When I was a child in Brazil, I remember that cinema theatres showed only one film at a time and once you were inside, you were allowed to stay on for the next screening, which you would if you had arrived late. Of course we were always late and unwittingly constantly re-edited films and watched them in a loop. Umberto Eco has written on a similar cultural peculiarity in Italy, especially amongst the popular cinema crowd. In connection with that, Eco said that film, like life, continually retraces events that have already occurred.
This brings us to looping, which takes the idea that Eco hints at above to a formally radical conclusion. Looping is an edit method whereby a single narrative unit repeats itself perpetually, repetition being the actual finality of the narrative thrust. Writing about the subject, Margot Bouman (editor of the online journal Invisible Culture) mentions that "there are manifold possibilities for its modeling: it could be a moebius strip, a figure eight, a succession of rings, or a cat’s cradle. Intrinsic to the temporal quality of the loop is a deep, dreamy pulse that imbues even the weakest work that uses this structure with a persuasive power."
"(Looping) is the most powerful antithesis to the classic idea of temporal linearity"
Looping, is perhaps one of the most persuasive techniques to remind us of the constant flow of time, which moves in a circle of repetition, where beginning and end are forever merging. It’s also the most powerful antithesis to the classic idea of temporal linearity. The advent of digital tools made looping a staple of editing, not only in video but also music – electronic music in often constructed on looped rhythm sections because, after all, rhythm is a type of looping. And, metaphorically, so is television, with its repeated daily programmes and endless streaming of commercials.
The poetic potential of video looping is immense and with that in mind, Germany-based Graw Bockler put together a compilation called looppool, comprising 50 video loops by 55 visual artists from several countries. The compilation is the result of a commission by the 51st International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (2005), a venue that tends to favour the cross-pollination between film, artist’s films and video art.
Looping in the art video circuit has produced some memorable works, especially when the artist appropriates clips of iconic, commercially successful films to emphasise the hypnotical quality of the film experience. But cinema can also provide examples where the dynamic of looping was used by a director as a way to disrupt the traditional rules of continuity. Luis Bunüel emphasised the claustrophia he wanted to create in The Exterminating Angel (1962) by showing a scene when a group of guests arrive at a mansion for a party twice in a row. In Bunuel’s film, guests to a dinner party descend into a state of savagery after, for no apparent reason, they simply can’t leave the house where they are. Bunuel wanted to show just how easily dismantled bourgeois values can be.
Böckler selected a wide range of works, which range from six frames to ten minutes of duration and they "all last forever". Böckler is keen on the poetic connotations of looping. The introduction text that floats through the navigation menu says, to the accompaniment of a mellow guitar strum: "A loop is like a crack in a record…It’s like a magic moment that never ends." This introduction also presents examples that perfectly synthesise looping: a seamless 360 degree pan and a bar neon sign showing two figures bringing a glass of beer to their mouths with perpetually repeated movements.
Although all the works included in this compilation adopt different looping models with equal creativity and visual flair, there is one that I’d like to single out because of its cinematic reference. Timothêe Ingen-Housz used Universal’s logo, the rotating globe, and trapped it in a loop. The use of this simple but iconic image visualizes looping’s ultimate metaphor: the never ending cycle of life as symbolised by the rotating planet in the darkness of the (film) universe.