In Search of a Poetics of the Moving Image
Lafia, M. Published by: Eyebeam Atelier, New York
In this four part essay I retrace the development of montage,
its various theories, the idea of the cinematograph, the
camera stylo, video, installation, multl-screen works, ambient
architecture and computational films. I express the idea that
the image has become unbounded and we read it horizontally.
All comments here are provisional and require a greater exactness to elaborate a syntax of moving image as it relates to the use of algorithmic procedures and multiple screens. The most interesting writing I have found that can be useful in elaborating some of these ideas, along the lines of time-shifting, are in the area of sound, along the lines of spatialization a visual taxonomy relating to conceptual art photography and procedures of display and Chrissie Iles essay, ?Between the Still and Moving Image. I am sure there are some good things in VJ culture, as well as other writings with which I am not familiar. Writings that address some of the terrain discussed below would be of great interest for all of us, so please do post.
What prompts me to write this; one, I am keenly interested in computation and the image and two, having been to Documenta 11 and read the reviews of Lev Manovich and Caspar Strache I find that they may be so close to this work that they aren?t reporting to us some of those things I am seeing and sense could be of interest in discussing new forms of cinema and video work.
Briefly and perhaps too hastily, I?d liked to distinguish what I envision by spatial montage using Lev?s definition as a starting point and open this idea up as a vast and complicated territory, or set of still to be defined and enumerated procedures with which a great many video, new media artists and filmmakers are working.
I hope that further discussion might fuel a more engaging and less dismissive discourse that these reviews gave us.
In his book, ?The Language of New Media? Lev Manovich writes about the viewing regime of the dynamic screen. Distinct from the classical screen of painting and photography, the dynamic screen gives us the cinema and an image changing over time.
Distinct from the dynamic screen of the cinema, which is the projection of a single image, the computer screen, through the GUI typically displays overlapping windows. Lev describes windows as a collection of various kinds of data that form a block that graphic designers are accustomed to arranging or seeing as elements that make up a page. In other words, as described by Lev, these windows don?t represent coexisting events happening in different durations of time, the varied windows form the semblance of a whole. I don?t recall in other sections of the book further discussion of multiple windows, nodes, yes, but distinct windows or screens or projections in proximity or distributed and what they might be mean to the language of the image changing over time, no. In fact when he goes on to describe spatial montage Manovich means something quit different than the spatialization of the image.
As all image and sound become numerical, and media become new media, the logic of montage as enumerated by Eisenstein and Bazin, cinema?s classical theorists, gives way to the regime of digital processes and a new ordering language of the image, spatial montage. The principal trope of spatial montage as it is related to the moving image is compositing. Lev states that, ?compositing is the key operation of postmodern, or computer-based, authorship.? He goes on to talk about ?smooth multilayered composites? distinguishing them from works of appropriation, copy and paste procedures of artistic practices of the eighties.
Aided by computational procedures, traditional montage as it relates to the plastics of Eisentein and the realism of Bazin is exceeded as we commonly understand it, and as such Lev puts forward the notion of spatial montage as a way to get a grasp on and understand the new aesthetics of compositing, the procedure that takes us to spatial montage. Spatial montage for him refers to layering, this smooth layering referred to above. He goes on in subsequent chapters to talk about a new illusionist space as distinct from Bazin?s idea of realist space and how compositing, layering and 3d rendering give forth a new space or rendering of space that is a kind of montage or post assemblage within in the shot. The term spatial does not refer to the spatialization or distribution of image as seen in many art and film works today but a post renaissance deep space of layers and smoothness. For some of you who know Michael Snow?s film, ?Wavelength? a film Snow conceived of as being inside a zoom shot, this 45 minute film might be another way to imagine what Lev puts forward as spatial montage, that is, space within the shot.
Lev writes earlier in his book about variability and proximity though doesn?t use these ideas to talk about cinema or video and how such notions might be elaborated as syntactical tropes or procedures as they might relate to multiple streams of image displayed on multiple monitors or multiple projections. In his more recent writings on the poetics of augmented space Lev does not address structures and grammars of the spatial as distributed per se but writes of augmentation as an effect and engagement with continuities or communications between disparate spaces or information sources that augment an environment.
It?s such notions as variability, the algorithmic, proximity and others that I would think spatial montage could be opened up to discuss much contemporary image and sound work. It is through the elaboration of such ideas that the video work of Documenta 11 and much contemporary work in film, sound, video, installation and the network, might most fruitfully be explored. This is what I will try to do in the following.
The compression or dilation of the duration of time disturbed through space suggest a becoming of syntax for which we yet to have language.
Procedures of montage such as flash back, the jump cut, parallel cutting, cross cutting, the eye-line match or the kind of precognitive flash forward cutting used by Nicholas Roeg ? or even off screen space - all of these become something else when multiple screens are used. The compression of one channel or screen led editing to experiment with ellipsis and condensation, where time became more and more fractured and elided in sophisticated ways elaborating montage, the efficacy of which was due to the formal constraints of one screen. It?s not that these things go away when deploying multiple screens but the distribution of images spatially complicates the intensity of such strategies and grammars as they are deployed in parallel. A parallel that at times is not necessarily juxtaposition, and may be even be thought of as a-parallel.
As time based images move from temporal organization that?s sequential, one image after the other and become spatial or distributed and computational or algorithmic if not networked ? what is authored and experienced, even interacted with, exceed what we refer to in cinema as mise-en-scene, montage, decoupage or even the formal descriptions that we use to describe video and installation work as sculpture in such works as Robert Morris, Dan Graham, Bruce Nauman and others. Yet such tropes of the cinema carry forth and increasingly in the 90?s artists, designers and architects have taken on cinema as an object of study collapsing performance, cinema, video and installation into producing increasingly complex and hybrid works.
As the logic of these works increasingly deploy combinatory and hybrid organizations, the spatialization of the image has become a more shared characteristic. The logic of narrative once put aside as the domain of more commercial or even experimental films has found itself again in the realm of much time based work which has also complicated the once easy divide of formal criticism for art works and forms of narrative criticism for film works.
Spatial distribution of the image has to do with how many projections or monitors, what size they are, how far apart, how distributed they are in space (they may even be networked, reactive, bitstreamed, sequenced) the same with sound, where are the speakers in space, what tracks are playing where. Then there is the relationship between each of the individual pieces, the tracks, what?s the relatedness of one to the other? ? not only there proximity to each other in the sense of sculpture ? are they to be seen as distinct? ? or are they to be seen together? Are they there as ambience or as representation, information or mood? Why distribute them? Or rather, how are they being distributed? It is in this area that a new descriptive and critical language has yet to be forged. The work is there to be talk about, but a critical language seemingly not.
There are various kinds of strategies of distributing images in space and such approaches were everywhere to be seen at Documenta 11 including a new work by Shirin Neshat, who (as she often does) used opposing walls as the demarcation of territorial space, to set up a confrontation with the other. Here each screen (two screens on opposing walls, let?s say Image A and Image B on distinct walls) each is a territory that can be occupied by the other ? where eventually B invades A ? B crosses into the space of A. This beautiful use of space collapsing gives us a figural and literal sense of space as well as a visceral analogue of what we are seeing. In cinematic conventions such a strategy could be read as cross cutting, where A and B are shots that are alternated till finally both A and B confront each other in a single frame. But in Neshat?s work there is no off screen space as both A and B run simultaneously and are spatially distributed.
In the 1970?s artists including Dan Graham, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Michael Snow, Vito Acconci and others explored the moving image as a projected light in space ? they explored the sculptural aspects of film and video ? light as space and projected light as denoting the space of the white cube - much of this work beautifully exhibited in, ?The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977? at the Whitney in late 2001-2002 and beautifully written about by its curator Chrissie Iles.
Another emphasis on space and video as environment in Documenta 11 was the work of Craigie Horsfield and his real time and perceptual use of video and sound. The morning is given over to ambient sound, emergent sound, the quietness of sound ? the afternoon is given over to distributed images on large screens, on all four walls of the room, images of nature, mist, trees, the forest ? images of long duration ? projected on scrims that allow light in as much as they reflect light and here rather than the dark room, the black cube ? the work is presented as continuous with the physical or ambient environment from the placement of long benches with pillows inviting one to lay down, to rest, to perceive themselves in a kind of ambient engagement of awareness. Here the emphasis is on the presence of another place and at the same time the very presence of the place that the viewer is in ? so space is composed as to situate the viewer in space, in turn getting them to center on their own internal rhythm, their own sense of being in the environment and the environments being. This is not so much montage as it is presence not unlike Bruce Nauman?s recent 4 screen video work presented in seemingly real time and denoting contiguous space at the DIA.
Two other organizing principles that are spatial and temporal at the same time would be Lorna Simpson?s piece where there are 27 flat screen 13 inch monitors on a wall, 6 columns by 4 rows, and in the last 3 rows 3 additional monitors on the top row. A woman?s 24 hour day is presented to us, in blocks of 6 hours, each screen playing an edited or condensed version of 15 minutes then moving on to the next six hours ? until it progresses through the 24 hour day, from wake to sleep ? this way we see the simultaneity of past present and future as we see the young woman simultaneously presented along a continuum of seemingly continuous or real time ? in consistent actions or contiguous action. This is someone?s life over the course of 24 hours, brushing teeth, putting on make-up, getting on the train, at the work place, lunch, evening and so forth. Here we are not inside the event of time but time stands outside the events and frames them.
Another work is by the artist, Kutlog Ataman organizing 4 screens, each set in the middle of a room facing the other, in a sort of circle, each screen showing us the personal story of a woman, during a period of the 4 seasons, and much of the subject matter dealing with gardening. Time here is circular; time is spatially distributed but not by diurnal rhythm as the work above but sidereal time, calendrical time.
It is time that organizes the space here ? time is distributed in space, horizontally, laterally, time is again a presence, it is the being in time we are seeing or in Ataman?s work, time is a space, a particular duration.
In Eija-Lisa Ahtila?s 3 screen film ? she uses 3 screens to show us a traditional narrative, with a voice over, about a woman in a country house who feels she is hearing sounds and her car has driven off on its own. This ghost story ? is shown where a wide shot is on screen A, a closer shot on Screen B and a cut away on Screen C ? there is a uniform temporal dimension going on in the film ? this is distinct from the distribution of varied times in the different spaces of the image in the Lorna Simpson work. Here montage is lateral, with elision, compression and the traditional grammar of filmic montage. The work could easily have been a single screen work.
Isaac Julian in a way weds three screens together in a high production post cinema scope look, and like Ahtila shows us simultaneous actions from a shared moment in time, at times going from close-up to wide shots, from 1 or simultaneous shots of shared time ? he is not pushing time forwards or back ? perhaps in one moment in the close-up of the young man who is spanked by his father, while there is a dance party at the house, we have a traditional filmic flashback, more a psychological moment than a structured temporal moment that complicates the time in the distribution of space. Like Eija-Lisa Ahtila, Julien's work is more the distribution of shots over a wider surface of image ? his work comes closest to the composite of three becoming one, from one image filling the very wide screen to individual shots of a scene distributed over 3 screens. But like Attila?s work this is about the distribution of image in space not the distribution of time in space In fact Delueze?s distinction between the movement image and the time image can be used here to understand this distinction ? the distribution of movement over space or the distribution of time or presentation of time itself becoming.
A number of distributed dispersed cinema pieces such as Chantal Ackerman?s and Pascale Marthine Tayou?s are not tightly organized by time, but are various portraits placed simultaneously next to each other. Ackerman's has a preface or beginning shot in LA displayed on one monitor in one room and then a dispersal of images from varied locations in Mexico on a great many monitors one can walk by and through in another room.
These works are simply loops assigned to various screens, running from 4 to 6 to 10 to 20 minutes, all in synch and then start again ? these are static fixed works. I say this to distinguish such work from algorithmic work addressed below.
Fiona Tan?s work is also very interesting ? presenting an indexing of people from the former East Berlin ? she narrates her struggle with ordering the index ? what is the sense of it, she asks ? but her formal style, very systematic, is in the Becher school, the objectivist school, where the recorded subject expresses themselves to a neutral camera, to a mechanical instrument ? each subject accorded the same photographic treatment, the same lighting, the same non context ? camera is locked down, always head on, where subjects present themselves to camera, dead pan, not inflected by camera, by angle, or as little as possible ? the aesthetic here is additive, is the consistency of repetition, repetition and difference, which renders the subject as one of many, one of the self same, yet different, in fact the photographic is indexical. This is database cinema but a flat file database.
So let?s take a step back, one we have the grammar of how things are organized in space ? as opposed to time ? which we can say traditional one screen cinema concerns itself with ? that is, the ordering of time. As image is organized in space ? each time element becomes an object in space. It has a certain mass in the sense that Robert Smithson talks about Donald Judd. Kind of, but not quite. In fact an entire aesthetic lies in the notion of video as mass complicating time and fixity, we?ll get to this soon. The next thing then is, what?s the organizing grammar of the various objects in space? In Fiona Tan?s work, it is simply the index, the inventory of people recorded and presented the same way, people from East Berlin ? from varied professions, prostitutes to mothers, cooks to scientists, hairdressers, one group after another ? she never tells us anything about these people, she just shows us these people and talks about the difficulty she is having presenting and organizing them. The point here is that the camera, her camera eye purports to be used objectively ? and interestingly such ?objectivity? reveals an obstinate subjectivity ? where as the piece by Marthine on Africa is an expressive camera and as such the class of objects presented on various screens have to be read from their representations and not from how they are represented or from both aspects.
In Marthine?s work, the arrangement of monitors at first gives off an impression of disparate streams of video as the camera recording is expressive as well the materials diverse, as well as the varied size and stackings of monitors in space ? as they have a disorderly semblance ? as such, parsing the relationships is more difficult ? but then again in some sense ? more open, more improvisational ? in keeping with the way the work was recorded in the first instance. Here is time as a set of particulars. But the particulars are an organizing schema that involves geography, place is the organizing motif in the materials presented. Just as in Fiona Tan?s work, place stands outside the work and frames it.
What we find in this new spatial cinema or spatial imaging is the evisceration of the impact of the cut, the cut is not incisive, particular ? the cut, the elemental instantiation or building block of montage seems to be of general interest to many of these works (too general of a statement, yes, but it is somewhat appropriate). Sequencing is the addition of shots, of informational material. (Sherin Neshat, of course, is keen on montage but much of the other works not.) Much of this work is about individual loops running and operating in and to their own time. And many of them not even loops but sequences. Montage?s keen elaboration of the cut is diffused and what we have is varied durations of time, each distinct, more a sequence with out privileging or harnessing the impact of the cut - we have movements, durations, becomings of time and movements on screens. In many instances the movement of shots, their alterations as they occur on individual screens may or need not be seen as montage or as privileged or concentrated, as opposed to image following image in sequences, in which one may see collisions, coincidence or just chance operations held together by an organizational frame work of an exterior time or place ? moving images as they appear in screens or screen to screen is another kind of logic or an additional schema within which traditional decoupage is subsumed. But this logic or system is often imposed from an outside. And so the works relegate them selves to another criteria perhaps. That is they work on other terms.
This is further complicated such works as Joan Jonas, where props or sculptural elements are involved, in which video figures as an element in an environment or theatrical setting.
The logic of camera, of style of camera, of shots is not as much a concern or an element investigated to a heightened degree in these works (contrast this with Doug Aitkens work ?electric earth? with the exception of Isaac Julien) nor projection as it defines space (see Chrissie Iles essay referred to in part 1) but rather the distribution of images in space and the relationship or not between the spaces ? can might read these images as dispersed in contiguous space, while at the same time distinct, metabolizing their own time, in a sense as single channels, or do they come into dialogue with each other ? or is it both ? here in is a much more specific and very interesting area that has been written about at length and in very precise terms (see Peter Weibel?s excellent essay, ?Narrated Theory: Multiple Projection and Multiple Narration (Past and Future)? in ?New Screen Media, Cinema/Art/Narrative? published by BFI?. I will get into this later on.
Movement in the cinema or imaging from one screen to two or more screens radically changes the way we can talk about cinema, narrative, imaging, representation - because two or more images in space constantly put in tension, in dialogue (or not) the other (because in some sense there are not others, but multiples, multiplicities, assemblages, machines ? more below) This two or more at the same time takes away from the privileging of one to the simultaneity (or not) of the two, in turn where the authority undisputed in one track of image now becomes problemitized and must be read spatially as much as temporally which is quite new (of course Abel Gance?s early film, ?Napoleon? and all the 60?s films where here first ? see Weibel?s essay, and much other writings on experimental cinema including. ?Expanded Cinema?) Multiple screens, spatially distributed (and how wide is this distribution, where does it end and begin) pushes time based media into something much more than arranging time as we know it. It is time using the strategies of space were we saw a number of art pieces that were indexical, hierarchical systems with or without out various kinds of ordering other than, all these things are in this space ? which was most characteristic of Documenta 11 -. Indeed, for some time artists have delighted in giving us volumes of information, volumes of things (Jason Rhoades) ? databases splayed out ? and we the audience are given the task of ordering this voluminous ness in space. In this sense time-based media have become time-based objects in space, flickerings of light, dispersed here and there.
Rather than scattering papers or objects on the floor ? we now have so many monitors and video materials as time based objects in space ? objects that are durations of time in their purest sense, time objects that occupy space and as loops may never end ? this proliferation of the object ness of time creates a new mise-en-scene, one no longer needing to resolve or organize itself in the one space of one film strip or projection but rather as the organization of elements in space.
Whereas cross cutting once added a certain tension to cinema, the alternating between shots of things apart getting closer, the alternation of shots of disparate scenes at some point colliding or coming together in the same space ? this rhythm often used in suspense, mystery, action sequences is altered in the spatial display of images where the tension of occupying one space, one screen evaporates ? this one screen over taken and occupied by two actions coming together - this tension of scenes happening subsequent to each other now happens in parallel (just as we zap channels) ? that is what was once off-screen space is now on one or more screens ? as such the collision of space ? let?s say in a western gun fight or action scene where cross cutting leads to the eventuality of all action collapsing into one space ? a space where the resolution of who controls that space is answered in a paroxysm of violence ? this new spatial imaging is not montage or cinema but is something else.
In the space of digital imaging this new sense of duration in space takes us away from montage. Duration and space ? times and spaces. Duration as a particularity of a unit as opposed to the over all envelope or structure in which time base images can be looked at.
When cinema (I use cinema and not time-based media here, as much of the work at Documenta 11 was informed by cinema) becomes practiced in multiple screens, multiple windows, a new level of discourse moves us from time as considered in montage to the notion of duration and event.
Perhaps all this work can be seen as the metabolism of time. Time being particular to its own event. Not the time of montage, not cinema time but something else. Not the sequencing of shots but the being time of image.
Where there is no limit to the amount of screens, all things can be shown, and perhaps all duration. For those of you who didn?t see this work, imagine all camera shots of ?Dancer in the Dark? being displayed on their own monitors. During the filming of certain sequences we have been told that Von Triers shot with over a hundred and sixty different cameras. Or imagine, ?Run Lola Run?, as three films playing side by side, or Citizen Kane, each interview candidates sequence playing on separate monitors. Or a film of pure behaviors such as, ?Julian Donkey-Boy? by Harmony Korine distributed on multiple screens.
To see beyond montage, temporal or spatial, we can in a sense return to cinema?s beginning, as imaging returns or emerges again as a machine of recording, as an instrument of visioning, but now with numerous strategies of ordering and projection or display - as an instrument of recording, which is now electronic, computational, ubiquitous, constant and everywhere, and as an instrument of display, constant and everywhere, it proliferates and mutates any kind of single syntactical regime, exceeding montage.
Such new and emerging orderings and readings are inexhaustible and full of reserves. Perhaps it?s a move from montage to optics, from syntax to pervasive imaging, from a particular order, to the potentialities of orderings, re-orderings, un-orderings, traversings, interpenetrations, molecular units, becomings - event-centered rather than structural. Perhaps it is Deleuze, whose notion of the stammering, a foreign language, the middle, deterritorialization, heterogeneous assemblages, who best puts forward the beginnings (or middle) of a conceptual language for the afterbirth of the instrument of moving images and its history as cinema - the now pervasive synthetic pan visioning of tele-optics in which we live.
It might be said that the regime of recording and playback constituent of the cinema, of film (shooting frames per second, the chemical processing of film and the language of montage), has for a long time already been dispersed and exceeded by the pervasive instruments of imaging, from inside the body, from distant places, instant and ubiquitous (Virilio, the panoptical and tele-technologies, over exposure, the ?purely mediatic trans-appearance of the real space of living beings?) where the image of the world has become the imaging of the world ? as such the whole concept and project of montage or cinema as the place from which to speak of these new forms, new regimes of image is wholly inadequate and a looking at the moment in a backwards fashion.
The pervasiveness of tele-optics, telematics, computation, and the digital have so amplified and saturated what it is to be imaged, imaging, recording and playback, that montage as a very notion, as a logics of ordering, might seem as writing in verse ? a particular stylistic, a repertoire of tropes now exceeded by so many traversings and overlays ? montage might better be seen as strata, a remnant, like the Latin of the middle ages that has long been superceded by an argot, a patois so common, we can?t find a name for it. It is so everywhere we can?t even see it as we move between and amongst it and even speak it, as it speaks us ? this plateau, these plateaus, these fields ? these becomings ? Deleuze?s ?lines and circuits, leaps rather than constructing axiomatics?. Deleuze seems to me to offer us a way to see possible languages of image in space-time. Deleuze writes about ?states of things? and ?utterances?. ?There are states of things, states of bodies (bodies interpenetrate, mix together, transmit affects to one another), but also ?utterances?, regimes of utterances: signs are organized in a new way, new formulations appear, a new style for new gestures (the emblems which individualize the knight, the formulas of oaths, the system of ?declarations?, even of love, etc.). ?Utterances no less than states of things are components and cog-wheels in assemblages.? "Event which stretches out or contract, a becoming in the infinitive?.
There are so many visual regimes now interspersed in varied durations, military as Jordan Crandal has so well visualized, surveillance (Julia Scherr), home video, projections and recordings everywhere ? (so many artists, technical applications here to mention, medical, military, tele-com, etc.)
Two things we can say with certainty of the cinema ? One, its outstanding characteristic has been one screen, one fixed playback system. Hence montage.
The delivery vehicle of the cinema, of moving pictures, became characteristically different when first shown on television with commercials and then through video tape and DVD ? with the VCR a screening takes on a very different characteristic, in some sense it already constitutes sampling ? one can stop at any moment, watch over the course of days, replay scenes, play different audio over the film as backdrop and so forth ? (so many artists have re-enacted, spliced themselves into films, played them back with different scores, etc.) Many DVD?s show directors cuts, expanded versions, storyboards, interviews and so forth. All of these things changed the experience of viewing film, changed montage, situating films under another regime that led to sampling, remixing, appropriation, looping, resequencing, restaging (Christian Marclay?s recent musical piece, ?Sampling?, Pierre Huyghe, Douglas Gordon, Marc Lafia, ?Antonioni? piece and many many more works can be cited here.)
Two, cinema allowed us to recognize ourselves. As Godard states and is quoted in, ?The Cinema Alone? the essay, ?Introduction to the Mysteries of Cinema?, 1985-2000 (Michael Temple and James Williams), ?There?s a desire for images, to the extent that they?re the only things that satisfied the notion of identity which must have become fundamental towards the end of the nineteenth century. [?] There is, I think, a need for identity, a need to be recognized. [?] We are grateful to the world for recognizing us and for allowing us to recognize ourselves, and I think that, precisely, until the camps, cinema constituted the identities of nations and peoples (who were more or less organized into nations), and then afterwards the feeling faded away. [?] For a long time, cinema represented the possibility of belonging to a nation, yet remaining oneself in that nation. All that has disappeared.?
Identification now becomes identifying, the machine of vision, an invasive instrument. As Virilio has written, ?The much-vaunted globalization requires that we all observe each other and compare ourselves with one another on a continual basis.? Just see the films, ?Videodrome?, ?Virtue? and ?The Matrix? to sense that we live on beyond film, beyond montage and in recording and it?s not confined to one screen. The most beautiful reflection and enactment of the absence|presence of recording is the exquisite scene in David Lynch?s ?Muholland Drive?, SILENCIO.
As Mcluhan has well stated every new media, restates, replays the one it supercedes (cinema, the theatre ? television, the cinema, the web, computation and telematics - everything) and so we read the new media through the one that preceded it. And in some sense the same might be said of video being read as sculpture, as being conceived as sculpture or being a response to television and the tele-visual or even cinema.
Before putting forward a poetics of the spatialization of the moving image let?s retrace the advance of the language of cinema through montage to the instrumentation of the camera.
?I am still very interested in the image being experienced self-consciously rather then it merely being a given. In that sense I am not referring to the media frame of the image and its representation but rather the process of seeing and that?s linked to thinking and language.? Gary Hill
In his most thoughtful essay, ?Montage, My Beautiful Care, or Histories of the Cinematograph?, Michael Witt gives a very insightful and detailed accounting of Jean-Luc Godard?s many positions through time on montage. ?The cinema is montage,? states JLG, and montage is anything but a simply affair. Montage is not only the linkage from shot to shot; it is that which is between frames of film, and is, at a macro level, the relationship between viewer and image, viewer and society, viewer and the world. Godard extends this even further by stating that Henri Langlois, the famous director of the Paris Cinematheque who introduced much of the Nouvelle Vague to the riches of cinema (especially silent cinema), made montage with projectors with the many films he screened. For Godard montage is not new to cinema and has been with us for a very long time as he states, 'Cinema was the true art of montage that began five or six centuries B.C, in the West.? For Godard, Eisenstein, Vertov, Griffith never truly achieved montage, they brought it forward, advanced it, but montage was a promise, an intuition, an emergent form that became ?a blocked chrysalis that will never turn into a butterfly.? Why, because industrialists and capital were afraid of the inherent power of it and how it allowed people to see, visualize the unconscious, the unspoken, and so, with the advent of sound, and especially after the second world war, and the abdication of cinema as a witness, montage, and its possibility becomes silenced by control and convention. It was in this limited sense, in the sense of wishing to find something before this silencing of montage, that I wrote that montage may no longer afford or allow for the possibility of finding something again in the promise of the moving image. And so in following I retrace the path of Godard?s retracing of montage back to the cinematograph as once again a place to begin.
In Godard?s search for that which allows montage, perhaps that which proceeds it, he introduces the idea of the cinematograph, the instrument of the camera, ?a temporal microscope?, ?a precise machine capable of intensifying perception?, ?a mind opening vision machine?, ?a powerful social x-ray machine capable of the revelation of hitherto imperceptible physical realities and the injuries of social inequality?. ?As Jean Epstein insisted long before, the impact of radical formal novelty far out weights questions of localized narratives or representations: every meter of film serves to reveal and inform, to directly communicate a savage reality ?before names and before the law of words.?
It was Hitchcock ?with a resolutely visual logic that was cinematographic montage? that for Godard gets closer if not achieves montage. To understand this simply, Hitchcock edited his films in camera, that is, he shot the edited version of his film, precisely, exactingly as a visualist seeing each frame of his film on screen as he shot it.
I suggest this be read as Hitchcock seeing in montage, seeing a sequence as it would be on screen, seeing the film he is shooting, not constructing it in the editing room, with the best material he has as would be the common Hollywood practice. To be clear, Hollywood syntax was one of master shot, two shot, close up and reverse shot, always filmed with cut-a-ways in case converge was not all there or an editor had to cut out of a poor performance and needed a way to get to their next shot. This is still the Hollywood model. Hitchcock?s visual logic was one where his films where shot as they were to be seen. He was a resolute auteur who had a very particular way of seeing. But his seeing or visualization was in terms of sequences of events, causes and effects. The conflation of the cinematograph with montage here need not deter us from seeing more clearly beneath the edifice of cinema to locate seeing itself and seeing or visualization as a way of thought, a sensual becoming.
As we move from montage to the cinematograph, as if reeling back to the beginning of film and the invention of the camera and projector, we approach something that I believe is much deeper, and that is the image itself, or rather imaging itself. The camera, or more broadly, mechanical visioning is an altered seeing, proceeding montage, and it is this seeing that need be addressed as part of the issue of spatialization. How do we see in space, think spatially and in time? How do we give vision to the multiple, the simultaneous, the variable, durations? This is what I mean by starting at a forward place, in the middle of a new event of space-time in regard to the image. Seeing in multiplicity ? I don?t suggest here an absence of chronological structures but perhaps a back grounding where in varied complications of time are layered behind and within, something less narrated than constructed.
In his essay, ?Projection and Dis/embodiment: Genealogies of the Virtual?, Thomas Zummer points out, ?there is an unavoidable perceptual bias in our relation to the instruments we devise? such that ?prosthetic perceptions occupy the same cognitive space as bodily sensations.? So it is, there is never just the instrument, but us in it.
Further in his essay Zummer argues, that cinema engages us in a passive sense, we sit restively and fold ourselves into a dream unaware and unquestioning of its social, psychic and grammatic machinery. In the 60?s and 70?s artists begin to deconstruct the prosthetic of cinema through projective and interactive installations wherein the cinematic apparatus and its attendant social and psychic substrates is revealed as a particular kind of interface to the moving image, to desire, to representation, to our bodies. In constructing alternative configurations of the projector, image and space, much is revealed or made to be seen about cinema, architecture, light, the image, our bodies and varied other tropes of recorded media.
As time-based images are made to move away from the flat screen, the single screen, a fixed projector, and distributed in space, opening up in multiple directions, an opportunity is afforded to re-imagine our relationship as to how we are thought and visualized in them.
Montage - leads us to rhythm, representation, memory, desire ? visioning instruments, the camera being one of them - to perception, cognition, language, presence - and projection - to the consideration of architecture and space. With the spatialization of images artists continue along these paths.
To retrace the steps of our two paths, it might be best to describe two recent exhibitions here in New York, one by Doug Aitken and the other, Gary Hill. In both, multiple screens are used. In one room, Doug Aitken deploys 4 circular screens in a mirrored room, where representational images are overlaid with a white graphic circular dot, where over time and at increasing speed, concentric circles form and move outward at ever increasing rhythmic intensity, treating film as pure surface and plastic. In a second room a 360 degree eye-shaped or butterfly-wing shaped set of screens allows the same set of images to be watched in surround vision. Here he creates an abstracted narrative of a young woman, whose life is saturated with images, giving us a film constructed with design effects where by certain moments are manipulated to isolate her and to abstract images, making them still or be marked out to then disappear. Within the many effects and design the mise-en-scene returns to the subject of the woman and her narrative. Aitken?s work is somewhere between the trajectory of experimental or poetic cinema and experimental narrative. In Gary Hill?s work, also distributed in several rooms over many projections, the work ? in one room on two screens, two hands writing, left and right, in another six screens of zoom shots never to be completed as more and more black is inserted as we get closer and closer in the zoom, and in a third a circular image of lush wallpaper - in the space of these images we are presented with a kind of puzzle about perception, cognition, the relay of the senses and how the mind and language figure them. Here montage or cinema is not the concern but the camera and its visioning is used to image the construction of thought, perception.
What then does it mean that both works distribute images over space, each with very particular spatializations of time, particular distributions of time, of the movement of time, but also of thought and awareness, embodiment, consciousness, being and presence ? these last things exceeding or standing apart or along side or outside montage ? such concerns that have been brought forth in the work of much video art since its inception.
What then is particular to spatialization that is an event in imaging and arrangement that might characterize a new or potential poetics?
Perhaps my search for a poetics of the spatialization of the moving image is a search for a poetics of the event of space. With in the screen and between the screen, in the space of the screen and the body, in that space or spaces of screens is a play between the discursive and the figural, between montage and visioning which can bring us inside the event of our senses, inside the event of instrumentation, inside the event of our social configurations of such apparatuses and here in a future poetics sought.
"In the new world the characteristic unit will be small, highly mobile, independent and intelligent."
? Robert Fripp (1974)
The moving image now is pervasive and saturates much, if not all of our social space, if not our global sphere ? so much so that at any given moment we are either being seen, monitoring something, watching or transacting in the conflux of the image. How to characterize this conflux but to call it the spatialization of image, the spatialization of a multiplicity and simultaneity of image.
Spatiaizaltion leads to the amplification and intensification of characteristics of the image already realized through its trajectories in narrative and experimental film as well as single channel and installational video as explored in the last century. I say this as spatialization continues and adds to the extant repertoire of a certain history of the moving image (much of it traversed above) yet at the same time radically changes the terms of construction, deployment and reception of timed based images as we go forward.
Spatialization brings forth a new kind of visioning both horizontal and vertical. Vertical in a radical new sense of duration, horizontal in terms of the extant of image, possibly without end or beginning. It is a visioning always-inhabiting time, a permanent part of space; giving forth a new pattern and shape that is permeable, elastic, and unstable.
Meaning generated by these relations and structures rarely approaches something unified or gathered. Much of it is contingent and significance is in relations and structures rather than in the transparence of the contents of elements. This field is less a mirror than a constellation of points of exchange, a kind of switching mechanism of potential transformations. The ?space between? must be explored, or built within, in order to construe relations between. Such imaging oscillates between closure and opening, between fixed and extended duration.
Images in the realm of spatialization are less narrated than constructed. Here it is not about, what does it mean? But, how does it work? How does it work is what does it mean. Its units are less narrative and perhaps more precisely, a kind of indexing of folds into heterogeneous assemblages in space. What?s being told has less presence than the material being manipulated in the telling. As such this kind of image construction is not so much a language of reproduction but production. It may be thought of as a vast and continually pleating fold always in flux, always becoming, always already transposed.
Rather than a distribution of various time events that resolve themselves in a single trajectory, one strip of film, multiple screens, distributed projections allow for the image of multiple events constituting different durations of time. Of course time is distributed much differently in the spatial distribution of image where varied durations of varying events give forth simultaneous and multiple viewpoints as well as continually differentiating states of imaging.
To think spatially in terms of the moving image is to think very differently about time. Time has been the privileged rubric that we have read the moving image. As described above, Chrissie Iles's essay and exhibit, ?Between the Still and Moving Image' concerned the image not just installationally but sculpturally, truly spatially, but almost always in the sense of announcing a space, extending the frame of the image while at the same time delimiting the space as a unity, that is reconstituting image and its extended frame as a phenomenology of space and presence.
In the nineties much video art concerned itself with the distribution of narrative across multiple screens, but not so much in terms of space proper. A poetics of the spatialization of the moving image concerns itself then as much with the distribution of image or images on and through multiple screens/projections as well as the image in space, images constituting space, volume, if not place, especially in terms of virtual or immersive space. (This space having a kind of perceptual volume to which we return further in this piece.)
Spatialization then is as much about an augmentation of space as it is about the refiguring of space, an inhabitation of space, the being of image as space and figuring of space. Images, as moving forms, as kind of ephemeral solids, present and open entirely new possibilities of consideration and authoring. Such image constructions turn on considerations more architectural than filmic, more about ambience or presence with very different senses of duration. This I think is quite new and is a way to consider distribution and spatialization as the construct of particulars that present an atonality or series of individual gestures that just are.
Spatialization and the dispersal of images towards image-spaces proffers event structures, away from structures of tension and resolve, or closeness and limit, towards an expanded definition of open works, and towards iterative fields and folds of images that are always becoming. In taking this music analogy further, spatialization is more akin to polyphony than harmony, where in polyphony; each voice retains its own character. In the realm of spatialization independent images need not form a unity to be resolved in the register or place within the total system, that is shaped by an internal structuring of its elements, in turn a delimitation of the perception of individual images. This is why I attempt earlier to move away from montage, traverse visioning and ask for a way to start again, for a way to think beyond what has preceded or think through what has preceded and to consider image as a kind of volume, a space itself that iterates over time, that metabolizes time rather than problemitizes it from an outside. If images come to be in space, to live through a kind of being as do real time and algorithmic images, the kind of closure we are accustomed to with aesthetic objects is shifted to dealing with something that can never be known in one viewing, can never be consumed, stood outside of, but can from day to day exhibit different characteristics, different tones, different temperaments.
Thinking spatially about time based images then turns our consideration to constructing and presenting moving images more as volumes, time-inhabiting and evolving forms then fixed or even looped time-based projection or installation works.
Conditioned as we are to think of media in the ways that it has been industrialized as varied kinds of products, films, television, commercials, video billboards, video installations, streaming video, video games, in fact all accepted forms of current imaging ? exploring a new tonal system of image will take time.
How then to talk about something that is moving but fixed ? always there like architecture but always changing ? not loops ? but infinite scores ? this then is a very different aesthetic object. What we might talk about is patterns, forms, perhaps even temperament, I am not sure. But certainly the older technologies of cinema and television as well as all visual instrumentation, technical and social can be reconfigured to bring forth something new?
What follows then is a brief but I hope suggestive list of trajectories for possible films, time-based moving image works conceptualized with a poetics of spatialization in mind. I welcome all of you on the mailing list to add towards this list, to write manifestos and make new works.
How far and wide can the distribution or spatialization of images be? Can images in multiple locations constitute a single film?
If we follow the idea that each screen image might represent an object, a solid, the distribution of image than turns on the organization of its display technology. If so then might we have sprawl or scatter films. We saw this in the recent Nam June Paik installation for example, what was shown at his solo show at the Guggenheim and what is in the atrium now for the Moving Pictures exhibit is a massive sprawl of images here, there, everywhere.
When the moving image is considered as object and image, for example the New Prada Store in Soho, would not such a space and others like it afford every opportunity to move image away from product, fashion, information or ambience to occasioned commissions, for example a distributed spatialized noir, or any number of inventive ideas.
This sense of object hood also makes for Ambient Architectural films, a way to think of the space of films and their placement in space, as an arrangement of color and forms. Here it is light in space, flicker in space, color fields, ambience, distributed narrative.
The entire industry of security and surveillance, are these not films, why be hidden away and closed off to be seen on small monitors by a select few and not made monumental, projected large as elements of space. Rather than hide all these monitors, medical, military, security, why not make them transparent and part of the visible design of our everyday. The installation of Diller and Scofidio at the Brassiere in the Seagrams building suggest this, as contained as the images are. Additionally why not let passersby use such screens as a public space to create works of their own where underlying material can continually be transposed, deformed, reformed and varied. It certainly would be interesting to see Times Square remixed with these most everyday ?hidden? and proprietary images. We have begun to see similar suggestions for the skins of building including several of the proposals that were put forward for the new Eyebeam building in Chelsea.
Why see CNN in airports when entire airports can be aurally and visually arranged and modulated for desired ambience - the same for hotels, office buildings, department stores, malls, hospitals. Most all of our public spaces would do well to more thoughtfully consider the overall or spatial design of image and sound deployed in them. It is rather extraordinary that this is not part of architectural practice and criticism.
Post structuralists put forward the idea of the intertextual, texts as a collection of fragments, texts as bounded infinities and not closed, when considered as such ambient and architectural films are a new kind of unbounded spatialized topology of moving sound and image with immense opportunity for site specific works, design and architectural efforts and numerous kinds of interventions.
The examples above locate themselves within closed architectural environments even if they are vast and sprawling. Can an environmental installation with images distributed places far and wide, a literal sense of space ? constitute a new unbounded closedness as well? Certainly ready-made films may be constituted by a list of images at given times and given places. There are all kinds of conceptual spatial films to be made certainly, but as well dispersed or spatial films.
Spatialization as described above speaks about the role of space, a distribution in space of the moving image, but this is not to leave aside the complexity of time that multiple screens in a confined space bring to a work.
All kinds of event times exist and unfold in multiple screen works. The event horizons of such works can have varied, brief, complicated, multiple, simultaneous, immense and overlapping durations. Of course most art works derive their impact from concentration, compactness, if not immediacy or a certain kind of ready legibility, even illegibility that is eventually read as a pattern.
Long durations like Warhol?s ?Sleep?, ?Empire State Building? are films of duration without event ness. Web cams brought to one screen from all over the world constitute real time films. You can see such a work at artandculture with a 24 time zone screen of live images.
The boundedness of multiple windows in a single frame distinct from multiple projections or monitors or displays separate in space, each framed singularly present various orderings of image as dispersal in space changes relationship of proximity, as near and far complicate things, just as the space between or spaces between alter the very idea of order or structure itself.
With the distribution and dispersal of moving images in space new orderings of time become possible, new ordering of relations become possible not seen before. The spatialization of moving images in fact is a new medium and considered as such presents an unlimited horizon of possible films.
For sure the idea of display monitors writ large into an environment where such images are reactive and intelligent takes the moving image into a realm of consideration and aesthetic possibility with much to be explored.
Spatialization also refers to the authoring side of future films presenting environments where images in real time can come from a very wide selection of sources. The steadily growing archive and live channels accessible worldwide through the Internet present opportunity for networked and interactive cinema.
The spatialization and distribution of authors and materials along with algorithmic procedures for iterative events of imaging changes our sense of just what a piece is, when a work ends and begins, and new software tools radically change both authoring and what we think of as finished works.
MAX MSP Jitter allows for the composition of films down to the granular level of the pixel and for the continued interplay of archive images and effects with live imaging. Once networked, such imaging and imaging events loosen the structures of composed and fixed imaging, making imaging more conversational and improvisational.
Computational or Algorithmic Films organize themselves along certain instructions that give shape and constraint to such works. ?By using any number of different random generators which are controlling each other (which - according to serial thinking - form a scale between a completely deterministic and a completely chaotic behavior) new variants of the same model are generated. Variants may differ dramatically from each other, though they are always perceptible as "inheritances" of the given structural model.
Such works can be perceived as meta-compositions, which enable the unfolding of a film rather than a fixed work. Both Algorithmic and Generative films described below greatly complicate the notion of duration distending the compactness and compression of time we are accustomed to in many works of art including the all-at-once-ness of a visual work of art and most time based works which resolve or present themselves in a fixed period of time.
Generative Films - 'Generative art is a term generally used to refer to any practice where the artist creates a process, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a machine, or other procedural invention, which is then set into motion with some degree of autonomy, contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art. After the initial parameters have been set the process of production is unsupervised, and, as such, self-organizing and time-based.?
Cinema or time based works here become instruction sets.
VJ?s produce 'live' or real-time films or image events at the intersection of machines, playback materials, and live interaction creating performative assemblages, a kind of local networked cinema. Interactive films, such as ambientmachines (ambientmachines.com) put forward a structure, or language for possible films where every film is unique to every viewer participant now an author.
From the prosthetic of the web, radar, control rooms and war rooms this multiple visioning and over laying of real time, archive and virtual images of possibilities extend image in a never-ending iteration and configuration.
We may also consider mechanical or machine visioning films, films without authors. Infra perception or extra perception is offered by any number of regimes of visualization at different scales and different intensities.
Immersive films or works of perceptual volume can be thought of as spatial films as they offer the exploration of a simulated space allowing one to move in all directions.
Reactive Spaces|Objects|Screens are also spatial in the sense of creating a circuit of engagement with the viewer as participant.
Of course many more examples can be added to the list above and in which can be form any number of categories of films such as Inventory Films, Indexical Films, Films of Recontextualization, Films of Data Visualization, Lowercase Films, Body Films, Military Films, Film purely attuned to certain Filters and Processes, Presence Films, Ambient Films, Surveillance Films, Sprawl Films, Re-enactment Films, Iterative Films, Reactive Films, Life Form Films, the list can go on and on.
"All the films I was spliced into today? On any given day we are actors in any number of films, at the ATM machine, crossing a bridge, shopping, in traffic, in the subway or train, in some one?s home video, entering any number of offices, even in one?s home?.
We exist and transact in vast and spatialized films widely dispersed and varied. In the circulation of the image banks and transmissions of the world are any number of possible trajectories and plateaus for future films.