[-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens

Kriss Ravetto kravetto at ed.ac.uk
Wed Jul 4 09:19:52 EST 2012

“Screens, whether projected or illuminated, active or passive, large or small, have become ubiquitous.” [Simon’s initial description]

 Hello all, talking about the ubiquity or omnipresence of vision (or surveillance), back in the States for less than 10 hours and I have already been virtually spotted by Simon in the background of a skype conversation.  Having been screened, I feel obliged to start a discussion but with an apologia (I am pretty jet-lagged, please excuse the rambling and incoherence). I want to start by addressing a very general and schematic history of thinking about the screen as surface, window and creative practice of mediation, and then ask a few questions.

 “Yet the screen, in the sense we have historically understood it through our experiences with the cinema and television, is disappearing.” [Simon’s initial description]

 Coming from a discipline what used to be termed “film” (a medium and a name that is also disappearing), I would like to begin the conversation by recalling what Simon has termed “well established theoretical discourses” in classical film on the role of screen in moving image studies.  It was in the debates between cinematic realism and formalism (or what Deleuze will later call ‘powers of the false’) that the screen was situated as a surface, but one that extended beyond (establishing an affective relationship with the spectator or allowed for the spectator to identify with actions, actors or narratives), and at the same time it distanced the spectator (left the spectator in the position of voyeur).  Hence, the screen was presented as both a window and a shade; something you could look through and something that was impenetrable. Andre Bazin argued that film recorded a pre-existing reality that was mummified for the film spectator. For Bazin, the screen was separated from the spectator, it functioned like a window through which the spectator could witness an imprint of previous events. The image itself was presented as an image-fact. The screen marked a place of presence and absence. But it was a thing, a place, a membrane, a surface that mediated the past (captured image in the past) and the present (projection of that image, world or meaning).  I think this is what Simon meant when he said that the screen was an event.  But in some of this classical film theory we can see that the event takes place between surfaces, between the screen and the spectator.

 Similarly Siegfried Kracauer argued that the screen was a surface for revealing rather than conditioning the viewer. Both Kracauer and Bazin saw that the spectator was also a surface.  It was onto this surface / spectator that the film’s meaning was reassembled.

In contrast to the tradition of ontological realism or film as a form of mimesis, Sergei Eisenstein argued for a film aesthetics (formalism) that could produce a shock to thought [though Deleuze uses this shock to thought, he argues that Eisentein’s dialectical montage was a form of conditioning or propaganda present in all forms of narrative cinema or the movement image].

 Here the screen was considered less a window onto the world than a site where self-conscious exploration could be ignited.   In “The Filmic Fourth Dimension,” Eisenstein argued that the screen revealed “definite compositional effects” (such as montage, distortion, rhythm, focus, sound) that drew attention to film’s technology.  This produced both psychological affects and intellectual understandings.  Eisenstein added technology into the collection of surfaces.  Film is also a surface, as is the lens, and the movie theatre, the nervous system and consciousness of the spectator.  The screen still functioned as a mediator or an interface between intersubjective understanding and intrasubjective experience, but he added the technological.

 While both camps argued for different degrees of technological manipulation, they both saw the screen as a place that displayed or carried material traces. In this way the screen conveys some affective stimulation (some immediacy in the form of recognition), whereas for Stanley Cavell “The screen…makes displacement appear as our natural condition.” (The World Viewed).

For Cavell the screen provided the viewer with a sense of invisibility, a distancing effect, which found its expression in of modern privacy or anonymity.  This privacy or anonymity, I think is disappearing.  Our mobile screens do not offer us anonymity, they relay and record our movements (via GPS); they can capture and convey our images as much as they can record images.  Or they can create another type of image (data, or information about us).

 The disappearance that Simon refers to seems to reflect the mobility of screens (we no longer need to go to the cinema or stay home to interact or confront the screen), and the fact that projection can take place on any surface (as the work of Rafael has so wonderfully shown us).  The doubling and redoubling of screens and surfaces, the ubiquity of surveillance has also contributed to the uncertainty as to where or whether the screen takes place with the digital.

A few of the issues brought up and debated in classical film theory still remain with us: take for example the renewed interest in materiality, memory, and remains or traces, or the interest in affect, the immediacy of film the haptic, and empathy, which link screen theory to cognitive science.  We are still discussing how the screen works as a skin, a membrane and a surface that either stimulates (affects us) or conditions us (manipulates the way we think, act or interact).  And we are still interested in the question of distance and proximity.  

What has disappeared is that the digital image itself (unlike film) does not have its own tangible surface.  Surfaces have multiplied, but they are still analogue, material, residues.  Does this create a new tension between the digital and the surface or interface?   

“The moving image immerses us not only sensually but experientially, mediating how we receive and communicate information and act upon the world.” [Simon’s initial description]

Classical film theorists have argued that cinema is immersive, even the first film, the Lumiere brothers’ Arrival of the Train, immersed viewers (it probably did not cause them to jump out of the way), but it did engage the viewers and offered them a perception that appeared 3D as opposed to simply a flat screen.

“Screens exist as surfaces that are tangible and remote, interactive, haptic and in 3D.” 

If the moving image already provides us with a certain depth of vision, tactility, and affectivity, then what does digital media offer us in terms of immersive environments?  Is this still a discussion about realism? Or special effects? The language is often about mimesis.

“Much of our interaction with things is via the screen. Our experience of the world is thus remediated, as we are ourselves, raising important questions of ontology. It would thus seem timely to examine critical engagement and practice with the screen, to progress our understanding of how we use and form, and are used by and formed in relation to, the screen.” [Simon’s initial description]

These interactive screens / machines respond to our voices, our touch, our gestures, but they are at the same time programmed.  Simon has asked us to think about whether modes of communication have collapsed into instrumental mediation.  If we think about the way that twitter, facebook and other social media have been used in the last couple years, they seem to reproduce these two tendencies: 1) toward viral communications that can produce forms of emergence (spontaneous collective activism) and 2) collapse or control (the recording and retaliation against those who have used communications as forms of dissident action).  The multiplication of screens and speed of communications seems to drive this exchange.

 On the other hand the work of Rafael, and Simon’s, Sue’s and Garth’s work “Body Text” seems to grapple with a type of emergence of gestures, disruptions, creative grammar, play.   Within their works the screen seems to lose is shape, its distance, and in some cases it loses control.

On Jul 2, 2012, at 9:47 AM, Simon Biggs wrote:

> July on empyre: Screens
> Screens, whether projected or illuminated, active or passive, large or small, have become ubiquitous. Yet the screen, in the sense we have historically understood it through our experiences with the cinema and television, is disappearing. As so many things become a screen, so the screen, as a medially defining thing, has radically shifted, from a medium for the cinematic and televisual 'event' to a routine and pervasive instrumentality, subsequently remediating our relationships with things.
> There are well established theoretical discourses around the screen, initially developed in relation to the cinematic and, later, video art and television. In respect of cinema an extensive theoretical framework developed throughout the 20th century, whilst with video art discourses teetered between this and the world of art theory. For a short while an unique discourse arguably developed around video. Theorising of television was tackled from both these perspectives but, more often, remained within the domain of cultural theory. With the term 'screen theory' referring to a very particular mode of theoretical engagement, concerning the 'cinematic apparatus', there has never been a coherent theoretical framework or domain of practice engaging 'the screen', although there are many overlaps in how kinds of screens have been addressed from these diverse perspectives.
> Alongside this a similarly dynamic and multiple set of discourses developed around the subject of 'the digital' and telecommunications; what we now understand to be the defining characteristics of computing and now refer to as Information and Communication Technology. To a large degree the discourses around screen media and ICT have been parallel conversations, with restricted critical exchange between them. Where there have been attempts to mutually engage these domains the approach generally sought to subsume one within the other.
> The screen is now ubiquitous. The moving image immerses us sensually and experientially, mediating how we receive and communicate information and act upon the world. Screens exist as surfaces that are tangible and remote, interactive, haptic and in 3D. Much of our interaction with things is via the screen. Our experience of the world is thus remediated, as we are ourselves, raising important questions of ontology. It would thus seem timely to examine critical engagement and practice with the screen, to enhance our understanding of how we use and form, and are used by and formed in relation to, the screen.
> This month's discussion will involve some of the key theorists and practitioners active in the area of digital screen media. They are:
> Week 1 July 2-8
> Martin Rieser, De Monfort University, UK.
> Martin Rieser has worked in the field of interactive arts for many years. He is Joint research Professor between the Institute of Creative Technologies and The Faculty of Art and Design at De Montfort University. His art practice in internet and interactive narrative installation art has been seen around the world including Cannes; Holland, Paris; Vienna, Thessaloniki, London, Germany, Milan and Melbourne, Australia. He has published numerous essays and books on digital art including New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative (BFI/ZKM, 2002), and has recently edited The Mobile Audience, a book on locative technology and art out this year from Rodopi.
> Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, University of California Davis, USA.
> Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli is an Associate Professor of Cinema and Technocultural Studies, University of California Davis. She is the author of The Unmaking of Fascist Aesthetics, finishing a book on cinema at the margins of Europe, and currently working on the digital uncanny. She has published in Camera Obscura, Representations, Screen, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Third Text, Film Quarterly, PAJ, and a number of other journals and collected volumes. She is the co-Film Series editor at Edinburgh University Press.
> Week 2 July 9-15
> Simone Arcagni, Turin; University of Palermo; NABA, Milan, Italy.
> Simone is a researcher in Cinema at the University of Palermo and teaches “Postcinema” at NABA in Milan. He collaborates with "Nòva", “Bravacasa”, “Close-up”, “Oxygen”, “Segnocinema”, “Tutto  Digitale". He maintains the blog Postcinema (http://simonearcagni.nova100.ilsole24ore.com), advises the publishing house Kaplan and collaborates with the Share Festival, Turin. He has written for “Bianco & Nero”, “Imago”, “Fata Morgana”, “I Quaderni del CSCI”, and has written and edited various books including: Music Video (with Alessandro Amaducci); Oltre il cinema – Metropoli e media; Simone Arcagni, Giovanni Spagnoletti (edited by) Dal Postmoderno al post-cinema and Cinema e web.
> Charlie Gere, Lancaster University Institute of Contemporary Arts, UK.
> Charlie Gere is Professor of Media Theory and History in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University. He is the author of Digital Culture (Reaktion Books, 2002), Art, Time and Technology (Berg, 2006), Non-relational Aesthetics (with Michael Corris, Artwords, 2009), and co-editor of White Heat Cold Technology (MIT Press, 2009), and Art Practice in a Digital Culture (Ashgate, 2010), as well as many papers on questions of technology, media and art. In 2007 he co-curated Feedback, a major exhibition on art responsive to instructions, input, or its environment, in Gijon, Northern Spain. He is co-curator of FutureEverybody, the 2012 FutureEverything exhibition, in Manchester. His new book, Community without Community in Digital Culture (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), will be out later this year.
> Week 3 July 16-22
> Sean Cubitt, University of Southampton, UK.
> Sean is currently Professor at Winchester School of Art but starts at Goldsmiths, University of London, in August, previously working  at Melbourne and Waikato (New Zealand) Universities. He edits the Leonardo Book Series for MIT Press. Forthcoming publications include anthologies on ecocinema, media art history, the history of British video art and transitions from analog to digital imaging. He is working on a new book on environmentalism, globalisation and political aesthetics. His recent work includes a history of screens, tracing the form of LCD and plasma displays, as well as cinema and data projection, from printing technologies of the 19th century onwards. With luck, a book tracing this history, alongside histories of colour and other visual technologies, will be published in 2013. Its central theme is that Western media have moved from a semantic and hierarchical model of vision to a democratic but arithmetic one which shares its formal properties with the demands of bio-politics and the commodity form of the 21st century
> Scott McQuire, University of Melbourne, Australia.
> Scott McQuire has a strong interest in the social and cultural transformations surrounding the deployment of new media technologies. In 2004 he co-founded the Spatial Aesthetics program for interdisciplinary research linking media, art, social theory and urbanism. Scott is author or co-editor of 7 books including The Media City: Media, Architecture and Urban Space (2008) and the Urban Screens Reader (2009). His work in the emerging field of urban communication has pioneered new ways of understanding the social impact of large video screens situated in public space. He teaches in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne.
> Week 4 July 23-29
> Ursula Stalder, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Luzern, Switzerland.
> Ursula Stalder is a communication and Media Strategist and Senior Researcher and Lecturer at Lucerne University of Applied Sciences in the School of Business. She is founder and managing partner of Achtgrad AG (Eightdegrees Ltd.) for Digital Excellence, Zurich. She holds a master’s degree from the University of Zurich in the humanities.
> Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Montréal, Québec, Canada.
> Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist. In 2007 he was the first artist to officially represent Mexico at the Venice Biennale with an exhibition at Palazzo Van Axel. He has also shown at Biennials in Sydney, Liverpool, Shanghai, Istanbul, Seville, Seoul, Havana, New Orleans, Singapore and Moscow. His public artwork has been commissioned for events such as the Expansion of the European Union in Dublin, the memorial for the Tlatelolco student massacre in Mexico, the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. His work is in collections such as MoMA New York, Jumex in Mexico, Daros in Zürich and TATE London. www.lozano-hemmer.com
> Erkki Huhtamo, UCLA, USA.
> Erkki Huhtamo is a media archaeologist, writer and exhibition curator and holds a PhD in Cultural History. He has written extensively on media archaeology and media arts, an emerging critical approach he has pioneered (together with a few other scholars) since the early 1990's. It excavates forgotten, neglected and suppressed media-cultural phenomena, helping us penetrate beyond canonised accounts of media culture. Huhtamo pays particular attention to the "life" of topoi, or clichéd elements that emerge over and over again in media history and provide "molds" for experiences. What may seem novel often proves to be new packaging of ideas repeated during hundreds and even thousands of years. In recent years, Professor Huhtamo has applied this approach to phenomena such as peep media, the notion of the screen, games and mobile media. Erkki's most recent book is Media Archeology (with Jussi Parikka), University of California Press.
> Moderator Simon Biggs, University of Edinburgh, UK.
> Simon works with digital poetics, interactive and performance environments, interdisciplinary research and co-creation. His work has been widely shown, including Tate Modern, Pompidou, Academy de Kunste, Berlin Kulturforum, Maxxi, Macau Arts Museum, Walker Art Center and Art Gallery of New South Wales. He has presented at many conferences, including ISEA, ePoetry, SLSA and FILE, and lectured internationally, including Cambridge, Brown, Santa Barbara, SUNY Buffalo, Cornell, Paris8, Sorbonne and Bergen Universities. Publications include Autopoiesis (with James Leach, 2004), Great Wall of China (1999), Halo (1998), Magnet (1997) and Book of Shadows (1996). He is a lead investigator on a number of research projects, including chair of Remediating the Social (November 2012). He is Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts, University of Edinburgh. http://www.littlepig.org.uk
> Simon Biggs
> simon at littlepig.org.uk   http://www.littlepig.org.uk/   @SimonBiggsUK
> s.biggs at ed.ac.uk   Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh
> http://www.eca.ac.uk/circle/   http://www.elmcip.net/   http://www.movingtargets.co.uk/
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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