Amsterdam, Finally

Well, I’ve been back probably two weeks from Amsterdam and am only now sitting down to write about the trip. I’ve already written about how many hours of travel versus how long in town I was, but what did I actually do?

I gave a couple of talks, and got to be involved in two days of the Anymedia Documentary workshop (which went on for several more days). The main lecture was on softvideo, where I talked about, and showed, some of my research and practice on, well, softvideo.

OK, it is now February and I think I’m now over Christmas, the holidays and have processed all that went on in my intense few days in Amsterdam. Point is, I came back with my head buzzing with excitement and ideas. I was really impressed with the mediamatic setup, their approach to workshops: informal, laptops on trestle tables, access to cameras and recording equipment, and a quite no nonsense roll up the sleeves and make something attitude. Klaas’s role seemed to be a combination of mentor, teacher and executive producer so he was happy to go over ideas and material and equally happy to say that something just wasn’t good enough and needed more development or input.

I met Florian Thalhofer, who has written the Korsakow Engine, which I’m currently beginning to experiment with. This deserves a whole separate conversation because what I find deeply fascinating with this engine, which is basically a system for adding keywords at time points to videos and using these keywords (which boolean rules) to determine which videos are available next), is that its deep structure is identical or nearly so, to Storyspace. I asked Florian about this, and he didn’t know about Storyspace, so it was like convergent development (a bit like convergent evolution). This was the case not only in how Storyspace uses guard fields on links to help manage and produce constrained structures but also in the way that Storyspace operates on the level of nodes where each node becomes a minimal unit in the Storyspace environment. Thalhofer talks about SNU’s – Smallest Narrative Units, and uses this to help others to understand the sort of granularity that is required in these environments (granularity and so on are the ways I describe this).

Some of the film makers in the workshop found this quite difficult, and its at those times that I realise I know a lot about this stuff and that I have not done a good job in getting out of my head, my classes and my conversations and onto paper. Well, a screen. And into some suitably austere publication. So after I knock off the DAC paper that is due, oh, and the book chapter on material thinking, oh, and possibly a paper on material thinking, multimodality and something else, I’m going to write this stuff out.

We talked a lot about constraint in the workshops, which I really enjoyed, and it gave me a lot of ideas and material to bring back to RMIT to use in my teaching. I’m thinking about really slowing down one of my subjects, which has always been helter skelter whistle stop sort of thing (much like me). So slowing it down and just working through things more slowly. I have a bad habit of pointing out things, assuming (once having pointed this out) that it makes obvious and perfect sense, and going on to the next thing. I don’t fill in the steps or gaps about what falls below or informs whatever it is I am doing or saying, nor providing enough road signs or context to let others see it. It is always more or less a game of catch up.

For two days as I travelled to the workshops I experimented with filming some material. Sample movies. Every two (or five, or ten) minutes simply film whatever you find most interesting at the place you happen to be. Put them together. (This is a Deleuzean inspired idea from the Cinema One book and his wonderful discussion of the any-instant-whatever, a discussion I appropriated for an interactive video essay about videoblogging and the any-instant-whatever.) I have the material, it’s very banal, so I’m still wondering just what to do with it, for example since there are two series I might play them next to each other in the one movie. Then on my last morning I wandered the inner city from 6.30am, photographing anything that took my fancy to make a very dull travelogue photo show. Just got very interested in off the cuff informal documentation, and since I was there as part of an international documentary festival, increasingly returning and concentrating on the documentary aspects and possibilities of vogging. But documentary that is closer to Joris Ivens (a suitably Dutch exemplar) than Discovery Channel!

So now I am distilling all this, grabbing bits of it to use in my teaching, and trying to find time (usually in the evening after Cleo’s asleep) to make some video sketches. I should have a Korsakow project online in the next month or so, a first experiment. The trip was invigorating, exciting and while tiring just plain damned inspiring. I struggled a bit with the workshops, as I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, or could be (I was sort of talking a lot about vogs and web 2.0 sort of stuff but they were making Korsakow specific work), but now that I’ve experienced the structure and started playing with the Korsakow Engine I’ve got my orientations if I ever get to participate again. (Something like this really should be run locally.) My biggest disappointment was only being there for the two days of the workshops and not seeing how the projects developed. Going through the entire process, and seeing the completed or at least developed outcomes, would have been fantastic.