Category Archives: New Media

deja vu

Seniors at Carleton get to enjoy a process called ‘comps’ (a ‘comprehensive project’ for one’s major), and for the CAMS department, part of this entails (quickly!) writing a sizable paper on an ‘Object of Analysis’ that is specially selected for each senior comps student.  My object is Bill Viola’s Hatsu-Yume, a 56 minute video piece he created in Japan in 1981 as part of his artistic residency with Sony Corporation, immediately following a year and a half of Zen Buddhist study with the priest Daien Tanaka as part of a cultural exchange between the U.S. and Japan.

The work, the first ten minutes of which are viewable above, is beautiful and mesmerizing in itself, but I recently made a discovery about the increasingly uncanny way in which Hatsu-yume is proving to be the best possible object that the CAMS faculty could have gifted me with:

I was transfixed by Bill Viola before I knew I had been, before I began to watch Hatsu-yume.  And then I was transfixed again.

Last spring, while I was on the study abroad OCS New Media Roadtrip in Europe, we made a stop at the ARoS museum in Arhus, Denmark, on our 3-day bus-tour of the country, after 8 weeks of cultural and artistic and aesthetic sensory overload across the continent of Europe.  We were taken on a quick tour of the museum’s extensive collection of modern and contemporary art, including a visit to the ‘basement’ of installation art.

Once we were let loose to wander the remainder of the museum, I found myself drawn back to the massive dark room, the first we had visited in the basement, where a complex rushing soundscape enveloped the ears and 5 giant screens punctuated the darkness, each with a color-scaled video loop of eerily slow and life-sized bodies plunging, periodically in or out of the water on the screen.  Each plunge or flight – it was hard to distinguish, gravity was unleashed in this underwater-like world – was proceeded or accompanied by a particularly powerful build and rush of sound, like waterfalls, but eerie.  This was Five Angels for the Millennium – and until a few days ago, after having received my copy of Hatsu-yume and watching it twice and beginning to investigate this Bill Viola fellow – I had not realized who the artist was whose work had held me so transfixed that day in Denmark.

A still: one of the angels ascending.

I didn’t leave that installation until it was time to get lunch and re-board the bus to continue our encircling of the vastness of Denmark – I lay among Five Angels for the Millennium and let the almost prenatal feeling of the sound wash over me, as I wrestled my fear and fascination with the bodies and bodies of water, the ‘five angels’ that came in and out of the room almost at random.  There was terror and awe in the work, a sense of death but also life, an uncertainty that bred a desire to stay, to find some impirical way to make sense of the world Viola had created – it was, at the same time, profoundly spiritual, in a way that left me drained and fulfilled.

Having known (now that I know that I knew it already) the work of this amazing artist so intimately, it is no wonder that I should find myself equally transfixed by Hatsu-Yume.  It uses ‘ambient’ (I use this term with great caution and trepidation) sound in similar ways, to create a tension that synchretically adds value to the images, but is, in essence, essential to their power as driving, rhythmic forces.  The boundary between sound/image, the way they interact to exert a strange holistic power on the senses, is very much at play in Viola’s oeuvre.  There is also something religious about both pieces – a religion of light and sound, if you will.  And both have captured me entirely.

videos from the vault

I’ve been doing some management of my digital assets, and came across two videos I made last spring while abroad in Europe on the CAMS New Media Roadtrip, which never made their way to the internet — but here they are now for your viewing pleasure!  Proof positive of what treasures a little cleaning (virtual or otherwise) can uncover.

From Berlin:

From Copenhagen:

in which i fully embark into the world of art

Perhaps I am a glutton for…productivity (as opposed to punishment), but I would like to announce that I have now signed on to a second internship, and a pretty sweet one at that.  Last week, I sent an email out into the ether in response to a perfect-sounding video-streaming/new media/networking/psychogeographic-sounding internship call, and was pleasantly surprised to hear back on the same day with an offer to be taken onto the project.  So last evening, I met Andrew Demirjian at Rags-a-Go-Go, an awesome vintage shop on west 14th street, where part of Andrew’s latest video installation piece, Scenes From Last Week, is just getting set up.  The set-up is pair of video streams in opposing store-fronts, which record and play back in real time, but also play back the synced footage from previous days.  As days pass, the installation goes from being simply paired shots of today/yesterday to arrays of 4 or 6 or more days, inviting passersby to glimpse the past and notice patterns in the daily life of two sections of urban space in Chelsea.  Andrew has also put out a call to performance artists or anyone interested in being featured to engage the repetitive nature of the media by returning daily and performing for the camera, or sharing a series of words, or whatever might strike one’s fancy — the project is very much about the social engagement and reaction of its viewers and participants, the interaction between past(s) and present, as well as the patterns of the urban setting and the interaction of the physical and psychological aspects of our environment.  It is very much, I think, a form of psychogeography that keeps the psychogeographer as a practitioner of stationary surveillance, getting momentary glimpses into a sort of always on-going but unrecognized psychogeography of the collective commuting community of Chelsea.

A previous incarnation of the current installation, from the perspective of the camera watching people watching themselves in real-time.

Andrew’s current work and interests seem to align pretty perfectly with mine, and also with the summer projects and obsessions that I already have going: documentary/non-fiction film, psychogeography/algorithmic art production that engages the urban space.  From the sound of it, I will be fairly involved in helping him create a second installation at Eyebeam, where he is an artist-in-residence, from the footage gathered by the current installation — this installation will deal more directly with Andrew’s main research there, which is in exploring the viability of algorithmically-edited non-fiction film as an interesting alternative to standard narrative approaches to filmmaking.  We will be experimenting with different ways to combine the footage, and to take this vast database of days and days of recorded sidewalk happenings to create patterned combinations of footage, drawing on Andrew’s interest in the rhythms of music and perhaps my interest in the syllabic patterning of structured poetic forms such as haiku or the Shakespearian sonnet.

Basically, I am incredibly stoked about this internship, although it really seems more like a cross between an artistic partnership and a private independent study, with Andrew even offering to give me some articles on new media by Lev Manovich to read, in response to which I enthusiastically told him that “I dig theory!”  (And having already read a little of Manovich’s work, I definitely don’t mind getting some reading assigned — it’s really fascinating stuff on databases and surveillance and modern incarnations of Foucault’s panopticon and whatnot.)  More and more I am realizing that I want to marry my love for film with my broader artistic and academic interests in psychogeography, and more and more I am realizing that within film, what I really love making is non-fiction: documentary, experimental, non-narrative, what-have-you.  Doing so algorithmically is almost like engaging in a psychogeographic exploration of the filmic medium and a given set of footage, which is totally cool, and perhaps exactly the sort of direction I’ve been looking for.  I think I said it recently, but it’s no less true: Living the dream.  Living the dream.

The official opening reception for Andrew’s installation is this Friday, July 15th, at 218 W 14th St (Rags-a-Go-Go in Chelsea) from 6 pm to 8 pm, and the installation will run from July 15th to August 15th.  If you happen to be in the Big Apple this weekend (or in the next month!), come check it out!  I’ll be there taking documentary footage, like I do.  Quite probably WITH A CANON 7D!  O___O

無題: my very first mash-up

For the longest time, I’ve expressed my fascination with and desire to create music video mash-ups/re-mixes/found-footage-films — and now I’ve finally created one!  Part of the impetus was that I am on break, so technically I can do whatever the hell I want with my time, so as a CAMS major, I of course end up spending a day playing with Final Cut…but the theoretical and artistic impetus is the desire to express something without words — it’s nearly impossible to escape textual anchoring (this introduction being my case-in-point), but my goal for the video was to communicate without language (although, as an only-partly-skeptical student of post-structural thought, I would certainly make the case that aural instrumentation and video and images have their own semiotics).  The idea that the world of YouTube is like a set symbols, an alphabet of potential meaning, that we as 21st century visual culturists are free to co-opt and make speak for us (with or without ‘words’) is quite exciting.

So, if you are so inclined, you can witness my first piece of mashed-up video craft.  Source materials include my own photography and HD footage of Paris and Barcelona, three music videos, a couple of travel advertisements, and a recording by a friend…I’ll give anyone who identifies all three music videos a gold star, or something of equal fake internet value. 🙂

i wanna be a pop culture hacker

Sometimes, the inordinate amount of time that I waste spend on the internet pays off, and I stumble across gems — tonight was one of them.  On a whim, I went to a presentation sponsored by I+C+i in the Mirador space in Barcelona’s CCCB, and ended up experiencing three of the most interesting and inspiring hours in my own recent history.  The presentation, by self-proclaimed “pop culture hacker, video remix artist, new media teacher and fair use activist” Jonathan McIntosh, was on La Remezcla como Ecosistema Cultural, or in English, “The Remix as Cultural Ecosystem”.

I got there early, but soon the room had filled up with a very attentive audience.

Having just written a final paper for my Critical Methods class at Carleton that was basically an impassioned treatise on how new media and visual studies should involve media manipulation, specifically music video mash-ups, as a form of critical academic analysis, this talk was right up my theoretical and creative alley.  In fact, the only thing that is keeping me from sitting here all night and making my own remix and then writing a paper or two about what Derrida would think of remix culture is the fact that I am writing this blog post, and that Professor John Schott has planned an incredibly full day of class, a guest lecture, a visit to Sagrada Familia, and an exhibition opening at Arts Santa Monica.  (See how cleverly I used this semi-academic blog to inform my friends and family of my activities while abroad??)

But the talk — after being introduced lengthily in Spanish (of which I am proud to say I understood a fair bit), Jonathan dove right into an explanation of his work and the philosophy that supports it with his favorite quote:

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
-Muriel Rukeyser

While potentially inflammatory if you’re talking to a physicist (unless your physicist likes to view the paths of atoms as interpretable texts — a physicist after my own heart), this quote speaks to me as it does to Jonathan, who sees his work in that universe of narratives as “telling alternative stories from mass media culture”.Jonathan’s work builds on a tradition of subversive responses to the mainstream like anti-art and appropriation art, drawing inspiration from two specific sources: culture jamming (ala Emergency Broadcast Network) and vidding (think the video form of slash fiction at its finest and Kirk/Spock-iest).  In the talk, he shared three of his most recent works, all of which are incredibly well-crafted, well-received, and take the basic re-combinatory principles of the remix to a level that really interrogates political, social, cultural issues raised by the media they appropriate.

The Remixes / Las Remezclas.

“So You Think You Can Be President?”

This one takes a satirical view of the 2008 presidential debates by mashing up footage of Obama and McCain with footage from the reality TV series “So You Think You Can Dance?”

“Buffy vs. Edward”

“Buffy vs. Edward” deftly combines clips from over 140 episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with bits of the Twilight films to expose the problematic and stalkeresque nature of Edward Cullen’s character and to celebrate the comparatively feminist tendencies of Buffy — Jonathan himself goes by “aspiring feminist”.  🙂

“Right Wing Radio Duck”

This seamless and clever juxtaposition of Donald Duck and extreme right-wing pundit Glenn Beck was described by Beck as “some of the best, well-made propaganda [he] had ever seen” — almost as good a compliment as this response remix from Martin Leduc starring Mickey Mouse.

Check out more of Jonathan and his colleagues’ work and writings here!

In the post-presentation Q&A, someone asked why Jonathan doesn’t simply get a studio and film segments that tell the same narratives, so as to have greater authorial control of his content.  The I+C+i program takes as its motto the words of Roland Barthes: “culture is an infinite palimpsest” — but is Barthes still successful in having killed the author?  In response, Jonathan stressed that the value of the remix lies precisely in its use and re-appropriation of the ‘original’ media (whether this is ‘original’ in the Benjaminian sense is debatable, but very interestingly so…).  The remix is in fact the only way that his style of critique can achieve its greatest success.

The question also arose as to whether all remix must be political — “all remix must be transformative” was Jonathan’s response, and I couldn’t agree more.  The power of remix to critique, to inspire, to interrogate, to entertain while educating, lies in how you use it.  Of course, as a tool, remix can be misused to multiply the racist or sexist discourses of many media, but when used thoughtfully and intelligently, it is an amazing tool indeed.  According to Jonathan, mass media have a responsibility to hold power accountable, and when this responsibility is not met, we have the power critically and creatively take over that responsibility by taking over those very media with the cultural remix.

"La cultura es un palimpsesto infinito" - Roland Barthes

Inspired as I now am (to remix, to write about remixing, and to do my darnedest to get Jonathan as a convo speaker at Carleton next year!), I am still fascinated by the notion of whether this can be not just a form of cultural critique and creative production, but a legitimately recognized aspect of academic work, just like the paper published in a journal or a full-length book.  As a student of visual culture, I am constantly looking for ways to actually use the media we interrogate to interrogate themselves.  I doubt that we will ever abandon words (especially me — if you’re read this far, you have your proof of my love of the linguistic…) as a form of anchoring the image, anchoring the sound, anchoring anything that is not a word — but Jonathan’s talk and his work have reminded me how much potential is left to be mined in this field.

And that, dear reader, is truly exciting.