Archive for the Audience Response Category

Cognitive film theory

Posted in Audience Response, Cinema, Critical theory with tags , , , on July 25, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

While doing some bibliography research for my UAL Ph.D. application, I found out about cognitive film theory.

Cognitive film theory was born in the late 80’s from a dissatisfaction with dominant film theory that tended to analyse films either from an ideological viewpoint, be it marxist, Althusserian, feminist, Lacanian or such, or as a codified language through the use of semiotics. Cognitive film theory tends to focus on the experience and reaction of the film spectator, on the relationship between film content proper, context in which the viewing experience takes place, and viewer psychology. Scholars of cognitive film theory include David Bordwell, Noel Caroll, Per Persson, Carl Plantiga, Greg M. Smith.

The cognitive approach is interdisciplinary and varied rather than a unified methodology and its scholars draw from from various disciplines including philosophy, empirical psychology, neuroscience. Its founder Caroll focuses on ‘look[ing] for alternative answers to many of the questions addressed by or raised by psychoanalytic film theories … in terms of cognitive and rational processes rather than unconscious or irrational ones’ ( his own words from ‘Engaging the Moving Image’). Greg M. Smith and Per Persson favour a cognitive psychology approach, and their books study the cognitive and emotional responses of the film spectator.

According to an article Caroll believes that film cues the spectator’s emotions primarily through narrative, and studies this process within different genres: horror (‘The Philosophy of Horror’ (1990), but also suspense, humor, melodrama (‘Engaging the Moving Image’).

On the other hand, Greg M. Smith believes that the “primary emotive effect of film is to create mood” moods having longer duration and being elicited more throughout most films, whereas emotions are intense, brief, and intermittent. Smith also argues the emotions depend on moods as “orienting states” that prepare the viewer for specific emotional responses. Smith believes that mood is primarily created by stylistic devices rather than narrative.

I can only write this very simple overview because I haven’t read any of the books yet, but the focus of this theory on the audience’s emotional and intuitive response to film seems related to my moving image practice, and I plan to study it further after the MA. I’m especially interested in Greg M. Smith’s concept of mood as a product of aesthetic choices rather than narrative devices.

Reference books I included in the bibliography for my Ph.D. application were:

Allen, R. (1995) Projecting Illusion: Film Spectatorship and the Impression of Reality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2008) Film art. London: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Persson, P. (2003) Understanding cinema: a psychological theory of moving imagery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Plantinga, C. & Smith, G. (1999) Passionate views: film, cognition, and emotion. London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Smith, G. (2003) Film structure and the emotion system. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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Camera Lucida – Roland Barthes

Posted in Audience Response, Critical theory, Photography, Reading notes with tags , , , , on January 16, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In his book “Camera Lucida”, Roland Barthes asks himself what gives a photograph impact. Why do some photographs command our attention while other just do not draw us so powerfully, even though we may still recognise an interesting subject and/or technical qualities in them?

Barthes believes that a photograph talks to is viewer using ‘two languages, one expressive, the other critical’ (p20). What he calls ‘expressive’ is what I call ‘intuitive’. He goes on to define to define the specific discourse of the photograph within those two languages.

The ‘studium’ is the appeal of a photograph on a critical level, the way it can grab a viewer’s attention on a cultural level, mediated by moral, cultural and political references.

The ‘punctum’ is something, often a small detail in the photograph, that disturbs the neat interpretative order offered by the ‘studium’, thus creating ambiguity and different levels of reading. A photograph without this ‘punctum’ only has one level of reading, whereas the punctum brings a ‘duality of language’ to a photograph. For the punctum to work, it must not be a too obvious contrast within the photograph, but rather a surreptitious detail. Something elusive enough so that the viewer cannot easily name it or explain it. For Barthes, the impossibility to name something is ‘the best symptom of the feeling of uneasiness.’

I find that Barthes concern with ambiguity and different level of meanings is similar to what interests me in particular artworks.

Relational Aesthetics

Posted in Audience Response, Critical theory, Reading notes with tags , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

This post contains reading notes from “Relational Aesthetics” (“Esthétique relationnelle”) by Nicolas Bourriaud, and discussion of some concepts. Bourriaud focuses on the relationship/communication between the artist and their audience via the artwork. He is particularly interested in a particular type of ‘participatory’ art where the audience is invited to take part in the making of the artwork but his more general ideas are relevant to other types of art as well. I liked this book because it makes central the question of the social function of art and its philosophical implications, something that I feel is too often overlooked in contemporary art.

(Page numbers are from the French edition.)

P12: Three philosophical traditions during the twentieth century: the rationalist modernism (derived from 18th century enlightenment) and the philosophies of liberation through the irrational (Dada, surrealism, situationism) are both opposed to the authoritarian state.

P16: art is a ‘social interstice’ in the marxist sense, that is an activity that, although it takes place within the capitalist system, suggests alternative exchange values.

P18: the concept of ‘relational aesthetics’ comes from a marxist/althusserian philosophy where existence has neither pre-existing meaning nor goal. The only real thing are the links between individuals, that always take place in a specific historical concept, ‘the sum of the social relationships’ as Marx puts it.

P26: Duchamp: “it is the viewer that creates the painting”. The audience creates the meaning of the work.

P44: Marx defines money as a value reference that is used to compare abstract quantities of different items, such as work. Art is an exchange activity that cannot be regulated by money or any other ‘common substance’ because it is the sharing of meaning in its raw state (“le partage du sens à l’état pur”).

P47: Bourriaud thinks modernism had a logic of opposition whereas art today is concerned with coexistence and negociation.

P59: Bourriaud lists artists that do not believe in the producer’s ‘divine authority’ to assign meaning to their work, but instead engage in open-ended, unresolved discussion with their audience. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

P62: Bourriaud says modernity was concerned with liberating the individual against group tendencies, and nowadays individualism is criticized. He thinks that today the emancipation of the individual is no longer the most urgent concern, but instead communication and relationship between humans. I completely disagree with that, I think the emancipation of the individual is the key thing against reactionary thoughts. Post 1970s reactionary thoughts distorted the notion of individualism, taking it away from ‘critically defining one own values for oneself’ (individualism in the philosophical realm) to ‘destroying all social solidarity and pitching individuals against each other in the economical realm’ (individualism in the economical realm). I believe art must support the notion of individualism in the context of defining one’s own values as a valid alternative to reactionary thought which encourages individuals to accept state ideologies blindly while at the same time shedding all sentiment of class solidarity (Thatcher, Sarkozy, Cameron …)

P71: reference to Nietzsche’s concept of art taking over the possibilities offered by new techniques to create ‘life possibilities’ out of them, refusing the authority of technology but instead using technology to create new ways of living, thinking and seeing. I like this idea in the context of digital art. To use digital technologies to create something meaningful (in a active way) rather than simply reflect on the changes technology itself brought to human lives (passive thinking).

P88: Bourriaud thinks that today’s mainstream ideologies do not value work in a non economical context, and do not assign any value to free time. I completely agree with this. Work is not valued as a way of creating meaning but only when it creates immediate profit. Bourriaud also says “to kill democracy, one starts by silencing experimentation, then accusing freedom of being rabid” (“Quand on veut tuer la démocracie, on commence par museler l’expérimentation, et l’on finit par accuser la liberté d’avoir la rage.”)

P91: As a critic, Felix Guattari is concerned with ‘subjectivity’. Maybe look into him further. However, Guattari, like Nietzche, only considers subjectivity and meaning from the point of view of the creator of the artwork.

P103: Mikhail Bakhine defines the concept of “transfert of subjectivation” as the moment where the viewer assigns meaning to the artwork they are looking at.

Duchamp in the 1954 Houston conference about “the creative process”: the viewer is the co-creator of the work. The “Art coefficient” is the “difference between what the artist had planned to achieve and what they actually achieved.”

P107: Marx criticises the classical distinction between “Praxis” (the act of transforming oneself) and “Poiêsis” (the act to produce something and transform matter): he thinks that both actions work together.

Guattari: “the only acceptable finality of human activities is the production of a subjectivity continually enriching its relationship to the world.”

p114: Bourriaud believes that the characteristic of artwork produced within totalitarian regimes is that they do not offer to the viewer the possibility of completing them; they are closed on themselves. He calls this “the criteria of coexistence”: the act of asking oneself, when looking at an artwork: ‘does this work offer me the possibility to exist alongside it? Does it authorise a dialogue?’

MA Digital Arts – Midpoint Review Presentation and Evaluation

Posted in Audience Response, Critical theory, Disciplinary Institutions, Ghost House, MADA Coursework, My practice, Practice experiments with tags , , , on April 7, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

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Instructions

Hello fellow MADA 1st year students !

For optimal results, please watch the visual presentation on you tube before reading the written evaluation. (You just have to read this post linearly from beginning to end.)

Thank you !

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Visual presentation

I am of course interested in your thoughtful feedback as an artist/academic with cultural references, but also in your instinctive reactions as an individual. This is why I am asking you to watch the visual presentation before reading the evaluation of my project. I want to recreate the conditions in which a random passerby may see an artwork on the internet or in a gallery window, without knowing anything about it, without having even looked at the title yet. This person may not know anything about contemporary art. They may be walking down the street and notice a picture, or have randomly found a video on youtube. What will this person see in the art work? Will the image grab their attention? Will the image awaken feelings/moods/questions in them, despite the absence of cultural context? Making artworks that are able to establish direct communication with the viewer, without the need for explanations or comments is a big concern in my practice. This experiment is designed to find out in which measure I have succeeded or failed so far.

In the visual presentation, you will be shown excerpts from 2 videos, stripped of title, music and context. These videos are made from edited footage, but have no special effects yet. I would like you to watch these videos candidly, without a priori. For the 6 minutes of the presentation, please try and forget (temporarily) about the academic context and watch them not as coursework, but as your Friday night movie or a museum on holidays. This is the closest way I could artificially recreate the situation described above. Please focus on your subjective experience as a viewer. Do the images grab your attention or fail to do so ? Do they create any feelings/moods/reflexions in you? If so which? Do the 2 videos have different, identical or similar feelings to you ? Please tell me anything that crosses your mind.

Watch the visual presentation on youtube

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Please do not read anything below until you have watched the visual presentation and followed the instructions !

Thank you !

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500 word auto-evaluation

Evaluation

My project is about the relationships between places and individuals, observed through 2 main viewpoints:
1) how the physical world is subjectively perceived by individuals, and intersects with their inner world.
2) how space influence individuals’ psyches. This may take a more political aspect by exploring themes of imprisonment and deprivation of private space.

In the theoretical research, I got mainly interested in:
1) Documentary-type (i.e. not staged) photography, both through its link to Surrealism and in its contemporary form. Surrealist documentary aims to physically reveal “surreality”, the higher perception where dream and reality merge. In contemporary practice, the concept of subjective documentary, that says more about the person that makes it than about the documented subject itself.
2) The concept of “chronotope”: the way space is intrinsically linked to time in the context of memory.
3) Manipulating the viewer’s perceptions/feelings using moving image techniques.
4) How much the meaning/impact of an artwork comes from the raw images themselves, and how much comes from the critical comment accompanying them.

In practice, I have mainly edited raw footage shot in abandoned buildings last summer (in prevision of the MA), aiming to use editing techniques in order to create specific atmospheres that would trigger specific feelings.

Work plan

Issue 1: I come from photography. I have lots of references in cinema but know little about video art. In photography, striking symbolic images stand by themselves. In cinema, such atmospheric images come in between bits of informative narrative. I am still unsure about video art as a language: is it a succession of symbolic sequences deprived of narrative ? Or am I missing something ? Do I want to make pure visual video art or do I want to tell stories (even ambiguous ones) but do not know yet how to do it ? Do moving images without narrative get boring for the audience ?

Issue 2: So far I have only used unstaged/documentary type footage. I planned to incorporate staged images, mostly in order to depict dreams. How do I make the staged images ? I am concerned about them looking kitsch (due to lack of budget), too litteral or too didactic (textbook symbolism).

Issue 3: How can I use new digital technologies (rather than pure traditional still/moving image) to serve my purpose, not just for the sake of being modern ? The main idea is to make immersive installations that make the world of the moving images more real to the viewer than traditional projection on a screen. I have not studied the practical/technical feasibility of installations at all yet.

Issue 4: Can I use the still photographs in an innovative way ?

Other practical tasks:
1) start using special effects on the video software
2) shall I try making my own soundtracks or continue using work from a proper musician ?

Further theoretical research:
1) the mechanism of memory
2) dream symbolism

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Constructive comments

After reading this project evaluation, please submit your comments as a student/artist/academic as well as your comments as an individual viewer (as requested in the visual presentation). If your experience on these 2 different levels differs sensibly, please make sure to state clearly on which level you are commenting, since I won’t be able to request clarification of ambiguities while you are commenting on my work. Thank you for your help and cooperation!

For your information, the titles and commercial/critical blurbs usually accompanying the 2 videos were:

Video 1: Disciplinary Institutions

In “Disciplinary Institutions”, I explore places used to make undesirable and/or helpless people disappear discretely such as Magdalene convents (used to imprison women), mental asylums and workhouses. I am interested in showing how the long gone inmates keep imprinting these places long after they are dead, and the malevolent aura still cast by those buildings.

Video 2: Ghost House

The Ghost House series was shot at several abandoned houses in Ireland, whose last occupants probably left 10 to 30 years ago. Traces of their lives and aspirations, and of the disillusions and hardships
that made them leave their homeland, remained in the form of scattered personal belongings.

Do those blurbs influence your perception of the images ?
If so, do they:
– help you get interested in the artwork (while the images alone left you cold) ?
– change your perception of the images ?
– confirm your intuitive perception of the images ?