Artists and Interactivity
A documentary in which I interviewed 4 artists working within interactivity for my research methods as part of my MSc.
The documentary was accompanied by questions sent to practitioners working within interactivity all over the world.
Thank you to all the artists who took the time out to be interviewed and participated in the research.
Spectropia, a feature length live-mix cinema event, a scratchable movie performed by Toni Dove and software designer R. Luke DuBois.
Spectropia has been extremely important in my research. Its cinematic qualities evoke not only traditional film noir, in both aesthetic and narrative terms, but also a future noir of interactivity and audience characterisation.
Spectropia is a cinematic experience that lies between traditional cinema and interactive art. Set over two time periods, a twenty-first century city and 1930’s Depression-era New York, it begins in England in the year 2099, a time where it is forbidden to record history, and knowledge comes only from one’s own experiences. Toni Dove, it’s creator, presents a culture of consumerism and consumption, a nation floating on islands of rubbish as the ice caps continue to melt. There are three principal characters; William, a young man from 1930s New York, Verna de Mott, a sophisticated older woman and amateur sleuth, and Spectropia, a young woman who lives alone in the ‘informal sector’, an urban center that’s main function is to compact all rubbish into the ground as a means of lifting the island above an ever-increasing sea level. It has been made illegal to salvage anything.
Like Spectropia’s principal character, Dove uses ‘artifacts of the past’ to give her audience an immediate sense of connection. The character of Sally Rand guides us through the plot, using a diagetic narration typical of Hollywood film noir and Dove also uses the filmic aesthetic of tech-noir to represent a dystopian melancholy that captures the entrenched dysfunctionalities of both eras. Using titles, credits and actors establishes a cinematic tradition rarely seen in other screen-based art works. In the opening shots of Spectropia we recognize the use of cinematic language immediately with establishing wide shots to locate us both spatially and temporally.
The narrative structure of Spectropia echoes the economic and emotional structures it depicts. The infinite referrals of desire present in consumer culture and advertising are viewed through economic events that emerged in the 1920’s. The narrative is haunted by credit, which in itself is something that ‘is not here’, and a desire culture, which can never be satisfied.
Toni Dove is an artist who crosses the art cinema landscape. Her work embraces cinematic traditions such as narrative plot, aesthetically impressive camera shots, continuity editing techniques and post-production effects. She also follows the traditional process of film making by developing the genre, script and screenplay as with conventional film.
Master Space Film Images of Capra, Lubitsch, Sternberg, and Wyler. Barbara Bowman
Films depend upon “being here but also there, (9) being safely ensconced in that dark, temperature-controlled state of relaxation in the theatre while imaginatively entering and possessing that (neutral until created) narrative space of the screen.
Space invites and even demands certain responses. Don’t apartments or rooms often reveal more about the people than the people can articulate about themselves? Similarly, a study of film space may provide clues to the collaborative work of director and cinematographer, or director and writer.
Film’s magic is partly that the spectator seems always to have options, though this sense may be just a common aesthetic experience of space.: to be in more than one place at one time. (12) We occupy a place as spectators and an imaginative place in the created world. It is not simply an escape, as has sometimes been charged, but it is an escape to somewhere, (13) into a fictional space where we participate in the film’s fictionalizing and aesthetic powers. We move imaginatively, and our movement, when it s most rewarded, fills the new film space ideally with our projected identifications and our play.
It is work space or play space, and it supports the narrative assumption that neither totally or private realities are particularly healthy.
Early cinema displays events and actions rather than narrates them; it addresses spectators directly, and as physical collectivity; it has different kinds of closure. P13
For it seems what determines the filmic actualities is not only the concern with the logic of the visible as the unfolding of an event, but also the logic of spectacle, as the deployment of a space (and point of view) in order to create a certain effect on the spectator. The difference would then be less between edited and non edited films(between non-continuity and continuity), and instead attention would shift to the analytical editing (discontinuity), as the moment of specifically filmic narration. Analytical editing or scene dissection, not only dramatises time and space differently, but breaks with the possibility of cinematic images being seen as records of (actual) objects or events. Instead, they become motivated views (implying an act of showing) and semiotic acts (elements of a discourse): evidence that the cinema’s representational space is not given but constructed, existing in an imaginary as well as perceptual dimension. P18
By discussing the relation of frame to movement in early film, de Cordova is able to show how the spectator is ‘constituted in a movement of sense’ and thus drawn into the representation in a way that is both different from traditional perspectival space. P23
The Cinema of Attractions Tom Gunning P56
Fernand Leger tried to define something of the radical possibilities of the cinema. The potential of the new art did not lie in ‘imitating the movements of nature’ or in ‘the mistaken path’ of its resemblance to theatre. Its unique power was a ‘matter of making images seen’ (1). It is precisely this harnessing of visibility, this act of showing and exhibition, which I feel cinema before 1906 displays most intensely. Its inspiration for the avant-garde of the early decades of this century needs to be re-explored.
Writings by early modernists (Futurists, Dadaists and Surrealists) on cinema follow a similar pattern to Leger: enthusiasm for this new medium and its possibilities; and disappointment at the way it has already developed, its enslavement to traditional art forms, particularly theatre and literature. This fascination with the potential of a medium (and the accompanying fantasy pf rescuing cinema from its enslavement to alien and passé forms) can be understood form a number of viewpoints. P56
The relation to the spectator set up by films of both Lumiere or Melies (and other filmmakers before 1906) had a common basis, and one that differs from the primary spectator relations set up by narrative film after 1906. I will call this earlier conception of cinema ‘the cinema of attractions’. Although different from the fascination in storytelling exploited by the cinema from the time of Griffith, it is not necessarily opposed to it. In fact the cinema of attractions does not disappear with the dominance of narrative, but rather goes underground, both into certain avant-garde practices and as a component of narrative films, more evident in some genres,(eg the musical) than in others.
What precisely is the cinema of attractions? First, it is a cinema that bases itself on the quality that Leger celebrated: it is the ability to show something. An exhibitionist cinema. An aspect of early cinema is emblematic of this different relationship the cinema of attraction constructs with its spectator; the recurring look at the camera by actors. This action, which is later perceived as spoiling the realistic illusion of the cinema, is here undertaken with brio, establishing contact with the audience. This is a cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator.P57
To summarise, the cinema of attractions directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle – a unique event, whether fictional or documentary, that is of interest in itself. The attraction to be displayed may also be of a cinematic nature. It is the direct address of the audience, in which the attraction is offered to the spectator by a cinema showman, that defines this approach to filmmaking. The cinema of attractions expends little energy creating characters with psychological motivations or individual personality. Making use of both fictional and non-fictional attractions, its energy moves outwards towards an acknowledged spectator rather than inwards towards the character-based situations essential to classical narrative.
The term attraction comes from a young Sergei Eisenstein.. Eisenstein hit upon the term attraction, an attraction aggressively subjected the spectator to sensual or psychological impact. According to Eisenstein, theatre should consist of a montage of such attractions, creating relation to the spectator entirely different from his illusory depictions. (10) It was precisely the exhibitionist quality of turn of the century popular art that made it attractive to the avant-garde – its freedom from the creation of diegesis, its accent on direct stimulation. P59
Wjhat happened to the cinema of attractions? The period from 1907 to about 1913 represents the true narrativization of the cinema, culminating in the appearance of feature films which radically revised the variety format… The look at the camera becomes taboo and the devices of cinema are transformed from playful ‘tricks’ – cinematic attractions – to elements of dramatic expression. P60
As Laura Mulvey has shown in a very different context, the dialectic between spectacle and narrative has fuelled much of classical cinema. (16) from Visual Cinema and narrative cinema
A film like The Great Train Robbery (1903) does point in both directions, towards a direct assault on the spectator (the spectacularly enlarged outlaw uploading his pistol in our faces) and towards a linear narrative continuity. Clearly in some sense recent spectacle cinema has reaffirmed its roots in stimulus and carnival rides in what might be called the Spielberg – Lucas – Coppola cinema of effects. P61
(Lumiere film) The movements of photographed people were accepted without demur because they were perceived as performance, as simply a new mode of self-projection; but that the inanimate should participate in self-projection was astonishing. P65
For even now, every shot tells a story by means of iconic analogy (and will continue to do so for as long as the cinema exists). This is the first level, or first layer of narrativity, produced by a machine which is doomed to tell stories for ever. This special feature of the cinema, that of having always been narrative right from the beginning, explains why this art, which “has narrativity built into it’, (18) P71
The very early filmic narrative is therefore bound solely and indissolubly to mimesis, in Plato’s sense of the term. Filmic narrative cannot change register or acquire the status of narration unless there is an articulation between the various segments produced by the monstrator… There was no filmic narrator at the beginning of cinema. The narrator started to become apparent just before the turn of the century at the same time as the concept of juxtaposing a series of shots. But it can be argued, as it is by Tom Gunning, that ‘the narrator in the early film is sporadic; an occasional spectre rather than a unified presence.’(31) P73
P86 Tom Gunning
I felt it was important not to see these anomalies as primitive mistakes groping towards the later established ideal of match cutting and diegetic unity but as indications of another direction in film narrative than that of later dominant cinema, a road not taken by the major film industries.
For traditional historians who see film as moving towards an ideal of continuity, the anomalies can only be seen as errors or failed attempts. For recent theorists such anomalies are significant as deconstructive deviations.
The challenge that early cinema offers to film history is a search for a method of understanding that transforms in narrative form in cinema’s first decades; a method that maintains am awareness of early film’s difference from later practices, without defining it simply as a relation of divergence from a model of continuity (that, in fact has not appeared). It is precisely the history involved in these changes that must be understood. P86