[-empyre-] visualization as the new language of theory

Renate Ferro rtf9 at cornell.edu
Fri Feb 5 13:01:14 EST 2010

Paul Ward will be our guest on empyre in a couple of weeks.  Thanks so
much for citing his work.

> This is a great discussion.  And there are lots of interesting twists
> and turns, so forgive me for ignoring a whole bunch of other things to
> that I can focus on one:
> Simon Biggs asked:  " Seeking to assure the topic remains the focus I
> will ask whether animation, closely related to visualisation in some
> ways, might be a cultural form of expression with particular relevance
> in a world that is being progressively rendered instrumentalised
> through gradual processes of quantitative ordering."
> I think this is one of the most important questions to ask about
> animation.  While there are certainly purely aesthetic elements to the
> increasing prominence of animation, there are also a whole bunch of
> really important cultural, technological, and economic questions that
> are related. While the visual aesthetics of animation are significant,
> there is also an aesthetic dimension to the temporality of animation.
> How motion is represented is, in my opinion, often related to how
> space and time are experienced.  The constraints of space and time are
> significant both in how they contribute to our notions of reality and
> how they exist in tension with our desires.  (I am going to
> cannibalize an article that I wrote a while ago, so pardon the abrupt
> shift in tone).
>  In his article on Jurassic Park, Alan Cholodenko notes that animation
> may very well be what cinema has aspired to all along: "By means of
> computer animation techniques operating not at the old 'mechanical'
> level of the exotechnical but at the level of the esotechnical,
> Jurassic Park ecstacizes the process which it declares to be at work
> in 'cinema' 'itself', pushing the special effect to its limit, its
> fulfillment and annihilation." While Paul Ward, in "Animation Studies,
> Disciplinarity and Discursivity," posits a definition of animation
> studies that situates it as a cultural studies artifact par
> excellence: "My suggestion is that we need to develop a discursive
> view of apparently 'multi-sited' fields of knowledge, like Animation
> Studies: rather than making what are ultimately false calls for
> recognition of yet another free-standing discipline, the dialogic and
> dialectical relationship between fields of knowledge must be seen as
> the central focus" (par. 1). In other words, animation is formed at
> the points of contact between several disciplines - it is mass media,
> fine art, literature, and/or cinema. Indeed, in this context, the
> argument put forward by Ward in "Animated Realities" on realism
> affirms the representational power of animated images.
> If we take the claims of theorists like Ward and Cholodenko seriously,
> we are poised to reconsider just what we mean when we speak of
> animation. If, we accept, as I've described above that animation is a
> process of assembling still images from outside of the constraints of
> space and time in series to create motion, then we have a meaningful
> lens for understanding the pleasures of traditional animation. Common
> cartoon gags that run through works of animation icons like Tex Avery,
> Friz Freling, Ub Iwerks, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett (running off of a
> cliff and pausing to contemplate the situation, the use of Rube
> Goldberg machines, the superelastic cartoon body, the direct address
> of the viewer, the appearance of the animator's hand, etc.) suggest
> both meticulous attention to comic timing and a desire to perpetually
> accomplish the impossible.
> In the era of analog production, this tension between order and
> revolution finds free reign in the animated realm. And though the
> manipulation of clock time does exist in traditional cinema
> (particularly in the process of editing), the time of production for
> the animator is a time of perpetual "editing" undergirded by pressures
> (to complete the work and get it to market). But nevertheless, the
> animator performs seamlessly a series of impossible jump cuts,
> assembling the pictorial world outside of time. Hence the interest in
> representing this process playfully, in pushing it, and testing its
> boundaries. And, given the industrial employment of audiences, this
> playfulness surely found pleasure in the possibility of subverting the
> hard rules of space and time through subjective practices (this
> playfulness also appears films like Chaplin's Modern Times or Keaton's
> Cops).
> In the digital era this changes. As CGI and other digital production
> techniques have become more common, we have seen applications of the
> technology which showcase their novelty (see for instance, the "Bullet
> Time" slow motion of The Matrix, the re-release of the Star Wars
> Trilogy, or technocentric spectacle of Tron). But the emergence of a
> CGI-film "aesthetic" in films (like 300 and Beowulf), the common use
> of CGI for TV series (like Babylon 5, Stargate SG-1, and the new
> Battlestar Gallactica), and CGI commercials (like Pepsi's "I'm
> Spartacus" commercial) have established animation as yet another
> aspect of filmmaking. But, as Forrest Gump's revisions of documentary
> footage, the Star Wars Trilogy's re-release, and Pepsi's "I'm
> Spartacus" commercial demonstrate, digital techniques open up all film
> to animation. As digital editing becomes the default position, the
> decision to go "natural" becomes an editorial decision (much in the
> same way that Jackie Chan's performance of his own stunts, reinforced
> by the presentation of injury footage at the end of his films, is
> notable because it is the exception). In effect, the digital era
> brings all imagery under the auspices of the editorial question. This
> fact should make us question the dichotomy that places the process of
> out-of-time process of animation beneath the real-time process of
> traditional filmmaking. Perhaps it is time to admit that all film
> exists in relation to animation. Certainly this view of film
> emphasizes the role of discursive framing and deemphasizes the role of
> the auteur, the script, and the star in interpretation, as all aspects
> of the represented world must be viewed as constructed. To draw an
> analogy with popular music, the performer has been replaced by the
> producer.
> This radical reframing of the animation/film relationship that takes
> place in the move from analog to digital methods has ramifications for
> the relationship between order and revolution described above. As
> animation has become a normal aspect of film, there is a certain
> expectation among viewers that films can and will play fast and loose
> with the rules of space and time.(consider, for instance, the
> intersection of globalization, animation, and editing described in
> Laurie Cubbison's "Not Just for Children's Television".)
> But deeper than these patterned expectations are the material and
> cultural processes that underpin these expectations. As Hai Ren
> documents in "Subculture as a Neo-Liberal Conduct of Life in Leisure
> and Consumption" <http://www.rhizomes.net/issue10/ren.htm>, the
> movement of subcultural studies can be summed up in three main
> tendencies: the Chicago School's study of youth, deviance, and
> delinquency from the 1920s to the '60s, the Birmingham School of
> Cultural Studies' focus on the resistant practices of the
> disenfranchised from the 1960s to the '80s, and postmodern turn
> towards heterogeneity, lifestyle, and leisure from the 1990s to the
> present. Ren maps this sweep onto the emergence of late capitalism:
>  "I take a genealogical approach to investigate how subculture studies
> has contributed to the development of a style of thinking that
> addresses the neo-liberal agency of an individual under certain
> historical conditions of capitalism. Not only does a subculture
> express meanings of style (through clothing, decoration, color, and
> music), but it also communicates a personalized way of conducting
> one's life, one that especially emphasizes being active (being
> eccentric, decoding and recoding), calculative (managing risks and
> costs), subjective (accepting discourses, media representations, and
> capital accumulation), and intelligent (believing and deciding what
> counts as reasonable). The latter dimension of a subculture
> underscores an ideal mode of conduct under two important aspects of
> the neo-liberal historical condition." (par. 3)
> In other words, animation's openness to construction, editing, and
> manipulation coincides with the values of neoliberal society. Ren
> continues, "The rapid development of media (especially of
> multiplicity-based media) provides an important material and cultural
> means for the development of neo-liberal modes of conduct in everyday
> life" (par. 44). Unlike analog animation, which presented an
> alternative to the clock-based temporality of the industrial
> workplace, digital animation reinforces the logic of the postmodern
> world.
> Nowhere is this new logic more evident than in the aura surrounding
> Pixar studios. As Rebecca Farley notes:
> "The first is the description of Pixar as an animation "house",
> relating it back to the domestic, the realm of the private, the realm
> of play (as opposed to the public realm of work). This is underlined
> by the association with children (who are free to play) and pets (more
> domesticity - and of course, what you do with your pet, usually, is to
> play with it). Working at Pixar (especially compared to work in
> university admin, or a convenience store) can hardly amount to work at
> all. It's too much fun." (par. 7)
>>From the simulated gag reels that have become standard at the end of
> Pixar features to the atmosphere of the studio itself, Pixar seeks to
> wrap itself in a narrative of play - a narrative which pervades all
> aspects of neoliberal existence...
> The Virtual Reality of Jurassic Park and Jean Baudrillard',
> International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, 2.1 (January 2005):
> <http://www.ubishops.ca/BaudrillardStudies/vol2_1/cholodenko.htm>.
> Farley, Rebecca. "How Do You Play?" M/C: A Journal of Media and
> Culture 1.5 (1998). <http://www.uq.edu.au/mc/9812/how.php>.
> Ren, Hai. "Subculture as a Neo-Liberal Conduct of Life in Leisure and
> Consumption" Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 10
> (Spring 2005): <http://www.rhizomes.net/issue10/ren.htm>.
> Ward, Paul. "Animation Studies, Disciplinarity and Discursivity."
> Reconstruction, 3.2 (Spring 2003):
> <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/032/ward.htm>.
> Not just for children's television: Anime and the changing editing
> practices of American television networks / Laurie Cubbison
> <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/082/cubbison.shtml>
> Animated realities: the animated film, documentary, realism / Paul Ward
> <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/082/ward.shtml>
> Technological Determinism and the Poisoned Apple: The Case of Snow
> White and the Seven Dwarfs / Sean Chadwell
> <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/082/chadwell.shtml>
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

Renate Ferro
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Art
Cornell University, Tjaden Hall
Ithaca, NY  14853

Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
Website:  http://www.renateferro.net

Co-moderator of _empyre soft skinned space

Art Editor, diacritics

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