Marc Lafia works with photography, narrative, new media, computation and the moving image to consider the image in its many modes and instantiations. In all of these works he explores the limits of the image, of narrative, of art, of knowledge and sense making, of media.
His varied online works include, 'This Battle of Algiers' a commissioned work from The Tate Modern and The Whitney Museum of American Art, 'The Memex Engine, or Lara Croft Striped Bare by her Assassins Even' exhibited at The Walker Art Center and Georges Pompidou, 'Ambient Machines' which premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the SFMoMA and 'Variable Montage' exhibited at the Beijing Art Academy.
In his many films including 'Exploding Oedipus', 'Love & Art', and 'Confessions of an Image' as well as numerous smaller computational and permutational films, he probes what it is to construct an image, to forge systems of representation, to re-write our viewing benchmarks as we move from analog to digital. These works have been exhibited in seminal exhibitions on net art and future cinema including 'Net Condition' and 'Future Cinema' at the ZKM, Germany, the ICC Tokyo, Node-L, The Canary Islands Biennale for Architecture 2007and other international museums, art centers and Festivals.
In his photography work, 'The Event of the Image', 'The Image Remebered', 'American Flags', ‘Still, an Image’ and his recent project, 'F4, The Photography Desktop Collective' all present the beauty and power of an image while simultaneously functioning as examinations and explorations of the nature of the image. Lafia is as interested in images—their beauty, their composition—as he is in photography, or what he calls “imaging.”
His work seeks to reveal its workings, comment on its history, perform it, and finally, refigure it. In his images there is always another image which is the image becoming. His works repeatedly asks: What are the possibilities of imaging? How does the image become? How does it go?
Marc has taught in the graduate schools of Stanford University, the San Francisco Art Institute. Pratt Institute of Design and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He is currently teaching at Columbia University. He has also won numerous awards as an information architect, music video conceptualist and exhibited experimental and long form films internationally. He is also the founder of art+culture.com. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Here is a brief essay on Marc's work.
Becoming Image/Agent of the Image
Marc Lafia takes up conceptual art, cinema, network media, photography, and information design in order to explore the limits of the image, of narrative, of art, of knowledge and sense making, of media itself. His work and research is a hybrid project drawing a new map of a territory yet to be defined, a territory with new and yet unknown modes of authoring, reading, and organizing the world. His work simultaneously questions, probes, discovers and creates this new territory, these new practices.
From his early days in film school through to the present, Marc has been interested in the diverse ways that the means of telling stories inflect the stories themselves. As a young filmmaker, he explored the way the stuff of cinema—the fabric of film, the camera and the lens, the actors and the word—do not just present (or represent) the world but inflect the world.
As the media landscape shifted towards the digital, the computational, and the network, his work began to ask new questions: In an age of digital proliferation, what becomes of an image that is always already reproduced to infinity, that is always already manipulated? What happens to individuality as we collectively create and curate ourselves within the global network? As our world accumulates and proliferates images and information, what new kinds of sense-making emerge? How do images go in this new world—their production, consumption, dissemination, their potency, their affective resonances, their possibilities?
Marc's practice explores, explodes, and performs these questions as he creates work that quite literally works, forging systems and events, systems that create events, that proliferate, produce, and organize the world in often surprising ways. Taking up film, photography, video, network media, and information design he (re)considers and (re)presents systems as machines of authoring and reading procedures. His work is productive in the broadest sense of the word.
For Marc, a work is a metabolism: active, vital, alive, a writing-reading-viewing machine, a site for engagement, for possibility. His work pushes us to see, to see anew, to see differently. His early films, for instance, explore the tensions between narrativity and the pure surface of film. As they move between signification systems and machines of rhythm, sound and image, they oscillate between operations of chance and discrete narrative systems, between meaning and sense. In his feature film, Exploding Oedipus, we see the same gesture: film itself is the subject, filmmaking and viewing as productive of memory, transformation, freedom.
With the rise of digital technology—and with it the network and the computational—Marc was able to (re)create a new kind of kind of image and a new sense of duration. In 1994 he created and brought on line the World Picture Clock to extend time and the image of the world into something simultaneous, multiple and becoming. He presented the world not as a place of crisis and media event but of being and becoming in time.
In the digital the cinema was no longer limited by the inflexibility of camera and celluloid. The digital allowed Marc to create a cinema engine such as "Ambient Machines" that proffers a grammar of cinema while allowing users to make, save, and share their own films. Steve Deitz, a former curator at the Walker Arts Center, describes "Ambient Machines" as "an open source, online experimental film studio and archive rolled up into one sensational package. Beginning with a few different sequences, users can construct their own 'movies' online and then save them to the site for others to incorporate as building blocks...In addition, by overlaying various clips, the participant-creator can experiment not only with linear sequencing but the ability to create a kind of syncopated moving picture, which can be truly remarkable."
In "The Vanndemar Meme-x or Lara Croft Stripped Bare by her Assassins, Even", Marc combines the logics of cinema and games to create a machine that explores, plays with, constructs and deconstructs narratives. "The Memex" explores the question: How is it we give representation and operation to multiple fictionalized and extended selves through varied agency (some tele-remotely, others involving prosthetics and robots, and some, through entirely new constructs) and further how do such actions form collective?. Reassembling Duchamp, Vannevar Bush, video games and many contemporary art works. "The Meme-x" is the art work as engine, a machine that makes work happen.
From open and interactive works in the space of the network, he began to explore algorithms as a way to order and give new articulation to image and system—and to the very way we create and consume moving pictures. The celluloid, reel, projector, screen: these are all transformed by Marc's algorithmic, computational appetite. This is perhaps best seen in "The Battle of Algiers," a work commissioned by the Whitney and Tate Modern. In this work, Marc creates an application that literally digests Pontecorvo's great film of the same title and then plays it back as an ever-shifting play of scenes, moments, and affects that reveals the dynamics, speeds, and shapes of the French-Algerian struggle. The effect is to strip the film of one kind of narrative and introduce a different mode of making sense. As Daniel Coffeen writes in the essay accompanying the piece, "This 'The Battle of Algiers' deemphasizes the film's dramaturgic components, focusing on the film's modes of movement, its meanderings and collisions, its speeds and drifts, its points of intensity, its lines of force, its fluxes and flows. This 'The Battle of Algiers brings the database to the fore, articulating and amplifying the film's multiple trajectories."
In "The Battle of Algiers," Marc does nothing less than fundamentally recast the cinematic, not by breaking it or disrupting it but by superseding it. As Coffeen writes, "We've left the realm of the reel that goes around and around and entered a new territory. The byte has splayed the reel, excavating, expanding and exploding its nascent multiplicity. This 'The Battle of Algiers" does not as much offer a revolution as a proliferation—which may, after all, be the true revolution." Which is to say, Marc's work is as generous as it is voracious, taking up older forms and, rather than mocking or destoying them, he puts them into play within his new mediascape.
In 2005, Marc spent the entire year, each day, making a new film called "Permutations." But it more than a new film per se: it is a new kind of film, one not constrained by the reel, not constrained by the univocal projector and screen. This entailed working with programmers at MIT to create a new kind of projector, a digital projecting machine capable of broadcasting multiple films at the same while being able to control the interplay of sound, speed, and screen size. The result is radical. As the critic, Daniel Coffeen, writes, "'Permuations' radically recast the architectonics of film....The reel has been consumed by the computational and splayed. Lafia’s great discovery is that we don’t have to run films through projectors, through a technology that begs for linearity...By killing the reel and multiplying the screen, Lafia becomes the image’s most obedient agent. ' Finally,' the images in 'Permutations' declare, 'finally we can breathe, go as we go, along diverse temporal tracks, side-by-side, a simultaneity that is not spatially constrained, a contiguity that is not sequential. Here, we can play.' It’s as if the moving image wound out of its reel in order to forge a technology that suits it better.’"
In 2007 Marc launched 'F4, The Photography Desktop Collective' to examine image and imaging in the new inscription spaces of social networks and the vast archives of the web. In his ‘My Space Portraits’ and the ‘The Image Alone’ he explores reading and presentation of image in the public spaces of web. This work continued his exploration of photography to consider the image in its many modes and instantiations. His varied photo series have included 'The Event of the Image', 'Black and White', 'American Flags', ‘Still, an Image’ each both presenting the beauty and power of an image while simultaneously functioning as examinations and explorations of the nature of the image.
This, in many ways, sums up Marc's work, if a summary is even possible or desired: he is an agent of the image, following the diverse paths diverse media offer images, their production and consumption. Which is to say, Marc is as interested in images—their beauty, their composition—as he is in the making of images, or what he calls “imaging.” His work reveals the workings of images, their making and viewing, their history, their modes of configuration. In his images there is always another image which is the image becoming. His work repeatedly asks: What are the possibilities of imaging? How does the image become? How does it go?
Investigating Film Algorithm: Transtextuality in the Age of Database Cinema
Txt: Domenico Quaranta / Translation: Micaela Genchi
Recombinant Territories: Art and Technologies, Debates and Laboratories
Camilia Duprant Martins | Daniela Castro e Silva | Renata Motto
Film, Play, Power and the Computational, or Byting Celluloid:
On Marc Lafia's and Fang-Yu Lin's The Battle of Algiers
by Daniel Coffeen, February 2006
Non-metaphoric systems and grammar theory (of computer languages, abstraction and data containers) in the realm of expanded cinema, FM01
Please, sit back, watch and Listen