Lev Manovich on Tue, 2 Jul 2002 06:01:24 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Welcome to the Multiplex: Documenta 11, New Generation FilmFestival Lyon, LA Film Festival

Lev Manovich

Welcome to the Multiplex: Documenta 11,  New Generation Film Festival
(Lyon),  LA Film Festivalıs New Technology Forum

I was struggling how to fill 1000 words talking about Documenta 11, when I
was hit with a solution: why not talk about all three festivals I attended
this June: Documenta 11 in Kassel; New Generation, the first edition of a
brand-new film festival in Lyon; and Los Angeles Film Festivalıs New
Technology Forum. Since all three events focused on new (or not so new)
directions in moving image production and distribution, this will be the
focus of this review.

Just as the last time when I went to se Documenta 10 (1997), attending the
new Documenta left me with the same feeling: whatıs the big deal? On any
given day in New York or London you can just go to whatever museum and
gallery shows happen to be running and you will see as many first-rate
works by as many brand-name and ³emerging² artists. Of course it is nice
to go to Documenta parties (although itıs not Venice) and to sit in a cafe
outside the main exhibition hall trying to recognize the cultural
celebrities going in: here is Stuart HallŠhere is Walid Raıad whose Atlas
Group presented one of the smartest and though-provoking projects of the
whole Documenta.

While the new Documenta makes a real effort to open itself up to global
multi-culturalism, the results are quite contradictory. The show in Kassel
is presented as the final ³Fifth Platform,² with the first four platforms
having taken place during the preceding year in Vienna, Berlin, New Delhi,
St. Lucia and Laso focused on topics such as ³Creolite and Creolization²
and ³Under Siege: Four African Cities². Unfortunately one could not learn
anything about these previous four ³platforms² without buying the thick
catalog ­ there were no references to them in the art show itself.

The long list of artists shown in Kassel included plenty of people outside
of Europe and US, like the group Igloolik Isuma Productions, whose film
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) won a Prix DıOr for best debut feature film
at Cannes 2001. However, looking at the spatial layout of Documenta
grounds it became clear that each of three key buildings gave the largest
central spaces to the older European or US white artists such as Allan
Sekula, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Constant. I had the feeling that
Documenta curators put on mini-retrospectives of these artists, added more
big images of German photographers and conceptual 1970s artists, and then
filled the remaining smaller and peripheral spaces with actual
contemporary art.

Going through the show I also had the feeling I was in a kind of artistıs
cinema multiplex. Although I have not counted, it felt that at least half
of all the Documenta artists presented ³video installations² which almost
all followed the same standard exhibition format: a projection presented
in a small room. At least in a commercial movie theatre you get
comfortable seats, Dolby surround sound, and you can bring in a coke, but
since Documenta was about ³serious art² and not the pleasures of mass
culture, a typical room had hard and uncomfortable benches. Somebody
pointed out to me that all video and film installations presented at
Documenta together added up to more than 600 hours of running time.
Somebody else noted that the size of video and film installation rooms
varied accordingly to the prestige of a an artist The films by Jonas Mekas
and Ulrike Ottinger, the veterans of experimental filmmaking, which were
between five and six hours each, were in larger rooms which had a few row
of comfortable chairs, like in a real movie theaters. Other videos were
stuck in small rooms with a single bench.

Given my interest in new forms of cinema I was attracted to a number of
multi-screen installations at Documenta, including works by such
heavyweights as Isaac Julien, Chantal Akerman, and Eija-Liisa Ahtila. I
thought that Ahtilaıs three screen installation worked the best: you feel
that she is seriously researching a new grammar for a multi-screen cinema.
(She is currently having a solo exhibition at the Tate in London).

One great new media project that I did see at Documenta was OPUS (software
and accompanying theoretical package) by Raqs Media Collective (New
Delhi). Unveiled in Kassel, OPUS is definitely the most interesting new
media project I have encountered in quite a while. It is a sophisticated,
both theoretically and technically, system for multi-user cultural
authorship in a digital network environment. Do take a look at the site
and check their new concept of "Rescension" (in OPUS Manual) that offers a
very interesting way to address the difficult issues of authorship in our
"remix" culture. OPUS raises the bar for all future practical and
theoretical work dealing with digital authorship.

The paradox of a an art show which became a multiplex movie theatre became
further apparent after I visited the brand new film festival in Lyon
called New Generation. Approximately one third of a festival was given to
artistsı videos. However since this was a film festival rather than art
show, the short videos were packaged together in ninety minute programs
shown in a movie theatre ­ in contrast to Documenta which followed the art
convention of giving each video its own room. For me, neither interface
makes much sense ­ why not put all video on a computer server and set up
comfortable personal stations where viewers can access and watch any video
in any time, the way it was done already a few years ago in KIASMA museum
in Helsinki. KIASMA digitized a whole collection of Finnish video art
which was then put on museum servers accessible through PCs set up in a
special media room.

Next it was to a day of panels making up the New Technology Forum at the
Los Angeles Film Festival. After a conservative Documenta and a sleepy
Lyon DV marathon, here I finally some real cutting edge stuff - new
advances in machinema, video creation software running on cell phones,
Hollywood and military collaborating on new AI simulations, and the like.
Once again, I was given proof that creative techno-avant-garde is not in
Kassel, Lyon, and other traditional citadels of ³real culture² but in Los
Angeles, literally next door to Hollywood studios.

Katherine Anna Kang (Fountainhead Entertainment) talked about a
feature-length film her company is working on using a custom machinema
system. (For those who don't know, machinema is a subculture of amateur
filmmakers who use computer games as movie making tools. She called this
new kind of cinema ³machinemation.² Another paradigm that also uses
game-like real-time 3D scene generation was demonstrated by Jeff Rickel
from the University of Southern Californiaıs (USC) notorious Institute of
Creative Technologies. The institute was established a few years ago with
funding from the US Army to work on new types of military simulations
using Hollywood talent. Rickel showed a particular ³peacekeeping scenario.
² Written by a veteran Hollywood writer, the scene had three virtual
humans in a stressful situation. The goal of the simulation is to teach a
soldier what to do in an ambiguous situation. The scenario used high-end
AI that controls virtual humansı emotional expressions, speech, etc. If
traditionally simulations focused on machine operations (airplane, tank,
etc.) and battle action, USC work can be better thought of as interactive
narrative, where the user (the trainee) is presented with a dramatic
scenario with simulated humans.

Bart Cheever from D.FILM festival (the digital film festival running since
1997) presented the gems from Digital Silverlake mini-festival he curated
earlier this year. Created by artists, filmmakers and designers living in
Silverlake and other areas of East LA, the works in Digital Silverlake
represents the next stage in the evolution of moving image aesthetics. If
1995 article ³What is Digital Cinema² I defined digital cinema as
compositing live action + image processing + 2-D animation + 3-D
animation. Since then a new generation of designers who grew up with Flash
and Shockwave have started to make short films and music videos which add
typography and also privilege a 2-D flat look as key visual aesthetics. To
put this differently, while we see more and more ³hybrid² films, which use
plenty of compositing, 3D and 2D animation, but still have an overall
³film² look (i.e., they present us 3D photorealistic space) - such as
³Amelie² (2001) ­ there is also now a different type of ³hybrid² film
which looks more like what we expect to find in illustration and graphic
design. I call this new type of digital cinema aesthetics ³Post-Flash

Another digital cinema pioneer Jason Wishnow (who two years ago organized
the first festival of films for the Palm Pilot platform) suggested that a
movie trailer could be the prototype of a new genre appropriate to
micro-cinema running on cell phones, Palms, Pocket PCs, and similar
devices. He also discussed aesthetic features that characterized
micro-cinema during the one hundred years of its history (from Kinetoscope
to Palm) such as close-ups and loops.

On a distribution side, Ira Deutschman (Emerging Pictures) talked about
his companyıs plan to have 200 digital movie theatres in three years by
placing digital projectors in already existing but under-utilized
screening spaces such as museums. In his system, digital film files will
be downloaded to a local server installed in a theatre, since the files
will be too big to download in real time.

In June, I found the cutting edge of moving image culture in Los Angeles.
However, I am spending the next three months in Berlin, and I am sure I
will see enough for another report by the end of the summer.


http://www.opuscommons.net/templates/doc/manual_left.htm  (check out
³Rescension² concept)
http://www.manovich.net/docs/augmented_space.doc (on video installations as

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