HOW DOES VIDEO SEE?
Gerhard Johann Lischka
Images do not appear merely as we cast a glance about the world that surrounds us, i.e., as we look at our environment; they are also being fired back at us from every direction and by a host of different picture media. There isn’t a ‘stop’ sign anywhere in sight, or not anymore, that would intercede between the viewer and the matter viewed in this ever-increasing flood of images. In addition, we ourselves send out signals (in the shape of printed texts and sounds), which, in turn, are designed to arouse other people’s attention. In this so very picture-oriented world we are left in no doubt as to how others see things, or else we demonstrate to others how we would like to, or how we ought to, see things ourselves. In consequence, ‘How Does Video See?’ means, quite literally, that, ‘I can see how you see things by the way you show me what is of interest to me, or also is of interest to me, or what, at any rate, should perhaps arouse my curiosity, as well.’ Right around the clock, we are kept ‘on camera’, always caught up in some scene from a film-set or a play-back, even if we had no desire to be so involved, in the first place. We are always ‘on.’
It is not only pictures, however, which barge in upon us. At the same time, and, indeed, almost more obtrusively, there is the world of noises and sounds and the, by now, ubiquitous blather of the cell phone that we are obliged to listen to incessantly. And if we want to protect ourselves against this noisome racket, we can achieve that only by muffling the unpleasant noises through the overlay of an additional carpet of sound. Up to a certain degree we can at least shut our eyes against the barrage of images. It’s much more difficult to keep sound waves from entering our ears. Our two distance-related sensory perception modes are exposed to some measure of strain in this age of the annihilation of distance through speed, in as much as our conception of time gain adapts itself to the mechanical devices of acceleration.
Audiovision is the product of the presence of the absent, with direct information and communication being modulated through technology and electronics. Although we may be quite capable of perceiving sounds and images separately, the tendency, viz. potential, for combining the two has become de rigueur since the introduction of the talkies and later the combination of image, text and sound via TV and also inside the computer with its digital technology. Energy, defined as the flow of energy represented by the binary code of 0 and 1, becomes both visually and acoustically perceptible and shapeable. Through this seemingly fortunate combination of images and texts and sounds we deem ourselves as existing in what appears to be a complete entity, a reality which, despite its reduction to a mere two of our five senses, can become a substitution of reality in the shape of a quote-reality-unquote — which is to say, as an imaginary ‘reality’ within the virtual world of the media, which lodges itself inside our heads as an in-between-world, as an artificially induced limbo.
While our physical presence was (and is) necessary for our reflection in the mirror to represent a state-of-being-present, the media-created ‘reality’ conjures up any-matter-whatsoever, including our very own selves, right before our eyes, with the help of those seductive, quasi-naturalistic concoctions that it appears to be so keen on. The replacement of reality by its confusingly similar counterfeit ‘reality’ is already in full swing. Even our bodies have taken to accepting artificial matter as a welcome replacement for the natural substances; the rejection of alien particles has been overcome. In this way, the boundary between one body and the next and the spirit that inhabits them becomes increasingly fuzzy. A crossover area in the shape of an in-between-world can be observed to establish itself everywhere.
This intermediary world displays itself before and between us, as both a kind of inter- and transformation. Visible and invisible, as our projection, it is simultaneously project, product and medium, the in-between form of being. Coming across as a material, mental, psychic and emotional form, carried energetically, it expresses our existential state of ‘being here.’ We are our own inter-est, spawned in an act of inter-course, and fuelled by inter-subjectivity; defined inter-actively and inter-nationally through the inter-net, we are created for multimedia inter-operability. In the process, compositions and constructions that would emerge from the interplay of the media and which we would describe as art, are only rarely encountered. The ‘in-between’ stands in front of us and behind us, above and beneath us, it is an inchoate mood that predominates in the most varied of societal atmospheres. It could be an inter-face, which we might focus our attention on, or a display, an installation, a monitor, or simply a book, a touch, or a scent. Always, in this crossover process, reality and the virtuality of reality become intermingled.
And, taking into consideration our economic situation, which happens to be an important aspect of reality, we realise that a large proportion of its functions are precisely as impenetrable and difficult to fathom as the logic we seek in vain to find in the mass media and in advertising. The fuzzy logic of ‘reality’ has pulled itself down all over us like a tarn cap. The economy also touches on the central points of life regarding distribution, sharing, supply and demand, and value. And, in fact, almost no thought that crosses our minds fails to carry out an evaluation of one sort or another, regarding our emotions, or how we are feeling at the moment, or what we actually desire. Similarly, we like to weigh up the state of our possessions, be they of the material or immaterial kind.
Video: ‘I see, and am being seen’ — this is the most important juncture in the global audiovisual flow. Video is currently the most state-of-the-art expression of the viewer and the things viewed, no matter what type of apparatus is employed in the process. Its primary objective may be the moving picture, which does not, however, equate simply with ‘film’, but again stands for a recording and reproduction process which could involve film-, video-, or digital photographic cameras, or, again, picture sequences, installations, or closed-circuit surveillance systems. The relevant aspect is the ‘shoot’, the production and reception of technological, electronic, analogue, or digital images & sounds and their recording or storage. The multiplicity of devices employed corresponds to the plethora of video products. In addition, the formats and the quality and resolution of the images vary a great deal, as well.
In the multimedia range of options available to us, we somehow become producers and consumers precisely because the ‘shoot’ is the dominant thing. We actively participate by ticking off and typing in direct communication commands, in a forward leaning posture, via the networking capabilities of the computer. We relax as consumers, leaning back, zapping through the various programmes. In so doing, we avail ourselves of keyboards, touch screens, remote controls; we arrest or speed up the flow of images, we copy or link up images, texts and sound, running them forward and backward. And, once programmed, we arrange the time frame in such a fashion as to completely agree with our habits and preferences; achieving, to all intents and purposes, a complete accessibility and malleability of the available media, communicating with and through virtual realities.
Where once the ‘stage’ was the locus of the performing arts, be it via real actors or puppets that appeared in light and shadow, the three-dimensional space has now been shrunk to the two-dimensionality of the media projection. Real locations have been smoothed out into flat areas, which, being, anyway, for the most part, diminutively proportioned, have also been reduced to microscopic dimensions. Performance spaces once built to the human scale are transformed to fit inside the multi-dimensional imaginary worlds of thoughts and dreams, on the one hand — and of media images with their arbitrary number of different formats, on the other. Even though a certain framework of the original proportions is retained, the expansion into these micro- and macro-worlds is monstrously all-encompassing, yet fascinating, all the same.
A great deal has happened within the framework of customary picture presentations in the area of photography, film, video and computer, since the days when upside-down images slipped through a pinhole into a darkened chamber, there to be copied by hand or fixed by some chemical emulsion, it has been a long way from normative film strips used as negatives to the information stored in a computer chip that can be downloaded and presented in any shape or form (depending on its storage format) as picture, text, and / or sound. Where, in turn, the images may be projected back into a room or appear on a visual display unit. And with further advances in the development of the storage technology, an ever greater density of pixels and bits (HD, full HD) is being aimed for, picture frames are being expanded (4:3, 16:9, 21:9) to achieve greater width, and the picture itself folds in over us or bumps into us in 3D. These various formats all serve the single purpose of ensuring that we really will not be able to elude the power of the images anywhere, anymore. They adapt themselves to our bodies and living spaces, in fixed or flexible, mobile or static form, their metamorphoses provide us with our emotional contrast plunges and the technology needed for our self-representations. It is not only the shadow we cast that accompanies our course, we are also present (somewhere) via our pictures and from somewhere, again, pictures come back to us.
Texts and sounds are stored on CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs and hard discs of ever more gargantuan storage capacities, once numerous computers are linked, spanning the globe, and their firing power is combined. Just where the data even is, at that point, is convincingly expressed by the term ‘cloud computing’ itself. It becomes hard to even conceptualise, data appear and disappear, being there or here, like cloud formations. And if we can no longer recollect where we took one photograph or another, we may at least take recourse to the GPS-based coordinates. Everything crumbles to dust in the turmoil of these opto-acoustic impressions, leaving us just enough time to engage only in occasional interruptions and orientation activities. What is constant is the instable balance forcing us to deal with unexpected surprises. And since events hurtle along in such rapid succession as to almost shuffle the deck of our impressions, we speak of ‘breaking the news’ – in ‘real time’, which is time as it actually happens, the way it has been laid down.
The feeling for time is quite relative and differs from one person to another. Still, it is difficult to speak of one’s ‘own time’ when, in fact, we are busy swinging, with a positively-connoted ease, from one appointment to the next, with our File-O-Fax organisers bursting at the seams. Who could even begin to determine his or her own timing, let alone speed it up or slow it down at will? Who can edit his or her own video in such a way that it will agree with one’s original conception? Here, at the juncture between the consumer and the producer, we can pinpoint the difficulties and the banality inherent in video, as we come to act as both the observer and the observed, since we can be both. Nevertheless, we are, increasingly, turning into being just ‘the observed,’ without even consciously realising it. The surveillance camera traces our steps, for security reasons, as we pass through countless locations. Do we even begin to register the presence of these cameras that keep us at the focus of their attention? How long and where do we remain in storage? Around the clock, whatever happens, everything is recorded. There is practically no activity occurring (in the cities) anymore, that could not, at a later date, be retrievable. The shadow we cast in the media may be limited to a definite time frame, but it is a video.
As we sit before our monitors, (LCDs, plasma display panels, cathode ray tubes) the majority of the forms we recognise about the media are things that we look at, and that look back at us, but were earlier seen elsewhere and arranged accordingly. Whereupon we in turn react to them, stick with them, zap over to something else, or switch off. It’s a continual ‘stop and go,’ a performative activity as an expression of the dynamic unity of our civilisation. This is where we decide how we are going to behave within the hustle and bustle of the images, what we want of them and what we want them to give us: the handling of the images. The videos as mental product offer up to us the process of generating reality, as they become a mental construct, the basis of our understanding of the world, the melding of actual occurrence and virtuality. Video is, in as much as it sees and is being seen, simultaneously the observer and the object observed, the medium and its form, a mobile still life, hardware and software. In the shape of the cell phone, video offers the easy availability, the ready-to-handness, within the interchangeable game of grabbing hold of, and coming to grips with, reality.
The role played throughout the millennia by the mirror, has — since the arrival of TV, the video, and later the personal computer and the Internet, which now sit beside us and with us – and no longer reflect us in left-right reversal – been usurped by the audiovisual analogue/digital video as the interactive medium of self-determination and the imposition of control over others. Where once the image of one of the rulers or of an exceptional personage of the most diverse provenance became part of a society’s common property through photography — through video it became the contemporary, Western-oriented global citizen’s interactive medium of self-affirmation and performative control. Video and performance are the two sides of the same coin of how life is lived today. It provides money (i.e., value), which can be changed into anything at any time and which everything we need to keep living can be changed back into, once nature has been replaced by, and expanded into, the city and its technologies of civilisation. Video is the money of the image, within which one’s live appearance is implemented and documented. Whoever refuses to partake of it, will have to partake of refuse, as the only mental nourishment. Video is the surveillance object between life and death, where ‘those who have died’ are opto-acoustically raised from the dead, and reincarnated in opto-acoustic fashion.
During childhood, transition objects serve to wean us of our mothers’ breasts and to acquaint us with society, so we can exist in this world without being attached to a motherboard. Since the triumphant global advance of digital mediatisation, the corresponding technology tossed on the market in ever changing new transmutations has introduced a bevy of such objects of transition, which are no longer primarily related to our physical needs, but serve our mental needs, instead, and need, themselves, to be appropriated, in turn, so as to help us to establish and maintain our communications capabilities; hence carrying a clear directive to us to engage in our own potential for manipulation of the media. In this way, we can begin to explain to ourselves the effects produced by (super-) stars or the hook-up of quotidian items, such as reality shows like the ‘Big Brother’-TV shows, talk shows, info-and entertainment programmes, with mass communication providers. We can also gain an understanding of the hype involved in exhibiting one’s own private life on the Web, finding new partners to share one’s life with, doing one’s shopping, and keeping a diary, online. We have to become media compliant, using casting shows as the yardstick by which we routinely appraise anything, while politicians must give the impression of being grand orators, even as they read every word off the autocue display.
We’ll need to adapt ourselves to the forms of mass communication, using these new transition objects. Depending on the requirements and the cultures involved, this familiarisation process will proceed in a manner of intense drama or more or less civilised. Even the devices used and the principles of their employment can be critically gauged in the process, and thus give the appearance of having been modified in their significance and / or officially sanctioned. At any rate, video has certainly found a partner in the arts, with a different handling of the world of apparatuses being practiced within the framework of media art. By calling into question any direct usefulness, but also by testing and establishing other dimensions of their utilisation, certain types of video art were able to establish themselves during the 1960s, in the shape of video sculptures and videotapes. Together with the performance arts of the 1970s, these then became the basis for self-reflection and documentation; followed by the music clip, computer animations, and interactive video installations, until we found ourselves reeling with the sheer volume of videos sloshing about in the world’s overfull Internet vessels.
This overflowing expansion beyond the boundaries and demarcation lines of art brought about by a total video crossover makes it increasingly more difficult to determine what art is, or should be, slash, could be. This is all to the good, as the imagination, too, is without boundaries, indeterminate, and, stochastically speaking, an expression of the lively power of fantasy. In addition, the separate disciplines intermingle and draw profit from the friction they exert on one another. This can be seen also in the art video, whose author can, indeed, be anyone. Yet only within the framework of the art discourse will video art prove itself as ART, by comparison with established video art examples and through convincing and surprising forms, which will encourage the portrayal of our times, whatever the theme may be. Video art is an exceptional transfer of ideas. By contrast, while the innumerable clips circulation through the Web may be interesting documents, in terms of advertising, reportage or mere gaggery, and may offer political enlightenment and/or commitment, they are still, artistically speaking, merely successful or failed forms of design, commodities of a greater or lesser commercial provenance. Among thousands of hours of video programming on the Web, we shall only rarely encounter ART, even should we have had the time to watch it or catch it. The same may be said of television, where art practically never surfaces alongside the politically and economically well-coached, potty-trained programmes.
It is a typical contradiction of our times, that while video is being installed, viewed and utilised everywhere, video art, by contrast, is seen only on very rare occasions. Video is linked up with the usual pragmatic audiovisual technology, as most of the new media are. For this reason, many critics regress to the old media as the supposedly proper representatives of art, which is a simplistic approach. However, if we view video as the magical centre of the art of the new media, a gargantuan vista of opto-acoustic events spreads out before us, establishing the first optical mass medium, the panorama, as a videorama. Here, the image of the conception of an image, which serves as a model for a later realisation of the picture, turns into a kaleidoscope of world-images that shift and change within the whole of the pictorial world, offering us the act of viewing as both an insight into, and the pleasure of, seeing itself.
20.007 Z, TA