Wednesday, 12 June 2013
Duchamp must be laughing in his grave as we go forward towards the future, as we appear to be walking backwards staring into the past. Duchamp might laugh because he was always strong on pushing the concept rather than the material – or at least balancing the two. But now we are having real trouble disentangling the real from the unreal, the material from the immaterial. Trying to understand the things that flow past us as we walk backwards – effectively part of the past as soon as we notice them – we reach for descriptions of these things fashioned with the terms and ideas we understand so well, from the past. Ideas that once fitted like gloves. But these are of course inappropriate to grasp the naming of the needs of the new.
Were we facing the right way when walking forward we would see an unfamiliar landscape and we’d have to invent names for the things that we see coming towards us, some animate, some inanimate and sometimes we’d confuse the two. But we’d have a new language that would describe the form and behaviour of the new things that approached us – or as we approached them, because it is we that are moving.
We would have to remember Einstein’s dictum that everything is relative and what we think we see as we red-shift our way towards things that in the distance would appear different from the way we see them close-up, and then differently as they fall behind: we’d have to realise that they have a changing nature as we apprehend them and lose them from sight.
Right now in walking backwards as we go forwards we use the nomenclature of things we have become familiar with from past experience, because of their similarities with the new things we perceive – but of course there is a moment when our metaphors start to fail in their description of what we are seeing – and the language is no longer fit for purpose. But we cling to this language because it has served us until now. It will be our older selves or even our children who will laugh at the misconceptions we generate and wonder why we didn’t walk forwards, facing ahead, describing what we once saw, in new language rather than old.
Sunday, 10 February 2013
I’ve been reading reports in Senses of Cinema* on recent international film festivals and came upon this comment on the film Leviathan by Daniel Fairfax and Joshua Sperling during their review of the New York Film Festival:
By contrast, Leviathan is pure cinema. The fact that it, too, was shot on digital does not detract from such a status. Rather, it demonstrates that there are really two digital aesthetics: the fantasy digital practiced by the likes of Ang Lee, and the “ontological digital” at work in this film. Or rather, it demonstrates that the digital/analogue dichotomy is more a question of aesthetic principles, of philosophies towards filmmaking, than of technology – and in this case, Castaing-Taylor/Paravel’s work falls squarely on the analogue side of the divide.
‘The analogue side of the divide’ is the metaphor used to describe that which entrances by lack of guile – whereas the digital side of the divide is all guile. It used to be that the metaphor for the digital was ‘clinical ‘and in some senses the ‘fantasy digital’ has helped move the clinical into the mythic. But here, a documentary helps create another line of division, where the poetic and the clinical can mix and transmute the medium into what the authors describe as the ‘ontological digital’:
The waterproof prosumer cameras used to extract the extraordinary imagery of Leviathan are tasked simply with recording the real. They do so to such a visceral extent that at certain moments – when the masses of dead fish squirm about as they pile up before the camera – Leviathan can feel like a horror film, an effect which the Gothic writing on the film’s title card would suggest is intentional. In a way, it possesses a more truly three-dimensional quality than the tawdry gimmicks of Pi could ever hope to attain.
This associative thinking is reminiscent of much film theory of the French style where over elaborate and poetic descriptions are used to massage the reader into the belief that they are reading ‘truth’. But you can’t really blame the French for trying their best – after all they have a lifestyle to maintain and the rest of the world should celebrate their largesse, their joie de vivre. Any country that has such a surfeit of bakeries deserves respect even if it requires agricultural support way beyond others. The Anglo-Saxon critic owes a great debt to French theory with its twin polarities of articulation and obfuscation in pursuit of poetic truth.
This last comment really allows the digital through into cinema as it invokes one of the mythic gods of French theory to authenticate its position:
Our absorption in the film’s unrelenting diegesis is enhanced not only by the immersive camerawork, but also by the unsettling surround-sound audio, which I felt was reminiscent of Philippe Grandrieux’s Un Lac. And, lo! Grandrieux himself was in the audience for Leviathan’s press screening, having just embarked on a road-trip with the filmmaking duo, where, as Castaing-Taylor related, they whiled away the hours by discussing Deleuze.
The fantasy digital’ is actually a symbolic reference to what is in truth a combined commercial and technical description. What the digital has enabled in surpassing the capabilities of film, whilst at the same time finally imitating its ability to invoke ‘cinema’, is a set of economic benefits. If you wanted to shoot 35mm film at 48 frames per second – you would need a massive stock budget. With digital you simply dial up 48fps. Yes it has data ‘costs’ – that is management issues around the production of large amounts of data, which also has cost implications for storage – but due to the much-abused Moore’s Law, computational storage becomes cheaper over time. The issue is that one can dial in a specific enhancement, 3D, higher frame rate, uncompressed recording, higher dynamic range etc, without the pain of late Victorian industrial style costs.
Film grew out of sewing machines and fake teeth. Stop-start machinery could enable proper exposure and shifting film in the gate to move on without fogging. Material developed for Victorian dentists for replacement teeth could be stretched, flattened and made clear – a medium fit for holding virtual images (until they were developed). Even with Henry Ford’s intervention, it would still be expensive late into the twentieth century. The masses would not take up such a clunky modernist medium. With the advent of analogue, then its chimera digital video, the last gasp of the struggle for democratic production of images was to be heard, but the ‘industry’, the protective mechanism of ‘quality’ would see that Digital Cinematography, raw, progressive imaging, was sufficiently expensive to deter the great mass of untalented or rather, derivative creativity - as exhibited by user generated content. Until the great mass receives the education of the intelligentsia the end product would always be the accidents of a 1000 chimpanzees typing away, with the odd surprise on Utube.
Beneath this piece of blogging (unsubstantiated opinionating) is a conviction derived from many years of being at several ‘coal faces’. These are professional production in the UK TV and film industries, artistic practice, theorizing as an academic and lastly and tellingly, as a socialist. This latter is about youthful conviction where I believed that the means of production should be placed in the hands of the populace so that its more varied stories and perspectives could be spoken aloud. I had that belief whilst being enabled as a speaker for that demographic – that is, I was a specialist who could ‘help’ the masses. As defined by Buckminster Fuller, E F Schumaker, Edmund Carpenter, Stafford Beer and their like I could be a ‘competent man’ (this term coined prior to the advent of feminism really means competent person). This competence began its like as a specialism, such as drawing, which when abstracted from the practice could be made universal in creative terms: if you were good at radio, you could be good at anything if you simply kept your wits about you and exported a set of taste functions (in most circumstances, ‘this’ is better than ‘that’, but in specific circumstances remember ‘this’ juxtaposition). But there was a high romanticism about this which included a belief in ‘great art’ - that is some art was better than other art – and in that belief the socialist ideal fell. And it stands with me now that I do not believe everyone is as talented as everyone else – and the training of everyone to be excellent must also mean that everyone has to have a value system of excellence – which is both tautological and self-defeating.
Just look at Ang Lee for instance. He can certainly make movies, but frankly with his resources (and I include talent) so can anyone. The Life of Pi in movie form to me is trite and soporific. It has a confused message which advocates embracing symbolism over ‘reality’. I’m not sure about the book because I haven’t read it – but I suspect it as a piece of modern fiction as most modern fiction is victim of ‘cut and paste’. But that’s a different argument.
But back to ‘the fantasy digital’ and ‘the ontological digital’. These are consumerist descriptions as they can be applied to different cinematic experience on a consumer level. I like the idea of an ontological digital because I’ve been operating it since I first took up making experimental motion images – even in analogue form when it was equally a form of ontological video – and was appropriate in the naming because video is latin for ‘to see’. And ‘to see’ is important if understood from the vantage point of cognitive neuroscience where when one speaks of ‘seeing’ one is speaking of the combined eye/brain pathway. In these terms perceiving and understanding are a combined activity, the left eye being governed by right brain and vice versa…. And in this narrative, left-brain is the site of focused attention which is highly ratiocinatory in nature – or so the neuro-scientific community would currently have it.
Whilst looking through or within the electronic terms provided by video, I have seen a description of the world that has been reflective of my internal state. I have made works in this electronic as opposed to photo-chemical medium that have added meaning to the world I see in biological terms. Biology here means ontological in a certain sense – that sense if added to, is more full when combined with the extra viewpoint enabled by video.
Max Hastings once wrote ‘film is a long-distance telephone call whereas video is a call from the box round the corner’. This comment was made at a time when there was a qualitative difference in the two kinds of call. The distant one sounded so due to interference on the line, the inferior sound quality, the clicks and bumps and atmospherics. Hastings wasn’t saying that film was inferior; he was talking of the romanticism of distance – distant, unknowable lands where information had been brought back by a Marco Polo, as an ambassador that brought back tales of the unknown. Interestingly there are questions about the authenticity of Polo’s stories – but again, that’s another article.
It was in fact Hastings intent to describe something other than the lesser quality of video – that though the displayed image was lesser in quality it had a greater quality: video was live, it was here and it was now. Remember that video came along a long time after television, the parent medium with its ability to disseminate. So the currency of television was of presenting the world as it is NOW. Video inherited the connection of representing NOW. The feel of it was and is immediate and Digital Cinematography, when it became progressively based, shed the sense of the immediate and became THEN, elsewhen and elsewhere. With Digital Cinematography came a greater possibility of the electronic capture of video as having a developed capacity for ontological use.
So our two authors bring up a definition of immediacy as if it were a Gothic artefact additional to the medium that has been introduced successfully as a medium of fantasy. I think there’s more to it than that description, that delineation of two levels. I think it has many more levels than two and this current description is unaware of the width of the medium. My evidence for this the developed plasticity of past media, which, when they go past the necessary period of remediation, always disclose their true nature outside of their ability to chameleon-like imitate the behaviour of other media. For a description of what that true nature is, watch this space.
Note to self, see 'Leviathan'.
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
Recently I have been working with Faculty of Engineering at University of Bristol and BBC Research and Development to shoot some tests for the expanding capabilities of Digital Cinematography. My role on this project was to oversee the cinematography. In essence we have been trying to calibrate Higher Dynamic Range, Higher Frame Rate and Higher Resolutions to match the eye/brain pathway to create highest immersion for the viewing experience. The first tests were shot in November 2012 and since then have been ongoing.
In the human optical system we have a sensitivity of 14 orders of magnitude of which we can always access 5 orders of magnitude. These 5 orders slide upwards for bright desert sun and downwards to cope with low light levels of moon and starlight. The University of Bristol has a display that exhibits this dynamic range.
Digital Cinematography cameras capture around 12 – 14 stops and 35mm film captures around 18 stops. Standard displays, TV’s projectors & computer screens display between 10 and 16 Fstops – that’s between 2 to 3 orders of magnitude of the entire 14 available in the human system, so if you create a higher dynamic range image of 18 or above stops – it will display beneath its dynamic range on contemporary displays. The common response from people seeing this is: “the image looks ‘plastic’”.
The department of Experimental Psychology at Bristol has already undertaken 2D and 3D immersion tests – but these require of 30 minutes of footage. With a limited budget we decided to shoot the Somerset Carnival because of its high internal illumination and floats with internal movement. To shoot HDR an Epic would shoot 50 fps at 4k in HDR mode with a 4 to 6 stop difference giving 18 stops dynamic range.
We then considered mounting 2 Phantoms to shoot 200 fps at 2k in a 3D mirror rig, one camera exposing the high stop the other the low. Dr Marc Price & Alia Skeikh of BBC R&D placed two cameras on a rig at BBC London, but found that artifacts became evident as the tolerances necessary for HDR alignment are far higher than 3D because you need pixel accurate registration to eliminate these artifacts.
We calculated on Epic we could record 6 mins of 4k, 50 fps HDR (thats 100 fps) that would take 40 minutes to download. We decided that due to much higher levels of data output on the Phantom, we would shoot selected floats at the carnival exhibiting high levels of motion. Had we shot Phantom in a mirror rig at its highest speed you could easily generate 1 terabyte of data per minute and that would take 6 and half hours to download.
An HDR stop-motion test conducted by Aaron Fang of University of Bristol Engineering revealed that you need 7 exposures combined to display full higher dynamic range on the display. So using Red’s strategy of setting a correct Fstop to build upon for HDR did not exploit the full-potential available.
The hardest thing to expose in cinematography is a subject that emits light: At our first shoot in Burnham on Sea on the Epic I set the ASA at 320 at 50 fps with a shutter of 100th, then used a spotmeter to calculate a stop. But following this through to display, we discovered that a full HDR image was not achieved using normal cinematographic judgment. I realised that the 100 year old maxim of exposing to protect highlights was no longer a correct rule for HDR. In fact you had to expose the ‘correct’ stop ‘virtually’ – What I mean by this is that if the Fstop should be F5.6 then we would have set the Iris to overexpose three stops over at F2 plus HDRx highlight protection of three stops under: making 18 stops in total. That might seem obvious now, but on the shoot, sphincters tightened, because the Epic images looked terribly overexposed.
We had planned a second shoot at Wells and collected material at 2 stops and 3 stops over and under e-exposed. In HDR terms that’s between 16 to 18 stops respectively. We are about to shoot more footage for immersion testing at the newly built lab at Bristol University. It should be remembered that the first tests worldwide with this expanded digital cinematographic form took place in the South West of the UK.
From the cinematographers viewpoint, it seems to me that counter-intuitively, lower lighting levels are where HDR will function with most impact on a photographic level. Obviously in the highlights colour formation will be held better than in standard systems, but this is a technical issue, rather than specifically an artistic one. But this is interesting because it may in fact require a renaissance of cinematic judgment – someone will need to know that the end result will be fine. With regard low light, the way we read an image may allow the cinematographer to offer clues when underscoring plot, story & emotional cues, in a far more subtle way than with standard dynamic range that the cinematographic arts have used for decades: that of trying to represent 5 orders of magnitude in a 2 – 3 orders of magnitude display.
Saturday, 29 December 2012
I recently wrote a post on CML asking the following:
"I saw The Hobbit in 3D at 24 fps at 2k, then walked into the next-door screening which was showing in 3D at 48fps at 2k.
So the first looked film-like and the second looked like old-style interlaced video - there was even a sensory and hallucinogenic lag in the image, mostly with regard to colour. People who buy 48fps argue that you should try to watch for 10 - 15 minutes to lock-in to the way you perceive the experience before condemning it out of hand.
Also as far as I understand it, instead of a 96th shutter, Lesnie shot the movie at a 64th shutter to add motion blur - and this didn't do anything to spoil the 24fps 2D filmic looking version when alternate frames were removed (being sharper than a 48th).
So my question is: Has anyone seen 48fps at 4k and if so, was the look filmic or video-like?
I'm asking that question because it's my guess that 'film-immersion' works at certain 'sweet-spots' of the sensory experience and that because 24fps is one of those, then multiplying the factors could mean that either:
a) a sweet-spot is disrupted if it's not a full multiplication of factors (so 3d at 48fps needs to be at 4k minimum to work) b) the next sweet-spot is a different multiple (96fps at 8k, or 120fps at 10k, or 192 fps at 16k - or something counter intuitive on an apparently different scale) c) after 24 fps the sweet-spot is way, way above those co-ordinates (on the basis that is a harmonic of the original)d) our senses film-immerse around 24 fps of image and 24 fps of black, regardless of resolution, and that's just how it is....
If there's anyone looking in from the production - you must have done shot some tests and screened variations - any comments? How did you prepare the 48fps and decimate the footage back to 24 fps?"
Someone wrote in response:
"I'm rather amazed and befuddled by all of these calculations and speculations as to the effect of framerates and sweet spots. 2D or 3D, the effect is apparent rather quickly, and this is nothing new. Oaklahoma! in Todd-AO (30fps) looks remarkably different to the CinemaScope (24fps) version which was shot along side it (a take with one camera, then a take with the other). When the VariCam first came out I used it to demonstrate the difference between 24p and 30p, 48p and 60p. The difference between 24p and 30p was easy to see for all. You can think of it whatever you wish, but the moment you get to 30p the effect is very "video-esque" in motion, at least to a brain used to 60i American television. There's no magical formula of shutter angle and 3D immersion which will change this. Refresh rate is refresh rate and the mental connotation is, well, whatever the viewer brings to the table. One can give it a try and decide if it is interesting or acceptable, but the effect is the effect and it's really that simple. There's no "training the audience," no "finding the magic combination," no "filmmakers not using their tools properly." Either it is liked by the audience or it is not.
And to a great degree, I think this is true of 3D in general".
I felt I had to reply:
"Mitch and Mike: we're ok with numbers aren't we? After all that's an aspect of much of what we do.
I didn't know the Hobbit was finished in 2k, so that was worth writing the post in the first place for, as I found something out - it certainly kills the issue of seeing a '4k' version at 48fps.
'There's no "training the audience," no "finding the magic combination," no "filmmakers not using their tools properly." Either it is liked by the audience or it is not.....And to a great degree, I think this is true of 3D in general'.
I get it that there should be a resistance to pr style thinking and I wasn't really interested in the 3D issue, as my interest is with audience immersion (we use light and camera movements to underscore dramatic narrative and deepen audience engagement - why not use new capacities in the medium we work in?)
I'm very privileged to be working on higher dynamic range capture and display and when you see this actually working before your eyes there's a sense of seeing three dimensions, which comes through without the tricks of standard stereopsis. The response after seeing this new imaging technology for the first time is: 'It's like looking through a window'. When you see an HDR image in HDR display space, the sense of it being plastic and unreal goes (mainly because up till now HDR images were seen in non-HDR display space and the audience didn't like what they saw). The possibility for really amazing lighting is there, because the display space is approximate to the eye-brain pathway.
True, up till recently each image has been captured using 7 or more exposures in each frame and so has been still-image or stop-motion - but we're now perfecting moving image HDR streams instead of stepped still images. At the capture stage data bottlenecks are becoming an issue as we're generating huge amounts of data (could be up to 1 terabyte per minute next year as we'll move into high fps hdr - so there'll need to be developments in every part of the chain - that'll explain my OCD interest in numbers then). Most importantly though, we'll be looking at what kind of content works in this new area.
Call me old fashioned or even OCD, but I am interested and curious about what can be done outside of what's currently liked by an audience, and I'd prefer this information to come out through CML, within the community that creates moving image art for a living - not only that but involve members in trying to do this. 'Course, we may not manage to pull it off, but I'm quite happy to go down in flames trying."
So reader: What do you think?
Saturday, 30 June 2012
Years ago when I was a young DP I spent £500 on a single day session to learn how to expose for low light. That was a lot of money then. At that session there were several DP's who are now working at the upper echelons of UK film and TV Drama. By the end of the day I had discovered that the answer to my question was: sure there are technical boundaries, but in the end there is no such thing as the correct exposure - because art is a gesture of the moment. A correct exposure in one moment is not the correct exposure in the next because the art or intention, or colour or texture of the scene.
The light meter and waveform monitor as used today for digital cinematography (and television back then) are two forms of evaluation, but these are just devices that allow a certain kind of ritual gesture to happen that produce a decision. If you're 'in the flow' when you make your decision, choosing a fat or thin f stop - or placing the exposure on the stop itself - then that decision, if made whilst transcending the form you're working in aligns with what artists do when they make their artistic gesture. That may sound airy-fairy but whether you're a street cleaner or an astronaut, we all operate in the same way - choices in the moment. So there's technical excellence on one hand and on the other, art - and if you're really aligning with 'the flow' or as Taoism would call it, 'The Way', then art can happen within commerce.
Sunday, 22 April 2012
Lately analogue video has been in the public psyche because of the analogue switch off in the UK as we move solely to digital transmission (I believe the last to switch will be Northern Ireland in October 2012). I have attended a few events in March and April and noticed the miss-information flowing around the subject which differs from my experience of my time making ‘video art’.
What follows are some discursive notes for a proposal to celebrate through a series of screenings, Analogue Video and its transition into Digital Video during the late seventies, the eighties and the early 90’s. This is not meant to be exhaustive, nor in fact researched – it’s my off the cuff memory at this moment of writing. I may return to this and actually research it thoroughly and create an academic and more scholarly work. For the moment though I am involved (as usual) in making work rather than writing about it, but here, for what it’s worth are some thoughts.
There are some video links in here but do let me know of other works online and I'll connect the dots... So basically this is personal history, told from a personal perspective that differs sometimes from published histories – and of those I have to say that the research hasn’t been the best: for instance my own 5 part series on UK and European Video Art is said to have been selected by myself and Sean Cubitt. Though Sean was interviewed by myself, he did not select any of the work. It was selected by Rod Stoneman and Triple Vision together. In a recent panel event the entire ‘On Video’ series was misattributed to Analogue Productions – though I like Anna Ridley of Analogue – I draw the line at that ownership (it was done by a new curator quoting an old history). Here I hope to address these inconsistencies. But this is currently a partial history and so there needs to be a thorough and methodical revision of the history as it is currently told in the published works – there’s a PhD thesis to be done here.
I may have misremembered some facts and would welcome correction on anything I’ve said during these notes - also healthy disagreement. Meanwhile however, you are going to see some details that differ from the books on the subject that have been published since 1980. There are many incorrect ‘facts’ stated in most of the UK output in the area because they have been coloured by a remediatory thinking that this history sets out to redress.
The question then arises: What else is incorrect in these histories? Also The further question arises concerning whether or not they leave out much of the ‘intent’ of the period under review and concentrate instead, on a history that fits a world view that was then dominant. For my money of course, the last question is its own answer. This history no longer needs to be as dominant as it was (and to some of us this history is destructive). As a documentarist as well as artist at the time, I found myself described in one book as a ‘sometimes psychedelic artist’ - a case of being belittled by faint praise.
One more point, lately (April 2012) there have been public events and conferences set up to examine the 70’s and 80’s and there has been an air of decay – a sort of Miss Haversham type feeling around the generation of nostalgia for an area that might have had import at one time, but has very little import now. But of course all the excitement generated around developments now will suffer this same decay – in the 70’s and ‘80’s when the excitement levels were also high – they were just as important in influencing the developments of the present time. That’s a little bit tautological but you know what I mean.
Though the Seventies and Eighties many makers dealt with the question of ‘ubiquity’ that analogue video had presented them with by engaging with the television form. Following on from Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay these makers celebrated the fact that the aura of art could neither adhere to the original nor the replication of the original. If all were ubiquitous and re-producible where could the aura of the art object lie? Therefore the strategy became how to adduce value in other areas - in the aesthetics of the work itself. This was the earliest gesture toward the digital which itself has no material, only a set of processes to describe itself.
Two ideas that concerned the makers of the time were the realization that Television was the first form where the means of dissemination preceded the means of inscription and that all other media were formulate the other way around.
Secondly, we had better celebrate the fact that the work existed only whilst the electricity was turned on. No electricity, no work. No electricity, only the traces of the work in the form of the accouterment of the works: video cameras, edit machines, monitors etc.
From the beginning makers decided to intervene in the dominant hegemony which was the central value system of society: Television. Given this, there was an intellectual allegiance with situationism and its predecessor, dada.
Within this there were two kinds of makers – those who came to video direct (more or less like myself though I had used film in the past but importantly was not totally fascinated by it so that it became my sole medium) and secondly: people who had come from film in the delight that the image was instant and didn’t need several weeks before it came to their sight (and these makers of course remediated the nature of the new media through seeing it in terms of film.
Given the above experiments had gone on in various countries including Stan Vanderbeek’s extraordinary prescient use of two whole channels to deliver a live video interruption in 1970 entitled: Violence Sonata.
But in the UK, one of the earliest engagements of the recorded image – albeit on 16mm, was David Hall’s Television Interruptions in 1971.
For me these were the products of a film understanding and derived from an attitude evinced from the modernist project of truth to materials and remediated the new form in the shape of film and its working practices. Hall engages with the TV set in the sense that he occupies it with elements such as water – however, like the rest oi television at the time, his interruptions are constructed in the film medium with sensibilities derived from prior experiments in that medium).
In one intervention he focuses on a tap dripping and eventually the TV set is filled with another medium. This is reminiscent of Viola’s more spiritual installation where a camera looks at the drip on the end of a tap as it forms - a Buddhist statement of impermanence as the image is projected on a wall and the world comes into being and out of being periodically. The British material reading of the form at the time was more concerned with the material of the medium itself - in my opinion, a lesser study. Later taken up by conceptualists like Hirst and co with their evaporation out of art into concept. True, Viola had a material concern too - but over-ridden by the act of the artist concerned with our place in the world as opposed to the artist concerned with his or her materials.
The excitement these makers felt was limited as many film practitioners were bound by a love and loyalty to and of the material of film and therefore their excitement was derived from the fact that some of videos process were ‘improvements’ on the problems of film. With video you didn’t have to wait for development and printing; with video you could shoot for longer than a standard roll of 16 mm which lasted 10 minutes at most and 4 minutes if you used a Bolex 16 mm camera; with video you could erase what was unsatisfactory aesthetically and marvelously, re-record over that to make a new recording. But these virtues were not the aesthetics of the new medium, they were simply improvements over an old medium and therefore constituted a re-mediation of the new medium. The film-makers were busy re-inventing themselves in their own image.
What came next was a new generation of makers that were not bound by the aesthetics of the material of film or busy with an anti-establishment view on a material level. However they were intensely political and carried with them antiestablishment political views.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EARLY ANALOGUE AND DIGITAL MEDIUMS
Prior to describing the history of what came between 1976 and 1992, the period where the exploration and investigation of a set of ideas that amounted to the birth of the digital age via aesthetic concerns it is important to situate what the author believes to be the actual condition of the digital realm as it currently stands. On element that can be identified about the digital is its dependence on electricity in some form. When the power is turned off, the digital ceases to exist. Another condition of the digital is its requirement that everything that enters its continuum is first encoded into some form of data. Also, the use of a term like ‘continuum’ identifies something about its state and its material condition - or rather its lack of a material condition.
If the digital is not a medium, or has no medium then one must describe it in other terms, that of process. Lev Manovich described this in ‘The Operations’ which are basically threefold in nature: to gather, to compose, to publish. One gathers on the net via software; one composes on a ‘site’ like on the computer via software; then one publish on the net via software. To extrapolate backwards into a prior art form such as sculpture, one conceives the work, chops the wood, sculpts the wood, display the wooden sculpture - now substitute any object of art and its materials. The is a description of various material mediums via the processes that describe their operations form inception into materiality. Loosely though, the project is the same: gather, compose, publish. The difference is the prior conception and origination of the work in the mind.
The process begun by Duchamp where he argued that the patron no longer should determine the nature of art by commission, but the artist should choose what the work should be. Magritte question notions of representation in a prior representational medium - ‘ceci n’est pas un pipe’ - the use of text under a picture of a pipe to demonstrate a loosening of pictorial form in relation to concept. Mid 20th century art recognised that one could begin with the material (or the process) such as with Jackson Pollocks' paintings and then eventually came Warhols' project, that of demonstrating that not only anything in our world is art if the artist so chooses, but all of us, artist or audience member should open our eyes to see with this understanding.
With Digitality we now transcend and end the conceptualists project. Hirsts final statement about form and value, the platinum skull, demonstrates the end of the material project and also the end of the artist as selector. An Absurdist gesture prior to the ubiquitous event of everyone as artist maker which is demonstrated daily on utube. But again, current Digitality is simply in a moment of change toward what Digitality will eventually become, so even these articulations and insights are remediated by what has gone before and do not fully describe what is truly happening. That will only come when time has revealed what the birth of Digitality truly was.
Where we currently stand is as ‘flatlanders’, the Victorian 2 dimensional creature that when witnessing the passage of a sphere through their world, first see it as a point then an expanding circle which then contracts to a point. They have been in the presence of three dimensions but not understood its nature. Our state of understanding is remediated by the past, our historicisations are naturally via the hindsight of the last understood era, our theories are equally derived from what has past, so the perception of the present is veiled through the absence of a language that will develop. The mistake is in trying to label it through the medium of the Victorian project which is about categorising and indexing each element into a separate part which of course is analytical and part of the enlightenment project which does not understand that we now have to develop theories that are underpinned by a gestalt approach, rather than an analytical approach.
THE DIGITAL AND ANALOGUE IN PERSPECTIVE
The period of innovation beginning in 1972 with the first edit that was constituted of a re-recorded image transposed across portapaks as opposed to that which was executed by a razor blade and glued together with sticky tape, ended around 1992 - and the world wide web was on the horizon via the early patterns of encoding of the analogue and now digital video signal. With the advent of wavelet transforms as opposed to discrete cosign transforms (both originated by Jean Baptiste Fourier in the early 1800s) a transformative period occurred during the ’90’s generally referred to by the term ‘convergence’.
This period was he tail end of a paradigm which began with the descent from the trees of early anthropoids with their gesture towards standing upright as the essential use of technicity and other uses of technology eventuating in the use of tools or implements, the first being the use of flints the last being the use of the stand alone personal computer.
By 2000 the modernist project had been superseded by the digital project, which still leaves many people confused by what it actually is - mostly because they try to understand it via modernism and its bastard child, post-modernism, a rehash of the analytical imperative with the bells and whistles of a non-rigorous gung-ho attitude. But convergence was simply the antecedent of the integrative as opposed to convergent moment. The integrative is digital, is no longer concerned with tools and implements to affect the world - the world as we now know it is digital, is immaterial, is not concerned with tools because the whole world is both tool and arena of experience: the medium is completely the message and the message and the medium is the world.
Integrative technology is the height of technicity where technology is the ontological state of being of its inhabitants, where the stand alone computer and its predecessor the flint tool gives way to a complete 3 dimensional real time mapping of the world inside the grand computer, where the ideal state is continuously held and updated waiting for perturbations in its fabric, created by its inhabitants which it intelligently and virally reacts to. The world is truly the suitcase, the suitcase is truly the world.
To situate the series of screenings I’m proposing, it is now necessary to elucidate the history of analogue and digital video with reference to the state of digitality we find ourselves in. The screenings themselves are intended to lead towards the propositions I’ve made in a discussion format at the end of the run with prominent makers (that are still active) from the sector.
It is important to note that the first gesture towards digitality via the analogue was accomplished by Frank Zappa using 2 inch video to ‘film’ the feature, 200 motels, in 1972. Here, 2 inch quadraplex machines were taken on site to to the studio to facilitate the recording of the film in apparently portable mode. The cameras however were connected to the recording machines via cabling.
In 1972 Hall and Le Grice made their interventions which were undertaken by film makers who were excited by the specific aspects of the new medium that speeded up the slower processes of film had coalesced into London Video Arts - this kind of film remediation of video was to hang around long into the early history of video.
Other film makers took an oppositional position and remained engaged with the material of film and its timeline whilst their colleagues more deeply immersed themselves into a remediated position with the new video medium. The concerns of that group and that period were of the academy: a concern with aesthetics of time, space, location, gaze etc that had developed from the work of the futurists, Vorticists, Fauves and so on who were a product of the acts of socialism and marxism at the turn of the 20th century. The influence of Kuleshev, Vertov and of course Eisenstein could be witnessed daily at the film co-op in the early seventies as the project continued and the light burned brightly.
The first portapaks entered the UK around 1967 and were instantly celebrated by a group of creative people distinct from the film based experimental moving image community located at the Film Co-Op. These however were more interested in ‘the happening’ than ‘art’. Yet of course, there were others less bashful about calling random experiments with light and colour by the term art, as was seen in the symposium on Expanded Cinema in April 2009 at the Tate. Early portapak video was a playful form which morphed eventually into ‘Community Video’.
As the middle of the 70’s passed, the community video makers jumped from out of the back of their vans in the derelict housing estates, they cried, much the same as that of the workers on an Agit Prop train during the 1917 revolution in Bolshevik Russia ‘We have the means of production - workers, let the revolution begin’. As Tony Dowmunt of Albany Video noted some years later: ‘Not many people came out to join the revolution and if it were raining then we’d be howling into the wind and rain’.
This socially active work was more related in some ways to the aesthetics of the post marxist experiments at the film co-op due to the simple common fact of a desire to change the society that the makers found themselves in. However, instead of examining the medium in a structural way as the filmmakers of the 20’s and 30’s had done, the community video makers were pleased that they finally had the means of production and it somehow echoed their lives. Film had to be sent away - video stayed right where you put the portapak and played back when you pressed ‘play’. This was instant and instantly affecting - it was of the period of now - a time period made popular in the sixties.
On the other side of the city however, painterly and sculptural concerns and the aesthetics that governed the academy and their work as derived from film practice grew and was sponsored by the Arts Council and became early video art.
Throughout the next three or four years new makers were engaging with the educational system and the project as espoused by the arts council sponsored video artists was falling on deaf ears. Punk was beginning but not necessarily in moving image terms (that was to happen 5 or 6 years later). But the strength of passion against the old school academy system was breaking down attitudes towards what video was and how it should be used. An early group thoroughly engaged in the struggle was Vida, coined from Video, to see. Vida meant, ‘look at this’. An imperative cry. Vida cut their teeth on late film style experiments with colour and flashing and actually shooting some film before abandoning the older language and engaging in the documentary form. By 1980 Vida had given over 250 shows.
Nothing was sacred at that point and whilst working through the ‘veracity of documentary’ Antony Cooper a founding member of Vida declared that ‘the only thing documentary documents, is the attitude of the maker to their subject at the time of making’. Hence documentary itself was under suspicion as not being truthful.
Elsewhere many other experiments were going on via the work of West London Community Video, Moonshine Community Arts, Fantasy Factory and Oval Video. Their film equivalents were Four Corner FIlms, Concord Film and Video, Circles Film Distribution, and the Film Co-op.
So the landscape held a series of separate and sometimes antagonistic artistic and political communities, split by aesthetics and intent. But then, with the advent of basic computers in the latter part of the 70’s, the new medium of analogue video was instantly in transformation. Mores Law, that stipulated that there would be an exponential increase in capacity accompanied by an exponential decrease in size, was having its effect.
By 1981 a group of interested parties, including London Video Arts. the Berwick street film collective, Oval Video, the Film Co-op, gathered around London Video Arts and formulated the idea that video should have a festival and the First National Video Festival was held at the film co-op in 1981, the second was at the ICA in 1982 and a dwindling 3rd festival at South Hill Park in Bracknell.
The altercations between the two media were overcome when the Independent FIlm Association allowed Video into the hallowed film ranks and the association became the Independent FIlm and Video Association - mainly because the language of video spoke to the new CHannel 4 initiative and film production was struggling both aesthetically, materially and financially with television as a display and distribution medium. Film sought to engage the video makers as allies in the cause.
Vida, who had originated in 1977 were responding to the transformative phase between film and video, then transmogrified into Triple Vision by 1980. Documentary experiments were still ongoing but now accompanied by experiments in narrative and non-narrative work. Some of the members of Vida had joined a commercial company called Videomakers in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue and the owners turned a blind eye to the exploits of this small team who then made equipment available to video artists and documentarists alike and began engaging in changing industry working practices by employing camera women at a time when there were only a few professional sound women in the sector.
Many Video makers had circled around London Video Arts, Oval Community Video, Albany Video and also Triple Vision who were working within the Framework of the Soho based company called Video Makers who worked in both the commercial realm and the arts realm. Videomakers distinguished themselves by engaging camera women and began to break down traditional working practices directly in the belly of the beast. Equally Videomakers allowed artists to come and use their equipment such as George Barber, George Snow and Gorilla Tapes. The Duvet Brothers were working at Diverse Productions at that time. Founded by Peter Donnebauer who had eschewed the cause of the Academy and its form of sculptural and painterly arts practice for the commercial realm. However, Rik Lander as part of the Duvet Brothers was given access after his working day to high level editing equipment, which allowed him and Peter Boyd McLean to creative distinctive forms of editing only glanced upon by traditional avant guarde film making. On his return form Australia, Jon Dovey who had worked with Oval Video brought back the australian fast cut form, a kind of montage of attractions on methedrine, which created a great furore at London’s Cinema Action when shown to a traditional film making audience. This was an avant garde of the electric cinema - not photo chemical cinema. The name of this form of editing was derived from black music experiments: “scratch Video’ named after working with playing vinyl records in a scratch style.
Whilst with Triple Vision I unconsciously utilised the form in a work which documented the arrival of Apple’s Macintosh through being the video crew (with Anthony Coper) for Apple on Ridley Scott’s famous commercial. I had previously worked with Jon Dovey on a Ridley Scott Commercial for British Airways. I then ‘stole’ the footage I shot, which I then used as ‘found footage’ and then scratched this into “Prisoners’. The act of scratching came about as I had edited this footage for about 6 or 9 monthds and I wasalways unhappy with the end result. It worked fine - but not potently enough. One night, about 3 oclock I became angry and cut the girl hurling the hammer into the television screen against the skinheads racist talk... I came out of my act and realised that this was how to cut the whole work. It’s not generally included in scratch anthologies because it is intensely serious and scratch had a humorous bent to it. C’est las Guerre.
Meanwhile due to the advent of Channel 4 and the appointment of Alan Fountain with Caroline Spry and Rod Stoneman then funded the workshop sector, which was primarily film based but struggling with the budgets, the sector was engaging in trying to break down traditional aesthetics, but being mostly film oriented and having to use video, the struggle became confused because it was primarily motivated by budgetary concerns. Nevertheless some amazing video works came out of the cracks of the period. Isaac Julien’s ‘Who Killed Colin Roach’ for instance.
I and the other members of Triple Vision then left Video Makers and due to Channel 4 funding managed to operate in a television company form until 1992. This was a fertile period as television documentaries on various subjects were produced but long-form narratives such as Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s Bad Sister (1986) were also made completely on Video as opposed to film - as an artistic statement and exploration of that mediums suitability in the act of suspension of disbelief - or its absence due o the effects of the medium. Birmingham Film and Video Workshop made Out of Order in 1987 for £500,000 - an unheard of amount in the sector for a video production up until that point. It was also one of the first ‘films’ produced worldwide on video and then transferred at Moving Pictures to 35 mm for theatrical release.
And where may you ask was the representation of the ‘dominant artistic video’ form backed by the Arts Council ? Absolutely nowhere. Abroad many of us met up at festivals and our work, the work that was not celebrated in the UK by the Arts Council, was being celebrated everywhere but in the UK. Only amongst the film/video coterie that was in its Ivory Tower was there any sense that that was where the work was happening. We made many connections abroad, set up projects involving 18 groups through ten countries (the State of Europe which connected RTE, TRBF, Channel 4 and ZDF), had retrospectives at places like the Mill Valley FIlm Festival in California (Coppola and Lucas had just moved up there and set up a festival). I found muself one day outside of a screening three people who were musing on the change from film to video. As I listened it dawned on me that they were the directors of the three films that were screeing and they were smoking and talking nervously. They were called Jean, Jim and David. After a while I reslised that whilst they kidded me about my interest in video, they were actually Jean Jacques Bienix (Diva) Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law) and David Drummond (Defense of the Realm). I had a cigarette and proceeded to go back into the screning and realised the little funhny bloke next to me was the star of Down by Law, Roberto Begnini.
Meanwhile, a branch of the academy, barely recognised but too powerful for the academy to ignore, was publishing the American revolution in the form of John Wyver’s Illuminations Ghosts in the Machine commissioned by Channel 4’s arts commissioning editor Michael Kustow. However, this was not the English Academy, this was the vital, fast, speeding video that video audiences as far back as the Air and Acme Gallery shows held in 1980 were used to. The Americans had access to hardware and the British had a less well-endowed access. Chris Meigh Andrews, Alex Meigh, Dave Critchley and myself had organised a series of shows where the early works of Gary Hill and Bill Viola, John Sanborn and Kit Fitzgerald could be seen. Equally shows of the work of LVA were being seen in the US by exchange. I always had a principle to not put my own work in these shows seeing that as a corrupt act. Doh!
By 1984 the Americans had matured and Ghosts in the Machine was an 8 part series of mainly American Video Art. Countering this Triple Vision had been commissioned by Rod Stoneman and Alan Fountain at Channel 4 to make a series about UK video art entitled ‘On Video’. This was originally to be done by Luton 33 but somehow it hadn’t happened, so we received the phone call to come in and talk about it.
Two sixty minute programmes and one 90 minute programme were initially made and in contradistinction to Ghosts in the Machine, interviews filled the silence between video art works. The difference was context. Many artists work was shown including Jeremy Welsh, Cerith Wyn Evans and John Maybury.
Eventually by 1987 Channel 4 commissioned two more 90 minute programmes, ‘TV or not TV’ which was ‘On Video 4’ and ‘Statement of the Art’ which was in fact ‘On Video 5’ which also interviewed and showed the work of European Makers such as Dalibor Martinez and Robert Cahen and his excellent and ground breaking Just le Temps which rivaled anything Viola or Hill was doing with the aesthetics of Video.
At that time too, there was another television investigation which I directed in association with John Wyver called ‘In The Belly of the Beast’, which used Video Positive in Liverpool as a platform to discuss where video might be going. Ths programme was commissioned by Zanna Northen at Granada.
By 1987 I had developed a good relationship with Complete Video (a high level commercial house) at a moment when digital media became available. I gained access to some of the worlds most advanced digital equipment and this allowed me to investigate the coming digital realm with works such as ‘The World Within Us’ and later when I became Artist in Residence with them, The Inevitability of Colour (CH4 and ACE) which went on to be premiered at the Bonn Bienalle and win some international awards (Montbeliard and Locarno) - ironically I had directed Channel 4’s On Video series and The World Within Us was commissioned by John Wyver’s, Illuminations for Series 2 of Ghosts of the Machine. Meanwhile Invisible Television had been made by Gorilla Tapes (or Vulture Video depending on what they felt that month), and shown on Channel 4.
There is much more to say, many details to add but from the earliest experiments by Fantasy Factory and CAT, Albany Video, West London Community Video, Oval Video, Vida, Gorilla Tapes, the Duvet Brothers and Triple Vision, an aesthetic of production grew that was distinct from the academy and film based understandings of early video artists who’s concerns were those traditionally evinced in painting and sculpture. Again, there is much to add and as this is intended to be inclusive of what happened I welcome anyone emailing me to add to this history - or challenge it.
It is my contention that the excitement and aesthetics and material experiments of this time were the seedlings of the digital. We were passing across a boundary. Through my relationship with Complete video I made the Object of Desire which was a multi-layered version of Inevitability of Colour - this was deeply digital in its concepts and constructs and aesthetic. The Americans were generating works that were slight and lightweight with an aesthetic traceable to disney on a lot of levels. They were direct and obvious - the UK works were of a culture that had been around for a long time and one not prepared to be so simplistic about artistic and aesthetic concerns and therefore not so grabbing in their visual form - yet, in relation to time passed they stand up more strongly than the American works, which have of course grabbed the historical record. On that basis it makes sense to organise screenings of the named works of the timer against what was going on in the UK to give context and allow the audience to reflect on just how good the British makers were, who have been forgotten or written out from history.
These early investigations were indicative of what was to become digitial media and embodied concepts that were in contradistinction to the modernist project of truth to materials and a growing dependence on the concept as being as important as the material.
ADDENDUM: TURNING THIS ARGUMENT INTO A SERIES OF SCREENINGS
Screenings could run for three weeks and the first block could be the Channel 4 On Video series, 1, 2 (both 60 mins) and 3 (90 mins) and also On Video 4, ‘ TV or not TV’ and on Video 5, ‘Statement of the Art’ and a series of discussions with contemporary curators and artists. Screenings could be in the evenings, but also with agreement with various colleges during the daytime.
For the second week of screenings I propose to invite the group that chose the work for the 1st National Independent Video Festival in 1981 to select work from the ’80’s, plus have a series of discussions with artists who were active at the time the works were made.
The last 5 screenings could be in the form of showing a well known international work from a particular year that may for instance have originated in the United States - say the Vasulkas The Art of Memory - and then it could be accompanied by several works that originated in the UK and Europe. The point being that the US artists had a full blown push from their own culture on why the work should be seen as world quality work - the British however had none of this due to the reasons mentioned above, yet I will seek to demonstrate that the UK works are at least, as good as, if not better than the work that obtained the publicity. The screenings could be accompanied by discussions with artists of the time and contemporary artists and curators.
An additional fourth week of screenings could seek to demonstrate the nature of the digital via the works that have been made since 1992 - these works will be selected by a group formed of those active making work and curating during this period.
Some names of production companies who enabled motion image art work to be seen on TV:
Fields and Frames
Luton 33 (later developing into Gorilla Tapes and Vulture Video)
And of course, the entirety of the 1980’s workshop sector who tried in some way to intervene in this are. An early majore gesture was Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey’s shot on video Bad Sister (1983) – and of course Frank Zappa and Tony Palmer’s first ever video feature film made on two inch around 1971. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyViqlFEKUI