Saturday, May 8, 2010

TRANSDUCERS: Collective Pedagogies and Spatial Politics in Action, Javier Rodrigo and Antonio Collados

One of the products of western modernity was the progressive ordering of knowledge in separate disciplines, which limited the sphere of action of the educational, the artistic and social movements to independent institutions such as, respectively, the school, the museum or neighbourhood associations, to mention only a few. The crisis of modernity therefore brought into question such institutions, as well as the paradigms on which they were established. The result was that at present we can find forms of cultural production interrelated with educational practices and social movements in long-term projects, corresponding to very specific local needs and setting in motion a broad diversity of work formats.

As a result of this multiple rupture, traditional institutions have expanded to make their spheres of action and practices more permeable. It is therefore very hard to envision the framework of an institution as an isolated space. We rather consider the potential of institutions as a set of relations and practices inserted into and capillarising various disciplines and knowledges, so that they break out of their traditional limits and even reinvent new institutional forms. The school becomes another public sphere and a social agent inside the context; the museum overcomes its limitations through cultural politics of proximity affecting its educational value; finally, social centres in many cases become converted into experimental cultural centres and spaces for production of public knowledge. The breaking and reformulation of these limits allows us to understand how the institutions inheriting our most immediate modernity are rethinking themselves as interconnected spaces in which to experiment new models of citizenship.

The most interesting practices of political action, educational intervention and cultural work occur at present in these areas of interdisciplinary crossroads, in fractures or intermediate zones between disciplines and institutions - spaces that experiment and give rise to alternative ways of building new spheres of action and of learning collaboratively between institutions, organisations, individuals and knowledges that are very different one from the other. It is precisely at these junctures where we locate the collective pedagogies and spatial politics chosen and studied in TRANSDUCERS.

TRANSDUCERS Collective Pedagogies and Spatial Politics is a cultural project aiming to research and activate initiatives in which artistic practices, political intervention and education are flexibly coordinated on the basis of actions by collectives and interdisciplinary groups. These experiences can be assimilated into the model of collective pedagogies, which approach specific social problems (such as, for example, health, recycling, treatment of residues, clean energy, the concept of citizenship or urban regeneration, among others) through sustainable development, citizens’ participation and visual culture. This is achieved through the activities of interdisciplinary work groups, including both educators and students, as well as artists, architects, landscape artists, residents and town planners, thus giving rise to discourses through which a dialogic and collaborative learning process is established.

This approach through pedagogy also considers the work of politics operating on space and the various organisational models of actions in the chosen initiatives. This aspect implies the constant configuration of specific spatial politics, which involve the development of alternative practices that propose a more integrated, participative and interdisciplinary use of spaces through the collaboration of town-planning and architecture with other fields of knowledge, such as, for example, art, pedagogy, sociology, ethnography, ecology or community work. Such collaboration is only feasible in frameworks favouring the exchange of skills and knowledges. Such exchanges facilitate the meeting of various professional people with local experts and other groups involved to set up learning communities in which each contributes their particular knowledge and attitudes. At the same time, they interconnect very different disciplines, institutions and organisational habits, opening up a broad spectrum of collaborations with NGOs, schools, kindergartens, local communities, universities, youth and community centres, trade unions, etc. New forms of praxis thus emerge and, consequently, new politics, at the same time as intervention occurs in the collaborating institutions and their organisational models. Among these experimental practices we can find the creation and management of participative urban gardens, the emergence of self-built spaces for learning among university students, research and participative diagnoses with local communities, or the development by artistic cooperatives of communication campaigns for trade unions and pressure groups.

Finally, in order to understand the coordination of collective pedagogies and spatial politics, we have proposed the conceptual framework of the transducer. A transducer is a device able to transform or convert a certain type of input energy into a different type of output energy, causing complex growth. Transducers are ecological in character, as they are directly involved in the context they change. In this sense, they are devices that translate, mediate and produce new energies, but without marking out their orientation or their value, but waiting for the body affected by the transformation process to adapt and reinvest its capacities and interests in multiplying that energy. Piano keys are transducers inasmuch as they translate physical energy into sound impulses, but it is the piano and the mediation of the musician in a particular context that direct or redirect their sense. Human enzymes produce transducing effects, as do the hormones of the endocrinal glands, because by being ecologically inserted and produced by our system, they produce and mediate in our changes and thus in our reorganisation as an organic system. In nature there are always energy peaks caused by transducers that facilitate the progress of life and its continual adaptation.

This term is also used in the theory of social networks (Villasante, 2006). In this context, transducers act as triggers or catalyzers of social change, opening up new, more integral and sustainable possibilities of transformation that are inserted into the social fabric. They are at the same time multipliers generating exchange of knowledge and new forms of working among the social networks involved. From the viewpoint of social movements, transducer styles mediate and negotiate the political goals of a movement, facilitating the emergence of different energies according to the different aims and modes of action, so that new overspills and unexpected evolutions occur. Transducers work with the synergies of each given social movement and situation, opening up new, more complex and global possibilities for change, creating particular situations or operating as triggers, as well as generating exchange of knowledge and lifestyles among the agents involved. To use the words of Villasante, transducers therefore “want to be subjects that translate and also dynamise, that are involved in reversions, not seeking to close off any particular systematisation, but to open up new, more complex paths” (2006: 42).

The series of practices making up this project act as transducers through their capacity to free energy, to produce jumps between disciplines and institutions that are normally distant from each other. These are practices and experiences that share the capacity to restructure the set of factors acting in each situation, in order to cause alternative situations of public participation, as well as to learn and exchange knowledges with various groups, institutions and disciplines, overflowing the boundaries and conventions set for educational and cultural work and for social action. They also act as transducers through their creative styles, integrating, mediating and translating the social energies of each context, inserting themselves ecologically into them, and causing new, unexpected evolutions.

As coordinators of TRANSDUCERS, we have conceived the project itself, moreover, as an operative device driving a transducer style, i.e., we have attempted to develop a project that could provoke long-term changes and exchanges between the various people and institutions involved – the José Guerrero Art centre, its staff, Aulabierta, ourselves, the university, the students, educational centres and teachers. All of this to be carried out by means of seminars, archives, devices, and programmes. In this fashion we hope that this project will not merely speak of TRANSDUCERS, but will also be able to activate transducer styles.

1. Introduction to the project

Throughout this text we wish to display and share the various elements we have used as coordinators of TRANSDUCERS: collective pedagogies and spatial politics during the stages of planning and development of the project1. Taking this description of concept and process, we can locate the complexities the proposal attempts to articulate.

TRANSDUCERS brings three strands into relation:

1. A pedagogical project based on formative seminars and workshops aimed at different audiences and carried out between March 2009 and February 2010.

2. The construction and exhibition of a correlated archive of international and national experiences with collective pedagogy and spatial politics and the display of this archive at the José Guerrero Centre from December 2009 to February 2010.

3. The multiplication or continuity of the project by means of a web page with information and follow-up; the construction of a mobile archive (a sort of portable library and mediathèque) to collect the material included in the exhibition; the publication the reader now holds; and finally the development of a number of collective pedagogy projects in collaboration with local agents and other work spaces in the province of Granada. This task of multiplication was already begun in the early stages of the project and is intended to continue after the exhibition’s closure.

In order to “cross” the complex structure of TRANSDUCERS, we must consider for a moment the five fields put into play in the project from the viewpoint of transducer styles. We hope that in this manner the diagram below will serve as both an introduction to the project and a defence of the type of politics and pedagogies we have been building up in collaboration with all the institutions, networks and individuals involved.

2. Transductions: collaborative politics between institutions

TRANSDUCERS arose out of the José Guerrero Centre’s invitation to Aulabierta [2] to collaborate on a pedagogical and relational project that took collective pedagogies, spatial politics and local networks as components with which to create a case archive and a programme to help expand the museum’s actions throughout the province of Granada. As coordinators of the project, our challenge was how learn and activate critacally a well-known model of relational and archive curatorship, that we were familiar with through exhibitions such as Democracy by Group Material, Collective Creativity by What, How & For Who (WHW) or Desacuerdos, coproduced by MACBA, Arteleku, UNIA and the José Guerrero Centre, with all the range of actions and social networks involved. With this idea we conceived the archive as an organic, pedagogical element; a living thing that would take root in local affairs and relate with other groups and situations. This challenge meant our moving away from a more formal model of cultural management, or at least one only focussed on compilation of material for projects located within the conceptual framework outlined by the José Guerrero Centre, to advance towards the collective construction and management of that very thing were studying and collecting in the project.

For its part, Aulabierta had already collaborated with the José Guerrero Centre on the MicroTV_ZonaChana Laboratory – a microtelevision experiment carried out in the part of Granada known as La Chana as part of the exhibition by Antoni Muntadas The construction of fear and the loss of the public (2008). In addition, it had made an archive of images of the city of Granada ( in order to build up locally the concepts of public space, imagery, city and memory, all related to the exhibition Martha Rosler. The House, the Street, the Kitchen (2009). On the basis of themes of contemporary cultural production, the aim of these projects was to extend and make contemporary the themes on exhibition in the museum in diverse contexts of the city, accompanied by collaborative and innovatory educational actions using Aulabierta as a multiplier. The role of multiplication in Aulabierta lead to catalyzing the work of the art centre throughout the various collaborating networks that both the José Guerrero Centre and Aulabierta had already brought together in the city of Granada. The education activated did not attempt to justify the work of artists or their exhibitions, but to pedagogically and experimentally experiment with its contents in other contexts and active networks and, from there, to produce new mediations and cultural productions that are contextual, similar, parallel and differential to the cultural knowledge of exhibitions. This pedagogical framework was of great assistance to us in reconsidering the project in its institutional dimension.

In the light of these experiences, one of the first goals we set ourselves with TRANSDUCERS was to understand the project as an experience located inside a collective learning space, connected to the “tool box” that Aulabierta represented. We therefore used various participative methodologies of contextual work that Aulabierta had already put into practice (university extramural studies, professional encounters, participative seminars and workshops, etc.), which were revised for the purposes of the project. It was necessary not only to archive, but also to dynamize, creating networks and experimenting pedagogically the very thing we were going to exhibit – the national and international practices and projects which, turned into case studies, were to form part of the archive and the project’s exhibition. This aspect involved not only representing transductive and pedagogical practices in an exhibition context, but also activating and discussing them as events, actions, and programmes. This was a work model that many of the groups included in the archive, indeed, displayed in their projects. This step implied an open line of local production that would strengthen the educational facet of the José Guerrero Centre and its management mechanisms as an interface or pedagogical device within network activity, not merely to legitimize or reinforce the contents exhibited, but to problematize them and experiment with them pedagogically. This lead us to place the pedagogical work as a structural, articulating element of the entire project and not only as a complementary, or secondary part, so that the project was organised and articulated according to its capacities to build up networks, collective knowledge and means of distribution for that knowledge.

3. The projects: pedagogical routes

Working with projects developed inside the framework of collective pedagogies and spatial politics was a response to the need to understand a number of practices that we recognised in a certain way as influences references for Aulabierta. It was clear to us that the project we would include in the TRANSDUCERS archive would be understood as case studies, rather than as paradigms of good practice. It was also clear that this was to be an open archive, not restricted to the practices now exhibited, but that should grow and incorporate new case studies and even produce them. This attitude allows us to open up a learning process about the pedagogies and politics brought into play in each case.

Regarding the pedagogical elements that helped us to carry out an initial selection of endeavours, we would first of all highlight the polyvalence and complexity of the collectives, groups and projects represented. All of them consist of well established spaces and organizational structures, that also have very diverse territories of action (Paris, Chicago, London, Istambul, Dublin, Granada, New York, Vienna, Singapore and La Plata). In many cases the practices are established as long-term projects lasting ten years of more and in continual regeneration and reinvention. All these projects combine several dimensions of public intervention, which involves collaboration with a broad range of agents and institutions (designers, neighbourhoods associations, trade unions, ecologist or activist groups, engineers, technicians, artisans, artists, educators, computer technicians, crèches, educational centres, universities, agricultural cooperatives, art centres, museums, etc.). This multitude of dimensions is also present in the fact that many groups adopt different, formal and informal organizational structures: NGOs, associations, cooperatives, independent experimental centres, research or teaching innovation groups, etc. As a result of this multiplicity of action and intervention formats, as well as the diversity of agents involved, these collectives blur the traditional forms of art in cultural production by incorporating more flexible, mixed, polyfunctional profiles into their work teams. Therefore, rather than groups of artists, we are talking about collective or groups of cultural workers that collaborate with other networks or institutions, in this sense acting as transducers in certain social situations.

4. The pedagogical project: a network multiplication of knowledge

Another of the approaches opened up by TRANSDUCERS is the pedagogical project we have been developing on the basis of a number of seminars and formative actions.

Through these actions we intended to construct collaborative learning spaces with a number of local and international groups or professionals. The idea was not to establish a hierarchical order, but to allow spaces of collective knowledge through a structure responding more to an effect of production in series than to a progressive model of knowledge or skills acquisition. This array of formative projects was carried out according to the following time sequence.

1. The university seminar “Cultural Pedagogies. Collaborative practices and network learning” aimed at multidisciplinary groups of university students, where collaboration projects and cultural pedagogies were presented, debated and designed, representing the project’s first contact with other collectives. This seminar resulted in the structuring of 4 possible work projects to be carried out in the province of Granada and which may be implemented in the year 2010, acting as nodes for the continuation of the work of TRANSDUCERS.

2. The formative seminar for teachers and professionals in the field of education, entitled “Work Projects on Visual Culture and Cultural Pedagogy” whose aim was to introduce teachers in primary and secondary education to the teaching methodology of work projects in educational centres. This seminar also involved the development of educational actions and work projects in the participating classrooms and educational centres for them to grow and continue the projects designed in the university seminar when adapted to their own frameworks of activity.

3. The International dialogic seminar “Cultural Negotiations. Articulations of Collective Pedagogies and Spatial Politics,” organised by UNIAarteypensamiento which, through lectures and debates, brought together part of the international practices invited to the archive. The seminar also included a workshop of collective pedagogies in which over twenty Spanish collectives took part and with which there was discussion of experiences, challenges and opportunities for this type of practice in the Spanish context.

In all these actions, the participants were able to follow the various formative models that took place, and to progressively take part in all the events organized. This involvement occurred as a sort of domino effect, with the idea of extending the work into a second phase of the project planned for 2010. In this sense, we wanted to offer a formative itinerary understanding the project as a continuous pedagogical whole, which on the one hand used material and work from the case studies, and on the other invited dialogue with teachers and professionals close to the networks of Aulabierta. The result has a very clear educational policy in collaborative modes of learning, with flexible, participative designs that shun the master-class format. We thus attempt to provide an opportunity to structure lines of in-house training in the project to achieve progressive insertion and collaboration on various educational aspects (university learning, primary and secondary schools, but also national and international encounters among professionals), which implies the possibility of activating several very different participants, such as teachers, primary school teachers, educationalists, artists, students of Fine Art, Sociology, Social Education, Geography and History, etc.

Finally, the exhibition of the relational archive of practices also contains a space known as the “Pedagogical Laboratory” in one of the rooms of the José Guerrero Centre. This laboratory is seen as a place for exchange and dialogue with the participating groups where the results of the various formative actions carried out in the pedagogical project are exhibited. Also on show are the materials produced in the state workshop of collective pedagogies, part of the seminar “Cultural Negotiations. Articulations of Collective Pedagogies and Spatial Politics,” and the various exercises set in motion by the project both in primary and secondary schools and in the school children’s visits to the museum. The laboratory presents all this pedagogical work as exhibition material showing the collective knowledge activated by the various pedagogical devices the project has been producing in its local networks.

5. Multipliers: long-term network activity

Having explained the complexity of the pedagogical project, we shall now describe the continuity of TRANSDUCERS. When building up the relational archive, we took on the challenge of conceiving it as a living, dynamic organism that did not encapsulate the practices it included, but served to activate them and generate new practices in other contexts, especially in the province of Granada. Our interest lay in improving the distribution of the collective knowledge we were constructing and spreading it on other networks, i.e., other cultural and educational centres or work spaces.

The instruments we designed for this task are the web page, the mobile archive, the decentralised projects and the publication of the project. We explain each one of these below in relation to its function within the project.

The TRANSDUCERS web page ( was conceived as a useful instrument for presenting and communicating the project and, above all, to be able to record and monitor the various process set in motion. In this sense, we conceived the web space as a permanent tool with which to be able to present the practices and materials forming part of the international projects included in the TRANSDUCERS archive. With the help of the people involve in the different phases of the pedagogical project, this instrument has served to document and represent the practices carried out during the activities and actions and those that can occur in the future, i.e., as a documentary space in the pedagogical project.

The web page likewise represents a conceptual extension of the project, where a resource centre can be consulted with related materials and links, a news blog, essays on the project or its practices, as well as other texts or entries on the interests that have allowed us to build up and locate the diversity of networks and constellations occurring around TRANSDUCERS.

The mobile archive, for its part, is a portable device containing a multitude of materials from the set of practices documented in TRANSDUCERS, both from the projects on exhibition and from the results of the pedagogical project, as well as other complementary material from the collectives and networks involved. It goal is to move the presentation or use of the materials to different contexts, as well as being a pedagogical device for their display in order to generate new practices and mediate with interested local agents in activating the device. Our intention is for the archive to always be accompanied by actions and pedagogical activity, so that it operates as a transductive device in the networks or spaces where it is presented, which is why we define it as a relational archive. Moreover, this leads us to envision it as an archive in progress. Our vision is that of a living, open organism, into which other practices can enter as well as those now on show, thus feeding off the diverse contexts of action.

Finally, in the network of multipliers we present in this part of the text, emphasis should be given to the decentralised projects designed for 2010. These are a number of projects of collective pedagogy and spatial politics that multiply the work of TRANSDUCERS in educational and social centres in the province of Granada. These projects are based on the actions and projects structured throughout the pedagogical project with the aim of generating this type of practices at a local level. The projects are carried out by a collaborative design incorporating the proposals and designs of the first two seminars of the pedagogical project and reactivating them the following year.

6. The publication: notes on a pedagogical device

The last multiplier we shall describe is the publication. This book represents an open document or guide whose aim, in the first part, is to show the theoretical framework of the project’s work, while the second part contains in a summarised form the various projects compiled in the archive.

Regarding the first part of the book, we should first of all like to underline the interrelation of the theoretical texts offered here, due to the complexity of the projects and their multiple dimensions, so that several approaches are possible, whether from artistic and collaborative practice, from political practice or from pedagogy. Grant Kester gives us a general view of collaborative artistic practices, understood outside a mere contrast between reformists or radicals in their manners of political organisation. To this end, his text introduces the distinction between theological and dialogic action, demonstrating how the latter emerges and contributes to contextual collaborations promoting a participative agency. For her part, Aida Sánchez de Serdio presents us with the problematics of specific politics in collaboration projects, based on a redefinition of the political and institutional dimension of culture and art as a specific, complex mode of action, riddle with power relations and operating under several specific forms of organisation and political structures. Finally, Javier Rodrigo’s text attempts to pinpoint the elements making up a possible collective network pedagogy, providing keys and lines of work that can be located in several examples of the projects analysed, that may serve for reconsideration and learning from the practices and the politics of the projects in TRANSDUCERS.

The second part of this publication consists of a number of analytical summaries of the first projects contained in the TRANSDUCERS archive. These summaries were done using each group’s answers to commonly asked questions, to which we later gave structure, unifying the descriptors of each of the projects included. The summaries this show the elements making up the practices and most relevant aspects of the processes carried our (introduction to the group; origin and development of the project; relation with the context and collaborators; methodologies and results; links, networks and dissemination; references and learning; challenges and difficulties). Each summary is also illustrated with a number of photographs showing both the processes, and the contexts and results. At the beginning of each summary, we provide a sociogram, i.e., a map of the social agents brought into play. This diagram also shows the resulting products, the impacts and expansions in each context, attempting to reveal the structural complexity of each practice and, therefore, their collective pedagogies and spatial politics in action.

The series of descriptions of the summaries and diagrams allowed us to distance ourselves from narratives either heroic or too centred on an idea of positive progress of the practices, and to understand the complexities and work methods of the projects. Here we have tried to show the complexity of their institutional frames of action, the networks of collaboration and links they structure, as well as the processes and methodologies developed. We have also attempted to understand their networks of exchange and learning, as well as the viewpoints and difficulties groups discover when starting to work on this type of projects.

Furthermore, concerning the style of the text, we have tried to maintain an accessible descriptive level that did not restrict understanding of the work. In this sense, the challenge of drawing up the summaries for each group was double: first, because we have attempted to keep their singularity as a microuniverse, trying not to lose a degree of description and clarification of the practices that was familiar and easy to communicable. Second, because the summaries themselves are presented as routes or activities in context, never as recipes to be repeated or universal guides for collaborative work. We have rather preferred to emphasize how we can learn from them as a localised pedagogical resources. It was therefore important to locate them in each work context, understanding what might be transferable to others contexts and what we could learn from them. From this viewpoint, more than a textbook or curricular guide, our intention is for this publication to be a working instrument that maintains the complexities of each context and serves to outline possible routes for work inserted in a specific networks.

Finally, we would like to think that this book is a potential pedagogical device that has a significance inasmuch as it promotes a transductive style in its readers or users, proposing reflexions, changes of attitude, leaps from some practices to others, new networks, i.e., that it can be activated as a multiplier. Our aspiration is that other collective and individuals appropriate this book and use it to reflect on pedagogical and political work, as well as finding a common space of interest and practices in their diverse contexts of action. That is where we believe this publication can begin to produce this type of transduction.


Villasante, Tomás (2006): Desbordes creativos. Estilos y estrategias para la transformación social. Madrid: Los libros de la catarata.


1.The TRANSDUCERS project is coordinated by Javier Rodrigo and FAAQ. FAAQ is a workgroup from Aulabierta that undertakes projects and research in the field of cultural management and production. It is made up of José Daniel Campos, Antonio Collados, María García, Carlos Gor and Pablo Pérez.

2.AULABIERTA is a learning platform located in the University of Granada and managed by the students themselves. AULABIERTA does not consist of a specific collective of people, but of several coordinating groups and associated individuals (as is the case of FAAQ and Javier Rodrigo, the coordinators of TRANSDUCERS), who use the methodology and various instruments of the project to create activities and projects meant to expand their collective cultural knowledge. See the Aulabierta description included in this publication

above copied from:

Friday, May 7, 2010


Experimental poetry followed many directions in several countries in the twentieth century. Each new direction attempted to address the historical, cultural, and often political needs of its own time. Between 1978 and 1982 I worked with countless experimental poetic styles, trying to develop my own direction. I explored traditional versification, recitation, body-based performance, visual poetry, graffiti, collage, typography, color, object-poems, sound, and a number of other possibilities. As a result of this relentless experimentation, I felt on the one hand that the printed page imprisoned the word within its two-dimensional surface, thus creating specific limits to poetic expression. On the other hand, I realized that the construction of solid three-dimensional objects gave the word a permanence and a physical presence that contradicted the dynamics of language. I was looking for a poetic language that would be malleable, fluid, and elastic. It was clear that I had to work with a new medium, beyond the page and the object -- a new medium that would still allow for the private experience of reading a poem. My conclusion was that the solution might lie somewhere between the two-dimensional surface and the three-dimensional volume -- in thin air. I envisioned in my mind's eye a poetic form that would exist beyond the page without being embodied on tangible objects. A poetic form that would be flexible, buoyant, and oscillatory as the thought process itself, and that could give new communicative power to the word. As I projected with great enthusiasm in my mind's eye what such a poetry would be like, I also thought that this dream was unachievable since it founded the principles of this new syntax in new media that -- at least for me, at the moment -- did not exist yet. My goals seemed, at first, anything but within reach. Holography was on my mind. I had read about it, but could not quite visualize what a hologram was like -- until I saw one. The experience of seeing a hologram for the first time early in 1983 was intense. I immediately recognized in this new medium the immaterial and kinetic solution to the poetic problem I had developed. I spent the next couple of years making the first holopoems and developing the theory of holopoetry. This work resulted in the first international exhibition of holopoems, in 1985, at the Museum of Image and Sound, in São Paulo. From the start the breaking down of the immaterial space of holography, as well as the development of non-linear temporal systems, have been the basis of my holographic syntax. My objective has always been not to use holography for its obvious three-dimensional qualities. I asked myself: what would be the difference between a sculpture of letters and a hologram of this sculpture? The difference was not significant. I immediately realized that holography was much more complex than the touted "illusion of three-dimensional space." This new medium has an incredible power not only to create an immaterial visual poetic experience, but to manipulate temporal systems, and to store information in ways that can be carefully controlled to generate fascinating new perceptual experiences. That is what I was after, and that is what I have been exploring since then. I must make it clear that I do not consider holographic poems those holograms that record or reproduce verbal material already successfully realized in other form or media. It is important to explore the unique qualities of the holographic medium itself and to develop a truly genuine "holographic writing." In order to clarify some of the unique aspects of my holopoetry, and also to help delineate some of the new compositional elements I have developed since 1983, I will discuss in what follows some of the key concepts of holopoetry. This will also work as a glossary of sorts, which can be used as a reference in the reading of my other texts as well as in the discussion of the holopoems themselves.



Animation in holopoetry refers to the fact that the words employed in a piece are set in motion. This is usually produced on a computer and then transferred to the hologram, although purely holographic animations are also used occasionally. Computer animations are created specially for the syntax of the holopoem. This involves a complex pre-visualization experience. Computer animations that are created for video or film do not work well in a hologram. This is due to the differences between the monoscopic surface of screen-based animations and the stereoscopic space of the hologram. A holographic animation must be created taking into account the stereoscopic perception of the viewer.


In visual poems created for print, letters and words can be said to have a specific position on the page. These letters and words are arranged into a unified visual composition. In holopoetry, letters and words cannot be said to have a specific position or composition. Instead, they exhibit a particular kind of behavior. Something happens to letters and words as they are read by the viewer. Active behavior replaces static structure.

I call binocular reading the process according to which some holopoems present different letters and words to each eye simultaneously. This feature is unique to holopoetry, and transforms the reading process in an intense experience. Normally, when looking at objects around us, we perceive two different points of view of the very same object. Binocular reading takes place when we read one word or letter with the left eye and at the same time a completely different word or letter with the right eye. Many holopoems –– Amalgam, for example –– rely on this principle for their syntactic and semantic efficiency.


In holopoetry color is not fixed. It is relative. One viewer can see a letter in one color and immediately see it change into another. Two readers looking at the same word could see it in different colors simultaneously. While many holographers are disturbed by this uncontrollable behavior, I find it perfectly appropriate to stress the ungraspable nature of meaning. The oscillatory nature of color in my holopoems moves away from traditional symbolism and from the use of color as a structuring visual element. The chromatic system of each holopoem is created within certain parameters, which I specify. The creation of viewing zones and the behavior of color in a holopoem are intrinsically related, since form and relative position of viewing zones affect the diffraction of light.


Computer holopoems, or digital holopoems, are holopoems created from digital data, instead of physical letters made of metal, wood, and other materials. My first digital holopoem (Quando?, When?) was created between 1987 and 1988. Since 1989, all of my holopoems have been created with computers. If a holopoem is not made with the aid of a computer, I call it 'optical holopoem.'


Discontinuous space is created in a holopoem when the homogeneity of the three-dimensional volumetric space of the hologram is broken down into discrete spaces that may or may not overlap in space, or time.


The holopoem organized in a discontinuous space takes advantage of the logic and topology of this new poetic space. It presents the verbal material with a syntax of actual, perceptually real leaps and oscillations.


Quite literally, in holopoetry 'empty space' refers to the fact that the poem is read in an immaterial and empty space, visually located between the recording medium (holographic film) and the viewer –– and not on the surface of the page. This implies that holopoetry does not operate within the logic of traditional visual poetry inherited from Mallarmé, according to which the white on the page represents silence and the black type represents sound. Holopoetry undermines the subjugation of written language to phonetic systems and affirms the verbal experience based on the possible appearance or disappearance of graphemes within empty spaces. The white on the page which represented silence is removed and what remains is empty space, an absence of (printing) support which has no primary symbolic value. The vacuous gaps between words and letters do not represent positively absence of sound, because the photonic inscriptions don't stand essentially for its presence. We are in the domain of spatiotemporal writing, four-dimensional writing, if we wish, where spatial gaps don't point to anything except for the potential presence of graphemes. The voids are not to be "seen", unlike the white on the page. They are a quite literal interplay of absence and presence.


A fluid sign is essentially a verbal sign that changes its overall visual configuration in time, therefore escaping the constancy of meaning a printed sign would have. Fluid signs are time-reversible, which means that the transformations can flow from pole to pole as the beholder wishes, and they can also become smaller compositional units in much larger texts, where each fluid sign will be connected to other fluid signs through discontinuous syntaxes. Fluid signs can also operate metamorphoses between a word and an abstract shape, or between a word and a scene or object. When this happens, both poles reciprocally alter each others' meanings. A transfiguration takes place and it produces in-between meanings that are dynamic and as important in holopoetry as the meanings produced momentarily at the poles. Fluid signs create a new kind of verbal unit, in which a sign is not either one thing or another thing. A fluid sign is perceptually relative. For two or more viewers reading together from distinct perspectives it can be different things at one time; for a non-stationary reader it can reverse itself and change uninterruptedly between as many poles as featured in the text. The holopoem Souvenir D'Andromeda is an example of this.


A holographic poem, or holopoem, is a poem conceived, made and displayed holographically. This means, first of all, that such a poem is organized in an immaterial three-dimensional space, with complex non-linear temporal characteristics, and that even as the reader or viewer observes it, it changes and gives rise to new meanings. Thus as the viewer reads the poem he or she constantly modifies the text. As distinguished from traditional visual poetry, it seeks to express dynamically the discontinuity of thought; in other words, the perception of a holopoem takes place neither linearly nor simultaneously but rather through fragments seen at random by the observer, depending on the observer's position relative to the poem. Perception in space of colors, volumes, degrees of transparency, changes in form, relative positions of letters and words, animation, and the appearance and disappearance of forms is inseparable from the syntactic and semantic perception of the text.


Holopoetry is the word I coined in 1983 to name the new poetics I then introduced. By virtue of necessity, holopoetry can only be fully experienced via the creation of experimental works with the medium of holography. Today holopoems are stored on film. In the future, however, digital holopoems will be stored optically on discs. The exact storage media will change. That is not what defines a holopoem. Holopoetry is defined by unstable spaces, immateriality, four-dimensionality, interactivity, movement, relative perception, and related concepts.


A hyperpoem is a digital interactive poem based on a system (hypertext) that branches out as the reader makes choices along the way. Hyperpoems promote a disengagement of the textual distribution characteristic of print. The node – and not the syllable – from which links irradiate is the new unit of measurement. The writer now defines the work as crisscrossing axes of combination. The reader has to make selections in a way that is similar, albeit not identical, to the way the writer has. The reader is now presented not with one narrowed-down selection of words in strings or in graphic layouts, but with an electronic field that is a complex network with no final form. In each node the poet will deploy text or add sound and moving images to it. In the future, when holography becomes digital, holographic hyperpoems will become possible.


In holopoetry, immateriality refers to the fact that the verbal material is organized in a space made of diffracted light, and not on any tangible or concrete form, such as the printed page. This new space, defined by photons, has no mass or tangible expression.


A holopoem is interactive in the sense that the natural movement of the viewer in front of the holopoem is enough to change what he or she reads. Every new movement reveals new reading possibilities, including the appearance or disappearance of verbal forms. In the future, when digital holograms become scriptable, it will even be possible to modify or add to the elements in the holographic text.


Holopoems are not organized with a beginning, middle, and end, as a poem in verse commonly is. Neither are holopoems printed on a page, with its suggested reading from left to right and top to bottom, or its opposite, the simultaneous ideogram. Discontinuous holopoems are read in leaps. Sequential holopoems are based on the principle of temporal reversal.


An apparent change in the direction of an object, caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. Many holopoems explore parallax semantically. For example: in Omen, the word eyes spins inside a cloud of smoke. As the viewer moves from left to right and vice versa, the word appears and disappear, suggesting multiple readings.


If visual poetry developed a visual syntax –– based on the rejection of traditional syntax and on the elaborate visual treatment of the words on the page, holopoetry develops a perceptual syntax –– based on the rejection of the static syntax of print and on the development of complex and dynamic spaciotemporal verbal systems. A holopoem calls for non-linear perceptual responses to the words, which are experienced in time –– and not for the simultaneity of gestalts.


The opposite of 'orthoscopy', or the correct optical representation of a holographic image. Under certain conditions, a hologram can be made to reverse its image in space and time. A concave object is perceived as a convex pseudoscopic image. An object that rotates to the right is seen rotating to the left. Objects that appear in front of other objects are seen behind these objects in the pseudoscopic image. Objects that are seen behind the holographic plate float freely in pseudoscopic space in front of the plate. This feature is unique to holography and has been explored in holopoetry since the beginning. The first holopoem, Holo/Olho, from 1983, is based on this principle, and so is Chaos, and Wordsl 2.


In certain works, as the viewer moves relative to the holopoem, he or she perceives that each graphic line that renders the visual configuration of each letter starts to actually move in three-dimensional space. The viewer then perceives that as the lines and points go under an actual topological transformation, they slowly start to reconfigure a different letter. In Astray in Deimos, what was read as an adjective is becoming a noun, for example. I call this semantic interpolation. If the viewer happens to move in the opposite direction, the noun is transformed into the adjective. The shifting of grammatical forms occurs not through syntactical dislocations in a stanza, but through a typographic metamorphosis that takes place outside syntax. The meanings of in-between configurations can not be substituted by a verbal description, or by a synonym. Neither can it be replaced by a specific word, as gray suggests a specific intermediary position or a meaning between black and white. In holopoetry transient clusters of letters or ephemeral shapes that lay between a word and an image aim to dynamically stretch the poetic imagination and suggest meanings, ideas and feelings that are not possible to convey by traditional means.


By textual instability I mean precisely that condition according to which a holographic text does not preserve a single visual structure in time as it is read by the viewer, producing different and transitory verbal configurations in response to the beholder's perceptual exploration.


Time-reversibility takes place in holopoems, such as Zephyr, which are made so as to be read from any temporal pole with equal semantic efficiency. This means, for example, that if one starts reading an animated holopoem from right to left (or top to bottom, or back to front), this holopoem can also be read from left to right (or bottom to top, or front to back). The time vector of the piece is reversible.


In most holopoems, discontinuity is explored via leaps and gaps between the verbal material. In some cases, as in "Shema" (1989), letters are embedded in color fields that operate verbal discontinuity via visual transitions of colors. I call this 'transitional discontinuity.'


A viewing zone is a non-physical zone, located in front of the hologram, through which the reader can actually see the words in the poem. When I create a holopoem, it is part of my writing process to decide how wide, tall and deep the viewing zones will be. I also decide the shape and relative position of these viewing zones. I can decide how many will there be and what gaps might there be between them. I can combine multiple viewing zones and edit them in many ways. I can decide on a number of viewing-zone parameters, which I use to create the unique quality of each work. The reader never sees a visual representation of these viewing zones. They are invisible. Viewing zones can be rendered sequentially and discontinuously, which helps create the space and the syntax of each holopoem.

Suggested Further Reading: Kac, Eduardo. Holopoetry: Essays, Manifestoes, Critical and Theoretical Writings; 1983-1995 (New Media Editions: Lexington, 1995).

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Thursday, May 6, 2010


Eng: Monica Fontana

“Swarming city, city full of dreams! Even in broad day the spectre accosts passers-by. Everywhere mysteries flow like saps through the narrow canals of the mighty giant” - C. Baudelaire (Paris, 9 Aril 1821 – Paris, 31 August 1867)


The scenario described by a timless flaneur as Baudelaire has been significantly modified during the last one hundred and fifty years, but the image of those "mysteries that flow like saps in the mighty giant" belongs to us. An information layer in multiple levels and distributed over the space, as well as objects, people and architecture, determines the possibility to change the world into a hybrid reality generated by a great variety of viewpoints, voices, shapes, gestures and sounds.

SPIMEs (1), location based media, augmented realities, a distributed interaction, sensors that capture changes and distribute them, emotional and experiencing design: these are the main tools that enable the transition and help the transformation process.

Enormous implications, anthropological, philosophical, political, economic and relational: reconsidering the way we communicate, exchange, share, distribute and disseminate knowledge within and through Infoscape(2), where to interact with the inhabitants/elements (both physical and immaterial) of the new landscape, a desire/need is evident and it deeply affects the collective mind

A new idea of publishing house

How does the role of the publisher change in this context? And how do literature, essays and the reading experience change? Which and are the media involved and how do they get involved? And finally, what are the faces and voices of these stories? How are they told, and where?

According to Salvatore Iaconesi (3) and Luca Simeone (4), as well as for Federico Ruberti who soon joins the conversation with great enthusiasm about the project, the answer is FakePress (5). A new model of publishing house, based on the creation of open narrative, cross-media, multi-artist, able to use location based technology, augmented reality, SPIME and natural gestural interfaces to build layers interpreting reality through non-deterministic and intrinsically pluralistic network issuing processes.

The publishing house does not lose its basic requirements - select, package, distribute information. But it expands. Interstices, distributed displays and projections become a stage to represent the information, the spime stories and the sentient cities(6): everyware. the book shape is disappearing, and it has been disjointed and rejointed through media tracks made by a variety of subjects: wide-tagging, geo-localised contents free to download, open-ended stories.

In short: ubiquitous publishing and storytelling distribution. A process where design, learning methodologies, education and narrative forms cross together and easily tend to adopt strategies p2p, by changing theorists, specialists and "staff" in new types of authors/publishers/communicators.

How it works

A FakePress publication is made according to precise methodologies. The topic - that was the result of a selection through projects, authors, social networks and territories - is described trough many media that can express a geographic and time distribution of the contents, possibilities and forms of interaction, the creation of social relationships, the interaction of bodies, emotions, ideas and knowledge, according to the case. This step is performed through the contribution of some groups

According to this description, the contents are joined together using a series of existing platforms (and made from some mashup works) or specially prepared. In the case of the first publications, for instance, three communicative channels have been created: one in relation to the web, one to the territorial consultation and the last to the paper format consultation. These are able to interact with other modes.

“The contents - as Salvatore Iaconesi explains - have been joined thanks to a modified version of the Wordpress platform to create a fluid process in which a group of publishers/authhors could prepare the contents for all the channels. On the one side the elements of the publications are arranged in a visual way through georeferenced coordinates given by GPS, Google Maps and Google Earth functions. On the other side the same contents are organized to be accessible both from the web and on mobile devices ( iPhone, Android and Symbian platforms with adequate number of technical requirements, by now), covering the territory. And on paper format, for books that through a crystalised form of hypertext allows to serf on places, times and points of view”.

In short: a web application; a mobile platform to view the publication in the form of location-based contents and of an expanded reality; a paper publication in the form of a hybrid (half touristic guide and half a crystalised hypertext) produced in self-publishing and printed on demand, and wordly distributed online. The three levels are not competing but correspond to different needs and use different objects/products, while other publications have other channels of communication, and there will be different forms of interaction and different technological devices.

Then, reading becomes a complex activity, which consists of reading the classics, or looking at geographical and architectural locations - where you can experience contents through the places in which they were conceived and see the reason of their existence – or as well, it can be the ability to make continuous changes of perspective between authors, topics, times and spaces.

To get a better idea of the browsing experience, of visualisation and of the type of platforms used, we can finally surf the website of NeoRealismoVituale-Nervi (7), an ongoing publication by FakePress, but perfectly serves its purpose .

On going project

The newborn FakePress has already had its official baptism in Rome at the Frontiers Interaction V (8), an environment that deeply belongs to it and which has shown interest to blend its stimuli

Ubiquitous Anthropology is instead a project in which it will get involved in the future. Anthropological research by Massimo Canevacci on the Bororo, population of Mato Grosso that the professor has been studying for about 20 years, turns into a cross media publishing and location based web application where access is a prerequisite for the creation of a "tourist guide "ethnographic evolved and a new way of conceiving the academic publications /research.

We'll talk about Ubiquitous Antropology in another article.And we leave with a clarification: apart from its name, FakePress is a real publishing house open to work with artists, researchers, institutions, and entrepreneurs interested in experiiencing the same viewpoint and the same themes that inspired its creation.

1. Dumbing Down Smart Objects di Bruce Sterling ("Wired" ottobre 2004):

2. O datascape: paesaggio di dati/informazioni.




6. v. SENSEable City lab :



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Wednesday, May 5, 2010



In developing a nature-specific dialogue that is interactive, rooted in actual experience in a given place and time, with nature the essential material and ingredient of the process, artists are ultimately developing a new language of expression. The emphasis is holistic, bio-regional and mutualist. Above all, it displays a respect for our integral connectedness to the environment. The earth is a living breathing organism whose elements - climate, geography, geology, other life forms - are an inviolable part of the human creative process. The inflexible stereotypes of art history, outmoded notions of avant-gardism and modernist aesthetics in general are the legacy of an era where progress was defined in purely economic terms. The land is no longer just a subject we represent through art. An essential freedom comes from identifying with the life process itself as art. It is one chance we have to ensure a viable art of the future. The imperial stereotypes of an art based in formal language, the segregation of humanity from nature, the platitudes that accompany the art object and nature subject have now passed into the catacombs of our museums and art galleries. Let us leave that labyrinth behind and celebrate nature whose presence is very much there, very much here. Essential for our psychological and physical sustenance, nature is here in your garden, there in your forest, can be found in a city park. A resurgence of ritual and respect for the cyclical process of life, an earth sensitive vision reaffirms nature is the art of which we are a part. The challenge is to break out of the limited conception that humanity is the centre of earth-based activity, to broaden our perspective, realize that other species, organisms, animals and plants are equally earth sensitive, the biogenitors of ecological diversity. They may even perceive the earth and us in ways we could never conceive.

From a native point of view, landscape cannot be characterized as either wilderness (i.e. a place in which human activity is not naturally present) or a scene (i.,e. a representation of a site) or a framed subject that embodies an idea of nature. The line between human culture and the culture of nature are indivisible. The M�tabetchouane Centre for History and Archaeology on the south shore of Lac St.-Jean in northern Quebec, with its replica of a Hudson's Bay trading post, is a place where on July 16th, 1647, the Jesuit founder Jean Dequen, a native of Amiens in France, arrived by boat from Tadoussac. Mike MacDonald, a self taught artist of mixed descent (Micmac, Beothuk, Irish, Portuguese, Scottish) whose nature works explore ways of healing cultural and biospecific differences, found a variety of introduced and indigenous species of plants growing in the surrounds of this historic site, a traditional native meeting place for centuries in pre-contact times. During the summer of 1996, he gathered and transplanted species of Native medicinal plants that included sweetgrass, northern sage, native onions, Iroquois ceremonial tobacco, Virginia tobacco, evening primrose, milkweed, Joe-Pyeweed, and Dyers camomile. These indigenous plants with medicinal properties were planted directly around the museum's walls to create a butterfly garden. Naturally growing varieties of viperine, wood strawberry, and hawthorn trees introduced by European settlers centuries ago, plants that have outlasted the early settlement buildings and continued to flourish in the wild were likewise "discovered" by MacDonald whose role was more that of an ethnobotanist than artist. Rock assemblages shaped to form footprints (an allusion to Jean Dequen's original "discovery" of this site in 1647) placed in the garden enabled visitors to move through the site without damaging the plants.

MacDonald's thesis that most plants that attract butterflies have medicinal, healing properties has resulted in subsequent reconfigurations of the butterfly garden that are a source of inspiration and healing, and painlessly beautiful. MacDonald's latest butterfly garden installed amid the ruins of Our Lady of the Prairie Church at the St. Norbert Arts Centre this summer, brought living colour to this site of a former Trappist Monastery, south of Winnipeg, in Manitoba. This heart-shaped garden was replanted with blue and white flowers, the colours used in the Catholic Marian Garden tradition. The place became a work of contemplation and healing, where past Judeo-Christian traditions brought over from the Old world were brought into perspective by a native intervention. An empty plinth overlooking the garden marks the spot where a statue once stood. The 10th in a cycle of 12 related works Patria (Homeland) by the world renowned environmental writer, educator and composer R. Murray Shafer will be performed there. The cycle relates the journey of two principal characters through the labyrinth of different cultures and social situations.

Located on the Pacific Flyway and the Fraser River Basin, the City of Vancouver has a particular environmental legacy and opportunity. To raise consciousness of songbird populations in city and country, and provide positive enhancement programs for songbird habitats in urban centres, artists Beth Carruthers and Nelson Gray, conceived of Vancouver's SongBird project after hearing the clear song of a robin rising above the background cacophony of industrial noise. Biologists, landscape architects, musicians, artists, planners, sustainability consultants and community groups assisted with the project, as did the Douglas College Institute of Urban Ecology and the Roundhouse Community Centre. Environmental concerns were expressed by specialists and city dwellers in the Living City Forum (1998 & 1999), and nature walks encouraged an awareness of urban bird habitats. FLAP (the Fatal Light Awareness Program) likewise made citizens aware of how millions of birds are killed annually in North America by collisions with office and home buildings that are unnecessarily lit up at night.

A broader than usual spectrum of the public has thus become involved in re-imagining the Georgia Basin's place in the world environmental spectrum and Vancouver has become a "songbird friendly" model for other North American cities. The core annual event of the SongBird project is the Spring Dawn Chorus Festival held in May. Begun in England 13 years ago these gatherings of people who await the songbird's dawn chorus are now celebrated around the world. The Babylon Gardens Initiative presented at the Roundhouse Community Centre, aimed at introducing to the public ways of encouraging bird populations in the city. Citizens were taught how to build feeders, nesting boxes, introduce ivy, trellises and bird baths into their home environments thus providing temporary food, habitat and water supplies for birds on balconies, rooftops, in window boxes and gardens. The Gardens of Babylon Balcony Challenge has now run for 3 years and winners are recognized for their positive bird friendly environmental interventions. The Nest, a structure woven out of willows and dried grasses by French artist and landscape architecture student Claire Bedat with assistance from public volunteers was installed outside the Roundhouse Community Centre in the fall of 1998 to celebrate humanity's connection to home, community and songbirds. As Claire Bedat says: "The making was in its essence a very intuitive rendering, as dedicated as a bird, I used each part of my body to shape and build the Nest. A nest is supposedly round, round like life, round like the body of a bird. Unconsciously I was participating in the making of a shelter, a refuge, the house of my body (...) Growth is often assimilated to change, I changed during the making of this project and feel emotionally empowered and bounded to a greater cause: preserving biodiversity on Earth."

Alan Sonfist, a pioneer of eco-sensitive projects in the 1960s and 1970s, for which his Time Landscape (1965) in Soho New York is perhaps the best known. For this project Sonfist introduced pre-contact plants, trees and vegetation to a site in New York. As Sonfist states: "One would observe, within each of the environmental sculptures, the struggle of life and death, as well as the human interaction in a historical forest. That's what the 19th century concepts were about. That is really what I am involved in, and what my thought process is trying to create. The natural cycles as opposed to doing an ecological model from a scientific point of view, or using pure history."

In the Mojave Desert at the main park in La Quinta, California, Sonfist completed a seven mile nature trail (1998) in a region of California otherwise encumbered by the introduction of non-native, northern species of trees and plants that consume unnecessary amounts of water. California bio-history is like bio-history anywhere, involves a layering of living species in the cyclical theatre of nature in time. ghost flower, bee balm, blazing star, desert star, cream cup, woolly daisy, Indian paintbrush, yellow cup, desert sienna, Devil's claw. The flux and flow of elements causes nature to reinvent itself in a myriad of ways. Sonfist's project involves reassessing each fragment of time, realize this nature layering takes place in a continuum, not one fixed moment. The locals who live near the site, seemed to favour non-natural nordic landscapes with maple trees, and grass lawns. Foreign plant and tree species are planted, landscaped into our cities and suburbs because they bring an "exotic flavour" to a place. How different is this from changing the channel on your TV in an endless search for "novelty"? Artificial environments, in this case in a desert region, require heavy watering, and are a desperate attempt to reduce biocultural diversity. Since the local indigenous plant species have been introduced to the region, the initially negative response, has been replaced by an enthusiasm about how beautiful and diverse the spectrum of flower arrangements Sonfist has brought to the place actually are. Sonfist's nature trail has become a visual laboratory of environmental understanding. The work has stimulated thought and controversy as well as providing a cathartic living environment for the people who live there. Plans are on for sculptors to introduce artworks along the trail at a later date.

For the Coast Salish Squamish nation on the West Coast of British Columbia whose numbers dwindled from 60,000 to a low of 150 after intitial contact with the white man, the world is conceived as a forest. The community of trees that grow in a forest is like a community of peoples whose health and history are inextricably linked together. Artist and activist Nancy Bleck and carver Aaron Nelson-Moody (Tawx'sin Yexwulla) have embarked on an intriguing project called Cedar People. The first stage of the project involves Nelson-Moody's carved rendition of the Society of Women in Stewardship of the Land, a "society within a society", raised from birth to act as leaders who look after the land. As Nelson-Moody states "There is no equivalent in non-Native society, as the women were as much medicinal doctors as they were environmental lawyers, as much libraries as they were land managers." A traditional ceremony has already been held to bless the log, and invitees witnessed the first stage of the transformation of this cedar wood into Slyn'i (cedar woman). Being the first of many such Welcome Figure carvings, it will be raised in a sacred site in the upper Squamish wilderness region this August. Culturally modified markings on the outside bark of ancient cedar trees can be found in such sites that indicate these places have been visited for thousands of years. Using traditional native tools, Nelson-Moody has created a twelve by three foot carving whose installation will be witnessed by the Coast Salish Squamish people and non-natives. The traditional society of women this work is dedicated to, are likewise "witnesses" who have participated through ceremony as "keepers of history". Other welcome figures will be made elsewhere, in collaboration with local carvers and participants - on site in Quebec, Germany, and Australia - locals carving traditions and motifs will be part of these initiatives.

In 1992 at M�ru in the Oise region of France, Jean-Paul Ganem created his first "agricultural composition" and this was soon followed by others in the Vend�e, Champagne, and Midi-Pyr�n�es of France and the 150 hectare Mirabel airport project in Montreal, Canada (1996). This summer, Jean-Paul Ganem has been involved in a large scale environmental sensibilization and community participation project titled Le Jardin des Capteurs. Created in collaboration with the Cirque du Soleil and Jour-Terre Quebec Le Jardin des Capteurs occupies a 2.5 hectare waste area adjacent to the Cirque du Soleil's permanent headquarters in the north of Montreal. The site referred to as the Miron Quarry, contains human waste excrement up to 100 feet in depth. Gas emission pipes (up to 400 feet below the surface), sporadically dot the surface of the land like periscopes. Operated by Gazmont Plant nearby, the gas pipe emissions provide natural gas/methane power for 10,000 homes. Ganem's art project involves youth from the St. Michel region of Montreal and volunteers from Montreal's Botanical Gardens. Thus beautified, Ganem's site intervention changes public perception of garbage and waste dumps, not only for the volunteers, but equally for those who visit the place or see it from the air. An end of the world wasteland becomes a beautiful rendition of the circus Big Top with colourful wedge-like land marks and overlapping circular motifs in varying dimensions. All this is made of living plant and flower species: red and yellow Cosmos, pink and red petunias, colza, beard-grass, wild heliotrope and buckwheat.. The colourful land markings and motifs overlap, with varying circular dimensions and shapes. An undulating path makes its way through the planting... Directional markers point to the more formidable areas of the Miron Quarry/Dump that will, over the coming years, be landscaped and transformed into a more substantial city park with a hill at its centre. Next year perennials will replace the present planting. Le Jardin des Capteurs introduces the notion that sites for human waste, the detritus of our urban consumer society can be recycled and beautified as sites, just as the goods and waste that end up there can be.

Approaching such initiatives from the aesthetic and design perspective Belgian artist Bob Verschueren is an artist who specializes in making vegetal art out of vegetal matter. His most impressive works include the Wind Paintings which are nothing less than spectacular. The Wind Paintings comprise lines of natural pigment that are dispersed by wind action. It was the unpredictability of the result that initially attracted Verschueren to this kind of art making. The experience came about after Verschueren quit traditional painting and found himself "no longer confronted by the limits of this horrible rectangle. The subject extended beyond any traditional aesthetic framework. A battle lost before you start one could say! One could not measure a work, one does not know what comprises the last grain of pigment, where it will go..." Vershueren lays variously coloured pigments in lines along stretches of sand for his Wind Paintings. Nature does the rest. The action of wind on the pigment turns the land surface into the canvas for these artworks.

German artist Mario Reis makes "nature watercolours" by placing a base material in flowing water and allowing the mineral and vegetal sediment transported in the water to accumulate on its surface. Water is the paintbrush that moves and dispaces the sediment and colour on these square canvases. Reis finds these configurations of silt, sand and sediment drawn from rivers all over North America in places as varied as the Yukon, British Columbia, Idaho, Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan, Alaska, Wyoming and Kansas to be as confounding in their variety of hues, shades, textures as any old fashioned artwork and much more challenging. Reis' likewise enacts such works in Mexico, Europe, Africa, and Japan. They are a powerful reflection on natural diversity. His approach is rigorous and truly global in scope.

The growth of an interactive approach to working with environment implies an acceptance of ourselves, as much as nature. These artists' actions carry a narrative on human history within their work, but circumvent artistic conventions of reproduction, containment and mimesis. Nature and art are less critically segregated, life takes precedence over the art. Links are established between human culture and the culture of nature. With each successive experimentation this new language of expression that involves understanding our place in nature become better understood. Elements from nature are the paint and nature is the canvas. Artists are the catalysts. There is no subject or object. This earth sensitive language of expression is tactile, physical and plays visually with various organic and inorganic elements in a given site. The creative growth experience is interactive. As we enhance our understanding of nature's place in our society, our civilization, our personal lives, so we better understand that our society's future will inevitably involve understanding and respecting nature's processes. Nature's endemic role as source and provider is what will enable us to achieve sustainability for all forms of life the earth in the future.

John K. Grande

- previously published in Public Art Review (Vol. 12, No. 1, Issue 23) Fall Winter 2000 issue

Writer and art critic John Grande's reviews and feature articles have been published extensively in Artforum, Vice Versa, Sculpture, Art Papers, British Journal of Photography, Espace Sculpture, Public Art Review, Vie des Arts, Art On Paper, The Globe & Mail, Circa & Canadian Forum. The author of Balance: Art and Nature (Black Rose Books, 1994), Intertwining: Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (Black Rose Books, 1998) and Jouer avec le feu: Armand Vaillancourt: Sculpteur engag� (Montreal: Lanctot, 2001). John Grande has published numerous catalogue essays on selected artists and has taught art history at Bishops University. He co-authored Judy Garfin: Natural Disguise (Vehicule Press, Montreal, 1998) and Nils-Udo: Art with Nature (Wienand Verlag, Koln, Germany 2000) and his latest book is David Sorensen: Abstraction From Here to Now (Centre culturel Yvonne L. Bombardier, Valcourt, 2001) Mr. Grande's Art Nature Dialogues will be published by SUNY Press in 2003.

© 2009

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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise of Video, Alejandro Adams


With the following collage of professional, journalistic, and scholarly remarks concerning the role of video in cinema, I will try to establish the more serious implications and ramifications of video's on-going "arrival," an accession to power more than fifty years in the coming.

However, this is a selective history: its scope is narrowed by certain tendentious emphases. It calls attention to seemingly overlooked phenomena, attempting to give credit where credit is due, and occasionally dignifies the persecution mania of underground filmmakers.

If you are interested in the circumstances through which video has continually failed to make good on its promises to Hollywood and network television in particular, I advise you to read Russ Alsobrook's "Back to the Future: Reflections on the Brief History of Video Moviemaking". This is a light-hearted and immensely informative survey of the employment of video technology in commercial filmmaking in the United States since the 1950s.

And in This Corner...Michelangelo Antonioni

Il mistero di Oberwald is the first full-length cinema film in video format, and this allowed its author to investigate the new expressive possibilities of image manipulation which it offers to cinema narrative. — Núria Bou [1]

Prior to the 1990s, there had been few attempts by renowned, "serious" filmmakers to explore video technology in a way that indicated true solidarity with the medium. One prominent and noteworthy example of such an exploration—exhibiting a cartographer's diligence in marking its meticulously explored territory—was Antonioni's infamous The Mystery of Oberwald (Il Mistero di Oberwald), a "feature film" which originated on video.

In his monograph The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Peter Brunette describes the film as

a weird experiment in color...that was based on a play by Jean Cocteau and starred Monica Vitti. Set in an unspecified Mitteleuropa country in the nineteenth century, the film tells the melodramatic story of a reclusive widowed queen and a young assassin who becomes her lover and, finally, her murderer as well. Antonioni seems to have agreed to the emotional, somewhat silly project in large part because he had not made a film in five years and because it allowed him to play creatively with the television equipment, changing colors, improbably but expressively, for each character, through purely electronic means. [2]

The above synopsis is one of two single-paragraph references to The Mystery of Oberwald to be found in the book.

Film critic Gerald Peary, who first saw Oberwald at the Venice Film Festival, writes: "And why (this was 1980, remember) would anyone shoot this already off-putting tale, as Antonioni opted to do, on lowly videotape? [3]"

Keywords: "why," "1980," "off-putting," "lowly," "videotape." These fuse into a blur of incredulity, perhaps even disgust. Peary pointedly apprises us of the production year, indicating that video may have a time and place but it most certainly was not "1980."

On the Web site Senses of Cinema, James Brown blames the discordant anomaly of Oberwald for the rapid decline in Antonioni's popularity.

The height of such artistry explains the relative disappointment, to most, of the rest of Antonioni's films. Il Mistero di Oberwald (1980) is an abrupt swing away from epistemological preoccupation. Made on video for television, it provided Antonioni relief from high budget production burdens. Excited by the potential of new filmmaking technologies, he experiments with post-production colour manipulation to produce unusual effects. In other respects the film is less daring, perhaps a signal of Antonioni's desire to move in a different direction but not quite knowing where. [4]

Here we have a more languid response, though a considerably more invested one. Brown mentions that television was the intended receptacle for this aberrant project, failing to indicate that Oberwald was transferred to 35mm film and exhibited in that state, as a "film." Production funds seem to be an issue from Brown's vantage point, and Antonioni's "experimentation" is made to sound like nothing more than a means to disrupt the monotony of his career and perhaps even his life (incidentally, he would suffer a debilitating stroke a few years later).

Peter Reiher, an articulate if conventional amateur critic, is more agitated than curious:

Antonioni might simply be ahead of his time in the use of videotape...The special effects Antonioni incorporates through the use of special video processing machines are no great shakes. Selective tinting of scenes has been around since the silents. It wasn't a very effective technique then, being the poor man's color film, and it shows little potential for ever being any more effective. Superposition of images is a well-developed technology for film, and the video version shown off in The Oberwald Mystery is not nearly as good as mediocre film work in this area. And that's about it for Antonioni's bag of video tricks...Antonioni has put all his efforts into playing with one variable, leaving the rest untouched. It's a pity that he didn't set those other variables to more interesting values. [5]

Some historically correct hindsight, positioned at the beginning of this vaguely scholarly rant like a reluctant disclaimer, does nothing to mute the ensuing ire. Though the tone of this first remark is refreshingly neutral, its utter dissociation from what follows renders it perfunctory and dismissive. Like Peary, Reiher seems to suggest that Antonioni played out of turn, that his interest in video was incorrigibly anachronistic. Again, the emphasis on "effects" and "tricks" seems to imply that the eminently grown-up filmmaker had little artistic stake in the project and was interested merely in pushing buttons and dialing knobs, a characterization which is often still applied to those who approach video technology with any degree of enthusiasm. In some cases, prominent film schools are doing their best to suppress this sort of enthusiasm, and perhaps advisably so—but more of that in another essay.

In his comprehensive study of Antonioni, Seymour Chatman expresses his concerns about Oberwald somewhat more affectionately. Meanwhile, his brief, clinical analysis of alternative technologies in cinema seems delightfully antiquated (it was written in 1985).

The trouble is that this is a field in which the public has been over stimulated for years. Television colors are neither as strong nor as varied as what is offered by Technicolor, Eastmancolor, Deluxe, and other processes. ... Further, they are familiar as television colors, and so they set up certain unwanted associations—one knows that lavender only too well from tedious nights spent in front of the tube. Certain other undesirable artifacts also arise. For example, the outlines of moving objects tend to smear, especially against a light background. A ghost moves ahead of the image itself, which is etched for a split second as the image races to catch up. Within the area of color blending, it is true that Oberwald does things that have never before been seen on the screen: landscape and buildings convincingly brighten with the arriving morning, or blood from a decapitated chicken darkens from red to black before our very eyes... Doubtless other subtle changes occur elsewhere in the film that a concerted search could identify. But audiences used to bravura color effects may well feel frustrated, especially if they are led to expect something unusual. [6]

Here the technical and aesthetic limitations of video are described in a fair amount of detail. Such were the concerns at the time of critics, scholars, and less courageous filmmakers (i.e., everyone but Antonioni, Godard, and a handful of lesser-knowns): that the methods and, even more despicably, the flavor of television had permeated cinema to an ineradicable extent.

But Antonioni had already proven amenable to the evolution of cinema in the direction of television. In 1966, he was already preparing to shoot Tecnicamente dolce (Technically Sweet) with "color-mixing television cameras" [7]. After significant delays, Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider had agreed to star in the film. But Carlo Ponti, who had financed so many of Antonioni's films, suddenly and inexplicably withdrew his offer to fund the production. The Passenger was made instead.

For Antonioni, adapting to this "new" electronic technology was by no means a matter of adopting a new system of aesthetics but merely of refining or even completing his existing aesthetic. With this versatile hardware literally at his fingertips, he was able to riff on certain formal obsessions, most notably following through on the elaborate color-play of Il Deserto rosso (Red Desert) and Blow-Up. Video proved to be a strange nutrient capable of nourishing the growth of Antonioni's vision and restoring some of its former hardiness (the five years which had elapsed since the release of The Passenger had been the longest creative drought in his career).

Núria Bou writes:

The exuberant plastic elements which Antonioni puts into play lead to an excess of fullness which, although in several aspects is far from his usual world and his discourse on void—in feelings, in space—finds its articulation in basic elements which are present in other films: mirrors, reflexes, colour, music, the dialectics between characters and the space around them, the amorous relationships, the protagonism of the feminine figure, are all elements which Antonioni has used constantly during his career to build a personal discourse on appearances, and an exploration of the "disease of feelings." [8]

There could be no better explanation of Antonioni's purpose in Oberwald. He was expanding his "discourse on appearances" in a completely logical direction. The technology utilized in this expansion was, in and of itself, incidental. From this perspective, the spirit of innovation exemplified by Antonioni's interest in video is merely the native equipment of the authentic artist. This quality is not only distinct from but is quite hostile to the technocratic spirit of innovation, which is infinitely less discriminating and wholly impersonal.

As if to explain it a little more obliquely on his own behalf, Antonioni said that

some scientific notions have set in motion a transformational process that will end up changing us too—that will lead us to act in a certain way and not in another, and consequently will change our whole psychology, the mechanisms which regulate our lives...If what I say is true, I must look at the world with different eyes, I must try to get to the heart of it by routes other than the usual ones. This changes everything—the narrative material I have at hand, the stories, their endings—and it cannot be otherwise if I want to bring out, to express, what I think is happening. [9]

Even Chatman concedes that Antonioni's

interest in making [Oberwald] seems to have had a lot to do with the opportunity to shoot in video and thus to complete the experiments in manipulation of color that he had long meditated. [10]

He had been meditating these exact "experiments in manipulation of color" since the late sixties—nearly fifteen years prior to the completion of Oberwald—and once he had undertaken them, he was thrilled with the result.

In 1980, Antonioni said,

The electronic system is very stimulating. At first, it seems like a game. They put you in front of a console full of knobs, and by moving them, you can add or take away color, meddle with its quality and with the relationships between various tonalities... In short, you realize quickly that it isn't a game, but rather a new world of cinema... using color as a narrative, poetic means...with absolute faithfulness, or, if so desired, with absolute falseness. [11]

Antonioni was an immediate and unambiguous convert. But he did not actively advocate the use of video in the work of other serious filmmakers; he did not care about a "video revolution." He was instead content to pursue his own vision and achieve his own ends in whatever manner he pleased, a maverick deaf to the peevish incredulity which suddenly surrounded his work.

Chatman claims that Antonioni even expressed

a desire to use video to add color to L'Avventura—not by reshooting the film but by recording it on videotape and electronically superimposing colors on the images. [12]

Those who have set themselves the task of defending the honor of celluloid—in most cases by engineering some sort of crippling chastity belt—understandably find this desire purely inflammatory. Even the moderate academics who sensibly oppose the colorization of black-and-white classics (of which L'Avventura is a benchmark, despite its late arrival) must be shocked at such politically incorrect audacity.

We are accustomed, even now, to celluloid's function as a dignifying mechanism for video, as a sort of benefactor. At the time of the above remark, however, the film industry was even less prepared to entertain the idea that video, with all its consumer-end shortcomings, could in any way improve the look of film.

Antonioni was out on a very narrow limb.

In Bou's estimation, this resolute departure should not have come as a surprise.

Antonioni, who had already worked the symbolic and psychological slant of colour in films like Il deserto rosso, where he literally painted reality—the vegetation, the objects—or Blow-up (Antonioni, 1966), undeniably a debtor from the plastic and chromatic point of view to pop-art, and especially to Hockney's work, abandoned the strictly pictorial point of view with Il mistero di Oberwald. His experiments with the chromatic possibilities of video format (electronic addition of colours, selective colouring of the image, among others) decidedly leans toward the dramatic and passionate in the story he tells, while not forgetting the expressive restlessness which has set its seal on the development of his career: the search for "beyond" the image, the "behind" the image, is set up by a chromatic brush-stroke which overflows the strict limits of the figures and objects represented, somehow becoming a "stain" which is perfectly integrated into the plastic discourse of an author obsessed with the inquiry into the surface of the real. [13]

Antonioni had consistently relied on delicate, studied compositions in a wide aspect ratio to illustrate his characters' isolation, alienation, corruption—among other internal conditions which interested him. With video he was able to externalize such emotional and spiritual dispositions through the manipulation of color, thereby supplementing the spatial arrangement of people and objects within the frame. Antonioni is one of very few filmmakers who bear out William Carlos Williams's dictum: "No ideas except in things." In the same spirit, Paul Virilio has said, "Images don't have to be descriptive; they can be concepts." [14]

Finally it seems that Oberwald's period melodrama was the ideal canvas for Antonioni's color-play, which would have yielded melodramatic overtones in any case. If the post-production alteration of hues was a completely superficial preoccupation, that was nothing new: composition, pantomime, and other self-consciously superficial modes of expression—color included—had held Antonioni's attention exclusively. A thorough exploitation of the potential of video was a natural and legitimate direction for his considerable creative energies. However, he returned to celluloid with his subsequent film, Identificazione di una donna (Identification of a Woman), the last film he would make before suffering a stroke which would leave him virtually unable to speak.

While promoting Identificazione di una donna at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, Antonioni expressed unequivocal hope for the future of cinema while his "peers" fretted and fumed about the encroaching global television aesthetic.

The effect of television on attitudes and ways of seeing—children's especially—is undeniable. On the other hand, we should admit that the situation may seem particularly precarious to us because we come from a different generation. So what we should really do is adapt ourselves to the future world and its modes of representation...I'm really quite optimistic. I've always tried to bring the latest expressive forms into my films. I've used video in one of them...I'd like to try further experiments in that direction because I'm sure that the possibilities of video will teach us different ways of thinking about ourselves. [15]


Mr. Lee Garmes was the ultimate "film-guy," a "cameraman's cameraman" who began his career hand cranking black-and-white nitrate film before movies learned how to talk. Yet [in the early 1970s], he was passionately advocating videotape as an "acquisition" medium for feature motion picture production. – Russ Alsobrook [16]

Throughout his article, Alsobrook maintains a pleasantly unfazed historical perspective and is not nearly as aghast at his own revelations as he expects his readers to be. He wants to shock us. He wants to take the wind out of our sails. Not in a bad way, mind you—he simply wants to temper our naïve expectations with a cold dose of recent history. You see, Alsobrook has a somewhat skeptical view of the "arrival" of video because video has been arriving year after year, in format after format, each new breakthrough rendering its predecessor obsolete.

Alsobrook tells of the noble but rather predictably thwarted attempts to shoot a Hollywood western on Ampex video recorders in the early seventies. Santee starred Glenn Ford and Jay Silverheels and was filmed in New Mexico by cinematographer Donald Morgan. Image quality aside, there were tribulations previously unknown to a celluloid-oriented production crew.

When the company needed shots of horsemen galloping across a rushing river, Morgan didn't hesitate to mount the video cameras in a 4x4 truck and track with the cowboys through the swollen waters of the Rio Grande . Cable pullers became soaked as they struggled to drag the coaxial umbilical cord that connected cameras to land-locked video tape recorders...Morgan remembers that most of Santee was actually shot on film with less than one minute of the final picture transferred from the videotape original. [17]

Andrew Dunn, the cinematographer on Robert Altman's The Company, described his experience with filmless methods of image-acquisition in eerily similar terms:

HD is a little bit cumbersome. If we wanted to shoot in a corridor and then move upstairs with a film camera, you just lift up the camera and the tripod, grab a couple of batteries, go upstairs, and you're ready. With the HD system, there is all the cabling and the sound issues and monitoring. It seemed inordinately complicated. If I were to move upstairs with HD, it would probably take an hour and a half. I don't think it always has to be quite like that. But it's pretty cumbersome.

On the same occasion, Altman himself quipped, "I certainly wouldn't shoot a road picture with HD." [18]

These remarks were made in July of 2003, thirty years after Donald Morgan did his best to make Santee come together on video for ambitious director Gary Nelson.

I can picture Alsobrook nodding contentedly when he writes, "As the philosopher said, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'." [19]

But what we have on our hands now is not a 1950s Ampex recorder or Electronovision or a Norelco PCP-90 or an Ikegami EC-35 or a Panacam Reflex or a Bosch Quartercam or a Panasonic Recam or even venerable Beta equipment. [20]

In his speech at the 1999 Rotterdam Film Festival, proto-independent filmmaker Jon Jost said,

Digital video is a quantum jump beyond previous video—so much so that one might well think of dumping the word "video" with all its blurred reds, scuzzy scan lines, jaggies, and other signifiers, and finding a new name: maybe electronic cinema, or digital film, or...or anything but the awful word "video" and all its historical baggage. [21]

Video is, in a sense, already more "dead" than celluloid.

Jost pointed out that "a Beta SP camera costs from $40,000 to $70,000, depending on which, where, and when. A VHS or Hi8 camera costs $800 to $1500." He explained in detail the difference in quality between consumer and professional video formats and described the inevitable generational loss of picture quality. He was heralding the arrival of a format which bridged the chasm between consumer and professional, a format in which generational loss was not a concern, a format which neutralized the "high costs,...priestlike mumbo-jumbo obscurantism around lots of electronically based acronyms..." Jost credited these undesirable characteristics of video production with "a certain snobbism in which video was and for most still is a secondary, lesser, inferior format unworthy of their most serious creative selves." [22]

Technically speaking, digital video converts data from a camera's CCDs (light sensors) into strings of ones and zeroes (bytes) rather than into the magnetic signal of analog video. While magnetically recorded information was subject to interference and generational degradation, the digital signal can be transferred from tape to computer and back to tape without loss in quality. Since the information written to the two tapes is so vastly different, many have made the case that DV is an entirely new medium. In some instances, digital video technology has done away with the utilization of tape altogether: certain digital cameras record directly onto DVD or memory stick—or in at least one case, directly onto a portable firewire hard drive.

For many at this point, digital video—though not "video" in the former sense of the term—is superior to celluloid; moreover, it is a medium which is arguably the terminal advancement in favor of low-budget filmmakers, the first and last opportunity for them to compete, however subversively, with traditional avenues of production, distribution, and exhibition. Accordingly, Jost warned that

the media industry is scrambling fast to make sure that it overwhelms whatever distribution system might exist that just might be amenable to those making those no cost films with casts of nobodies and no exploding buildings, just in case some nobodies might be interested in seeing such things. [23]

In the August, 2002 issue of Videomaker, Charles Bloodworth contended that the playing field had been leveled for consumers and professionals.

Digital video for consumers encompasses all of the 25Mbps DV formats. So, If you have a DV camcorder, be it MiniDV or Digital8, it uses the same recording scheme that professional DCAM (Sony) and DVCPRO (Panasonic) camcorders employ. That means your $600 MiniDV camcorder records the same image data as a $10,000-plus DVCAM or DVCPRO model that the pros use. [24]

Elsewhere in his article Bloodworth clarifies that there are various differences in the optical systems in these cameras, and that more expensive cameras—his Sony VX-1000, for example—yield noticeably superior images. But the image-recording technology employed by cameras across the spectrum of digital formats is the same (DVCPRO50 notwithstanding).

"Video" emerged from its chrysalis overnight and sprouted wings strong enough to keep itself aloft in the typhoon-force winds of feature filmmaking—something it had been unable to do for decades in its analog incarnations. Suddenly video had more advantages than drawbacks. Because of this probably terminal advancement in favor of the relatively penniless, many filmmakers in the late 1990s, understandably blinded by their infatuation, rushed to begin working in DV. Lars von Trier and a few less well-known but equally fickle Danes, under the rubric Dogme 95, exploited the peculiarities of the new equipment with no discernible restraint. Though the original five members of the group have unanimously turned their backs on their original manifesto, young filmmakers with few resources—from Argentina to Korea—continue to adhere to its anarchic and mostly smirk-inducing tenets. Despite a glut of certified Dogme features and a healthy cadre of multinational imitators, the Dogme 95 project, now with no helmsman to speak of, has miraculously—knock on wood—not yet triggered a flavor-aversion to DV in the marketplace. (Incidentally, the Dogme 95 "Vow of Chastity" stipulated that films be made on Academy 35 in natural light, a challenge which only Soren Kragh-Jacobsen accepted.)

Susan Boyer, covering the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, reveals that "Nearly all of the documentaries and more than a third of the features were shot in either MiniDV or 24PHD (24 frames per second, high definition)." [25]

Boyer says Miramax's Tadpole performed poorly at the box office the previous year due to what she calls "its amateur look and feel." Of Cry Funny Happy she confesses, "I found the poor lighting and grainy print distracting." She feels, as do many journalistic governors of taste, that features originating on DV look like "glorified home movies." [26]

In the other direction, the introduction of a far more palatable, polished look has been coyly offered by The Anniversary Party, which did its best—and a remarkable effort it was—to conceal its wrong-side-of-the-tracks medium of origin. The print was tenaciously processed and color-corrected so that all the refinement of cinematographic technique (of which videographic technique is a sub-category, not a rival) would seem justified. It would be hard to accept the gentle, fluid camera movement applied to the consumerized, too-accessible, and finally chintzy-looking medium of digital video were the characteristics of the medium not so heavily diluted with such minute suffusions of celluloid affectation.

Alan Cumming, who co-directed the film with Jennifer Jason Leigh, says, "I think the rules of Dogme are stupid and were made up by men who were drunk at a pub one night as a joke." [27]

Cumming's friend and partner in the project adds:

We didn't want that shaky, ugly digital thing. A lot of movies that are shot digitally aren't lit. [John] Bailey lit this movie and we shot in a very classical way. The great thing you get from video—that does enhance this movie—is a kind of immediacy and a feeling of really being in the room with those people. [28]

Leigh is right: the technological "superiority" of video does not override or jeopardize its intimate qualities—of course it does not automatically enhance them, either. For a spell in the nineties, prime-time television dramas were filmed primarily with hand-held cameras, a technique which originally conveyed candor and intimacy (two of the most effective and durable examples of this were Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street). If noticeably intrusive camerawork—which is tantamount to camera-consciousness or an emphasis of the medium—were taken to its extreme, the result would be devices along the lines of intermittent focus imperfections, unseemly depth-of-field, and prominent debris on the lens. But the amateurish techniques through which intimacy and candor are contrived by industry professionals have not been encouraged to mutate in these obscene directions. Such stylistic eventualities are undermined by the implicit cosmic law of "polish," a governing principle which even the founders of Dogme 95 would not violate. Ultimately, whether passively or actively, this is the very law which has impeded the mainstream commercial use of video since the 1960s.

For similar reasons, obscured as they may be by drowsy nostalgia and gruff self-righteousness, Wim Wenders has over the years been one of the most vocal opponents of video technology in the sphere of serious filmmaking. The themes of his often heavy-handed films and his pouty away-from-the-camera remarks range from reasonable artistic concern to unadulterated paranoia.

As early as 1974, in Alice in the Cities, Wenders portrayed his on-screen alter-ego (Rudiger Vogler, as usual) as unable to escape the inexorable commerce of images which cloyingly seasons the contemporary American experience. At the peak of his frustration, the film's protagonist smashes a motel television, pulling it to the floor with overtones of political revolt.

Throughout the essays and reflections collected in The Logic of Images, Wenders speaks reverently of traditional cinema—that of Ozu, Bergman, and a few sacred others who resisted—or, conveniently, pre-dated—the defilement of the moving image which was perpetrated by the inimical institution of television with a capital T (leave it to a German to convert every noun into the cradle of a Weltanschauung).

In Wenders' 1996 film Lisbon Story, video is represented by a pack of anarchic, visually indiscriminate kids who are uncleverly labeled "vidiots." Patrick Bauchau, in the role of Friedrich, a lunatic film director, laments, "the projection room: that's memory, too. Images are no longer what they used to be." For Wenders, too, this is lamentable—the monopolization of the image by the electronic age. Friedrich wants to film "pretending that the whole history of cinema hadn't happened and that [he] could just start from scratch one hundred years later." Philip Winter (Vogler again), Friedrich's sound technician, poses the presumably inspiring question: "Why waste your life on disposable junk images when you can make indispensable ones with your heart on magic celluloid?"

Ironically but not surprisingly, Wenders acquiesced to the mounting pressure of things digital when making the aloof and literal-minded Buena Vista Social Club a mere two years later. Fortunately, the infectious joie de vivre of his subjects rescued the documentary from its director's poorly concealed disenchantment with filmmaking in general. [Editor's note: Wenders has since made a narrative feature, Land of Plenty, on consumer-grade DV.]

Making Room for Digital Video in Art History

Parker Tyler once called attention to a sort of reverse feed in the arts: a case in which a newer art form (or medium) influences the expressive capabilities of an older one, imposing incongruous limitations and facilitating unlikely expansions which have been ratified—for better or worse—by the ever-increasing sensory acumen of the presiding culture.

In one of his family portraits, Degas showed a woman in the act of rising from her chair. Of course, many of Degas' ballet girls are shown at moments of dancing or bowing which are not climaxes of a step or a gesture, but show the step or gesture in as it were the middle. All this meant the growth of a cinematic sensibility. [33]

The motion picture had infiltrated serious painting.

I am reminded of a similar remark relating to another medium. Stephen Spender, in the introduction to Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano, suggests a bit defensively that someone should write about the influence of cinema on the "serious novel." The movies have a significant physical presence in the book—a particular Peter Lorre thriller seems ominously to follow the protagonist from town to town and chapter to chapter—as do the techniques of the cinema to a much less specific degree.

Whereas it may have seemed impossible even five years ago, digital video technology is beginning to influence celluloid cinema in a similar reverse feed.

In his essay "Of Time and the Artist," Arthur Danto writes,

Or might Modernism itself have been a nineteenth-century phenomenon, which lived on for about two-thirds of the twentieth century? So that, artistically, we have been in the twenty-first century since perhaps 1964? [34]

Clearly video could be considered in these terms if we look at the evidence so genially compiled by Alsobrook. The decade also translates: 1960s. Video ushered in the twenty-first century of filmmaking a full four decades before the turn of the century. It simply idled in utero for forty years, awaiting its cue to tumble out of the birth canal along with a sleek and menacing new millennium. Its inordinately long gestation period is, of course, responsible for its mostly refined features—it was adolescent by the time it became fashionable. Considering that celluloid never overcame its infancy, a stable and stalwart infancy though it was, video technology has already proven itself more versatile and more sensible, even if not "superior" in any de facto sense (how could it, since arguments which aim to establish the superiority of a particular medium over another are contrary to the spirit of artistic production?).

Virilio reminds us that

video was created after the Second World War in order to radio-control planes and aircraft carriers. Thus video came with war. It took twenty years before it became a means of expression for artists. Similarly, television was first conceived to be used as some kind of telescope, not for broadcasting. Originally, Sworkin, the inventor of television, wanted to settle cameras on rockets so that it would be possible to watch the sky. [35]

Admittedly, the origins of video are far less elegant than those of celluloid cinema. But most of that inelegance relates to its try-try-again electronic pliability. Whereas celluloid was a fixed form, the perennially malleable nature of electronic media such as video and television has facilitated their being mutilated and hybridized in the name of "improvement" by every Frankenstein who could afford to assemble a makeshift laboratory in his basement.

Lev Manovich, in discussing computer interfaces as he is wont to do, often makes remarks which relate analogously to the state of digital video.

We don't know what the "final" result will be, or even if it will ever completely stabilize. Both the printed word and cinema eventually achieved stable forms which underwent little changes for long periods of time, in part because of the material investments in their means of production and distribution. [36]

Perhaps stable forms have met their obsolescence. Perhaps history will see the stability of forms as nothing more than a by-product of an unimaginative culture; as a left-brained, masculist conceit (after all, our narrative sensibilities regardless of medium are directly attributable to Hebrew, Greek, and Chinese patriarchies). In fact, Jean-Pierre Geuens has referred to the "dumb opacity and brute materiality" of celluloid [38], suggesting we may already be on the cusp of straight-faced, convicted revisionism on the part of academics and historians, the two demographics best known for issuing skeptical, conservative responses when presented with new technologies, new directions (significant, even controversial opinions evolve so rapidly now, it feels futile to cite an essay written in 1997—it feels a century old).

The irremediable infancy of celluloid is proven in its absolute stasis over a hundred years: "Finally," wrote Geuens in 2002, "despite all precautions, a hair on the gate, a light leak in the magazine, or inexplicable mishaps at the lab can still destroy hours and hours of hard work." [38]

Just like a hundred years ago.

Of course celluloid was physically incapable of undergoing the sorts of enhancements that have made the electronic image so pathetically unstable over the years. Perhaps the term "adolescent" with all its associations of hormonal fluctuation and self-perpetuated identity crises is more suitably descriptive than I could have hoped: there is no chance in hell that video has finished mutating. It may not in fact be capable of sitting still.

Walter Murch has made a crisp analogy which serves to illustrate how the delicate, docile, and ultimately insurmountable infancy of a medium can enthrall its practitioners and pundits to the extent that they are uninterested in more workable alternatives, uninterested in a natural course of evolution. He says,

Gutenberg's first Bible was printed on vellum, a beautiful and tactile organic substance; but printing only really took off with the invention of paper, which was cheaper and easier to manufacture. [39]

I have no doubt that from a historical perspective celluloid will eventually be regarded along with vellum as a medium which was perfect but not prudent.

Murch makes another graceful analogy between video and celluloid—by far the most graceful yet.

We need to find some analogous development in the past, and the one that seems closest, to me, is the transformation in painting that took place in the 15th century, when the old technique of pigments on fresco was largely replaced by oil paint on canvas.

Some of the greatest, if not the greatest triumphs of European pictorial art were done in fresco, the painstaking process whereby damp plaster is stained with pigments that bond chemically with the plaster and change color as they dry...

A great deal of planning needs to be done with fresco, and the variables—like the consistency and drying time of the plaster—have to be controlled exactly. Artists needed a precise knowledge of the pigments and how they would change color as they dried. Once the pigment had been applied, no revisions were possible. Only so much work could be done in a day before the plaster applied that morning became too dry. Inevitably, cracks would form at the joins between subsequent applications of plaster, so the arrangement of each day's subject matter had to be chosen carefully to minimize the damage from this cracking....

The invention of oil paint changed all this. The artist was freed to paint wherever and whenever he wanted. He did not have to create the work in its final location. The paint was the same color wet as it would be dried. He did not have to worry unduly about cracking surfaces. And the artist could paint over areas he didn't like, even to the point of re-using canvases for completely different purposes.

Although painting in oils remained collaborative for awhile, the innate logic of the new medium allowed the artist more and more control of every aspect of the work, intensifying his personal vision. [40]

Less incisive minds tend to propose more recent—and less precise—historical equivalents for the digital video phenomenon. George Lucas, for instance, suggests that

[w]hat we are going through, with this shift to digital, is on the same level and just as significant as the change from silent to sound films, or the shift from black-and-white to color. [41]

In order to maximize the fertility of this "shift," we must enrich its soil by cultivating its kinship with previous shifts, thereby preparing ourselves for certain foreseeable effects on the artist and on his recipient culture, thereby entering the new era with a sense of responsibility to human history, as well as to contemporary humanity.

If one is to discuss the being of a piece of art and not just its method of production, one must at some point refer—implicitly if not explicitly—to its means of exhibition; that is, to the circumstances under which it is encountered and experienced; to the influence of those circumstances on the experience; and to the potential improvement of those circumstances over time, as the intended recipient culture continues to evolve and to demand the degree of accessibility to which it is accustomed.

Danto, referring to a twentieth-century retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, observed:

But an exhibition is something more than a collection of objects, however expansive, and it seems to me that critical attention might better focus on the larger exhibitional structure here, rather than attempt the object-by-object scrutiny with which art criticism is most comfortable. How is one to experience the exhibition on its own terms, whatever objects may catch one's aesthetic attention or evoke one's historical memories? [42]

Likewise, this will be an indispensable component of any discussion about the art of DV. Theoretically speaking, its exhibition will be its most recalcitrant and mutable element by far.

Manovich, again examining computer media through a theoretical prism which easily applies to DV:

Just as film historians traced the development of film language during cinema's first decades, I want to...speculate whether today this new language is already getting closer to acquiring its final and stable form, just as film language acquired its "classical" form during the 1910s. [43]

While ostensibly interested in the manageability of these new forms, Manovich in practice encourages and congratulates all manner of shape-shifting. His manic planning for the visual media of the future is self-defeatingly intertwined with a youthful interest in relentless experimentation and innovation.

Elsewhere in the same essay Manovich recounts:

In his 1927 Napoleon Abel Gance uses a multiscreen system which shows three images side by side. Two years later, in A Man with a Movie Camera (1929) we watch Dziga Vertov speeding up the temporal montage of individual shots, more and more, until he seems to realize: why not simply superimpose them in one frame? Vertov overlaps the shots together, achieving temporal efficiency—but he also pushes the limits of a viewer's cognitive capacities. His super-imposed images are hard to read—information becomes noise. Here cinema reaches one of its limits imposed on it by human psychology: from that moment on, cinema retreats, relying on temporal montage or deep focus, and reserving superimpositions for infrequent cross-dissolves. [44]

Like Gance and Vertov in their medium, Mike Figgis attempts to stretch digital video beyond fully metabolizable implementation in Time Code with his thorough exploration of what Manovich refers to as "'spatial montage' between simultaneously co-existing images." [45]

In his review of the film for Film Comment, Gregory Solman writes,

Time Code renders the effect of watching four movies in a single gestalt from a broadcast control room or production truck—or, perhaps closer to the director's intent, from the vaguely voyeuristic catbird's seat of a security guard's throne. [46]

But the outcome is "fixed"—in the gambling sense—due to rather wooden manipulations of the viewer's attention: squelching of each of the four soundtracks in succession; care not to overlap dialogue in each quadrant of the screen; care not to overlap the "most" pertinent action.

If there's a story-meeting discussion in one corner with sound, but the other three silent quads contain [Salma] Hayek putting on her makeup, a closeup of [Jeanne] Tripplehorn's lovely cocoa-brown eyes, and an empty office lobby, one might as well be seeing only one movie, edited in parallel montage. [47]

The four narratives in Time Code—let me construe them as independent of one another only for the sake of argument—are intertwined in a way that guarantees the viewer is always drawn to a particular camera's "reportage" and not that of another. Thus, the viewer does not possess the ability to participate as interactively as he is led to believe he can—that is, the film was conceived and posted in such a way that the viewer cannot fully govern his own experience, cannot truly determine for himself which of the four quadrants most interests him at any given moment because he is, in a manner of speaking, predestined to be engaged by only one quadrant at a time. Of course the viewer is able to "cut" to another quadrant any time he likes, but even this highly limited participatory act is a reference to standard sequential montage: the viewer is shrewdly providing himself with the equivalent of a reaction shot.

In relying on such deliberate manipulation, Figgis was treading rather lightly, perhaps honoring that antiquated law of "polish" that seems to bridle so many experiments in this new medium, or perhaps simply due to an awareness that, as Geuens says of early cinematic experiments,

consciousness was not capable of ordering that much new information in a short amount of time. To avoid a total breakdown, the perceptual system responded by underplaying the incoming stimuli. [48]

The fact is that if given four distinctly separate narratives with concurrent action and dialogue and without a tailored soundtrack, the viewer would find himself as overstimulated as his 1929 counterpart had been when faced with Vertov's superimpositional experiment. Figgis' original plan for Time Code was far less a hybrid of traditional and progressive techniques than what resulted (he wanted to show it on four mammoth monitors, accompanied by live music, on the very day of its production), but the finished film wallows in a purgatory of theoretical identity, trapped between old but intelligible modes of expression and other modes which, while historically new, are also potentially inutile. It is important to remember, however, in the cases of both Vertov and Figgis, that such experiments eventually would have been conducted by others had these men not acted on their inspirations, and such undertakings always have inestimable historical value, even when unsuccessful by aesthetic standards—that is, even when unpleasant.

Digital video—like celluloid cinema, like any medium—will indubitably hit its stride when it transcends the juvenile impulse to do everything it can do and learns to be satisfied doing what is sensible for it to do.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The hypnotic Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has said,

Whether we are using paint or light, we are using a form of technology to translate our ideas to some type of a canvas. Because of the advances that have been made, we have a lot more freedom to express ourselves today with modern cameras, lenses and films...Of course, technology will continue to change and it will give us more freedom. It doesn't matter whether it will be film, tape or some other media that we use to record images. It is all part of our life's journey. The unknown isn't our enemy. It is our friend. What counts are our ideas. Cinematography will always have a future as long as we make a contribution and help to tell the stories. We just need to push technology in the direction that we love the best. [49]

Like Antonioni in the early eighties, Storaro is unthreatened by the various directions in which his art may evolve. Furthermore, he seems willing to encourage its evolution personally.

Once a spirit of innovation overtakes us, however, we must be careful to retain the ballast of theory and history, the two very things which, if disregarded, will contrive a way to mock us before we have proceeded any considerable distance into whichever terra incognita we have chosen as our quarry.

We must consider every dimension, implication, and potential ramification of digital video. We must not neglect to understand the medium on its own terms, as well as in relation to other narrative and visual art forms. We must accept its limitations. We must accept our own limitations. We must be conscientious, like any responsible artist, for art is the externalization of conscience. Andrei Tarkovsky wrote,

You have to have your own hypothesis about what it is you are called to do, and follow it, not giving in to circumstances or complying with them. But that sort of freedom demands powerful inner resources, a high degree of self-awareness, a consciousness of your responsibility to yourself and therefore to other people. [50]

We must remember that arbitrariness is not an authentic element of artistic vision, nor is codification of aesthetic principles conducive to meaningful creative expression.

We must be open to new developments, to permutations on what has already been welcomed, on what has already, irrevocably, been set in motion.

For breadth, we must develop an aesthetic genealogy which includes other media—music, fiction, dance, the Internet. For depth, we must cultivate a firm faith in the past, especially in the efficacy of celluloid and the permanent value of its discoveries, whether major or minor, whether currently applicable or not. We must be sure to have on hand the words and images of a few twentieth-century trailblazers and consult them when we become discouraged by the implacable momentum of the coming technocracy.

Finally, we must remember that art—creation—is a primary function of humanity and that as such it is capable of flourishing even in a technological vacuum.

The new media and all its advantages will result in something new. It will not however alter the basic element, the human psyche and how it works. It will generate many new things in a world in which there is never really anything new under the sun.
— Jon Jost [51]

1. Bou, Núria. "The Conversion of a Tragedy by Cocteau into a Cinema Melodrama: A Reading of Il mistero di Oberwald."

2. Brunette, Peter. The Films of Michelangelo Antonioni. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

3. Peary, Gerald. The Mystery of Oberwald online review

4. Brown, James. "Great Directors: Michelangelo Antonioni," Senses of Cinema Web site.

5. Reiher, Peter. The Oberwald Mystery online review

6. Chatman, Seymour. Antonioni, Or, the Surface of the World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

7. Ibid.

8. Bou, Núria.

9. Brunette.

10. Chatman.

11. Peary.

12. Chatman.

13. Bou.

14. Wilson, Louise. "Cyberwar, God and Television: Interview with Paul Virilio."

15. Wenders, Wim. "Chambre 666," The Logic of Images: Essays and Conversations. London: Faber and Faber, 1991.

16. Alsobrook, Russ. "Back to the Future: Reflections on the Brief History of Video Moviemaking."

17. Ibid.

18. Online interview with Robert Altman.

19. Alsobrook.

20. Alsobrook discusses each of these cameras and formats.

21. Jost, Jon. Rotterdam Film Festival Speech, 1999.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Bloodworth, Charles. "Digital Video Details," Videomaker Magazine August 2002.

25. Boyer, Susan. "Sundance Gets in the Digital Groove"

26. Ibid.

27. Phillips, Tony. "Cumming Attraction: An Interview with the Anniversary Party's Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh"

28. Ibid.

29. Tarkovsky, Andrei. "After Nostalgia," Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

30. Bahr, Fax and George Hickenlooper. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. 1991.

31. Hall, Francis Lee. "Francis Ford Coppola's Virtual Studio"

32. Ibid.

33. Tyler, Parker. "Film as a Force in Visual Education," Sex, Psyche, Etc. in the Film. New York: Horizon Press, 1969.

34. Danto, Arthur. "Of Time and the Artist"

35. Wilson.

36. Manovich, Lev. "Cinema as Cultural Interface"

37. Geuens, Jean-Pierre. "The Digital World Picture," Film Quarterly. Vol. 55, Issue 4, Summer, 2002.

38. Ibid.

39. Murch, Walter. "A Digital Cinema of the Mind? Could Be"

40. Ibid.

41. Lyman, Rick. "A Monument to the Filmless Future"

42. Danto.

43. Manovich.

44. Ibid.

45. Manovich, Lev. "What Is Digital Cinema?"

46. Solman, Gregory. Time Code film review, Film Comment, May, 2000.

47. Ibid.

48. Geuens, Jean-Pierre. "Far from the Bengal Lights: the Fate of the Film Artist at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century," Quarterly Review of Film & Video Vol. 19, Issue 4, Oct/Nov 2002.

49. Daviau, Allen and Bob Fisher. "A Conversation with Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC"

50. Tarkovsky, Andrei. "The Artist's Responsibility," Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.

51. Jost.

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