Hasan Cem Çal • 14.10.2023
Generally speaking, there are two modes of frame within a frame: the limited and the unlimited. The limited mode is based on a mathematical understanding of the frame: the division of space into ever smaller segments. This corresponds to a kind of micro-modeling of the frame. And there is, of course, the unlimited mode, which is based on a geometric understanding of the frame: it is not the fragmentation of the frame as an enclosed space into smaller and smaller parts, but the multiplication of itself, its self-replication. To put it in a biomaterial metaphor: if we compare the first mode to a bacteria, we can liken the second mode to a virus.
When it comes to film, we know that every type of frame has a divisive function, as it must be. That’s the primary function of the frame: to divide. That is, to take a piece out of the whole. But on the other hand, the frame has the function of giving this thing — the thing isolated, its object — wholeness in itself. As soon as it is separated from the whole, it creates its unity. It is especially right about film. The film frame is a unit for sure, but it also has a unity for its part. In a way, it has a sense of totality that is perceivable. Of course, in the context of the film, some frames are very much related to their outside, that is, the off-space or the out-of-frame (like in Robert Bresson’s films), or there are relatively closed frames that divide things like an encapsulating system of sorts (like in Alfred Hitchcock’s films) but in the end, the frame doesn’t stop dividing, it cannot stop dividing, it’s its raison d’etre. The frame, in this sense, is the reification of the whole through its division. Therefore, a frame within a frame, in its basic definition, in its limited version, is nothing but the miniaturization of the frame.
But what if the frame is defined via its function? The question that follows this question is surely this: Isn’t the frame already defined via its function? Actually, no. The frame operating its function is not the same as the frame operating on its function. In the first, the frame divides things from the whole, its object being the divided things themselves. However, in the second, when the frame is defined through its function, it divides itself, its object being nothing but itself. Thus, the frame acquires a self-dividing function, and this is the definition of the frame in its unlimited mode (and it’s only possible in film because it is only the film — thanks to the basic feature, that is, movement — that makes possible to frame the frame in an endless fashion). This is the self-dividing frame, the frame that renders itself divisible. The frame that divides not things but itself as the ultimate object of division.
One can see this type of frame in many films, all of which are experimental. To give an example, Owen Land’s Box Theory has a structure that enables this type of frame. In it, we see only frames within frames. We constantly see them because the image we see contains its framed copy within it, and thus makes it possible to frame itself endlessly. This is the whole movement of the film: the perception of frame within a frame as an endless process. But still, it seems to do this through its content. Pushing the frame to the limit by framing something that contains a frame seems to be its basic procedure. But actually, it’s not necessary, only contingent. In other words, this is something that can also be achieved by formal means. Continuous division of the frame can be sufficient to make the frame unlimitedly divisive, and that’s exactly the thing in question in Johan Rijpma’s Divison.
Rijpma’s film is a perfect example of what we conceptualize as the unlimited mode of frame within a frame. What’s the thing about this film? The thing is nothing more than a constant division of the frame. The name of the film was not given for nothing. Indeed, it’s a division, but as a process, not as a state. It’s not about things divided, but the act of division via the form, in this case, the frame, that has a diving function. What we see throughout this film is a constant reframing of what’s being framed. In this example, it’s a piece of paper. It’s constantly torn and reassembled, breaking itself into ever smaller pieces while at the same time remaining intact. What keeps it intact is the constant rephotographing of the pieces torn by Rijpma himself. In this way, he allows the frame to contain a multitude of parts while maintaining the wholeness of it. He takes the limit of the part in the whole, let’s say. In that, the frame is akin to a self-hosting virus. No relation to anything but itself, but at the same time, constantly multiplying.
Are we going to call it a frame? Language misleads us in this respect. What’s in question is not a noun, it’s a verb. In this mode of frame within a frame, the frame is not the frame in itself but rather is a part of a series. Meaning, reframing always defines this type of frame within a frame. Its fundamental function is not to frame but to reframe, and this is the thing that renders it unlimited. In Division, we see it in action. By assembling itself with the parts that are torn from it, the frame becomes the very limit of itself, containing its ever-minuscule forms, and it does so without any limit, dividing itself in aeternum. Its unfolding is its folding, and vice versa.
Taking into account all of this, what are we seeing in this film? Structurally, it’s the smallest unit of the film, copying itself without a limit. Conceptually, it’s eternity or the sense of it. In truth, these two dimensions are interconnected, but the second seems to have the predominance in the vision of the viewer. In any case, it presents us with a structural yet sensuous eternity, which works through the indefinite multiplication of the frame. It’s a kind of form that is achieved only by rendering the frame as a thing that objectives itself, not as a thing that includes objects. In this way, the frame becomes the very act of division, processing its function like it processes things via the very function that defines it. Division is nothing but that — imaging of the frame as it is, in the state of division.