Chapter 7


A Semiotic Analysis: the programmes and their imagery


Before considering an analysis of the meaning of the imagery I need firstly, to consider the historical precedents of the programme format itself, and secondly, to introduce the particular semiotic methodologies I have used. I will then make a classification of the subject matter of the imagery as a whole and apply a semiotic analysis to the resulting classification table. A few of the subject areas are discussed before selecting four page openings for an in-depth semiotic analysis. Semiotic analysis requires such careful contextualisation if it is not to atomise meaning.

All the regular Exploding Cinema shows have had a small A6 size booklet programme, which is given to every member of the audience as part of the admission cost. There were more than seventy shows from 1992 until the end of 1999 and the Exploding Cinema collective has a unique collection of nearly every programme. These highly illustrated booklets are an important trace in the study of Exploding Cinema as they are the only consistent record left from the actual shows. Most of the programmes were created as a result of group activity. As each person in the collective contributed to the making of these images an analysis of them should provide insight into the group's visual precepts. The rough paste-up 'zine style of the programmes with their rich background collages and minimal film descriptors has stayed remarkably stable throughout the nine years.

Printed by photocopy they have followed a consistent format which is usually sixteen pages in length but occasionally twenty four pages with self-cover.[1] A typical format:

Page 1 - A cover image with headline caption. (See illustration 1)

Page 2 - An introduction, which is often wry or whimsical.

Page 3 - List of films shown (title, filmmaker, duration, film stock)[2]

Page 4 to 13 - Collage background with film titles roughly cut and pasted on top, with the addition of a caption or occasionally more detailed information on the film or film-maker. [3] (See illustration 2)

Page 14 to 15 - Addenda that might include short texts, adverts, etc.[4]

Page 16 - Back cover graphic

A 16-page edition of the programme requires just 2 sheets of A4 to be photocopied on both sides and guillotined in half. The collation and stapling is then done by hand on the day of the show by any collective members or volunteers that are not busy putting the show up. The unit cost of a 16-page programme is about 12 pence[5]. Usually an edition of 150 to 200 is printed depending on the size of the venue. These usually all go by the end of the evening.

The importance of the programmes is brought into relief by the fact that they are the sole surviving trace of each show. In this present study I am interested in how the programmes communicate a collective mind set that in turn reflects a set of values which may be part of a broader sub-culture of which Exploding Cinema is a part.

There is no other available record that comes close to recording the collective ethos. The loops and decor slides used in shows are not done by the whole group although they do have a certain artistic unity. The posters also tend to be authored by fewer people.[6] So it is the programmes that describe the democratic collective ethos most visually.

The audience rarely discards their pocket-sized programmes at the venue and we can only imagine that many of them are still to be found on domestic bookshelves. People who have found particular significance or inspiration at an event are more likely to have kept them as an aide memoir and souvenir.

The graphic content of the booklets is perhaps given scant attention. Literally intended as a 'background' the images are selected by the participants from a box of cuttings. People will also bring along images. The images as a whole are a visual aspect of the shared mythology of a heterogeneous culture within which Exploding Cinema exists. (See illustration 2)

The collaged images may be seen as a blip of the collective sub-conscious reified at a moment of time - a slip of the collective tongues, a meeting place of influences from Dada and Eisenstein, to popular traditions. The typography, captions and introductory prose signify the informal, the homemade but artful, the sometimes cantankerous or absurd. The simple format is a container of the diverse and informal.

This informality allows the content to slip and slide from the artless to the aesthetic and insightful. It allows people to meet and play with scissors, old magazines and glue for a creative evening together without agonising over a unified design.  The results could not be produced by mainstream institutions. A professional designer can rarely be so loose - could not leave so many rough edges. Professional standards would trim all loose ends and probably use a computer throughout, resulting in the kind of product we are all used to from the ICA, the LUX or most other major arts organisations. The Exploding programmes allow individual voices, poems, or rants to be included at a moments notice without being subject to any editing. If you are present you can include just about whatever you like so the booklets display a kind of na´ve spontaneity.

The booklets are in this way collective artworks in their own right. Although slight they are redolent with authenticity.

Saying whatever's on your mind, unbeholden to corporate sponsors, puritan censors, or professional standards of argument and design, being yourself and expressing your real thoughts and real feelings - these are what zinesters consider authentic. (Duncombe 1997 p33)

This is what gives them a higher modality than the slick programmes of the establishment, at least to those people attuned to the underground reversal of the normative codes of distinction.

An Exploding Cinema programme goes beyond the site of the event and outlasts it. It evokes the memory of an event whilst it stays in the possession of a witness. If we could map the locations of all those old programmes on domestic bookshelves across London it would map those networks of which Exploding Cinema events are but a temporary node. These are networks of discourse and friendship in the most organic sense.[7]

Every page of the more than seventy programmes (1992 - 1998) was scanned so they can be digitally archived in the future. [8] I was hoping that they could provide illustrations to my proposed commentary and analysis. But an important dimension was lost in this way. Was it the slight splay of the untrimmed, hand-folded pages that I missed? Was it the inevitable degradation of a copy? Probably both of these things. The quality of the Xerox and wire staple binding is more important than I had at first realised. What was lost most of all by extracting the page graphics was the numinous and historical presence of the 'book'. The tenuous link to the ancient codex frame was broken by tearing the image from its tactile micro context.



[1] Self-cover means that there is no change of paper weight or special card for the cover.


[2] A full listing of this data along, with the short descriptors, is included in the archive that accompanies the presentation of this thesis.


[3] The captions, which I have called descriptors, have been used to derive genre descriptors in Chapter 10.


[4] See Chapter 10 for discussions on these texts.


[5] 1998 prices.


[6] One of the appendices is a bound collection of flyers and posters collected mainly from the period in which I was part of the collective 1997-99 inclusive.


[7] An estimated 10-12,000 copies have been distributed from 1992 to 1999.


[8] This set of CDRs is included in the archive that will accompany the presentation of this thesis.