Contemporary Art Research Centre


Essential Experiments

Rediscovering and contextualising avant-garde cinema


CARC member Phillip Warnell is an artist filmmaker and drew on his own practice-based research to curate a programme of avant-garde film screenings and public engagement events at BFI Southbank. Essential Experiments commenced in April 2010 with twice-monthly screenings of rarely seen films at the BFI introduced by a scholar or filmmaker.


Essential Experiments is an important development for the screening of international, experimental, avant-garde film in the UK. It asks the audience to consider how avant-garde films from the past speak to us now. Many of the films in the programme might have been considered as strange or inaccessible when they were first screened, but are they now anything more than novel curiosities? Do they still have the capacity to thrill, fascinate, disturb and disorientate us as they once might have done?

Essential Experiments is an open ended ‘celluloid enquiry’ shared between the curators, guest speakers (scholars or practitioners) and audiences. Warnell’s approach to co-curating Essential Experiments is informed by the filmmaking processes of his most recent films:  The girl with X-ray eyes (2008) and Outlandish: Strange Foreign Bodies (2009). His innovative approach to filmmaking curation employs juxtaposition, offering new insights into the films screened. For example, the first evening’s programme traced the early artistic influences of impressionist painting, expressionism and surrealism on European avant-garde cinema.


Essential Experiments has continued for more than two and a half years and by the end of 2012, 45 screening evenings had taken place with over 115 films shown. Income generation through ticket sales has exceeded BFI audience targets with benefits to the BFI including providing programming devoted to experimental cinema which broadened its remit with the general public, BFI membership and supporting bodies.

Essential Experiments connects with the BFI’s Doc-Next Media Laboratory initiative, targeting talented film graduates onto a programme that Phillip Warnell was invited to select and mentor on. Doc-Next offers a production bursary and opportunity to experiment with the film-form over a six-month period through workshops, filmmaking, theoretical discussions, analysis and debate. The scheme has since been combined to the MA Experimental Film course directed by Warnell at Kingston University.



Collaborations/partnerships/funders or Warnell's films and Essential Experiments

Wellcome Trust, BFI Film, Doc Next Network


Research at the Contemporary Art Research Centre (CARC) aims to build an intellectual and creative environment for innovation in contemporary art. Former CARC members include 2012 Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price and the centre's ongoing work is organised around four interconnected themes: social context, technology, epistemology and materiality.


Publications/prestige indicators
Warnell, Phillip [Director] (2009) Outlandish: strange foreign bodies. (Experimental documentary film and publication).
Warnell, Phillip [Artist] (2008) The girl with X-ray eyes. (Experimental documentary film; two-screen installation and publication).