Marc Lafia on Thu, 18 Jul 2002 05:49:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> In search of a Poetics of the Spatialization of the Moving Image

In search of a Poetics of the Spatialization of the Moving Image
Marc Lafia (part 1)

All comments here are provisional (including the title) and require a
greater exactness to elaborate a syntax of moving images as they relate to
the use of algorithmic procedures and multiple screens. The most interesting
writing I have found that can be useful in elaborating some of these ideas,
along the lines of time-shifting, are in the area of sound, along the lines
of spatialization a visual taxonomy relating to conceptual art photography
and procedures of display and Chrissie Iles essay, ŒBetween the Still and
Moving Image'. I am sure there are some good things in VJ culture, as well
as other writings with which I am not familiar. Writings that address some
of the terrain discussed below would be of great interest for all of us, so
please do post. 

What prompts me to write this; one, I am keenly interested in computation
and the image and two, having been to Documenta 11 and read the reviews of
Lev Manovich and Caspar Strache I find that they may be so close to this
work that they arenıt reporting to us some of those things I am seeing and
sense could be of interest in discussing new forms of cinema and video work.

Briefly and perhaps too hastily, Iıd liked to distinguish what I envision by
spatial montage using Levıs definition as a starting point and open this
idea up as a vast and complicated territory, or set of still to be defined
and enumerated procedures with which a great many video, new media artists
and filmmakers are working.

I hope that further discussion might fuel a more engaging and less
dismissive discourse that these reviews gave us.

In his book, ŒThe Language of New Mediaı Lev Manovich writes about the
viewing regime of the dynamic screen. Distinct from the classical screen of
painting and photography, the dynamic screen gives us the cinema and an
image changing over time.

Distinct from the dynamic screen of the cinema, which is the projection of a
single image, the computer screen, through the GUI typically displays
overlapping windows. Lev describes windows as a collection of various kinds
of data that form a block that graphic designers are accustomed to arranging
or seeing as elements that make up a page. In other words, as described by
Lev, these windows donıt represent coexisting events happening in different
durations of time, the varied windows form the semblance of a whole. I donıt
recall in other sections of the book further discussion of multiple windows,
nodes, yes, but distinct windows or screens or projections in proximity or
distributed and what they might be mean to the language of the image
changing over time, no. In fact when he goes on to describe spatial montage
Manovich means something quit different than the spatialization of the

As all image and sound become numerical, and media become new media, the
logic of montage as enumerated by Eisenstein and Bazin, cinemaıs classical
theorists, gives way to the regime of digital processes and a new ordering
language of the image, spatial montage. The principal trope of spatial
montage as it is related to the moving image is compositing. Lev states
that, Œcompositing is the key operation of postmodern, or computer-based,
authorship.ı He goes on to talk about Œsmooth multilayered compositesı
distinguishing them from works of appropriation, copy and paste procedures
of artistic practices of the eighties.

Aided by computational procedures, traditional montage as it relates to the
plastics of Eisentein and the realism of Bazin is exceeded as we commonly
understand it, and as such Lev puts forward the notion of spatial montage as
a way to get a grasp on and understand the new aesthetics of compositing,
the procedure that takes us to spatial montage. Spatial montage for him
refers to layering, this smooth layering referred to above. He goes on in
subsequent chapters to talk about a new illusionistic space as distinct from
Bazinıs idea of realist space and how compositing, layering and 3d rendering
give forth a new space or rendering of space that is a kind of montage or
post assemblage within in the shot. The term spatial does not refer to the
spatialization or distribution of image as seen in many art and film works
today but a post renaissance deep space of layers and smoothness. For some
of you who know Michael Snowıs film, ŒWavelengthı a film Snow conceived of
as being inside a zoom shot, this 45 minute film might be another way to
imagine what Lev puts forward as spatial montage, that is, space within the

Lev writes earlier in his book about variability and proximity though
doesnıt use these ideas to talk about cinema or video and how such notions
might be elaborated as syntactical tropes or procedures as they might relate
to multiple streams of image displayed on multiple monitors or multiple
projections. In his more recent writings on the poetics of augmented space
Lev does not address structures and grammars of the spatial as distributed
per se but writes of augmentation as an effect and engagement with
continuities or communications between disparate spaces or information
sources that augment an environment.

Itıs such notions as variability, the algorithmic, proximity and others that
I would think spatial montage could be opened up to discuss much
contemporary image and sound work. It is through the elaboration of such
ideas that the video work of Documenta 11 and much contemporary work in
film, sound, video, installation and the network, might most fruitfully be
explored. This is what I will try to do in the following.

The compression or dilation of the duration of time disturbed through space
suggest a becoming of syntax for which we yet to have language.

Procedures of montage such as flash back, the jump cut, parallel cutting,
cross cutting, the eye-line match or the kind of precognitive flash forward
cutting used by Nicholas Roeg ­ or even off screen space - all of these
become something else when multiple screens are used. The compression of one
channel or screen led editing to experiment with ellipsis and condensation,
where time became more and more fractured and elided in sophisticated ways
elaborating montage, the efficacy of which was due to the formal constraints
of one screen.  Itıs not that these things go away when deploying multiple
screens but the distribution of images spatially complicates the intensity
of such strategies and grammars as they are deployed in parallel. A parallel
that at times is not necessarily juxtaposition, and may be even be thought
of as a-parallel. 

As time based images move from temporal organization thatıs sequential, one
image after the other and become spatial or distributed and computational or
algorithmic if not networked ­ what is authored and experienced, even
interacted with, exceed what we refer to in cinema as mise-en-scene,
montage, decoupage or even the formal descriptions that we use to describe
video and installation work as sculpture in such works as Robert Morris, Dan
Graham, Bruce Nauman and others. Yet such tropes of the cinema carry forth
and increasingly in the 90ıs artists, designers and architects have taken on
cinema as an object of study collapsing performance, cinema, video and
installation into producing increasingly complex and hybrid works.

As the logic of these works increasingly deploy combinatory and hybrid
organizations, the spatialization of the image has become a more shared
characteristic. The logic of narrative once put aside as the domain of more
commercial or even experimental films has found itself again in the realm of
much time based work which has also complicated the once easy divide of
formal criticism for art works and forms of narrative criticism for film

Spatial distribution of the image has to do with how many projections or
monitors, what size they are, how far apart, how distributed they are in
space (they may even be networked, reactive, bitstreamed, sequenced) the
same with sound, where are the speakers in space, what tracks are playing
where. Then there is the relationship between each of the individual pieces,
the tracks, whatıs the relatedness of one to the other? ­ not only there
proximity to each other in the sense of sculpture ­ are they to be seen as
distinct? ­ or are they to be seen together? Are they there as ambience or
as representation, information or mood? Why distribute them? Or rather, how
are they being distributed? It is in this area that a new descriptive and
critical language has yet to be forged. The work is there to be talk about,
but a critical language seemingly not.

There are various kinds of strategies of distributing images in space and
such approaches were everywhere to be seen at Documenta 11 including a new
work by Shirin Neshat, who (as she often does) used opposing walls as the
demarcation of territorial space, to set up a confrontation with the other.
Here each screen (two screens on opposing walls, letıs say Image A and Image
B on distinct walls) each is a territory that can be occupied by the other ­
where eventually B invades A ­ B crosses into the space of A. This beautiful
use of space collapsing gives us a figural and literal sense of space as
well as a visceral analogue of what we are seeing. In cinematic conventions
such a strategy could be read as cross cutting, where A and B are shots that
are alternated till finally both A and B confront each other in a single
frame. But in Neshatıs work there is no off screen space as both A and B run
simultaneously and are spatially distributed.

In the 1970ıs artists including Dan Graham, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman,
Michael Snow, Vito Acconci and others explored the moving image as a
projected light in space ­ they explored the sculptural aspects of film and
video ­ light as space and projected light as denoting the space of the
white cube - much of this work beautifully exhibited in, ŒThe Projected
Image in American Art 1964-1977ı at the Whitney in late 2001-2002 and
beautifully written about by its curator Chrissie Iles.

Another emphasis on space and video as environment in Documenta 11 was the
work of Craigie Horsfield and his real time and perceptual use of video and
sound. The morning is given over to ambient sound, emergent sound, the
quietness of sound ­ the afternoon is given over to distributed images on
large screens, on all four walls of the room, images of nature, mist, trees,
the forest ­ images of long duration ­ projected on scrims that allow light
in as much as they reflect light and here rather than the dark room, the
black cube ­ the work is presented as continuous with the physical or
ambient environment from the placement of long benches with pillows inviting
one to lay down, to rest, to perceive themselves in  a kind of ambient
engagement of awareness. Here the emphasis is on the presence of another
place and at the same time the very presence of the place that the viewer is
in ­ so space is composed as to situate the viewer in space, in turn getting
them to center on their own internal rhythm, their own sense of being in the
environment and the environments being. This is not so much montage as it is
presence not unlike Bruce Naumanıs recent 4 screen video work presented in
seemingly real time and denoting contiguous space at the DIA.

To be continued....

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