People are being annoyed by my flippant nature. I apologise. I will now adopt a very serious look.
Our topic for this sermon is – Forging a New Sophisticated Aesthetic in Time Based Art.
Witness: that in the past the quality of digital media was constrained by the infancy of the process. It was understandable that practitioners championed the limitations. In video, lacking the nuances of painterly colour we used bright primaries and justified that. I know I did. In computer graphics, having limited resolution and 256 colours, we staked our claim on that – accenting the dithering, the blockiness, pushing the web palette as a virtue. Likewise with 8bit Tracker music and so on and so forth.
The nappystink of an artform’s childhood is no longer acceptable once adult (hear me ‘pixelart’). We were right to drop ‘New Media’, even if we fell back on even older art forms in desperation. To use music as an example; it was inevitable that the New Wave would collapse back into Rock standards once its limited palette was no longer novel. It was inevitable that sampling, especially of standard instruments, was going to replace the tedious voice of the analogue synthesiser. It was inevitable that the electronic image would become a convenient branch of still photography, and ‘video art’ would start pillaging the early history of film. No great loss. New Media simply didn’t have the texture that a robust art needs.
This may not be a bad thing. Because a smack on the nose with a rolled up newspaper can be a great learning experience. OK, so we all made some really ugly shit. Why was it ugly? How can this ugliness be defined? What should we be doing right now? Where is the cutting edge?
I need to think clearly about this because I may be working on a long term digital media project, the heart of which is curation. I am working on scripted systems which choose between possible visual inputs and decide which to employ in a larger work. That means the work is about automating ‘taste’, a ridiculous idea, but that’s what makes it so appealing.
Practically, one such system is (in its public guise) ‘umami’ (in its personal guise) ‘opmitter’, a system that analyses incoming video, finds interesting bits and reuses them to make ambient video art. A few attempts at this system have touched on bigger questions. It connects with the reality that we have too much media and not enough stage. It connects with the demarcation between material and design – e.g. whether music is a result or a input into a result – matters of appropriation. It is, like all curation, a kind of censorship that must not be taken lightly. (I could throw the word ‘problematic’ in there but I’m sparing you the Media Arts Chest Beating)
But straight up – my prototype results are distressingly “90’s VJ”. You know the look; nasty blocky over-coloured chroma key. We have been there, we have done that, we need to move on. The whole sorry mess is stuck more than a decade ago, when the authors of Jitter, Isadora, Resolume et al. were immersed in tacky neo-hippy dance culture. We need a new Vertov to come out and give it a good kicking:
MEDIA WORKERS! IN WHAT WAY DOES HUE ROTATE SERVE THE KINO EYE?
NOT AT ALL! HUE ROTATE IS THE CONVENIENCE OF THE LAZY CODER!
HOW LONG WILL WE TOLERATE SWAP CHANNELS? STROBE? IRIS WIPE?
THESE DECAYING REMNANTS OF OLD VIDEO THINKING ARE RIPE FOR THE TRASH!
Or do we need a VJDogme08? No colourise, No sparkle FX, no bloody edge detect…
Unless we start to impose a worthy aesthetic, the code monkeys that make the tools we serve will continue to find it easier to implement the same tired old linear algebra on our images. We have to know what we want so we can make sure they make what we want.
If we don’t start refining our tastes, we will forever be at the mercy of people who play back old Super 8, point a video camera at it, and call it Video Art. All frame, no painting. Can we start painting again?