Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

Sisyphus

After scrambling and cobbling together dollars from a variety of sources it looks like I can get to this year’s i-docs symposium, hosted by the i-Docs mob from UWE. My first. I’m excited to see Bristol, to catch up with some friends, and to see what is going on.

I, in that way that is easy to do when you don’t know the people involved, think that a lot of the work being done in interactive documentary (and a lot of things that are called interactive documentary) is not doing very much. This is partly because many moving into this area come from heritage industrial practices that mean that when we meet the novel, different, and strange, the first step is to translate this into current terms to understand it. It can be a similar story theoretically, where this is often a tacit reappropriation or incorporation of the differences of interactive documentary back into existing paradigms of film and documentary theory. Hence, as a simple example, the hegemony of story to nearly every single theorist and practitioner in this field.

So, following up on my recent post on multi and non linearity, and to , well, I was going to say ‘be intellectual provocateur’ but that sounds way too strategic for me. (I get a little autistic around ideas. What that means is all I ‘see’ are the ideas, not the people attached to them. A bad idea I treat as a thing that is unpleasant and unwelcome, and I can be blunt and direct. I once thought it was because I didn’t grow up middle class and so never learnt what I think of as the protocols of sobriety – where I grew up if something was silly, wrong, stupid, ignorant, or dumb, it was called that, we didn’t really have euphemisms and conversation veered towards agon. But I’ve realised it’s more that I just see ideas as things, objects in their own right sitting there, in an intellectual ecosystem (like the red box eucalypt outside my window) and I discuss its qualities as this thing quite forgetting that they have people attached.) So, as someone who sometimes just has to call a spade a spade, this illustration (I’ve borrowed the URL from the i-docs site where it is captioned as “Interactive Documentary Structure from i-Docs 2012”) below needs something said about it.

In my conception of multilinearity and interactivity this drawing is neither, and I think it is illustrative of the poor understanding about interactivity and multilinearity that bedevils thinking in this domain. What are its problems?

If I were a user in this work then my its structure would appear to me as a branching tree (aka choose your own adventure) where my choices have no consequence or implications for the shape of the work (it is fixed). Hence the only way I could learn that it is indeed multilinear would be to get to the end, start again, go to the same two first places, and then (if I can remember) choose something different to go somewhere else. Hopefully the interface provides enough information so that on this second (and third, fourth, etc) reading/viewing I am able to make a decision to not end up in the same place on the fourth ‘level’ of the work.

What else? The illustration is in thrall of an inevitable, determined, definite/definitive beginning and ending. How we ‘do’ things in this domain, temporally (as it is a temporal, not a spatial problem here as we’re talking about hypertextual montage) is all about offering some choices to the user (in an act of generosity as makers we surrender absolute control) but only as long as you begin at the beginning and end at the ending. These remain singular and simple.

This model is indebted, ideologically and intellectually, to the epistemology of print literacy and culture as all those arrows, resolutely moving us to the right, live in fear of recursiveness, repetition, and rhythm. It is only print that insists on linear seriality with no repetition. Painting, dance, song, oral cultures, poetry all rely upon and celebrate repetition. For example who doesn’t revel in those moments in song where a chorus returns the second, third, fourth time, the same but of course oh so different now. Or the repetition of some signature short phrase in a song that, through this very repetition and redundancy shifts the duty of the song and its art from narrative and description and telling into incantation and doing as the words become musical, material, concrete, affective, carnal, embodied, ephemeral, solid.

Recursiveness is not redundancy and lets a work have rhythm. Recursiveness is not redundancy and lets users see that, as they return to where they have been, that they can do and go otherwise and that their actions come to matter for the very shape of the work. If, as happens in this drawing, I choose and arrive, choose and arrive, choose, and it ends, how, apart from beginning all over again, like Sisyphus, would I ever have the opportunity to know I have agency? Which of course is much the same as saying such structures think they confer agency, but do not.

Cutting Floor Two

The notion of the affect image as slow interval, as the indeterminate that falls between noticing and action, offers a radical critique of interactive documentary poetics, and a compelling alternative methodology. It lets us see that interactive documentary may be less about ‘access’ (social engagement and reach, sociocultural critique), or even novel technocultural forms (it is about all of these things, but this has always been documentary’s charter) but about interrupting, suspending, and slowing the ideas, events, and problems they address. This is largely not the case in contemporary interactive documentary where much of the work being discussed and identified as interactive documentary is caught in a first wave of a digital delirium where the ability to combine, link, and then present media in multilinear and nonsequential ways becomes a parade and celebration of technical spectacle. (It is a reprise of Gunning’s ‘cinema of attractions’ applied to new media.)

In the current context of work that is available and being discussed theoretically, interactivity is diluted and under theorised to the extent where recent academic work can provide a definition of interactive documentary that, at base, says little more than that interactive documentary is documentary that is interactive – leaving the key term mute.

The celebration of technical spectacle is perhaps more complicated, as the rapid rise of new protocols including HTML5 and CSS3 combined with the development of JavaScript libraries such as popcorn.js and video.js, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to existing and new platforms, sees a slew of experimental work being undertaken. The best of this work offers, provokes, and asks questions of form, narrative, style and documentary, yet many seem to confuse technical adroitness and a digital spectacle that bewitches and beguiles — I suspect because many critical theorists have little experience of code and digital building.

In a nutshell much interactive work confuses a literal and direct action with interactivity, or becomes explicitly or implicitly concerned with the technical language of coding as special effect (for instance witness the excitement and rapid adoption of the curtain.js library as a sort of cinematic web special effect for long form web nonfiction).

Cutting Floor One

Dumped from a current chapter:

As a centre or zone of indetermination the affect image is then where things may happen, but this interval is extended, in some cases interminably in the cinema, where in its extreme form that which does happen is never sufficient to the situation. This is the real regime of the affect image for affect is not merely this realm of possible decision but is much more specifically for Deleuze (following Bergson) the remainder that is not expended, spent, disseminated via action. (Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest offers a beautiful example of its famous final shot where the death of the priest is off camera, narrated to us, where narrative action is absolutely evacuated from the visible image.) This is because the sensory motor schema that underwrites this model is premised upon an economy of forces or flows where something is perceived, a decision is made, and an action occurs. In the regular course of events this action is understood to be adequate to the perception where the action responds adequately to the perception. There is no remainder, the stimulus is spent by the stimulation. In affect, however, the action does not meet the demand of the perception, and this remainder then creates and produces what we take to be affect. I desire that person, I court, seduce, wonder, dream, touch, make love, build a family with them.

Affect is a qualitative, not a quantitative, field, which is why the list can continue, will never be done, and each act can never be enough.

Expanded Doco Symposium Coming Up

Shit, December

My PhD student Hannah Brasier has uploaded “Negotiating Mess: Towards a Multilinear Engagement with Complexity in Interactive Documentary” to academia.edu.

From a current research proposal of mine:

This project aims to create a new framework to theorise and understand interactive documentary by using theories from critical digital humanities. This framework will expand our conception of interactive documentary into a new field of ‘computational nonfiction’. This study aims to be the first that combines critical digital humanities and documentary, and will inaugurate computational nonfiction as a new context for the consideration of digital nonfiction. The outcomes and benefits of this project include scholarly publications and presentations, international research collaborations, project website, scholarly monograph, research training, and the development of ongoing research partnerships.

It’s an odd genre which is the academy’s version of a startup’s pitch. As best I can tell, like many such pitches, the game is to get the capital, and then, well, things often change.

While writing this funding application I refound my 2003 very good list of things to do to make a successful conference. I am proud of melbourneDAC, it was a kick ass conference.

Efficiency has a new Master

Being Observed

Franziska Weidle is a PhD candidate in anthropology from Göttingen who is doing field work on Korsakow. We, it turns out, are the field. She’s a great addition to the non/fictionLab and documentary group, participating in seminars, workshops, supervision and so on. She’s started a blog for her field work on Korsakow.

Running a Workshop on Korsakow

Korsakow is an open source Java based authoring program that allows for the authoring of interactive video works. It is popular for many interested in interactive documentary because it allows you to make complex, generative video works without having to code. In this hands on participatory workshop Adrian Miles will introduce Korsakow and its principles. Everyone will make an interactive video work with provided media, followed by discussion about its uses and possibilities for documentary.

RSVP to Adrian Miles, by Friday Dec 11, numbers limited.

When: Wednesday December 16. Midday to somewhere around 3pm
Where: RMIT City Campus, Building 9, Level 2, Room 5 (9.2.5)
What: bring a paper bag lunch

Near Enough is the Measure

As part of my current research leave I have committed to completing an application to the Australian Research Council for a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA). They are prestigious, valuable, and now rarer than hen’s teeth. As I try to write a project, which revolves around creating what I hope will become computational or procedural nonfiction, I find I simply can’t write funding applications. The issue is one of genre, and at this stage I just don’t grok what is required. The feedback I continually receive is that I do not outline or propose a project, but instead what I write always comes out as an essay. So I’ve surrendered and taken the sensible, pragmatic view of writing what I write and then handing it off to colleagues who will critique it. The second advantage of this is that the deadline for the proposal is a long way off, and this is the sort of writing that so easily becomes interminable. Write, rewrite, change that paragraph again and again and again. It swallows your time like some sort of lexical black hole. So, draft it, get it near enough, hand it off. Otherwise I can see a month lost to ten pages for a proposal that I has about a 2% chance of receiving funding.

Strategies for me: scale it back, calling it already computational nonfiction already assumes an understanding of what the computational and procedural is, and why it matters. Similarly calling it nonfiction (because I’m interested in things beyond documentary and its film and video heritage to include forms of life writing and how social media can become modes of documentary practice) also probably generates too much abstraction, too many leaps and gaps, for the assessors. Wind it back, just call it computational documentary for now. (Particularly since the people who will probably assess this are likely to be much more familiar with media studies and cinema studies than they will with code, software, materialist media studies.)

Nomadic Circles

A recurring theme of the book is that most of our media forms and practices are teleological. They are materially so, since they have physical real last pages and physical real last frames. Hypertext, radically, simply, and elegantly, matters perhaps most because by refusing or at least showing the possibility of discursive forms that are otherwise to this they also offer ways to think with things and make arguments that might not be teleological.

Academic writing, in spite ourselves and our arguments, is resolutely teleological. As academics we participate in and make arguments, after all, which ideally are causal evidenced based chains of reason. They are things on the way to somewhere, and these destinations tend to be implicit in the causes. I am frustrated and suspicious of this. This seems to only describe part of how I think and work, not all. I’m also reasonably confident that the world I find myself in is made up of a considerable amount of things that matter to me that also aren’t teleological. Things just happen. They have effects, I’m sure they have causes, somewhere, but that is a very different claim to saying they have an end, as their aim.

This book is in some ways a materialised or concrete engagement with this. It returns to a small number of what could be described as my academic concerns (in the way that Latour describes a discipline as the making and maintaining of things that are its matters of concern), prodding and poking them in a persistent, repetitive, indeed even obsessive manner. The writing is quite explicit about this, as it returns to have another go at a problem, returning to some ideas, again, and finding new avenues, new facets, by which to think about it, or with it. It finds causes, it makes arguments, it goes places. And returns, again.

Perhaps, in this repetition, these circles and contours (rather than the nearly straight line that is teleology) that I could theorise via Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the nomadic and Walter J Ong’s orality offers an alternative to teleology? Musical rather than linguistic, poetic rather than prosaic, is there a viable knowledge being performed by these returns and worryings?