[-empyre-] July on empyre: Sceens (week 3)

Karen O'Rourke mapper at wanadoo.fr
Tue Jul 17 20:37:24 EST 2012

Hello Scott and Empyreans,

Your description of Anri Sala's installation has prompted me to break my 
lurking silence, as I was in the process of writing about it .
Forgive me if I go back over some obvious points with relation to 
contemporary presentation tropes:

Traditionally moving pictures are projected to a seated audience in the 
confined space of a theater, while still pictures are viewed one after 
the other by visitors moving through an exhibition space. Video art 
often assumes one of those stances identifying either as tableau (Bill 
Viola's slowly moving figures being an extreme instance of this) or as 
film unfolding in time. Installations, it is true, can be somewhere 
between the two, combining screen(s), environment and other objects, 
allowing visitors to alternately move around the screens or flop down in 
front of them. Anri Sala brings the two strains together in his recent 
five screen, hour-long symphonic installation at the Centre Pompidou 
(2012). Scenes from four different videos appeared on different screens 
(moved from screen to screen) throughout the exhibition space, viewers 
followed them from one section to another, plunging into one, then the 
other, or glancing back and forth at two playing simultaneously on 
neighboring screens. Each video played out on several screens, 
alternating with the others so as to preclude viewers watching any one 
of them from beginning to end. In 1365 Days without Red, a reenactment 
of Sarajevo under siege,people walking through the city would stop on 
corners, then dash across the street (presumably to minimize exposure to 
sniper fire). The audience too moved quickly, not to escape action but 
to follow it (and grab a seat whenever possible), spurred on by the 
roaming sound and moving pictures. Though Sala denies any storytelling 
motives, a story of sorts could be pieced together from this kind of 
juxtaposition (one easily imagines something resembling Robert Altman's 
choral films).

     The opposite tactic was adopted by Patrick Keiller in the /Robinson 
Institute/ at Tate Britain (2012). It involved displaying short 
sequences from his full-length film /Robinson in Ruins/ on small screens 
throughout the exhibition next to framed paintings, prints, diagrams and 
maps. They became moving landscape paintings, something out of Harry 
Potter---as if to deny the film's narrative,  functioning instead as 
animated hyperlinks within the exhibition.

Forgive this long description, but it does seem to bear out your point 
about screens' shifting status as well as Martin's about the screen 
being a "part of a larger system - a membrane between content , 
landscape and the user".


Le 17/07/2012 03:15, Scott Mcquire a écrit :
> Hola Sean, empyricists
> I like your formulation 'the screen is a relation that appears as an 
> object', but suspect, like a screen, it is reversible: the screen is 
> also an object that appears as a relation.  Hence the uncanny 
> oscillation of material/immaterial, visible/invisible.
> There is a strong logic of standardisation in current uses of screen 
> technologies --- their location and inscription in specific 
> socio-technical, architectural and cultural configurations. We can see 
> this with the production of handhelds and personal screens in their 
> 10s of millions (the iPhone is more than 50% of apple's profits ).  It 
> was also what I was getting at in relation to cinema as a specific 
> screen architecture.
> In fact, we notice it more today when screens are non-standard --- for 
> instance, when content cannot move from one place to another because 
> systems are not interoperable. We had this experience trying to link 
> up 2 large screens (one in Melbourne, one in Seoul) for a live 
> interactive art event.  Re-rendering the image in real time for 
> different screen sizes was tricky.
> I wrote yesterday about the standardisation of screens in the art 
> gallery situation.  But I also wanted to mention one of the most 
> striking exhibitions I've seen recently ---  Anri Sala at the 
> Beaubourg in Paris
> http://www.centrepompidou.fr/Pompidou/Manifs.nsf/AllExpositions/3DAA34E4B9D96668C125795F003AF5E2?OpenDocument&sessionM=2.2.1&L=2 
> <http://www.centrepompidou.fr/Pompidou/Manifs.nsf/AllExpositions/3DAA34E4B9D96668C125795F003AF5E2?OpenDocument&sessionM=2.2.1&L=2>
> Unfortunately no images on the website, so I'll do my best to describe.
> There were about 8 separate screens built with individual proscenium 
> shells in large a singe space.  They were all about 6m X 3m, but were 
> not situated against the walls.  Rather, they were all angled within 
> the space to form divisions and passages so you could see  2 or 3 at a 
> time.  They displayed a number of separate video works and still 
> images.   Sometimes one screen was on, sometimes 2 or more.   So all 
> the works melded into one another --- quite deliberately exploring the 
> conjunctions, rather than trying to seal them off by building separate 
> black boxes to avoid sound/image bleed.  The screens were also linked 
> --- or delinked --  by a really complex use of sound (a 24 track 
> soundscape) with multiple speakers throughout the space: the work is 
> described in publicity as 'symphony'.
>  What was really interesting was the way the audience shifted around 
> the space to watch.  It wasn't the platform that moved (like the old 
> diorama with rotating floor) but the people who would stand, sit, lie 
> in one place then turn around or get up and move elsewhere as another 
> came on. The afternoon I saw it there were about 60 people doing this 
> together for over 30 minutes. This creates a really fascinating 
> spatial ambiance, where screens are simultaneoulsy material objects 
> (blocking passage, blocking view) and surfaces that open into 
> heterogeneous spaces.
> At one stage, all the screens are just red, then pale with no image, 
> while the sound is dispersed throughout the entire gallery.  Everyone 
> kind of wandered around, not really looking for or at anything, but 
> enjoying a promenade among the screens in each other's company.
> Scott
> On 17/07/12 12:32 AM, "Sean Cubitt" <sean.cubitt at unimelb.edu.au> wrote:
>     Hi Scott, Ho Empyricists
>     Persistence in the fun and fury is a great description: everything
>     in flux, but there are objects in the flow that crystallise, even
>     for a short moment, the relationships we have with each other,
>     with technologies and with the world -- in short with images.
>     Gunter Kress a few years ago wrote about 'Screen': Metaphors of
>     Display, Partition, Concealment and Defence (Visual Communications
>     9(2), 2004): responding to it in a very useful discussion of
>     screens in Cinema Journal 51(2) 2012 -- wh. also has a great
>     contribution from Erkki Huhtamo who joins us later this month -
>      Charles Acland writes that there's virtue in sticking with the
>     'simplest notion of a screen -- that a screen is a surface for
>     animation' . We would need to have another discussion about what
>     constitutes an image (in the age of data visualisation) to
>     describe the screen as intermediary between observer/user and
>     image/text/diagram -- and a detailed account of how such different
>     screens as handhelds, electronic billboards, domestic, theatrical
>     etc screens of specific affordances, sizes, shapes etc act as
>     conduits and/or barriers and/or filters of content (which as
>     McLuhan told us is always another medium) - let alone (as many of
>     the contributors to this discussion are expert in) the valences of
>     animated text
>     The screen is a relation that appears as an object: interestingly
>     enough that is a close pass to one of Marx's formulations about
>     the commodity -- a real relation between people that appears to
>     them in the fantastical guise of an object. Leading to a
>     supposition -- that the specificity of any individual screen
>     design (and associated experience?) is an expression of the
>     specific form taken by the commodity at a specific moment in the
>     evolution of capital. Taken at its largest scale: the ubiquity of
>     screens expresses the ubiquity of capital. Taken at the
>     microscale: the 960x640 iPhone 4S display is designed (though
>     disputed) to match the maximum resolution at 12 inches of normal
>     human eyesight. The demon is the word 'normal': the standard
>     observer (invented in 1931 for purposes of calibrating colours) is
>     a biopolitical construct. The screen is intended to give the
>     impression of continuity in a device whose principle is discrete.
>     It is "good enough" technology, a principle of modern screen
>     design. It could be described as an attempt to articulate device
>     and physiology of the eye into a single seamless continuum
>     articulating the myth of instant personal and
>     biologically-integrated satisfaction at the heart of the atomistic
>     personalisation of neo-liberal consumerism.
>     This kind of analysis (okay, you might not like the Marxism, but
>     the articulation of design with socio-cutural formations) is a
>     kind of rock in the stream: an empirical notch to anchor, even if
>     only momentarily, and materialise the complex of relations between
>     us and what we view -- to make the immaterial and invisible screen
>     material and visible -- which is what I think Simon was kicking us
>     off towards?
>     The more transparent (AR) and weightless (wearable) the screen,
>     the more important it is to notice that, however briefly and
>     intermedially it exists, it exists.
>     Sean
>     *From: *Scott McQuire <mcquire at unimelb.edu.au>
>     *Reply-To: *soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>     *Date: *Monday, 16 July 2012 07:14
>     *To: *soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>     *Subject: *Re: [-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens (week 3)
>     Re: [-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens (week 3)
>     Hi everyone
>     I haven't had a chance to participate in the discussion so far but
>     now that I'm back in Melbourne I figure that I'm ahead of you all
>     (in time zone terms at least!).   So, after an enjoyable read of
>     most of the posts so far, let me launch into week 3.
>     One of the things that many people seem to agree on is that there
>     is a new screen paradigm emerging defined by ubiquity,
>     interactivity and so on. I agree with this analysis in part, but
>     I am also struck by the persistence of certain configurations. In
>     his introduction, Simon suggested that older screen modalities
>     such as cinema and television were disappearing. I think this is
>     far from the case. Cinema numbers in fact grew rapidly in the
>     1990s and early 2000s (especially in Asia) and today there are
>     probably more cinema screens in the world than ever before.   This
>     is not to say that cinema in 2012 is the same thing as it was in
>     1990 or 1950 (half those cinema screens are now digital --- a term
>     which covers a plethora of different projectors and operating
>     systems, not to mention social and cultural affiliations).
>     What I want to underline here is the incredible stability of
>     screen architecture over the century-plus history of cinema.
>      Understanding why change to screen architecture is slow is partly
>     a way of attending to the specificity that those such as Sean
>     Cubitt and Ian Bogost have been insisting on throughout this
>     discussion. It's also a way of resituating debates over the
>     current emergence of new screen locations and modalities.
>     I would argue that there has only ever been one major change to
>     the cinema screen in over one hundred years --- the change from
>     the academy ratio format that was standardized in the 1920s to the
>     widescreen formats that took over the from the mid-50s. This
>     stability reflects a number of factors such as the need for
>     standardized formats to enable the industrial mode of content
>     production that characterizes cinema from the 1920s, and the fact
>     that changing screen image ratio demands changing the most
>     expensive aspect of exhibition --- the real estate.  In other
>     words, to have a taller or wider screen often demands a different
>     building.
>     Widescreen could have been introduced much earlier --- all the
>     technical capabilities were there in the 1920s when filmmakers
>     such as Abel Gance experimented with multi-screen formats. But, as
>     John Belton points out, unlike the introduction of sound in the
>     1920s, there were no influential corporations such as AT&T, RCA,
>     Westinghouse and Western Electric/,/ which all held sound
>     recording patents, and thus had a vested interest in expanding the
>     market for sound equipment. So it wasn't until the 1950s that
>     widescreen was introduced as a necessary response to the crisis
>     caused by plummeting audiences who were all turning on to television.
>     I'd add two partial exceptions to this argument.  One is IMAX.
>      This is definitely a different screen format and one worth
>     discussing more. But it really only survived thanks to the
>     long-term support of Canadian tax-payers, who sustained it for
>     several decades and allowed the format to overcome the perennial
>     chicken and egg problem of content and venues (why make large
>     format films if there's nowhere to screen them?  Why build venues
>     if there's no content?)
>     The other, of course, is the digital threshold which is now
>     significantly impacting cinema exhibition after a decade or so of
>     slow take-up. I agree this a major change to the cinema apparatus,
>     assuming this term extends beyond technology and equipment to
>     embrace new forms content (live events) and relations to audiences
>     (3D, interactivity).
>     However, in many respects the basic arrangement of the exhibition
>     space, in which the spectator sits immobilized, silent, and in
>     darkness facing a magnified luminous image, has been there for a
>     century.  Arguably the experience of sound in cinema that has
>     changed far more radically in the last 20 years than has the
>     screen--- I think Johannes Birringer mentions this ---but agree
>     that's a different issue.
>     This is a long way round of saying that cinema is not
>     disappearing, but is now complemented by a range of other screens,
>     both mobile and embedded. If we understand cinema as a specific
>     viewing situation, we can see how it continues in some respects
>     elsewhere: for instance, with the growing standardization of video
>     art displayed in galleries where the model of single-channel
>     projection onto a wall has become a de facto standard exhibition
>     format.  The key variation here is the (potential) mobility of the
>     spectator, and the variety of points at which they enter/exit the
>     screening (Boris Groys etc).  We can also appreciate the way that
>     some of the newer modalities, such as large screens situated in
>     public space, are capable of recreating something like the
>     collective experience of film watching that was a key aspect of
>     its political valence for theorists like Walter Benjamin.
>     I did want to keep this post short -- something I haven't managed
>     to do! -- so I'm not going to
>     broach the changes introduced by the personal screen of the
>     handheld device.  But I do want to want to make a case for
>     recognizing continuity and persistent elements midst the fun and
>     fury of paradigm change.
>     Warm regards, Scott
>     ___________________________________________________________
>     Dr. Scott McQuire,
>     Associate Professor and Reader, School of Culture and Communication,
>     University of Melbourne, VIC 3010.
>     Office: Rm 124 John Medley (Building 191, enter at gate 10)
>     T: +61 (0)3 8344 8194 F: +61 (0)3 8344 5494 E: mcquire at unimelb.edu.au
>     http://www.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/study/mediacomm/staff/scott-mcquire
>     www.spatialaesthetics.unimelb.edu.au/
>     _________________________________
>     On 16/07/12 8:02 AM, "Simon Biggs" <simon at littlepig.org.uk> wrote:
>         Welcome to week three of the empyre discussion on the topic of
>         screens. We would like to thank this past week's invited
>         discussants Simone Arcangi and Charlie Gere, as well as all
>         the empyre members who have contributed to the discussion.
>         After the, at times, intense debate of the first week,
>         considering what defines a screen as a screen and the scope of
>         our topic, the second week has focused more on the
>         inter-agency of the apparatus of (or around) the screen and
>         its viewers/users. That the screen has shifted from being
>         primarily an object of visual contemplation to something we
>         employ in our interactions with other things has been noted.
>         However, the  screen has its histories and theoretical baggage
>         and it remains a challenge for us to consider it anew - and
>         perhaps it would be erroneous to dispatch that historical baggage.
>         This weeks invited discussants have been key in the
>         theorisation and historicisation of the screen. They are
>         recognised for their panoramic overview of the subject and
>         having contributed at critical moments to debates around both
>         old and new media. They are:
>         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.
>         Simon Biggs
>         simon at littlepig.org.uk http://www.littlepig.org.uk/
>         @SimonBiggsUK skype: 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/
>         MSc by Research in Interdisciplinary Creative Practices
>         http://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/postgraduate/degrees?id=656&cw_xml=details.php
>         <http://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/postgraduate/degrees?id=656&cw_xml=details.php>
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>         http://www.subtle.net/empyre
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