Exit Archive

Fall 2005 | v.01 n. 01 | Invitational Issue |

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Video as Data: Cross Media Art Practice in the Post Technological Landscape
Susan Otto

CADRE Laboratory for New Media
San Jose State University

New media artists working today are active in art production located within aesthetics, cultural production, and scientific research. With foundations in conceptual art, “cross media” involves utilizing research, video, sound, language and technology within contemporary art practice: as single channel work, ambient media installation and computer/net based work. This artwork is located in dialogue with popular culture, emerging technology and both the humanities and scientific research. Cross media reflects the zeitgeist of fragmentary experience and information, the phenomenon of ubiquitous mobile computing and immediate wireless communication. The horizontal axis of emerging technologies will continue to alter as this research develops with a vertical axis of private intent of information, public consumption of data and even fluidity of signification and the vernacular of media. The intersection of this axis shift is a moment of cultural production.

Media and video today are invested in the exploration of the technology paradigm shift in both its production and presentation. Video is invested in extremes – hyper-realistic special effects of broadcast media, and immediate, low quality (anti-formal) transmission available via the Internet and surveillance video. The focus on technology at the service of formalism has roots in original experimental video of the 1970’s. Cell phones, web cams and video streaming are establishing an altered visual and conceptual vocabulary in both the contemporary art world and mainstream culture. The technology culture available to the public and to artists overlaps and refers to itself and to the visual culture where it resides.

This media also “crosses” pre-existing boundaries between toys for consumers and tools for artists. Cell phone cameras have become commonplace, allowing the notion of visual immediacy and wireless transmission to be absorbed by the culture. As new technologies become ubiquitous, they pass immediately into the marketplace. Artists are forced to address these tools and strategies in a timely and critical manner. Contemporary art practice is a meaningful arena to utilize this media and redefine goals of research.

Video as data requires collecting and cataloging images and sound samples captured with digital video technology and changing the context of the sources of information to explore alternative strategies of time and space. Raw footage is utilized in projects as a packet of data sorted within a predetermined structure in a visual database. It is with an active reading of the structure that the meaning of the clip is allowed to merge. Audio clips may be linked (or not) to video clips – the audio clips forming their own database. The video produced is both a reflection and an interpretation of cultural meaning.

The artist’s role is to develop a meaningful strategy to interact with and use these images and sound clips. This meaning is not expressive meaning. It is cultural meaning. The chunks of video and audio footage are modules, which are structured via the artist’s intent. The structure of the work is the artist’s voice. This new video is viewed on the Internet, in airports, or on a laptop, PDA or cell phone. The work has the ability to transcend traditional limitations of the sacred gallery space. Because this format is mobile, compact and relies on Internet access and battery power, the work must reflect this intentional presentation. Artists are only beginning to use, for example, a cell phone as a camcorder or code as a video editor. Artists are rethinking traditional notions of narrative and dialogue in favor of methodologies constructed by the author or by an algorithm in the machine. Each of these strategies questions both the history and trajectory of video art but also the role of the author/artist in this work. Artists are changing not only the presentation of video but also the actual production of this work. Artists are rethinking distribution strategies beyond the gallery and beyond documentation available on line.

New Media theory is influencing all media based work emerging in this post technological landscape. The paradigm shift between the acceptance of Art and Humanities vs. Art and Science is being explored via technology. Because of this, New Media is experiencing a “High Modernist” period – where the work has, as its content, the medium, the tool, and the machine. The content of the work is primarily formally based, or at the very least invested in the visualization of information technology. This is where New Media video can be currently located. This video practice relies on a database of images and uses the computer as a processor and editor for “new video”. An example of this work would be Lev Manovich’s Soft Cinema where video clips are selected and assembled by the algorithm, code or machine with an interface that allows a performance of viewer interaction.

In this work, the author’s voice is represented in the written code that drives the algorithms and, in fact, the author’s voice is subordinated to the machine’s voice. Selecting images for the database continues to represent the artist’s voice. The database could be culled through a similar algorithm pulling images randomly off of the Internet, which would completely diminish ideas of authorship. While this type of practice is quite interesting and warrants support and study, some of us remain slaves to content. Why should video art necessarily reflect the traditional narrative trajectory that has sustained its content? Why are multiplicities of video art practice not supported? What are the new parameters of narrative / documentary / experimental art work?

The difference between “Video as Data” and “Data Video” is simple – the role of the artist. While Soft Cinema uses the computer to make decisions (following a series of code commands), the video I am advocating allows the artist to intervene in both the collection of data clips to form the data base, but also assemble, edit and present the works according to a creative methodology that implies the hand of the artist and the role of the author. The role of methodology is crucial to the conceptual premise of this work. Video artists make decisions based on a set of rules (like computer code) that creates a “new” narrative made up of statistics, charts, clips, facts and chunks of information. The methodology invented by the artist allows decisions to be made based on a set of rules governing the core of ideas in a work – perhaps the new form of “expression”. The completed video is utilized as small data file sizes that can be streamed, downloaded, or exchanged in on line communities. The videos may also function as ambient video in installation work or as an interactive performance. This radically changes the idea of distribution and value of content, while allowing the realm of popular culture and complicated signification to occur.

Artists must examine the impact of the paradigm shift that occurred in the technology revolution and how this shift remains fluid. Artists must examine how this technology has impacted cultural and art production. “Cross Media” is a viable alternative for conceptual art practice in video, new media and installation. It looks to the future with an active dialogue with emerging technology. It questions and reevaluates the role of the author and the presence of the artist within an artwork. It is an ongoing conversation on the role of the time-based artist in the field of technology.

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