivered visual content. Works that operate only with symbolic usage of film phraseology or with gradually dematerializing trends are no exception.
Parallels between historically older art production of moving images and Expanded Cinema are often merely general. Marcel Duchamp's Anémic Cinéma is one of the precursors of the dominant trend in Expanded Cinema. He meant his work to be something unusual; an expansion of film projection. The 'formative' title itself, referring to a movie house, basically anticipates the 'dishonestly' tuned concept in relation to cinematography. The triptych projection of Gance's Napoleon cannot be regarded as Expanded Cinema, neither can the synthesis of theatre and film developed in the Czech environment (avant-garde production of E. F. Burian who worked with Čeněk Zahradníček or Miroslav Kouřil). Concepts of various polyekran projections and polyvisions are very close to Expanded Cinema, e.g. production of Josef Svoboda or Jaroslav Frič (these are adherent not only to Laterna Magika projects).
Concept of Laterna Magika was introduced for the first time in the Czechoslovak pavilion at EXPO 1958 in Brussels. These were combinations of ballet, theatre, music and polyekran film projections (simultaneous projections of several screens synchronized with movement, music or environment) with Alfréd Radok as a director and Josef Svoboda as a stenographer. He also organized so called Polyvision for EXPO 1966 in Montreal with Jaroslav Frič. It was composed of screened films and slides on moving geometrical objects. For Montreal EXPO, Svoboda also prepared a polyekran compounded of 112 moving cubes. In each cube there were two projectors with slides that screened the image on the front side of the cube. It resulted in an 11-minutelong projection composed of 15 000 slides. (One of Svoboda's interesting visual actions is the co-operation with Bostonian television Channel 2 in 1965 on the production of the opera Intoleranza, where he used direct transmission of images during the performance. The video was displayed to the theatre, where the needed counterpoint between story and image was created, as well as on the street in front of the theatre building. This all was navigated from the theatre as well as from distant TV studios.)
We can observe an alliance of Expanded Cinema's trends with those of Weimar Bauhaus, where the artists strove for the Wagnerian idea of Gesamtkunstwerk (complete artwork), for which film technology seemed to be a very suitable medium. Under the influence of Lászlo Moholy-Nagye and other artists of the first generation of Bauhaus academy there was a particular attention towards basic phenomena of how the image of kinetic nature was formed. These phenomena are light, rhythm and motion. They wanted to achieve an art based on light production with the use of headlights, archiving movement of the light on a sensitive silver halogen layer of film celluloid (e.g. Lichtspiel – schwarz, weiss, grau (1930), Lászlo Moholy Nagy). Bauhaus is a cradle of Moholy-Nagye's optical-kinetic plastics, there is a rumour about the end of a classic image, Karel Teige writes about him substituting it with cinegraphical image. 'Creative kinetics' is the result, the prominent representative of which was in our republic Zdeněk Pešánek. He created unique light images (plastics). His work with headlights culminated during 1920s in several projects that improved the idea of so called colour piano. Zdeněk Pešánek finishes his book Kinetism in 1930 in which he deals with the potential of multimedia projections that, for him, represent future of visual art. Similar themes that appear in the works of Pešánek and the Bauhaus academy, are part of the production of many video artists. The first abstract video images from the late 1960s and 1970s were generated by means of audio synthesizers used in experiments with electronic music.
It could be said that the 'complete artworks' will be presented in Olomouc – according to the tradition of Expanded Cinema, the work with decomposition of image is part of the live performances of the French Burstscratch, domestic Mikroloops or Handa Gote, who also liven up theatrical aspects so typical of the Czech defi nition of polyekran. Conversely there will be Jan Šrámek, Filip Nerad, Petr Cabalka and Filip Cenek working at the Jesuit Konvikt in the spirit of multichannel installation. The presentation of Ondřej Vavrečka's film triptych in the Corpus Christi Chapel is probably the closest to the concept of Abel Gance and sacred stories.
Martin Mazanec, Alexandr Jančík