Posts tagged ‘Image’

Key Ideas on New Media and Self-Reflexivity- in short

1. Self-reflexivity is by no means exclusive to the field of the arts but a common preoccupation of different disciplines in the XX century
2. Whenever a new medium appears it must struggle to define its own field of actuation and pertinence against all existing mediums
3. Different mediums borrow from and influence avidly each other
4. New media ontologically favour manipulation and experimentation
5. Media specificity must be found in the medium’s structure and technological premise
6. This strategy and belief is not exactly new but was mimed from painting
7. New media – and not just video – took on a critical position against television and what it represented

October 18, 2008 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Key Ideas on New Media and Self-Reflexivity


Nam June Paik, Budha TV, 1974

Whenever a new medium appears it must struggle to define its own field of actuation and pertinence against all existing mediums. This contributes to the development of a speech of self-specificity, as the struggle between painting and photography – when photography first appeared – testifies.
„As with the introduction of every new medium, video encompasses a process of development from a technical novelty to the formation of media-specific forms of expression, which reflect the basic technical conditions governing the apparatus aesthetically and, finally, culminate in the cultural connotations of a new medium, which can assert its singularity in setting itself apart from other media”.(Yvonne Spielmann, Video The Reflexive Media, MIT, 2008)

Opposing already existing mediums doesn´t completely describe this process, for each new medium also wants to achieve recognition from the others and even share some of their features. The emergence of the photographic in different media – in the computer for instance – is only but one example of this.
“The desire for immediacy leads digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors such as film, television and photography. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media”. (Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation, Understanding New Media, MIT Press, 2000)

In this sense, it seems that „all a new technology can do is to define itself in relationship to earlier technologies of representation“ (Bolter & Grusin, 2000)

As tools, and artists always seem to be the first ones to experiment with them -, and due to their inherent manipulative character new media possess an ontological feature which favours experimentation. This also leads to the development of a speech of self-specificity.

This self-specificity has erroneously been attributed. Nor the aesthetic dimension, nor the presentation dimension suffice as criteria for defining media specificity. This is easy to understand if we think of video. Ultimately its raw material is noise, which denote electronic signals, but these can be presented also as a sculpture or an installation. In this sense, nor the technical manipulation of the signals processes (its technical self-reflexion – Paik operating with magnets for instance), nor its presentation possibilities (single channel to multi video installations) are specific enough criteria to define the ontology of video.
According to Yvonne Spielmann, this must be found in video’s structure technological premise. She argues that “both Media (video and film) are concerned with visualizing an aesthetic-analytical discourse on picturiality, which brings into view structural phenomena from the medium in question”. (Yvonne Spielmann, 2008)


Morris Lewis, Alpha-phi, 1961
This strategy and belief is not exactly new, in fact it already occurred in painting. Formalism has always belived that everything necessary in a work of art is contained within it.
Clement Greenberg, who ambitioned using the characteristic method of a discipline (painting) to criticize the discipline (painting) itself, „not in order to subvert it but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence“, thought Maurice Denis’ early statement that a painting was ‘essentially a flat surface covered in colours arranged in a certain order’ through and through.
After his inquiry to painting Greenberg comes to determine that flatness and bi-dimensionality represent painting´s ontological qualities. Greenberg admitted that every medium incorporated conventions which had been borrowed from another art (narrative in history painting for instance), and which had to be necessarily expurgated so painting could be reduced to its absolutely unique characteristic(s). In this realm, „art“ became art’s only acceptable subject – art for art’s sake.
This notion of the arts as self-justifying (purily concerned with itself, striving to find its purity) was understood by Greenberg as a form of materialistic objectivity – in parallel to what contemporary science was doing. To Greenberg’s mind, this was being fulfilled by hard edge and color field painting.

Not only has New Media Art been concerned in exploring the medium’s structural characteristics but also its effects in general. In this way, the reflection about the use and meaning of images becomes very important and should perhaps be included as a part of the chapter on new media and self-reflexivity.
Images were always felt to be dangerous – we must only think of the Iconoclasm polemic – but technological apparatuses producing images do leave us the feeling that “it is out of control”. This fear is perhaps one more reason why new media are interested not only in exploring self-reflexive issues but also its effects, as if a way to get a hold on something which cannot be stopped.

From early on, new media – and not just video – took on a critical position against television and its system. Throughout History this critique was performed in different ways: the critique to Television as an instrument dictated and in service of corporate power; television as a flux of images which assumes the viewer as a passive subject; and whose only choice is the ability to change channel continuously (zapping).
Since there is no privileged image but a multiplicity of images in Television, our attention becomes slightly indifferent to content for it keeps changing very fast and no image is more important than the next. Susan Sontag sees in the type of image Television conveys, one of the reasons why we’ve become indifferent to horror images.

But more than opposing Television from minute one, Video has also adopted some of its features. In both mediums, image arises from its signal transmission technology and they both register rays of light onto a surface (in this miming Film, their historical precedent).

October 18, 2008 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag (II)

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Barbara Kruger, You Substantiate Your Horror
Photo: Mendel, flickr

Could one then oppose war just by looking at an image? Can an image change the world or at least us?

Photographing the pain of others leads us to recognize their suffering, but how is protesting against suffering different from recognizing it only? – Sontag asks. „To nominate a hell is definitely not the same thing as to say anything on how to take people out of that hell“. Images seem to tell us only what horrible things people can do to each other and with pleasure, all over the world.
So Sontag righteously asks: „what is the point in showing such images? Make us feel indignation? Cause sadness and consternation? Help us to mourn? Do we become better by watching them? Do they teach us something? Or do they confirm what we already knew?“

It has been repeatedly pointed out that we are living in a society of spectacle, in which people also aim to transform themselves in spectacle. There seems to be nothing but representations, media representations more precisely. In this state of over stimulation, the hunt for dramatic images which drives the photographic enterprise is, according to Sontag, a mere reflex of a culture in which shock has become the main stimulus for consumption and a source of value.
One of the functions of photography is to improve how things look, and this tends to diminish a moral response to what is showed. Perhaps this is why people often react against images of war and suffering, specially if they are beautiful. And when showed in a museum or art gallery, we often ask ourselves if that isn´t just unecessary exploration of the suffering of others?
It seems that in order to provoke an active response images must shock. But how long does the shock last, Sontag strikingly asks. If we are able to get used to horror in our real life we’re also able to get use to the horror of certain images, the author refers. People often criticize news´ photographers for proffiting commercially from images drawn in scenarios in which they did nothing to help, critics contemptuously call them “war tourists” often forgetting how they´ve risked their life to give us testimony.

It seems thought that our attention is being driven by the attention of the media, of the images, that in a world full with them, the ones which should interest us have hardly any effect on us and that our insensitivity to them is somehow deeply related to the way television works. Sontag sustains, that the multiplicity of images showed in TV favours a light, mobile, slightly indifference to content, for the flux of images in television excludes a privileged one. What matters in television is that we may always change the channel. Sontag also believes that people simply turn off not because they’ve become indifferent to those images but because they are scared. It is because we have the feeling that war, any war, cannot be stopped (even pacifists no longer believe war can be stopped) that people have become less sensitive to its horrors. Symptoms of apathy, moral or emotional numbness are, in Sontag´s view, nothing but full of feelings of rage and frustration.

It is not an unsufficiency that we are not touched enough or that we do not suffer enough with those images, for the way Sontad sees it, it is not photography’s job to repair our ignorance on history or the cause of pain of others which it selects and frames. For the author, those images are but an invitation to reflect, try to learn, examine, etc. in order to finally ask ourselves: is there a state of things which we’ve accepted so far and should be questioned now?

October 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm 1 comment

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

What to do with the acknowledge of the pain of others? – On the impact of Photography

To state that we are surrounded by all kinds of images – images of war, pain, misery, cruelty, beauty, pornographic or digitally produced images nowhere to be found in reality – and that this is not without consequences for us has become obvious to everyone and a cliché today. It has also been repeatedly argued that this manic flux of images is responsible for a general state of numbness regarding the Other. For this reason, Susan Sontag proposed and battled, in her famous book “On Photography“ (1977), for an ecology of images.

16 years later and still reflecting on the modern use and meaning of images, Sontag comes to admit that the idea that our ability to react to our experiences with emotional freshness and ethical acuteness is hindered by the constant broadcast of common and disgusting images is nothing but a very conservative critique of the proliferation of such images. Focusing on the intersection between information, news, art and politics in the representation of war and catastrophe, “Regarding the Pain of Others” (2003) reexamines Sontag´s former position and admits that neither an ecology of images is doable nor it is necessarily truth that our exposure to shocking images should result in indifference. We do not become necessarily violent by witnessing images of violence.

No doubt, we are living in an age which contemplates the maximum reproducibility and broadcast of images, with few possibilities to control the context in which they disseminate. But for the most of us wo never experienced war, it remains truth that the understanding of war is only possible through the mediation of photography; something can only become real if it is photographed. From Vietnam onward we came to recognize how war images are not stagged thought everybody knows there´s nothing objective about photos which in some cases have even been used both in favour and against something. Which leads us to ask: can an image make us understanding something?

According to Sontag, if there is a year in which the ability of photography to define reality was stronger than any narrative this was 1945, with the images of the first days after the liberation from the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau, and also the images of what happened in Hiroxima and Nagasaqui.
In the fight between word and image – a very old querrel still far from its end – the problem is not, for Sontag, that we might remember events through photographies but that we only remember events through them. It is a problem that remember is no longer remember a story but being able to remember an image.Photographies do not lose their ability to shock but they do not help a lot when it is about understanding.

October 3, 2008 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

This is exactly how I feel today…


(Rachel Weisz in My Blueberry Nights
by Wong Kar Wai
@ http://www.myblueberrynights.de/)

“Wieder ein ewiger Tag des Wartens”.
(“Der Erwartung” Monodrama by Arnold Schönberg,
Libretto by Marie Pappenheim)

July 7, 2008 at 11:16 am 1 comment


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