Archive for the Video Category

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.’

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‘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

Documentary and Architectural Photography and Video

Posted in documentary, My practice, Photography, Professional Development, Video on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have added to my website a section of documentary and architectural photography and video, separate from my ‘fine art photography’ projects. This section is not complete yet and each project contain only a few photographs so far. It contains 3 types of photographs:

1) Outtakes from my ‘Ghost House’and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ projects, that show the buildings in a documentary way, but do not have enough aesthetic value to qualify as ‘art’. The difference may not be obvious for anyone but me, but in my main series, the focus is on the creative subjective viewpoint, whereas on those documentary outtakes, the focus is solely on representing the building and my creative input as a photographer is limited to just taking a clear photograph.

2) Photography of building of architectural and/or historical interest.

3) Documentary Photography of Raw Art environments.

In both these last cases, the places are interesting by themselves and the purpose of the photograph is solely to show their architectural features in a clear way, the focus is not on a subjective treatment of them.

I added these sections because, after reading Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz, I thought that Architectural photography could be a promising way to start taking commercial contracts. I would like to develop this documentary/architectural section as a portfolio showcasing a commercial practice, as opposed to my fine art practice.

On September 5th, I will shoot photographs and a video inside Ketlle Yard’s House in Cambridge. This is a house that used to belong to art collectors and has been turned into a museum, but the artworks are displayed as though it was still a private art lover’s dwelling. I am interested in this space because of the unique way the former owners transformed a functional dwelling into a medium of self expression, as though they remodelled a physical space to be a projection of their inner world, filling it with art representative of their time and the interests of the bohemian social circle they were part of.

When this is done, I will display the photographs and video on my website. Something I would interesting in doing commercially would be to take photographs and videos for interior design companies and publications, and for cultural places and historical monuments, so I decided to try and find interesting buildings to train myself on as unpaid projects first.

Woodlawn House short video

Posted in My practice, Urban Exploration, Video with tags , , on August 28, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I’ve edited a very short video (1 min 30 sec) from footage shot at Woodlawn House, co. Galway, Ireland. It is an abandoned mansion with striking interior decoration such as grand staircase, mirrors and ornate ceilings, although it has been emptied of everything else for renovation. Its heavily ornamented décor reminded me of the hotel from Last Year in Marienbad, if it had been abandoned, and I tried to replicate the long tracking shots from the film.

I have an old harmonium and wanted to find a musician to improvise on it (I’m a total beginner and just occasionally have fun with it) to get the type of disjointed organ music from the Marienbad soundtrack, but I did not find anyone suitable, so I had to use some ambient music from Edge Effect who makes all my soundtrack instead. I chose a piece with a loose and fluid structure to try and replicate the feeling of ambiguous space with the music coming from no discernible direction characteristic of the Marienbad soundtrack.

I had about 30 min of footage and could only manage to make a 1 min 30 video out of it, the rest was either too similar or not very interesting visually. My ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ videos (5min and 6min 50 respectively) are both composite from footage shot at various places. I would like to find more places similar to Woodlawn, abandoned places with a posh, ornamented decor, but rather clean and empty, where I could shoot more footage to make a longer composite videos, but such places are difficult to find.

‘Disciplinary Institutions’ showing Wed 17th August in London! (tonight!)

Posted in Disciplinary Institutions, My practice, My shows, Video on August 16, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

MILLINGTON | MARRIOTT present OPEN film schedule

New Gallery London
92 Peckham road, SE15 5PY
London, United Kingdom

WEDNESDAY
Andrew Hinton – Banking on change (11.44)
James Jarret – Absence of the Star (4.00)
Matthew Verdon – The Adventures of Monica (4.35)
Alex Reuben – Big hair (5.13)
Oliver Smith – Belief Perspective (7.56)
Thomas Kilburn – I could Never Love Again (9.36)
Melanie Menard – Disciplinary Institutions (6.52)
Luke Howlin – Spritz (8.16)
Pete May – Dolly With a Dick (TRANStv) (10.00)
David Altweger – The Twilight Project Chapter One (5.31)

Contextualising my practice within experimental film and traditional video art

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Contemporary Art, Moving Image: Psychodrama Trance-film, Video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I read the book ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing in order to find more moving image artists who share my themes and concerns. The book surveys moving image art from early cinema to today’s digital moving image, which enabled me to isolate certain themes and genres that creep back in different cultural and technological contexts.

The book surveys avant guarde cinema close to Surrealism, for example the films of Germaine Dulaine and Man Rays’s Le mystère du chateau de Dé, where the camera tracks at low level through the empty rooms of a modernist house, anticipating contemporary works dealing with space and emptiness. I have already written about these artists when I surveyed photography and cinema within Surrealism.

In the 1940s, a new wave of avant garde cinema reappropriated the Surrealist idea of the importance of subjective vision in film. Filmmakers in this tradition are Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton. Critic A.L. Rees coins the term ‘psychodrama’ to describe their works that deal with inner life and conflict, and suggest their air of menace and obsssession may be linked to the cold war climate of paranoia which also influenced the film noir genre.

In Maya Deren Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a woman chases a cloaked figure that may or may not represent the temptation of suicide in successive sequences that blur chronology and geography.

Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) is one the first films ever to have an explicit gay theme: a sleeper awakes to be tormented and and torn apart by mocking sailors, but is reborn in a flow of light and balm to find himself back in bed but no longer alone. The theme reminds me of the old myths of the vegetation Gods (Dyonisos) who suffered ritual sacrifice to be reborn.

(Warning: the following short film contains nudity. Click the embedded player at your own risk.)

Kenneth Anger later made another film dealing with ritual sacrifice: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954-6).

‘Fireworks’ and other films depicting dreams are sometimes referred to as ‘trance films’. The term “trance-film” is taken from P. Adams Sitney, whose book ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) has become the bible of American avant-garde film history.

Sidney Peterson’s The lead shoes (1949) deals with Oedipal themes.

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xe7579
The Lead Shoes (1949) by Lost_Shangri_La_Horizon

Stan Brakhage, a young student of Maya Deren, investigated wish-dreams vs. reality in his films. I liked the light play in ‘Cat’s Cradle’ (1959)

Bruce Baillie’s ‘Castro Street’ (1966) is a non narrative film made of footage of urban landscape and industrial spaces.

During the 60’s, experimental cinema moved towards formal abstraction. In the late 1970’s however, some film makers moved back to exploring the subjective. The best known are Patrick Keiller (now famous for dealing with psychogeography in his films), and Derek Jarman and the ‘new romantics filmmakers’ (including Cerith Wyn-Evans and John Maybury).

The 70’s marked the beginning of a stronger separation between experimental film makers and gallery based video artists. The two traditions of work became very distinct, with gallery based video art tending back then to be non narrative.

However, some works explore the boundary between the real and the dreamlike, for example Robert Whitman ‘Prune flat’ where two performers merge with the images projected onto them and the background.

still from Prune flat

The ‘Psychodrama’ genre in experimental moving image picked up in the 90s.

The works of Canadian artist Stan Douglas deals with the uncanny, the urban space and memory.

‘The Sandman’ (1995) shows two loops filmed at allotments in Potsdam in former East Berlin, while on the soundtrack, someone reads an adapted version of E.T.A. Hoffman’s ‘The Sandmann’ that inspired Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’.

‘Le Detroit’ also uses 2 loops, one projected in negative, the other in positive. It shows a black woman wandering through an abandoned house, looking at abandoned possessions. ‘Le detroit’ makes references to Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and Marie Hamlin’s 1883 chronicle ‘Legends of Le Détroit’ (Le detroit being a French name for the city of Detroit, MI). The video uses the conventions of the horror film to comment on the decline of urban neighbourhoods in Detroit, and the problems of racial tensions in this city.

still from 'Le detroit'

Isaac Julien and Sunil Gupta ‘Looking for Langston: Homage Noir’ (1989) mixes archive footage, dream sequences and staged photographs to talk about American Black Gay poet Langston Hughes and the cultural renaissance of Harlem.

Matthew Buckingham’s film installation ‘A Man of the Crowd’ (2003) is based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe that influenced Baudelaire’s concept of the Flâneur. The camera follows a man wandering through the streets of Vienna, and shows reflections in cafes and store windows while the viewer themselves is reflected on the glass used to make the installation, thus questioning reality and illusion in everyday life.

still from 'Man of the Crowd'

Catherine Sullivan explores theatricality and social conventions. Her work is insprired by film noir and avant-garde cinema. In ‘The Chittendens’ (2005), a six screen video installation, actors in period costumes perform gestures that symbolise different social attitudes or psychological mindsets. Most of the video was shot in an abandoned Post Office in Chicago. The work reflects on property, insecurity, the act of performance in everyday life and hysteria.

still from chittendens

Judith Barry’s ‘Ars Memoriae Carnegiensis’ reinvents the Renaissance concept of ‘memory theatre’, that is, a mental process where a person maps memories to the physical space of a building filled with symbolic objects (and also the drawing or painting of the resulting imaginary space).

In Doug Aitken’s video installation ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) shows a black man wandering the streets and parking lots of Los Angeles by night. The installation is immersive: the viewer is invited to physically moves through the spaces delimited by the several screens, while the sound design gives a unity to the different visuals. The immersive quality invites the viewer to share the protagonist’s feeling of urban alienation.

In 2006, Aitken produced ‘Broken Screen: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken’ (Distributed Art Publishers, 2006), a book of interviews with twenty-six artists who aim to explore and challenge the conventions of linear narrative. Interviews included Robert Altman, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, Kenneth Anger and others. It seems this book cross references both artists that I found while doing this research, and filmmakers that I like such as Herzog, so it may be worth checking it out.

Irish artist Willie Doherty also uses installations to create feelings of physical unease and psychological paranoia. Ghost Story (2007) shows how the landscape of the North of Ireland is haunted by the traumatic events that took place there. The camera moves down a road, never reaching any destination, while a man (actor Stephen Rea) narrates in voice-over horrible events that he witnessed. However, no pshysical trace of these events are visible on the onscreen visuals, it is just an empty landscape. The land is scarred psychologically, but not visibly.

Kutlug Ataman’s five-screen video installation ‘Stefan’s Room’ (2004) is a psychological study of obssession and an individual’s relation to their private space. On one screen, a young German man, Stephan, discusses in detail his passion for moths which he both breeds and collects. The other screens show close-ups of insects, either live specimen crawling quietly on Stephan’s arms and hands, or his collection of dead specimen on display in his appartment.

Stephan's Room still

Douglas Gordon uses the screen and formal cinematic conventions to explore psychological instability. In a show ‘what have i done’ at the Hayward Gallery in 2003, he used mirrors reflecting his screen based work to create illusions of spatial confusion in the viewer. Because he is is interested in the formal conventions of cinema, he often uses found footage, most notably in ’24 hour psycho’ (about which I had already talked in a previous blog post) where he slows down Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ to last 24 hours. However, a newer piece ‘Fog’ (2002) uses original footage. Inspired by a 19th-century Scottish novel by James Hogg, ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ (1824) where a man meets his double, who really is the Devil and convinces him to commit crimes, ‘Fog’ shows a man looking at his own shadow. The image is repeated on the other side of the screen, deliberately out of synch, so that at times the man is looking at himself looking at his shadow. The theme of the double is also present in ‘Self-portrait’ (1994) where the artist confronts his reflection. The video is shown as a negative image so as to question issues of reality and illusions. In Douglas Gordon’s own words, ‘The negative image indicates a flip-side of our reality, and so everything we know is turned upside down / inside out. What is the reverse side of self-reflection? What is the opposite of truth?’

I found my own video work to be very close to these works which use the aesthetic conventions of fiction, such as horror, noir or other genre movies or dream sequences, 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.

Contextualising my practice within digital moving image

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Digital Art, Moving Image: Psychodrama Trance-film, Video with tags , , on July 10, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In Digital Art, Christiane Paul writes about a type of Digital Art that uses Digital technologies as a tool, without necessarily ‘reflecting on those technologies’ aesthetics [nor] making a statement about them’.

Among the works of this types, Craig Kalpakjian’s digital video Corridor (1997) follows a computer generated seemingly endless hallway that causes in the viewer feelings emptiness and alienation by way of its cold formal perfection.

She makes a difference with Digital Art using digital technologies as a medium. She says that such art ‘exclusively uses the digital platform from production to presentation’ and ‘exhibits and explores that platform’s inherent possibilities’. In consequence, such art is ‘interactive, participatory, dynamic, and customizable’ but it ‘has multiple manifestations and is extremely hybrid’ and its theme is not necessarily technology-related. She classifies interactive installations within this category of art, and I feel this is the direction I could take to use more cutting edge technologies within my work. I am particularly interested in installation that use digital technology to go beyond traditional video installation by enhancing the feeling of immersion, or by making them react to the viewer. Christiane Paul extends her survey of such art in her essay ‘Expanding cinema: the moving image in Digital Art’, published in ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing.

Some immersive video installations experiment with the spatialisation of moving image in a physical environment, for example Michael Naimark’s Be Here Now (1995) and Jeffrey Shaw’s Place, a user manual (1995). Both works are descriptive and documentary like, but I would like to use spatialisation together with the next type of work which explores narrative.

Other video works explore the possibility of ‘abandoning control over an image sequence’ (in Grahame Weinbren’s words), constructing a digital cinema based on interactive visual narratives.

One of the earliest interactive narrative films is Lynn Hershman’s Lorna (1979-84) made for television. The viewer navigates the narrative with a remote control. The minimal control technology is similar to a favourite piece of mine, Markus Schinwald’s Dictio Pii, where the viewer switches between characters’ point of views using a remote control. Lorna tells the story of a woman who lives a completely isolated life in her appartment, her TV being her only interaction with the outside world. The disruption in the non-linear narrative caused by the viewer’s using the remote mirror Lorna’s unstable psychological state. The story has three possible endings: escape from the apartment, suicide or the end of mediation by shooting the television.

Weinbren’s own work Sonata (1991-3) blends two classical works, allowing the viewer to modify the steam of the narrative. The 2 story lines share the themes of seduction and murder: the Biblical story of Judith who pretended to seduce and decapitated the general Holofernes, and Tolstoy’s The Kreuzer Sonata in which a man’s suspicion that his wife has an affair with a violinist leads him to kill her.

weinbren - sonata (still from)

Toni Dove made a trilogy of digital video installations that address the unconscious of consumer economies.

In Artificial Changelings (1998) (on Toni doves’s website and on , the viewer controls the narrative by stepping into four sensor-controlled zones on the floor. Zone 1 steps into a character’s mind, Zone 2 prompts a character to address the viewer directly and Zone 3 induces a trance or dream state. The last zone causes the story to travel into the past.

still from toni Dove's Artificial Changelings

Spectropia (1999-2002) uses the metaphor of time travel and supernatural possession to connect two narratives, one taking place in the future and the other in 1931. The interface employs sensors, speech recognition and vocal triggers in order to enable viewers to navigate the spaces, speak to characters and have them respond, move a characters’s body and alter or create a sound.

I found those works very interesting and relevant to my practice because they explore dark psychological themes. It’s almost as though they use the possibility of random choices afforded by digital technologies to simulate the often erratic and irrational way human beings make decisions and choices.

I might look for further information on the subject in a book she recommends: Expanded Cinema (1970) by Gene Youngblood.

I found Christiane Paul’s book an interesting read because it helped me contextualise my own practice within digital art, while I often feel I share little concern with the more technology-centric hardcore digital art. It gave me ideas about how I could use more cutting edge technology within my practice while still keeping my non-technology minded themes.