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Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone interview Anthony McCall for Bomb magazine.

Until the installation of his 1973 solid-light film Line Describing a Cone in Chrissie Iles’s Whitney exhibition Into The Light in 2001, Anthony McCall remained one of those artists whose work circulated almost entirely in the form of two or three very well known documentary photographs: his art was immediately recognizable, canonical even, but rarely experienced firsthand.

What became immediately apparent at the Whitney was just how fundamental direct sensory experience is to McCall’s work. No matter how many times one might read a description of Long Film for Four Projectors or see a picture of spectators dangling their fingers in the projected beam of light that is Line Describing a Cone, nothing prepares you for the truly beguiling and visceral experience of sharing a space with this body of work. Occupying a threshold position between film and sculpture, the solid-light films ask the viewer to participate in an event that overturns nearly everything we expect of a projected image. By the simple act of paying attention to the projected beam of light and asking the spectator to turn his or her back to the image on the wall, McCall’s solid-light films move back and forth between a total immersion in a beautiful or captivating spectacle—and beautiful or magical or captivating are descriptive terms used without apology by many in response to these films—and an analytical, self-conscious experience of structure being enacted or played out before the spectator.

Since the inclusion of McCall’s work in Into The Light, the early solid-light films have been shown extensively in Europe and America, and they have found a new and exciting context in relation to the contemporary interest in spectatorship, space, and the projected image. But what is most interesting about these screenings is that the renewed interest in his films from the ’70s has led to opportunities to exhibit a new body of work that is developed from and extends the investigation of the projection event that characterized films like Line Describing a Cone. New works such as Between You and I and Breath play out an extraordinarily acute archaeology of various threshold states.

At once immersive and analytical, and situated between an experience that is both sculpturally present and immaterial, McCall’s recent work exists only in the present, at the moment of projection, and yet at the same time calls up all kinds of filmic references, previous cultural experiences, and bodily states.

Writing in the ’70s, P. Adams Sitney called Line Describing a Cone “the most brilliant case of an observation on the essentially sculptural quality of every cinematic situation,” and it is a question of the boundary between sculpture and cinema that frames much of what is discussed below. Also key to our conversation is the structural logic of the new work, which draws on the cinematic conventions of the wipe and parallel action. This interview took place the day after McCall’s exhibition Between You and I, curated by Peer, opened at the Round Chapel, a spectacular nineteenth-century non-conformist chapel in Hackney, London.

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