I was invited to talk at the Serpentine Gallery’s Miracle Marathon this year. My take on the theme was to talk of the underground and the occult worlds of the long legacy of the Cold War. I performed with Emma Charles’ film White Mountain. Here’s the video of the talk.
Perhaps photochemical smog is the only true new visual media of post World War II technological culture. It represents the high achievements in science and technology, combined with (synthetic) chemistry and sunlight. It modulates the light like advanced visual media should and embeds us in its augmented reality as we suck it into our lungs.
It encapsulates the mediatic cities of Los Angeles and Beijing, as encompassing surely as Hollywood’s machinery. Just like the material basis of technical media of more conventional kind – such as photography and film – it is chemical based. It is media the same as any photochemical process is about how light gets absorbed on our planet’s atoms and molecules.
But it’s new media, particular to the modern industrial age and the chemical reactions of more recent history. It feeds of industrial pollution and modern transport. It is about the screen as well – how the sunlight is offered this massive living chemical molecular screen on which to project its energetic images. A molecular aesthetics of an ecology of a dying planet.
3-2-1 the whistle blows. Click-click-click-click…
It’s image making but not just photography – instead, it provides an alternative route for histories of media; instead of a preference for the centrality of the seriality of the moving image, try starting from the cybernetic. “The cybernetic hypothesis”, as Alex Galloway coined it in his talk at the Winchester Centre for Global Futures that was a kick-starter for the project.
The whistle, the 24 cameras, set around a circular studio, a rotunda on which a stool for the model – an assemblage that connects the early 1860s with the 2012 reconstruction inside which I too sat to be photographed, and to be sculpted from those 24 shots. Originally this was Francois Willeme’s photosculpture, a curious arrangement and a patent from 1860s Paris that defined what Galloway calls one early model for parallel media.
Winchester School of Art Fine Art undergraduate students took up the original blueprints and the idea as their own model for a project led by Ian Dawson and Louisa Minkin and produced a fantastic remake of the Willeme-device. Inspired by Alex Galloway’s talk, and partly framed as a media archaeological project, it presents indeed a very inspiring way to address sculpture, parallel imaging and informational culture. Like so many media archaeological art works, it suggests how you can presence old media ideas – often not very mainstream – in current settings; like taking an alternative viewpoint not only to media art history, but also to current image cultures.
The photosculpture – which indeed as sculptural mediates the imaging into physical three dimensional objects and presents a sort of an archaeology of 3-D digital imaging/modelling – shifts our perceptual coordinates. It forces itself as a rather (in a good way) weird part of the cultures of digital imaging with its historically “out-dated” way of understanding media. That is the beauty of the device and the arrangement; it is a historical and media archaeological exercise in practice-led activity that investigates the conditions of visuality and perhaps even cybernetic culture, as Galloway claims.
“A sculptor and the sun will become collaborators working together to fashion in 48 hours busts or statues of a hitherto unknown fidelity of such great boldness in outline and admirable likeness.” Those were the words of the journalist Henri de Parviel, describing the original piece by Willeme. You can see how it describes the emerging business in quickly produced, sculpted visuality – a bust in “admirable likeness” in no time! The WSA project taps into the way in which visual technologies were starting to be mobilized into consumer products and services, but old media ideas can be cheap R&D too (to use the phrase by Garnet Hertz) for artistic ideas and reappropriations, and engage with the multiple medialities that our media technologies consist of: it’s not only about the photographic visuals, nor just sculpture, nor just a genealogy of the informatics, but a folding of various medialities. Even a single technological assemblage and practice can contain so much, as the project demonstrated. Media are never about single objects, devices or apparata – but a multiplicity of techniques and technologies assembled. Hence, a hands on assembling is itself a process of thinking through this multiplicity of media and arts apparata in order to get a sense of the delicate materialities and techniques which they enable, and how they are themselves enabled.
(For further reference, a film from 1939 from the Pathe archives, with Marcus Adams in his studio demonstrating the photosculpture)
The MediaSoup-talks continue with Trond Lundemo: next Wednesday the Stockholm based professor of Film is talking about Motion Pattern Recognition. All welcome!
The talk starts at 6:15 p.m. and is followed by a Q&A and discussion.
Moderated by Paul Feigelfeld and Jussi Parikka.
Medientheater. Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Sophienstraße 22A, 10178 Berlin
The (Un-)Attainable Gesture: Two Modes of Motion Pattern Recognition
The analysis of movement is the key agent in the development of cinema. The inscription of the gesture is a central concern for chronophotography (Marey, Charcot, Gilbreth), psychotechnics (Munsterberg) and in the new modes of perception sought by the various film movements of the 1920s (Vertov). Cinematic analysis gives access to the ‘optical unconscious’ (Benjamin, Epstein), through the means of the close-up, slow motion, repetion and frozen movement. How do these modes of inscription relate to the analysis of movement in the digital domain? In the biometrics of digital video surveillance, the analysis of the gesture remains a key problem for automated pattern recognition. Motion capture may prove to be a decisive breakthrough in this analysis, as it separates the motion pattern from the photographic representation. This presentation aims to explore some (bio-)political implications of these shifts in modes of inscribing and analysing the gesture.
Trond Lundemo, Associate Professor at the Department of Cinema Studies at Stockholm University. He has been a visiting Professor and visiting scholar at the Seijo University of Tokyo on a number of occasions. He is co-directing the Stockholm University Graduate School of Aesthetics and the co-editor of the book series “Film Theory in Media History” at Amsterdam University Press. He is also affiliated with the research project ”Time, Memory and Representation” at Södertörns University College, Sweden, and “The Archive in Motion” research project at Oslo University. His research and publications engage in questions of technology, aesthetics and intermediality as well as the theory of the archive.
I was lucky to visit Malmö (and the Medea Lab too) to talk about media archaeology just a couple of days ago and on the way back saw this attractive public art projection of remediative proportions. At the Malmö train station platform a projection that imitates the windows of a screen is a nod towards the train passenger’s view as cinematic glimpse into landscapes, people, things passing by, as well as a form of cinematic spectatorship where the projection wall could be seen as stabilized frames – a frozen film, or actually where the frames are frozen but the image magically carries on. As such, the train platform was a great location for this as a small but somehow silently beautiful nod to this historical conjunction between technologies of transport and technologies of vision. How we move (and are moved) is mediatic as well.
And thought just to mention that I am writing this post on the train.
Some recent books by friends:
Gombrowicz, Polish Modernism, and the Subversion of Form provides a new and comprehensive account of the writing and thought of the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. While Gombrowicz is probably the key Polish modernist writer, with a stature in his native Poland equivalent to that of Joyce or Beckett in the English language, he remains little known in English. As well as providing a commentary on his novels, plays, and short stories, this book sets Gombrowicz’s writing in the context of contemporary cultural theory. The author performs a detailed examination of Gombrowicz’s major literary and theatrical work, showing how his conception of form is highly resonant with contemporary, postmodern theories of identity. This book is the essential companion to one of Eastern Europe’s most important literary figures whose work, banned by the Nazis and suppressed by Poland’s Communist government, has only recently become well known in the West.
About the Author(s): Michael Goddard After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, Michael Goddard was employed as Visiting Professor of Cultural and Media Studies at the University of Lodz in Poland, and as Professor of Cultural Studies at Mikolai Kopernikus University, Torun. Since September 2007, he has been lecturer in media studies at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. He is an active member of the European Network for Film and Media Studies (NECS) and participates actively in a range of international conferences and other academic and cultural events.
In Mapping the Moving Image, Pasi Väliaho offers a compelling study of how the medium of film came to shape our experience and thinking of the world and ourselves. By locating the moving image in new ways of seeing and saying as manifest in the arts, science and philosophy at the turn of the twentieth century, the book redefines the cinema as one of the most important anthropological processes of modernity. Moving beyond the typical understanding of cinema based on optical and linguistic models, Mapping the Moving Image takes the notion of rhythm as its cue in conceptualizing the medium’s morphogenetic potentialities to generate affectivity, behaviour, and logics of sense. It provides a clear picture of how the forms of early film, while mobilizing bodily gestures and demanding intimate, affective engagement from the viewer, emerged in relation to bio-political investments in the body. The book also charts from a fresh perspective how the new gestural dynamics and visuality of the moving image fed into our thinking of time, memory and the unconscious.
Pasi Väliaho is lecturer in film and screen studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
A commanding and consummate study of art, philosophy, the human sciences, physics and biology in the matrix of cinema at the turn of the twentieth century. Blending contemporary theory with close readings of the foundational writings of modernity—Freud, Bergson, Nietzsche—Väliaho shows how the autonomy of the movie-machine shapes the ways we believe we think and live today. A broad and compassionate study, Mapping the Moving Image stands high and strong in an impressive body of scholarship on early cinema. It will be a point of reference for every student of cinema, consciousness and perception.
– Professor Tom Conley, Harvard University