McCall’s early association with radical film practice in late 1960s London soon extended to an interest in performance, perhaps most famously with the work Landscape for Fire (1972) and the 16mm film that is a document of this moment. Small fires were ceremoniously lit in a geometric pattern by white-uniformed participants in a field, accompanied by the sound of the flaring fires and a foghorn that created the sense of a scientific experiment or state of emergency. The grid system gave structure to the unpredictable volatility of fire as a medium as well as an overarching governing structure, perhaps akin to a musical score, in which the quantity of petrol to burn, number and spacing of fires, walking pace and ignition sequence were all strictly measured.
Upon the completion of this work, McCall considered the primary event to be the performance and not the film. This realization led him to whether he could make a film that exists solely at that moment of projection, and if so, what form would it take. His first attempt to find that form was Line Describing a Cone (1973), a painstakingly hand-drawn single point that extends into a full circle, with the light between the screen and the projector slowly becoming a conical plane of light in a haze-filled three dimensional space. The austerity of such a gesture was stripped back even further with Long Film for Ambient Light (1975) in which even the projector was dispensed of in lieu of a single bulb hung from the ceiling of a blacked out room, the cinematic event reduced to the incidental light effects of the source on the space. McCall referred to this new series of projections as “solid-light works.”
It was only in the late 1990s that McCall returned to such works, his interest piqued by the development of the haze machine, the prevalence of new screen and projection-based practices and the arrival of custom animation software and high luminosity, long-throw digital projectors. These permitted him to create waves, ellipses and other complex curvilinear geometries that, along with titles such as Breath, Meeting you Halfway (2009) and Between You and I (2006), allude further to states of exchange between the multiple linear trajectories of the body-like forms. In both analogue and digital practices, the movements of the viewer’s body are gently encouraged to synchronize with the film’s drifts and undulations, creating harmonic patterns of slow-motion bodily response and a heightened sense of corporeal awareness. McCall’s phenomenological approach to understanding the work also creates a link to the minimalist and post-minimalist sculptors that distanced themselves from the internal dynamics of the art object, instead favoring the immediate perceptual dynamics of the encounter between viewer and sculpture.
A body of preparatory drawings and maquettes has always accompanied the films, combining the functions of storyboard, mathematical formulae, perspectival drawing and a looser, more generous working out of form. In their function of freezing a work to its core formal elements, either for the artist or a collaborator, they offer both an insight into working processes and a moment of contemplation for McCall’s key concerns of space and time.