Blog moved to http://www.melaniemenard.com/blog/

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2012 by melaniemenardarts

Hello, this blog is now closed and won’t be updated anymore.

Please follow my new blog on my website:

http://www.melaniemenard.com/blog/

All entries from this old wordpress.com blog have been transfered to the new blog so you won’t miss any information.

Thank you!

Background Research on Lev Manovich’s Soft Cinema

Posted in Digital Art, Uncategorized, Video with tags , , , on November 4, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

At the end of my MA, one of the avenues I wanted to explore for further work was to use algorithm to relinquish control on the editing of a piece of video art.

Last month I took part in onedotzero cascade and my team decided to explore narrative in a visual way (I’ll blog more about cascade and this project in a subsequent post). Because Lev Manovich’s Soft Cinema was relevant to our project, I did a bit of background research on it to present to my team.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_cinema

Manovich opposes narative and database in his theoretical writings. However, he cites Peter Greenaway as an example of database cinema (soft cinema). Yet, Greenaway does not do away with narrative, rather he experiments with non-linear forms of narrative, in the tradition of modernist literature.

http://www.softcinema.net/?reload

Soft Cinema as a software edits movies in real time by selecting multimedia elements from a database based on rules defined by the authors.

http://www.softcinema.net/form.htm

SOFT CINEMA explores 4 ideas:

1. “Algorithmic Cinema.”
Using a script and a system of rules defined by the authors, the software controls the screen layout, the number of windows and their content. The authors can choose to exercise minimal control leaving most choices to the software; alternatively they can specify exactly what the viewer will see in a particular moment in time. Regardless, since the actual editing is performed in real time by the program, the movies can run infinitely without ever exactly repeating the same edits.

2. “Macro-cinema.” If a computer user employs windows of different proportions and sizes, why not adopt the similar aesthetics for cinema?

3. “Multimedia cinema.” In Soft Cinema, video is used as only one type of representation among others: 2D animation, motion graphics, 3D scenes, diagrams, maps, etc.

4. “Database Cinema.” The media elements are selected from a large database to construct a potentially unlimited number of different narrative films, or different versions of the same film. We also approach database as a new representational form in its own right. Accordingly, we investigate different ways to visualise Soft Cinema databases.

I’m not too interested in ‘2 – Macros cinema’ because I like the traditional aesthetics of one frame.

I’m interested in ‘3 – multimedia cinema’ because it offers the possibility to mix video clips with sound and/or music from a different source, or superimpose a still image on a video, but not in the way Manovich does it: ‘While some music videos and artist videos already mix some of these different types of imagery in one work, Soft Cinema assigns each type of imagery to a separate window in order to dramatize the new status of “normal” video, photographic and film image today – no longer the dominant but just one source of visual information about reality among many others.’ Apparently, Soft cinema keeps the different media in separate windows, therefore not creating a real multimedia final product. I would rather find a way to mix the contents together like it is done in some video clips.

What I’m really interested in is ‘1 – algorithmic cinema’ (4 – database cinema cannot in my opinion really be considered as a separate concept, because the database is only the collection of multimedia raw material the algorithm will choose from. The database itself does nothing but hold a collection of content.)

The Soft cinema website explains how ‘algorithmic editing of media materials’ works:
‘Each video clip used in Soft Cinema is assigned certain keywords that describe both the “content” of a clip (geographical location, presence of people in the scene, etc.), and to its “formal” properties (i.e., dominant color, dominant line orientation, contrast, camera movement). Some of the keywords are automatically generated by an image-processing software (written in VideoScript), while others are input by hand. The program (written in LINGO) assembles the video track by selecting clips one after another using a system of rules (i.e. an algorithm). Different systems of rules are possible. For instance, one system selects clips closest in color, or type of motion to a previous one; another matches the previous clip in content and partially in color, replacing only every other clip to create a kind of parallel montage sequence, and on and on.

The current version of Soft Cinema software allows the author to define such a particular system of rules, which it then uses to compile a sequence of video clips that best satisfy these rules. However, it is also possible to create other versions of the software that would give the author tighter control over the sequencing. For instance, one version may involve a video track completely edited by the author beforehand. Some shots could be designated as “replaceable” while others would remain unmodified (to keep narrative continuity.) Another version may contain a variable set by the author, which tells the program the probability of any shot being replaced. In summary, instead of posing complete randomness against the complete control of a human author, Soft Cinema investigates a different paradigm: using a computer as an “association machine” that complements / reacts to images selected by the user with other images.’

UNIT 2 Assessment

Posted in MADA Coursework on August 30, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

1. Present, in the final exhibition, a resolved body of creative practice that has evidenced the systematic enhancement of your knowledge and understanding

– I wrote a Video tutorial compiling tips from 4 reference books about meaningful cinematography and editing tecniques for low-budget short films and video. It focuses on the concepts of treatment (that is, the subjective/philosophical/moral/ political viewpoint adopted by the filmmamker) of a subject (the raw events of the plot, regardless of the subjective googles chosen by the filmmakers) and establising film mood, and the technical choices that contribute to this.

– Then I used the technical knowledge learnt while writing this tutorial to make new and improved edits of ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’. The new versions of both videos also incorporate newly shot footage, and the editing is designed to trap the viewer inside a subjective experience. The ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ video was shown at a commercial gallery in London and the ‘Ghost House’ video will be screened at Optica festival (Madrid, 16-18 September). I also made a short video of Woodlawn House, an empty mansion with ornamented decor, with an mood inspired by ‘Last year in Marienbad’. This is a work in progress because I do not have enough footage yet, and need to find similar places to make a longer composite video (both ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ are composite containing footage from several actual places with the same look and concept).

– For the photography side of my practice, I wrote a Technical Tutorial about Digital Photograph Post-Processing Workflow (in Photoshop) compiling tips from 2 reference books, then applied the techniques I learned to enhance my photographs (the photographs were shot in Unit 1 but post-processed in Unit 2). Practical examples of processing for the photographs requiring the most post-processing are detailed on my blog, and the whole series of photographs are visible on my website (Ghost House and Disciplinary Institutions). I also experimented with HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing even though I decided in the end to use a different, more creatively appropriate processing.

– Before our show, I wrote a Round up of other MA Digital Art/Media degree shows containing critics’ opinions about the way they were presented to try and find useful tips about what to do and the common mistakes to avoid in our own show. Photographs of my space at the MA Digital Art 2011 show are shown on the blog. The Ghost House and Disciplinary Institutions videos loop one after the other on an Imac screen, and I have curated 7 Disciplinary Institutions and 15 Ghost House photographs on the walls.

– Finally I made a website to showcase my work in a more organised, succint and professional manner. I also made most of the MADA show website (with some help from Jonathan).

2. Analyse and reflect coherently upon your own practice and its context in both written and verbal forms

– An analysis of my current practice can be seen in the first part of my Written paper.

– In depth articles on my blog contextualise my photography practice within the subjective documentary genre and my video practice within experimental film and traditional video-art, especially the genre of ‘psychodrama’.

– In a blog article, I do a comparison of the technical choices of several photographers treating the same subject and discuss how their technical choices are linked to their subjective treatment and interpretation of their subject. I then study more in depth the example of
Robert Polidori and explain in what measure I share his concerns and process.

– Because I could not access the audioconference from my day-job and had a problem with my Firewire cable at the time, my Pecha-kucha presentation for the symposium was text and still images. However the
comments judged the presentation ‘clear’ despite my limited participation.

3. Summarise your overall progress and formulate a constructive plan for continuing Personal and Professional Development.

– Future plans for my art practice are detailed in the second part of my Written paper.

– For professional development, I applied to Phds or equivalent (at UAL, Brighton University and Le Fresnoy). Although I was invited to 2 interviews (UAL and Le Fesnoy), I was not accepted anywhere, but the application process gave me the opportunity to research cognitive film theory (for UAL).

– Developing a project proposal for Le Fresnoy led me to contextualise my practice within digital moving image. Researching artists who use digital technologies (such as sensors and randomness-generating algorithm) together with moving image and share my themes of predilection, led me to think about how I could go about using more cutting-edge digital techniques in future work while still focusing on my non-technology-related themes. This is one of my future plan detailed in my Written paper.

– The second possibility detailed in my Written paper is to make a narrative short film where the cinematic mood would be carefully crafted to reflect the character’s subjective experience. This is also a project originally developped for my Fresnoy application, that I now would like to pursue independently. I started working on the script.

– My third and last plan for my personal art practice is simply to continue my abandoned buildings photography and video practice with both ongoing projects and new ones (abandoned cinemas and theatres). The practical possibility for exploring abandoned buildings is limited in the UK, that is why I want to take my practice in new directions as well, so as not to be prevented from producing work by external circumstances I have no control on (inaccesible buildings).

Apart from my personal art practice, I also started thinking about how I could use the skills gained in this MA commercially. My two goals when I started this MA were to develop my art practice, but also to try and gain useful skills to get a better day-job. I am not sure yet what type of job would be a good match, but I explored a few possibilities.

– Teaching/art workshops/adult education: I wrote a 10 000 word Video tutorial compiling tips from 4 reference books, 1550 word Photography tutorial explaining shooting tips, general principle of exposure and specialised tips for architectural photography compiled from two reference books and a 2500 word tutorial about Digital Photograph Post-Processing Workflow (in Photoshop). I wrote these 3 documents as structured course-type pdfs because I wanted to train myself to write structured teaching material usable by other people.

– I added to my website a section of documentary and architectural photography and video in order to showcase a possible commercial development for my practice (shooting promotional for interior design, publications, architects, monuments and such). This section is still incomplete and only contains a few pictures. My documentary photographs were used in a blog about outsider art environments.

Written paper evaluating your practice and future development (1000 words)

Posted in MADA Coursework, My practice on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

Evaluation of my current practice

This MA helped me develop my practice in two main ways: contextualising my practice within relevant traditions of contemporary art, and thinking deeper about the link between technical choices and audience perception, how to use specific techniques and effects to manipulate the audience’s reaction to the artwork.

The main issue I had about my photography practice was that, while it is formally documentary because I do not stage what I photograph, I was not concerned about the ethical issues that typically preoccupy documentary photographers. On the contrary, ambiguity was my main underlying interest, and I favoured distinctive aesthetics rather than clarity of representation. I discovered a ‘niche’ genre of photography: ‘subjective documentary’, that is, unstaged photographs that can technically be considered documentary pictures, but give more insight into the photographer’s mindset than they provide reliable information about the photographed subject. I feel especially close to various American photographers who, since the 1970s, take pictures of backward rural areas, bland suburban settings or urban decay with often an ironic or morally ambiguous subtext (Stephen Shore Robert Polidori, William Eggleston, Alec Soth). Their work share a cinematic look, with dramatic lighting and almost ‘technicolor’ colours that create an ambiguous contrast with the unstaged nature of the scene. I studied the technical aspects of photography, especially achieving good exposure in low light, and digital post-processing, in order to achieve this desired look more efficiently in my own work. Particularly, Robert Polidori explains in an interview how the visual style of his images is crafted to emotionally manipulate the viewer: the apparently straightforward documentary style hides the emotional manipulation aimed at the viewer, making it all the more efficient that it is surreptitious. This process is very close to what I do in my Ghost House and Disciplinary Institutions series, where the real subject is not the architectural documentation of the buildings, but my underlying interest in guilt, outsiderness and the fear of abandonment.

Because my original influences in moving image were from cinema, my research paper studied from three reference films how all the technical elements of moving image may work together to represent on screen the subjective mental experience of a character with an ambiguous degree of truth. After, I continued the research in reference technical books in order to learn more general techniques transferable to my non narrative video-art. I learned the central concept of ‘cinematic mood’, that is, using audio-visual stimuli (such as cinematography, the pace of editing, sound design) rather than narrative techniques to cue the audience about emotions and identification. I used these techniques in my videos in order to trap the viewer inside a subjective experience. In Ghost House, I aimed to keep a very fluid rhythm to give a sense of geographical continuity even though the video was shot at three different houses, to give the impression that a ghost was moving through the house and we were seeing the world through its eyes. In Disciplinary Institutions, I kept a steady rhythm and directional continuity in long corridor tracking shots that progressively get darker, to convey the feeling of powerlessness and crushing fate experienced by the inmates.

Critic A.L. Rees coins the term ‘psychodrama’ to describe a genre of experimental film starting in the 1940s that deal with inner life and conflict. In his reference book ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’, P. Adams Sitney calls ‘trance films’ a similar tradition of films depicting dreams or inner visions. My own moving image work is closest to the revival of psychodrama and trance-films from the 1990s until now, when artists like Stan Douglas or Doug Aitken applied the aesthetic conventions of horror, noir or other genre movies to either documentary footage, or staged scenes shot in natural settings, and mixed dream sequences with documentary footage, in order to talk about social concerns without formally resorting to the traditional documentary style. I like the aura of moral and philosophical ambiguity that blurring the lines of documentary and fiction gives to a moving image work.

Future development

The possibility to explore abandoned buildings in the UK is limited, because security is tighter than in Ireland, and the available buildings are mostly stripped down and void of artefacts, which make them visually repetitive quickly. I have however identified an old orphanage whose ornamented décor would make a good fit to use in a composite video with my footage from Woodlawn House, a few asylums, and a few abandoned cinemas that would be a new project. I have applied for permission to shoot at the orphanage and two cinemas, but the negotiations are slow and the success rate low. Therefore I want to continue exploring abandoned buildings as an ongoing background project, but also develop my practice in two possible new directions.

Writing my research paper gave me the desire to move away from purely visual video-art and experiment with narrative in a short film where the cinematic mood would be carefully crafted to reflect the character’s subjective experience. I have started writing a short script about a man who, feeling crushed by a life he judges meaningless, seizes the opportunity to escape. But soon his own guilt at having neglected what he considers his responsibilities causes him to throw his one chance away, and self-destruct. I would probably shot in HD video, with natural ‘noir’ lighting, to achieve an atmospheric look at low cost. Many independent filmmakers self produce their first short film: I think the best way for me to achieve this would be to join an independent filmmakers’ group for mutual support, mentoring and skill-pooling.

Another direction for development would be to use digital technology to go beyond traditional video installation by enhancing the feeling of immersion, or by making the images react to the viewer. I am especially interested in using random generator algorithms to simulate the often erratic and irrational way human beings make decisions and choices. To make an immersive audio-visual installation that reacts to the viewer, sensors could respond to movements and vocal triggers from the viewer, and control the sound design and displayed visuals accordingly. The environment could confront the viewer with feelings they may usually prefer to ignore by using audio-visual stimuli that simulate feelings of spatio-temporal distortion, claustrophobia and disorientation, or trigger instinctive emotional responses.

List of blog posts for Unit 2

Posted in blogging, MADA Coursework on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

March

Seesaw photography magazine: more American photographers of the subjective documentary genre.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/more-on-american-documentary-photography/

Photographers of post-Katrina New Orleans: comparison of their technical choices and their treatment of their subject.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/photographers-of-post-katrina-new-orleans/

Robert Polidori on his work: about the treatment of his subject, how his philosophical viewpoint influences it, and the question of aestheticizing tragic events.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/robert-polidori-on-his-work/

‘Last address’ by Ira Sachs: an example of architecturally-themed video-art where the underlying subject is not architecture but human and social (AIDS). How art can deal with human issues while showing buildings rather than people.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/last-address-by-ira-sachs/

April

My documentary photographs used in a blog about outsider art environments.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/my-photos-used-in-a-blog-about-outsider-art-environment/

May

Video tutorial compiling tips from 4 reference books about meaningful cinematography and editing tecniques for low-budget short films and video. Focuses on the concepts of treatment (that is, the subjective/philosophical/moral/ political viewpoint adopted by the filmmamker) of a subject (the raw events of the plot, regardless of the subjective googles chosen by the filmmakers) and establising film mood, and the technical choices that contribute to this. 10 000 words pdf that counts as several blog posts for the purpose of Unit 2 assessment. I chose to write a standalone document rather than blog posts because I thought a printable standalone document was more useful and practical to myself and people interested in learning the techniques. I also wanted to train myself to write a structured course-type document in case I go into teaching after graduating.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/video-tutorial/

Pecha-kucha presentation for group tutorial (Symposium).
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/pecha-kucha-6min40-sec-presentation-for-group-tutorial/

Symposium: comments on my pecha-kucha presentation (very limited because I could not take part in the audio-conference).
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/symposium-comments-on-my-pecha-kucha-presentation/

‘Ghost House’ video: new and improved edit incorporating new footage as well as better technical knowledge learnt while writing the tutorial.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/ghost-house-video-new-improved-2011-edit/

‘Disciplinary Institutions’ video: new and improved edit incorporating new footage as well as better technical knowledge learnt while writing the tutorial.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/disciplinary-institutions-video-new-improved-2011-edit/

July

Degree show planning: starting to think about what to present and how to show it.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/degree-show-planning/

Contextualising my practice within digital moving image: reading report about artists who use digital technologies (such as sensors and randomness-generating algorithm) together with moving image and share my themes of predilection, and reflexion of how I could go about using more cutting-edge digital techniques in future work while still focusing on my non-technology-related themes.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/contextualising-my-practice-within-digital-moving-image/

Contextualising my practice within experimental film and traditional video-art: reading report about artists who share my themes of predilection. Identification of a longstanding tradition of the ‘psychodrama’ genre from the 1940s till now, and of further relevant reading (P. Adams Sitney, ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’, bought but not read yet). This gave me more relevant references within gallery-based video-art and underground/experimental film, whereas many of my early references were within recognised art cinema.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/contextualising-my-practice-within-experimental-film-and-traditional-video-art/

Photography tutorial (shooting tips, general principle of exposure, specialised tips for architectural photography) compiled from two reference books. Contains tips I learnt slowly over the past year but had never formally written down, and I wanted to share them (and stop having to hunt through post-it bookmarks in books whenever I needed a refresher before shooting something new 🙂 )Like the previous video tutorial, this is a 1550 words pdf formally structured as a course and counts as several blog posts for the purpose of assessment.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/photography-tutorial-shooting-tips-general-principle-of-exposure-specialised-tips-for-architectural-photography/

Round up of other MA Digital Art/Media degree shows: discussion of the type of student work, and critics’ opinions about the way it is presented to try and find useful tips for our own show.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/round-up-of-other-ma-digital-artmedia-degree-shows/

Professional development: applying to Phds (UAL, Brighton, Le Fresnoy): summary of how I went about applying to further studies, which I spent a lot of time doing in May and June. Reflexion on what went well or not, and how the process of writing 3 proposals made me reflect on my practice and how to develop it in the future, even outside of a Phd context.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/professional-development-applying-to-phds-ual-brighton-le-fresnoy/

Sum-up of theoretical research about cognitive film theory.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/cognitive-film-theory/

August

‘Disciplinary Institutions’ video shown at a commercial gallery in London.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/disciplinary-institutions-showing-wed-17th-sept-in-london/

Made a website to showcase my work in a more organised, succint and professional manner.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/my-website-is-up/

Woodlawn House short video: video of an empty mansion with ornamented decor, with an mood inspired by ‘Last year in Marienbad’. This is a work in progress because I do not have enough footage yet, and need to find similar places to make a longer composite video.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/woodlawn-house-short-video/

Technical Tutorial: Digital Photograph Post-Processing Workflow (in Photoshop). 2500 word structured course-type document in pdf format, counts as several blog posts for the purpose of assessment.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/technical-tutorial-digital-photograph-post-processing-workflow-in-photoshop/

Post-processing and enhancement of photographs (practical examples using the previous tutorial)
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/post-processing-and-enhancement-of-photographs-practical-examples/

Experiment with HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing, even though I decided in the end to use a different, more creatively appropriate processing.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/experiment-with-hdr-high-dynamic-range-photography/

Section of documentary and architectural photography and video added to website, in order to showcase a possible commercial development for my practice.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/documentary-and-architectural-photography/

Research to continue my abandoned buildings photography and video practice
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/research-to-continue-my-abandoned-buildings-photography-and-video-practice/

‘Ghost House’ screened at Optica festival (Madrid, 16-18 September).
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/ghost-house-screened-at-optica-festival-madrid-16-18-september/

Photographs of my space at the MA Digital Art 2011 show.
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/my-space-at-the-ma-digital-art-2011-show/

Written paper evaluating your practice and future development (1000 words)
https://melaniemenardarts.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/written-paper-evaluating-your-practice-and-future-development-1000-words/

My space at the MA Digital Art 2011 show

Posted in Degree show, My practice, My shows on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

Below are photographs of my space at the MA Digital Art 2011 show. The Ghost House and Disciplinary Institutions videos loop one after the other on an Imac screen, and I have curated 7 Disciplinary Institutions and 15 Ghost House photographs on the walls.

The show takes place at Camberwell College of Arts, 45-65 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UF, and is open to public Friday 2 September – Thursday 8 September (closed Sunday 4 September, Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 10.00 – 20.00 / Saturday: 11.00 – 17.00).

See more of our work on our website: http://www.mada2011.com/!

‘Ghost House’ screened at Optica festival (Madrid, 16-18 September)

Posted in Ghost House, My practice, My shows, Video with tags , on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

My Ghost House video has been selected to be part of the program of Optica Festival in Madrid (Spain), wich will be take place September 16th to 18th.

The projection will take place at La Casa Encendida, one of the most emblematic places for art and culture in Spain.

The website does not have an up to date program yet:
http://www.opticafestival.com