on gifs [ storifying the latent content of film/television narrative media ]

Gifs do so many things, I’m not even going to list all of those things! Right now I’m thinking about gifs as amplifiers of particular moments from narrative media. In these pieces, they strip moments from narrative, expanding the gesture used to tell a story while erasing the original context.

a moment from Tarkovsky’s “Ivan’s Childhood”

This eternal moment, stripped from narrative, reminds me of tween frames in the animation process. As an artist who has learned how to make in many kinds of media, I often think of the making process while looking at an art object (or other thing). Tweening is the frame-by-frame drawing that carries the image from moment a to moment b. Its where animation really happens. Skilled animators’ tweens inform how the story is told.

But-and-also – gifs operate with a more cinematic set of visual references, thanks to copy/remix culture. They often inhabit the vocabulary of filler moments.  The embellishments in a televised or film-presented narrative used to allow time to pass, allow the viewer to update their story, create rhythm or pace for the narrative. These moments, over time, become the vocabulary of unconscious narrative of a film/television-presented story.

unconscious narrative the consistant (or inconsistant, depending on the skill of the filmmaker) backdrop woven of actors’ gestures, filler shots, setting, shot framing, color, mood, tone. The assemblage of choices related to non-verbal or not-plot content that provides a consistant ground for the ‘plot’ / cause-and-effect narrative / story, which is spoken or explicit. The language of film that operates outside of verbal story, the elements that make film/television an art form discrete from other storytelling media.

The gif can particularize moments from this unconscious language. The elements which we recognize as part of the assembly of a particular story.

Ryan Seslow has been developing discrete elements in gif form for quite some time. His characters and repeated making-gestures arrive on the screen-canvas of his website & other internet feeds. Recently he assembled several into a sequence.


Telling Stories : a gif by Ryan Seslow

Ryan steps into the space of a story. Its liminal – it is not yet a story – it is a projection field for a story of my invention. It invites me to create relationships between jump-cut moments. We automatically work to create relationships, as storifying machines, as viewers. Like we discover the Virgin Mary’s face in a waterstain or a fried tortilla.

Looking, looking back. The screen looking back at us – the portraited pretty lady winks (usually she’s the object in the gallery) its the gaze of the inhabited object – and then the gaze of others looking back –

untitled antonio roberts video

Antonio Roberts made this. I think it describes the emotional mirroring overload of micro reactions I have skimming the internet when sh*t really hits the fan and so many people are scrambling && colliding && making sense of && pointing at *why this happened* and *what must be done*


andy baio explains what’s actually happening with digital appropriation, remix culture, & creativity

Andy Baio’s amazing talk about appropriation and digital remix culture. Well-researched, he tells so much truth about creativity and creative process, the problem of copyright and the myth of the solo genius-artist.

Portland/CreativeMornings – Andy Baio from CreativeMornings/Portland on Vimeo.

where I explain how chuck close is a painter

@golan @cynthialawson chuck close: a painter with a recognizable aesthetic now living its own life in his viewers’ experiences #letgo

* * * * *

Chuck Close makes paintings with a particular visual vocabulary. They play with the viewer’s faculty of sight, that tricky biology of perception thresholds. They happened in part as a consequence of biology, perhaps in response to his own experience of face-blindness, but also in consequence of a seizure-stroke that changed the way he could use his body to paint. Although I expect those who read this blog to already know this, Chuck Close’s career and health issues are summarized succinctly on wikipedia.

Digital artist Scott Blake created the Chuck Close filter. A free, web-based tool transformed a still image into the close cousin of a Chuck Close image. Note that I did not use the word ‘painting’ – the output from Scott Blake’s program isn’t a painting, its an image made using the visual conventions of a Chuck Close painting.

You can see how Chuck Close responded to Scott Blake’s work here, at the page where the project used to live. The placeholder page representing the former project includes a quote from Mr. Close: “it may be an amusing project and many people might like it, but it is MY art that is trivialized, MY career you are jeopardizing, MY legacy, which i have to think about for my children, and MY livelihood. i must fight to protect it.” Chuck Close, November 2010

* * * * *

During my undergrad, one of the ongoing discussions I had with a collaborator was the seeming strategy of those attempting to conquer the art world with a ‘clear vision’. We called this a ‘schtick’. We had to memorize and regurgitate the ‘schtick’ of these artists to pass art history classes on our way to that little piece of paper, the BFA. Oh, yeah, Chuck Close was fragmenting the image in a way that played with how we read the image; there’s a perception threshold the viewer can play with by spending time far away or coming up close and watching the image dissolve. Cool. Next.

When I was in grad school in Boston, I’d visit the MFA just about every day. I’d touch base with a particular Chuck Close painting, when it was up, because I liked it, and because repeated viewings of a single work of art over a long period of time provide me with a different kind of insight into that work and what it is doing. I remember seeing postcards of that painting in the museum gift shop.

I understand museum gift shops, with their postcards and books. I’ve always preferred to see art in person. Not everyone has that privilege.

* * * * *

Scott Blake had his own experience of Chuck Close’s work. He translated the aesthetic he associated with that work into another medium. This point is particularly important to me – Mr. Blake did not take a patentable process (the mechanics of painting the image); he did not take a copyrighted image of a painting, he took an experienced aesthetic and created with it.

Close told him to knock it off, and Blake did.

Close had the balls to claim he “makes digital art“. No, Sir, you do not. You make paintings with a particular aesthetic that can be more easily associated with color separation technology used to print newspapers. Digital art uses computers as the primary method of production. While your photographs may be digitally enlarged as part of the production process, the computer is not essential to the mode of production. Your paintings can be made without the use of a computer. (Additional media-metaphor description of digital art in the last section of this post as well).

As an artist who has staked her claim to a digital platform, whose work cannot exist without digital technology to store, exhibit, share, or produce it, I’m going to ask Mr. Chuck Close to go back to what he knows how to do much better than me – move a paintbrush on a canvas. Mr. Close’s paintings can exist in a future without computers. Mine can’t. Is this better or worse? I’m not interested in a ‘whose medium is better/cooler/etc’ conversation right now – I’ll leave that for those who like to play king of the mountain. Computers are, for better or worse, deeply embedded in ordinary human life, at least for 80% of humans (those who have access to the technology and use it daily to achieve a variety of tasks). I’m interested in how information moves there, lives there, and how the way we use our technology is changing our way of interacting with everything else. Chuck Close makes excellent paintings.

* * * * *

While I think that Hyperallergic’s My Chuck Close Problem article gets at many of Scott Blake’s struggles with Chuck Close, I’d like magnify something I see underneath the discussion.
The audience has its own experience of the work. No artist can control what the audience does with that experience. Scott Blake had a really inspiring experience of Chuck Close. He took his experience of Chuck Close’s aesthetic to a different medium. He used that experience to create artwork that does something entirely different from what Chuck Close does. This is not about first-second, derivation, or anything else. Its about translation.

Computers translate. As a machine, the computer translates information coming in via the user interface (designed with human logic) through the operating system to the firmware. The firmware simplifies and translates that input to the hardware, which then does what the user asks of the hardware with the information the user refers to along with the command information. As a digital work of art, Scott Blake’s translation of Chuck Close’s aesthetic into a user-friendly image-translater is, in my humble opinion, quite beautiful and, in its form and expression, truly excellent digital artwork.

It is also art of a different class than Mr. Close’s painting. Chuck Close needs to ‘protect his legacy’ because he works in the world of things. He’s making trophies to be purchased by museums and collectors in the closed economy of the art world. He has to protect the aesthetic stuck on the physical surface of the canvas.

Here we go again, the gift economy of the object providing an experience to the viewer interfering with the object economy of the ‘art world’. Why are we comparing pomegranates and seashells? They have different functions.

Oh, and, one more time – Mr. Close – you are a painter.


lost in translation

In the world of computers, the user receives information presented in a way that fits the user’s ordinary senses. When that information-presentation breaks down, the computer is ‘broken’.  Failure breaks the film, the suspension of disbelief, that users have to have when they rely on computers to conduct their business and personal lives.


lost in translation : artefacted stream of CSI:NY

lost in translation : artefacted stream of CSI:NY

Signal : the information stream. We rely on our senses to present good ‘signal’, or a reliable stream of information, to our brains. Our nervous system carries signal; then our brain decodes it, re-presenting the information we use to walk, talk, orient ourselves in space, create memory, and more.

Part of my affinity for working with digital media comes from my interest in signal and its translation, a process we rely on every day without being aware of, for the most part.


lost in translation : artefacted stream of CSI:NY
lost in translation : artefacted stream of CSI:NY

The computer user’s ignorance of the underlying process … Well, do we really need to understand the process of combustion and the machinery that harnesses it in order to drive our cars? We have to remember to get the oil changed, no matter if we understand how the failure to change the oil will break the car.

These screenshots were taken of broken stream of the television show CSI : NY. The premise of each of the CSI shows fascinates me, in part because they are driven by the authority of the evidence, or, the examination of material reality.  Authority, trust, questions about what is real, representations of reality; the narrative of the episode about a seemingly paranoid young woman whose murder proves she was really on to something. The signal bled all over my screen. The results? Beautiful.


lost in translation

lost in translation : artefacted stream of CSI:NY