Monday, March 31, 2014

project 2: self-assessment

Alex Stillson
Professor Billy Friebele

Project 2: Cyber/Space – Self-Assessment

Start by identifying the central theme of your work. What drove you to create this image? Speak about where your inspiration came from and what you intended from the outset.

The central theme of my work is the subjective passage of time, portrayed through the medium of a GIF file, and subsequently the work’s presentation as an infinite loop.  This image is undoubtedly a product of my impending due date of graduation, facing an uncertain, large world, where time may shrink itself down further and further.  I’ve always found the phrase “time flies when you grow older” to be vaguely disconcerting, and strove to explore the subjectivity of time through this project.  The multiple planes of speed, motion, and stasis contrast each other, and the longer the viewer concentrates upon the work, the more may be revealed.  Also present within the work is a certain element of chance and probability—a snapshot of seemingly random time.

Next talk about how the process unfolded. In every art project there are surprises and unexpected results. As you work with the computer (or any set of tools) you end up compromising to some extent with the limitations you encounter. Reflect on the things that you learned (both technical and conceptual) as you built this artwork.

I began by examining my past work, and questioning my methodology—what do I find interesting?  What is my preferred medium?  How can I push forward in both intention and practice, building both my capacity to craft an idea, and physically portray it? I initially experimented with reversed time in my previous project, beach window, reversing and slowing down certain areas within the frame.  I knew that I wanted to follow a similar technique with this project, so the first shoot I embarked upon focused upon a torrent of rocks, falling down a gorge.  The idea behind this was to create a seamless loop of debris cascading down, but I felt that the idea lacked direction and exigency—it simply didn’t have the same subtle yet urgent undertones as my last project.  I uploaded the footage to my laptop, but eventually became discouraged, and left for Cape Hatteras, which is where I spent my spring break.  After break, I knew that I had only a few days left before the final work was to be critiqued.  Armed with my footage from the gorge, I trudged through the snow on a Tuesday night to work on editing, when it struck me—the snow was a perfect natural element to create a moving image of the subjectivity of time.  

Examine your process. What were your work habits? Were they effective? Can you see any way to improve this in the future? Be honest. Part of this exercise is learning how to get the best results and how to best budget your time.

Stumbling upon the idea to capture falling snow in the dead of night was invigorating, as I felt I had finally found a direction, but also technically challenging.  I needed a light source that was powerful enough to penetrate the darkness, but also without the aid of a recognizable light source, such as a streetlight—I didn’t want my footage to contain obvious visual representations of objects present within the world, but rather to portray abstract images, to drain the artistic conversation from certain associations once may have with a particular object.  For example, the viewer’s knowledge that this footage was shot on the banks of the St. Mary’s River would cause many of the viewers, (most of them college students here at SMCM) to immediately cast their own experiences and associations upon the work.  By working at night, and avoiding recognizable landmarks, I hoped to minimize this effect.  Since I desired objectivity as much as possible, I knew the light source used to illuminate the snow falling would need to be behind the camera as well as relatively small and portable.  I ended up using a headlamp that I had stashed in my backpack.
Actual capturing of the footage was simple—using a tripod and a Canon 7D, I shot two takes of snow falling sideways across the path of the lens, and two takes of snow falling into it, as it was blown by the wind.  In all of the takes, the headlamp was secured to the top of the camera lens, creating a pathway of light as close to the focal point of the viewfinder as possible, to create the illusion of a tunnel of illumination.  I captured the footage using the dark distances of the river as a backdrop, avoiding all visual evidence of the space where the footage was actually gathered.  This was done to create a discombobulating effect where the only measure of space and time was the falling snow, which is a constantly shifting reference point, making it difficult to judge where exactly the camera is located in space.  Thusly, there is no sense of distance within the work that can possibly be completely accurate.  Satisfied with the footage that I had gathered so far, I conducted one more take, this time of a light source located on the college’s waterfront.  However, still wanting to keep associations to a minimum, I used the shallowest depth of field possible, and focusing upon a focal point close to the surface lens.  This created an unexpected effect of a sort of glowing, porous disk, that remains static, while all the other elements within the work are shifting in constant motion.  I wanted to capture something that would highlight the fluxing nature of the work, a static yet unrecognizable image that would act as a visual anchor of sorts.        

Finally, address the finished product. Take a step back and pretend that you did not make this artwork. What would you perceive? Do you think the message is being communicated clearly that you set out to broadcast? How do the formal elements (color, rhythm, composition, line, shape etc.) communicate visually? You should identify areas that seem particularly successful, and others that are less so. How would you fix the issues that are not working as well? The goal is to bridge the gap between the visual qualities of the artwork and the meanings that are being expressed.

Diffusion 1, viewed in the context of a browser, is at once confusing and visually interesting.  The image is presented in pure black and white, with no compromises made through greyscale.  This causes the algorithm used in Photoshop to make frame-by-frame decisions of what subject matter should be portrayed as white, and which should be presented as black, causing a rapid strobing effect in the noise particles which are a result of the high sensitivity the camera sensor was being implemented at.  The effect, if viewed on a large enough screen, is at once overwhelming and soothing, as there is a rapid rate of motion, looping and predictable in some areas, yet seemingly sporadic in others.  This effect gives the viewer a sort of unease, as distance and time seem to operate at different speeds within the work.  Particles are not only appearing randomly at differing areas of the frame, but also moving horizontally and vertically across and toward the frame.  The larger the particle, the easier it is for the viewer to detect a pattern and path, as the loop is only about two and a half seconds.  The multiple planes of motion, in addition to portraying several planes of time simultaneously, create a sense of distance and a multi-dimensionality that suggests a graphical representation of planes of probability, distance, and time.   

Lastly, give yourself a grade for this project. What do you feel, in all honesty, you deserve for your effort and for the outcome.

I feel like I deserve an A for this assignment.  I strove to push myself both conceptually and technically, and although shorter in duration than past works that have led to its creation, I feel that the artwork I produced is conceptually and technically strong, as well as visually interesting. 

Reader Response: "New Media: Guerrilla Culture to Gadget Art" by Krisna Murti

This reading explores the function of new media within contemporary culture, specifically within the context of Indonesian history, and its many varied functions.  Although the reading felt mostly like a re-cap on many of the same themes that have been covered in class, such as the politicization of digital/new media, and the ever-growing prevalence of technology and art within our everyday lives, the fact that it was contextualized within the frame of Indonesian history and culture was interesting and invigorating.  It focuses upon the international, accessible nature of new media, but also brings to light the possible ways it could be politicized.

The author claims that new media is neutral, and it sparked an interesting conversation that we had in class, revolving around the writer's assertion that new media is inherently neutral in nature, but it is only in transmitting the media that it becomes political.  Arguments were made in class that it is not, especially in terms of capitalism, where corporations strive to profit off of every possible financial source.  New media is no exception, as companies such as Adobe and Apple, although spearheading development and technological breakthroughs, strive to make a hefty sum off of the art business.  In this sense, new media itself may not be charged politically, but as of art in the past, it is primarily financially-driven in many ways, particularly in the sense that many of the tools needed to create it are available only to a certain amount of people.  Unlike drawing or even painting, to make a digital artwork requires a considerable amount of resources.

Another interesting topic that was discussed in class, that the reading acknowledged, is that time is a significant factor within new media art--it is only recently that art has had the ability to be time-based, or presented within the fabric of time.  This leads to a subjective time, and therefore a construction of virtual reality.  New media seems to accelerate exponentially, as much has changed within the past decade, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Project 2: Artist Research; Bill Viola and Sharon Lockhart

Bill Viola is a contemporary video and new media artist, and is considered a defining figure in electronic, sound, and image technology-based art creation.  His works use new media technologies to portray fundamental human experiences such as birth, death, and different aspects of consciousness, and can be categorized into three types: conceptual, visual, and a unique combination of the two. 

Viola's work often exhibits a sort of painterly quality, as his use of ultra-slow motion video encourages the viewer to sink into to the image and connect deeply to the meanings contained within it.  This quality makes his work unusually accessible within a contemporary art context.  

As a result, his work often receives mixed reviews from critics, some of whom have noted a tendency toward grandiosity, obviousness, and excess in some of his works.  Yet it is this very ambitiousness, his striving toward meaning, and attempts to deal with large, sweeping experiences and aspects of human life, that also make his work appreciated by other critics, his audiences and collectors.

Sharon Lockhart is a photographer and video artist based in Los Angeles whose work explores the relationships between photographic and cinematic methods of storytelling.  Themes of her work often include a human subject’s interaction with their environment, and some works, in particular Lunch Break, use ultra-slow motion to bring attention to small details that would often be overlooked within the context of everyday life.    

In Lunch Break, Lockhart uses a single, 80-minute tracking shot to portray the gap of time given to workers for their lunch break within a metalworks factory in Bath, Maine.  Although in real time the shot lasted barely longer than 11 minutes, Lockhart used slow motion to exaggerate and highlight small, previously-unnoticed details about the workers' lives and break.

The manner in which these two contemporary video artists use slow motion to build and portray artistic intention is striking to me, and something that I may be thinking about for my next project, which will continue upon the trajectory of merging photographic and cinematic techniques, as well as slow motion, in order to convey a narrative or artistic intention to the viewer.