Scannable Images: Materialities of Post-Cinema after Video
Karin + Shane Denson
Cinema long ago began losing ground to television as the culturally dominant medium of the twentieth century; however, the definitive entry into the post-cinematic era must be located later, after video – after the widespread diffusion of video technologies across society and the entry of consumer-grade video playback and recording apparatuses into the home. In fact, the media regime of post-cinema is “after” video in at least two senses: both historically – i.e. post-cinema comes after video – and perceptually/aesthetically – i.e. post-cinema functions “after” video in the same way a work of art can be said to be “after” Manet or Magritte. Post-cinema, that is, functions materially in the fashion of video, which it succeeds historically and from which it nevertheless distinguishes itself as a medium.
Most centrally, in this play of similarity and dissimulation that ensues in the shift from the photochemically fixed frame to the continuous electronic signal to the discrete digital pixel-image, is a transformation of the viewer’s form of regard: a shift from “suture” to “scan” (cf. Denson, “Crazy Cameras” and “Post-Cinema After Extinction”). Whereas classical cinema engrossed its viewer, directed his or her perspective through carefully choreographed editing techniques, and thus incorporated the gaze within a “magic circle” of narrative and perceptual involvement in a constructed world, post-cinema regularly violates principles of continuity editing (cf. Shaviro, “Post-Continuity”), overloads the senses with “hyperinformatic” spectacles (cf. Denson, “Crazy Cameras”), and flattens the image such that each element or region of the frame is potentially equal in significance (or insignificance). In this regard, post-cinema emulates the wanton gaze of the amateur home-videographer or the disjunctive temporality of the VHS player, with its pause, rewind, fast-forward functionalities. Thus, rather than being enveloped by the cinema’s larger-than-life images, the post-cinematic spectator is asked to scan these images (which, when viewed on mobile and other computational playback devices, are now more often than not considerably smaller-than-life), and to actively seek out the relevant differences that make a difference within an image-frame that is chaotically overloaded or framed in accordance with a machinic form of vision and/or embodiment (including those of satellites, surveillance cameras, stoplights, and selfies).
The current project seeks to interrogate these dynamics of the “scannable image,” of hyperinformatic simultaneity and dispersed attention, through a mixed-media assemblage that is “after video” in the dual manner mentioned above. The basic elements of the work are static and animated images, derived from (and hence produced both after and in the manner of) digital video compositions. These images, when scanned with a smartphone or tablet, activate augmented reality (AR) video overlays that themselves thematize the materiality of post-cinematic/post-video images. But rather than inviting a linear form of consumption (according to which the viewer would first watch one video and then another, piecing together a narrative or argument), the images are arranged next to each other (in a space like the virtual “wall” of an installation, realized digitally in the form of a web page or two facing pages of an ebook), and the videos, when activated, play simultaneously. Moreover, because these videos can only be viewed through the small screen of a smartphone or tablet – itself directed at a computer screen – only a small portion of the entire spectacle can be viewed at once. In a sense, the situation is not unlike that of reading comics, where the reader’s view constantly oscillates between an individual panel and the bigger picture of the page or a section of it, zooming in and out in order to make sense of the series of pictures. When transposed to the present scenario, however, in which static images are augmented with digital videos that move at their own speed, regardless of whether the viewer is currently attending to them or not, the receptional dynamics are considerably more complex, even volatile. Materially, this complication of the viewing situation reflects and emulates the hyperinformatic simultaneity and selective, scanning regard of post-cinematic images – confronting the viewer with the materiality of the post-cinematic media regime through the interplay of screens, pixels, people, and the physical and virtual spaces they occupy.
The project is divided into two sections – each occupying its own virtual “wall” or installation space. The first, from a series titled glitchesarelikewildanimals!
, utilizes databending techniques to transform iPhone photos into animated glitch videos and generative audio. Still frames are captured and painted by hand on canvas. The resulting images are mounted onto a virtual gallery wall, waiting to be scanned by the viewer. Videos of various transformations and permutations are superimposed upon the images, inviting the viewer to move between them and inspect them. Textual elements are also displayed on the wall/page, outlining in fragmentary form the significance and volatility of post-cinematic images, all of which (according to the underlying argument) are latent glitches, subject to more or less successful “capture” (like the wild animals of the composition’s title, which derives from an online glitch-making tutorial, according to which “glitches are like wild animals” because they must be stabilized, tamed, in a video container that will allow for their reproduction across various computers and platforms). Accordingly, the various elements of the augmented scenario (video, text, image) compete for the viewer’s attention – seek to “capture” it – and thereby reproduce and amplify the dynamics of post-cinematic mediation.
If the first scenario emphasizes the material/aesthetic dimensions of post-cinematic images after video, the second scenario, Participatory Poverty
, combines this emphasis with a meditation on the sociopolitical dynamics of contemporary moving-image media. The composition – which functions like the first, as a combination of still images and augmented video and text – revolves around a video piece that collects a variety of images circulating online and thinks about the status of what Hito Steyerl calls “the poor image.” Of particular interest is the conjunction of technological, political, socio-economic, and aesthetic facets, factors, and practices that Steyerl identifies in her provocative essay on the subject. Significantly, Steyerl breaks with both nostalgic or backwards-looking approaches to the “end” or “death” of cinema and with the one-sided celebration of a so-called “participatory culture” (cf. Jenkins), which tends to ignore the capitalist framework within which fan-based acts of appropriation and expansion are themselves appropriated as “immaterial labor” in the service of big-business entertainment franchises. This project seeks to highlight the ambivalent status of the poor image, utilizing techniques of datamoshing and databending, themselves fan-based techniques for image impoverishment that have also been employed in high-profile projects (e.g. big-budget music videos) and projects with a high-cultural cachet (e.g. gallery art). In order to question the confluence of technical and socio-economic/political considerations at work in the poor image while avoiding too much editorial interference or interpretation on our part, the video works generatively – drawing materials from YouTube and collating them according to the itinerary dictated by the search results for the term “poor image.” That is, the first 44 search results (from a query conducted on April 8, 2015) are cycled three times, in the order of their appearance in the list of results – initially taking the first ten seconds of each clip, then the next five, and finally the next second. After combining the images, in this order, all I-frames were removed (so-called “datamoshing”), thus establishing unexpected – and, we believe, interesting and sometimes telling – connections between the clips.
Together, the two virtual installations with their dynamic AR overlays mediate a complex aesthetic/political interrogation of post-cinema “after video” – and of the material/phenomenological situation of regarding images that are not immersive but hyperinformatically explosive and unstable. In this way, we hope to shed light on the multiple materialities of scannable images.
for a brief "user's guide" to the installations.
Denson, Shane. “Crazy Cameras, Discorrelated Images, and the Post-Perceptual Mediation of Post-Cinematic Affect.” Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film. Eds. Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Sussex: REFRAME Books, 2015 (forthcoming).
_____. “Post-Cinema After Extinction.” Talk delivered at “After Extinction,” conference of the Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2 May 2015. Full text online: http://wp.me/p1xJM8-GS
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.
Shaviro, Steven. Post-Cinematic Affect. Winchester: Zero Books, 2010.
_____. “Post-Continuity: An Introduction.” Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st-Century Film. Eds. Shane Denson and Julia Leyda. Sussex: REFRAME Books, 2015 (forthcoming).
Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” e-flux 10 (November 2009): http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/