Antonioni, Smooth & Striated Space *SPOILER ALERT

Posted in Deleuze with tags , , , on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

As you were all there to witness I had a last minute change of heart for my final. My original plan was to discuss the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Deleuze’s “Smooth and Striated”. I even had selected films, rescreened them and compiled clips to show the class. With a last minute moment of “becoming”, I had a change of heart. Since, I had done a bit of legwork, I decided to craft a blog post. I still think the correlation is worth examination.
The films I chose to highlight were Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. They are two parts of an english language trilogy, that commences with another great film, Blow Up. Antonioni and Deleuze are complementary counterparts. They were contemporaries. Deleuze includes references to Antonioni’s work in his books on cinema. The most apparent connection would be with Deleuze’s concepts of time. Antonioni, with his frequent use of long takes and overall style he gives a good visual example of concrete vs. abstract time. As this is a blog post and not a paper I will discuss his later work The Passenger.

The Passenger begins in the smoothest of all spaces, the desert. David Locke is a documentary filmmaker attempting to chronicle civil conflict in Africa. His Land Rover fails in the middle of the Sahara. After a series of unfortunate events Locke spontaneously decides to take on the identity of a businessman that has passed away in the adjacent hotel room, David Robertson. After Locke becomes his acquaintance,he leaves the Sahara and travels through Europe. He attempts to evade his wife and others who are in pursuit of Robertson. In the end he takes a young lover and is murdered by Robertson’s criminal affiliates. Locke was far from innocent since he accepted Robertson’s criminal spoils. Robertson was not the innocent businessman Locke presumed him to be. He was an illegal arms trafficker.

Pardon the brief plot summary, but it is important to give context to those that have not seen the outstanding film. The film begins and ends in a smooth space, the desert. Although Locke is not killed in the desert it is ever looming in the background as many of the people whom have been great importance to him gather to confirm the identity of his body. The birth and death of his false identity take place in the smooth space. There are fewer better examples of becoming than birth and death.

After he is reborn as Robertson he quickly makes the transition to the striated city landscapes of Europe. He commences his journey into striation at the Munich airport. There are few spaces that require the extent of striation that is found at an airport. Every gesture is striated. It is a series of regulated checkpoints one must navigate and progress through to arrive at their final destination. Locke seems to follow arbitrary motions to arrive at his next striated destinations. Spain, although more culturally and physically smooth than Germany. It remains structured. The liberating architecture of Gaudi that litters the Barcelona landscape is still a means of structuring the smooth.

Locke’s journey through the smooth and striated is marked with many instances where Deleuze’s fold is at work. Antonioni’s use of windows in the film is pronounced. Robertson and Locke’s first interaction is shown through the frame of a window. The interaction is a flashback as Robertson has since succum to heart failure. The tracking shot of the men in conversation outside is intercut with shots of a drunk Locke who is taking on Robertson’s identity by the grafting of their passports. The window serves as an inbetween or folding space between past and present. The motif of the window surfaces several times in the film, but most notably in the legendary final sequence. Locke takes his final breath while in the near distance, through a partially obstructed window, the girl and his wife arrive. His past, present and future are all in intersection.  

I have included clips of the beginning and final scenes. I encourage everyone to watch any film of Antonioni’s. I was familiar with him long before Deleuze. I have a newfound appreciation of the films after the insight this class has imparted on me. I would argue that Antonioni is just as relevant to Deleuze as Tarkovsky is. Time and Space in Antonioni are a beautiful visual manifestation of Deleuzian thought.

Kyle Beechey

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. “1440: The Smooth and Striated.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1987. 474-500. Print.

Eye without a Head

Posted in Deleuze with tags on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Filmmakers Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor made a documentary called Sweetgrass (2009) which is about some of the last existing sheep herders. The film contains sparse dialogue, and when there is speaking, it’s usually mumbling about what sorts of chores need to get done. Most of the shots are sparse, and consist of the sheep and bleak, endless. The central action is the sheep moving across the Montana mountains. This documentary could have been made in several ways, but the way Barbash and Taylor approached it was delightful and strange and unexpected. If this were a nature-style documentary, I imagine there would be “educational” material that are meant to teach us about what we see on the screen. I imagine a narrator explaining the processes of sheep herding and the behavior of the sheep. The sheep would look like sheep.I imagine it would be unthinkably boring.

What is different about the way Barbash and Taylor made this documentary? In Sweetgrass, the sheep do not look like sheep as we know them. Mundane details suddenly become fascinating. Why is it that the simplest gesture — the monotonous chewing of grass — can become other worldly? I attribute this to the filmmakers’ patience and belief in the world unfolding in front of them. It’s the resolution to stay with a subject for a very long time, even when it feels like nothing is happening, and to forget about the ways in which this subject has been labelled, restricted, defined, or explained. The sheep become entirely new creatures to us, with new life.

Their filmmaking approach has many parallels to several ideas we have discussed over the course of this semester. In Joan Silber’s The Art of Time in Fiction, Joan writes “The novelist who pioneered a fiction of consciousness sets herself to convey time without consciousness. To report “this impersonal thing” she has to posit an insubstantial observer, an eye without a head” (42). This is what the filmmakers must do — step outside the human gaze and enter into another state of perception, one that does not discriminate or reference according to human terms as we know them.

In this interview with Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, the filmmakers discuss the process of making Sweetgrass. Taylor speak about the introduction scene in which a sheep stares straight at the camera. He describes this as a powerful shot because of its unsettling role reversal. He explains “I think most people are unsettled by the fact that here is a beast that culturally has been defined as stupid or insentient, looking at us. And we, humans, are somehow the object of that stare.” J. von Uexküll comes to mind in this context. Uexküll pushes us to remember that our gaze is not the only one — each body (of any sort) has its own unique perspective that is constantly changing and informed by environment.

Perhaps a nature video would want to explain to its audiences why the sheep is paying attention to the camera, or just how cognizant this animal is capable of being. In Sweetgrass, the lambs simply exist on the screen for us without any agenda. This made me think about how films on the same topic can be completely unrelated. Even if a standard television nature documentary (I don’t mean to disparage nature docs by the way, there are definitely many great ones out there) filmed the same subjects, products would be unrelated in a way. One is informative and sees the world on a grid, according to a striated system of meaning; the other is open, allows for exploration, and renders interpretation irrelevant. To achieve this, one must stay in one place long enough to allow something to unfold without attempting to create.

J.C.K.

____________________________________

References:

Silber, Joan. The Art of Time in Fiction. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2009.

Deleuze, Gilles, “Spinoza and Us,” in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988)

http://www.pbs.org/pov/sweetgrass/video_interview.php

Putty Hill (Film Screening)

Posted in Deleuze with tags on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

For my 3rd blog post, I attempted to go to The Whitney to see the biennial exhibits, but I arrived late in the afternoon (just before 4pm), so I decided to jump into a screening. The film was Putty Hill by Matt Porterfield. It takes place in the outskirts of Baltimore and centers around the death of a local youth, Cory.

(Here is the trailer)

Porterfield was originally attempting to make a film called Metal Gods before he began work on Putty Hill, but due to lack of financing for the film, he had to postpone the project. He decided to make use what was available to him, starting with what he already had access to from where he left off with Metal Gods, beginning with some of the cast.

What was most enjoyable to me about the film was the use of non-actors. While they were still cast, Porterfield had already formed a rapport with them enough to get them to share bits and pieces of their personal lives in extended monologues, while then sculpting them into the main drama of the story, and the loss of a friend, family member, classmate, etc.

Of course, I couldn’t but think of Godard in this method, or in terms of of blending fiction with documentary, especially when I think of Masculin Feminin (1966). Such as the interview that takes place with “Miss 19”

At first, it can seem like a scripted interview, in which someone is playing a character, but as it goes further into the politics of that time in France, we see the emergence of a real person who is apart of that culture.

In this sense, I felt the interviews from Putty Hill were similarly effective in making me feel like I was getting a sincere description of what it was like to be someone in that area of Baltimore and to be apart of that socioeconomic class and how might interpret death in that setting.

It is not just the hybrid of character/real person that makes interviews like these effective, but also their length. We’re forced to sit there long enough until we someone feel the weight of the disparity that comes with being that age in a small town that has drug problems and not much to do. In a Deleuzian sense, we have we’re kept in immanence because we’re moving back and forth between a character becoming real and vice versa. We’re never given a sense of how much of which side we are experiencing at any given time.

Images of Sound

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Film, Theater and Performance with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Applying Deleuze theories on temporarily to sound and music is very interesting. First it is a reminder that image is not only the visual image but any fluctuation within the fabric of the environment that affects our (or any organism’s) perceptual sensors. More importantly the temporal characteristics of sound is different from the moving image. Sound necessarily unfolds through time and a still or snap shot of sound is not imaginable. Music has also been created for thousands of years with primitive tools and without a technological apparatus mediating between creator and the images. One of the first mediation affecting the temporarily of music, at least in terms of its production, was the invention of systems of musical notation. Recording technologies pushed this separation further but at the same time created a reaction to emphasize on the zone of indeterminacy in improvisational music.

Roulette was hosting an opening concert for the 3 day event on ‘Improvisation and Technology’ in conjunction with Department of Music at Colombia University and NYU. The interesting irony about that event was that unlike most of the times that technology, as mentioned above, is being used to decreases virtuality, in this events, it was used to intervene into the regular flow of music to make unexpected happen.

The setup of the stage, with more than 30 computers and different conventional and experimental instruments on the stage, was promising failure to some extent from what had been planned. In many pieces improvising machines were being used to create effects based on what the musician was playing and forcing the musician to change what she was playing, creating a loop of reactions to make the result of the piece completely out of control of the musician. In some other pieces looping machines were recording and looping parts of the performance based on some algorithms creating overlaying and juxtapositions of time.

In overall there were very interesting and state of the art experiments in pushing improvisational music into the extreme to allow the most unexpected to happen. This is also in relation to Deleuze’s idea of desert island that something bold and novel does not happen as a continuation of what had been but as an eruption.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert islands and other texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e) ;, 2004. pp. 9-14

Julie Mehretu’s Intensive Cartographies

Posted in Art, Deleuze with tags , , , , on May 15, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Approximately eight by eleven feet, Julie Mehretu’s three separate pieces of her Stadia series seem to emanate, each from a slightly different center, with international flags and corporate logos traveling with packs of gestural lines and marks upon almost invisible renderings of stadium architecture. (see Figures) One can easily understand the metaphor of a stadium as a place where people gather to experience emotional and chaotic spectacles of struggle, often with winners and losers.

Stadia I Mehretu, 2004

Ink and acrylic on canvas 107 x 140 in.

Stadia II Mehretu, 2004

Ink and acrylic on canvas 107 x 140 in.

Stadia III Mehretu, 2004

Ink and acrylic on canvas 107 x 140 in.

Julie Mehretu, an Ethiopian born visual artist, was raised Michigan. While in college she briefly took leave of Kalamazoo College to study batik dying in Senegal which ignited her interest in becoming a professional artist. She had always been gifted at drawing, but it was when she enrolled in the MFA program at the Rhode Island School of Design where she developed her style. (Chua, 27) Given her history one can begin to understand the motivation behind the scintillating tracings of trajectory which have become the focal point of her work.

Julie Mehretu once said of her work in an interview with Laurie Firstenberg in 2002 that her abstract marks on canvases stand for a language for characters—also depicted by marks—that retain a sense of agency. She implies that these marks stand for people and things as they are in a process of becoming with their environment. Mehretu thinks of her work as charting the experience and development of these characters, both living and inanimate. To bring her characters into contexts of time and space he began to include architectural plans and historical drawings to create a metaphoric, intensive view of time. (Firstenberg, p. 93)

Mehretu’s multilayered line drawings compiled of prints, acrylic and ink, produce a sense of how complex landscapes or architectures comprised of multivalent combinations of actors and actions happening simultaneously at multiple sites might be understood both intellectually and affectively. As one spends time with her work, one derives an expansive sense of the time present in making Mehretu’s work as well as the time the artist intends to present through the work. Her canvasses integrate dynamic flows between multiple existences resulting in evocations of potential along with tensions lying unresolved in two dimensions. Mehretu incorporates iconic detritus that serves to give a frame of popular consumer culture, such as distorted logos, graffiti and comic book graphics recalling both the past and the present. (Chua, 26) One can also note numerous echoes of fine art in her work as it is imbued with a history of both traditional Nihonga conventions of Japanese painting and Duchamp’s painting of movement, as well as the abstracted affects of Kandinsky.

Mehretu’s use of visual elements seems very similar to Deleuze’s appraisal of Nietzsche’s use of aphorism in his essay Nomadic Thought. Much as Nietzsche’s work inserts a frame to draw attention to all that lies beyond it, her work reaches beyond this frame and beyond the frame that would be the border of the work to draw on the viewer’s experience that is evoked as one interprets her work. When Deleuze speaks of Nietzsche conjuring the intensive by using aphorisms of and symbolic names of those who mean something in relation to the history of thought, Mehretu does also with visual evocations of styles from aesthetic history. Mehretu’s work can also be related to Deleuze’s intensive as it employs an actualization of suspended virtual potential both in the world and in the work, though remains virtual in possible re-interpretations existing in minds of viewers.

Mehretu’s work could be understood to explain through visual means that space equates to time and movement. In her work, every site is a meshwork or rhizome of actors’ movements, preferring potential and flow to stability. Mehretu’s paintings could be viewed in terms of Deleuze’s crystallized time-image—a form of temporality that accounts for time that splits the present into two trajectories, “one of which is launched towards the future while the other falls into the past. Time consists of this split, and it is … time, that we see in the crystal.”(Deleuze, Cinema II, 81)

In 2005 art essayist Lawerence Chua said of her work “At the heart of Julie Mehretu’s paintings is a question about the ways in which we construct and live in the world. Perhaps that is what makes the work so radical: its willingness to unravel the conventionally given answers about the violent environment we inhabit today.”(Chua, 26) Here one can understand Mehretu to problematize humanity’s interaction with themselves and with their world in a push to re-evaluate how we live, which in Deleuzian thought is one of the most important undertakings with which an artist can engage.

B.Paris

Chua, Lawerence. “Julie Mehretu.” Bomb. New Art Publications, Inc. Vol. 91, Spring 2005.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Masumi. University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema II: The Time Image. University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Firstenberg, Lauri. “Towards Abstraction: Indeterminacy and the Internationalisation of Julie Mehretu’s Painting.” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry. University of Chicago Press. Issue 14, Autumn/Winter, 2006.

Tomkins, Calvin. “Big Art, Big Money.” The New Yorker,  Volume 86.6. Conde Nast, March 2010.

Embodiment in New Media

Posted in Art and Philosophy, Bergson, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Phenomenology with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Hansen in New Philosophy for New Media [1] argues that New Media brings the possibility of overcoming the immobility and passiveness of observer as it was the case in theater, photography, cinema, etc. and enabling user to create meaning for digital data by unfolding it through embodied interaction. But a piece that is ignored is that the mediation happens through a software to create a reaction to users’ body. In a natural environment users action is propagated through environment creating a series of crystallization and events, creating a series of zones of in-determination that are unfolding through time. In case of a digital interface (embodied or a flat screen) the results are in most cases a series of causal deterministic events that are designed by the designer (artist) to respond to users’ interaction. If there is any degree of indeterminacy, it is either the result of hardware flaws (software by definition is deterministic) or a simulated pseudo-randomness designed and hard coded into the system by the designer. This is completely in contrast with what Bergson and Deleuze describe as the crystallization through time. When user input is entered into the digital system, it is in a realm that everything can be (and will be) re-created and happened absolutely the same.

So the process of phenomenological body and digital environment interaction does not give enough agency to the body (in comparison to the designer of software) to be credited as meaning giving embodied interaction. On the contrary, as Manovich explains [2], new media in many cases only make the interaction more explicit and objectified. If we consider interpretation as a form of interaction and negotiating context between observer and the object (art), new media art has made this process more conscious and explicit and more prone to banality.

On the other hand embodiment is not only the use of our bodily actuators in reaction to every stimulus from the environment. Especially in Art if we limit the notion of embodiment to such reactions, art through history has been mostly disembodied. I think embodiment in the broader sense is all the feeling and emotions that we experience as an embodied being but are not within the grasp of thought as concepts or words. Then art is a way of communicating these embodied feelings through images (not necessarily visual images). In that sense a movie or a classical painting or a monophonic sound piece may be more embodied than an interactive piece that user controls a camera with a joystick.

[1] Hansen, Mark B. N.. New philosophy for new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

[2] Manovich, Lev. The language of new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002. pp 55-61

Adoration of the Magi (Leonardo da Vinci)

Print/Out MoMA–Field Report

Posted in Art Exhibits, Relational Aesthetics with tags , , , on May 14, 2012 by immanentterrain2

In the last few decades global and cultural boundaries have been in a process of flux aided by newer technologies accelerating communication to allow widespread access to nearly every corner of the globe. Many would argue this technology of the present was at least in some degree facilitated by the advent of print technologies allowing exchange of ideas across increasingly larger spaces. MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition was intended to provide a glimpse into the genealogy of artistic and societal practices related to print over the last few decades. (Cherix, 14/15) Overall the exhibit varied dramatically in style and quality, though some quieter pieces were remarkable, such as the delicate prints of Xu Bing and Guillermo Kuitica. The exhibit open from February 19 until May 14, 2012 was nearly exclusively comprised of MoMA’s extensive collection of prints and books and featured printed works from major artists, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija and Ai Weiwei.

Thinking back to our class discussion of Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics and Claire Bishop’s response in “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” it fits to remember Rirkrit Tiravanija and his installations cooking for patrons. Narrowly defined, his art is based on interaction and exchange among participants. Bourriaud defines relational aesthetics as “a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.” (113) In a sense this could include all artists, but of specific interest to Bourriaud’s treatise were artists who use the gallery setting in creative ways to explore new artistic concepts in the early to mid 90s.

In Untitled 2008–2011: The map of the land of feeling, Tiravanija presents his first endeavor in print–a cartography of events in his life and work over 20 years–exposed through prints of his passport as major narrative device along with other materials and images indicate trajectories of time through manipulating the space of the visual field. (Cherix, 90) His prints engage the viewer to explore the map of his travels, emotions and ideas.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Map of Land and Feeling, 2008

This project is perhaps at first glance conceptually less provocative than his project cooking for people. However, once one engages with the work, it could be argued that it is more visually interesting, coherent and allows the author more agency over the message. The latter of the list is of course directly opposes the idea behind relational aesthetics—the point of relational art is that meaning is generated by viewers are physically interacting with the work. Tiravanjia’s print arguably engages the viewer’s intellect and imagination in an exploration of the intensive as it imparts ideas of a qualitative journey.  Though it lies within the realm of traditional visual art, the work is still interactive, in a sense, as it allows an exchange between artist and viewer or perhaps even among viewers as they discuss the work.

Through this work, we see systems of signs evocative of linguistic systems but many are not an actual signs of symbols from any system in particular. A viewer recognizes maps of cities superimposed with maze-like structures as well as psychogeographical maps specifically copied directly from those of the Situationists, along with symbolic shapes of cooking pots and pans that would become part of Tiravanija’s work. One is drawn in by the idea of linearity and causality, as the image bending around the corner of two walls seems to unravel in time. One can detect a journey through the permutations of the passport, but is left to the viewer to determine the nature of this journey.

Though perhaps more visually and mentally engaging than the cooking project, it does not necessarily facilitate the types of tensions Claire Bishop calls for in “Antagonism in relational Aesthetics” when she asks “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” (65) Though perhaps he exempt from answering this question, as these prints are not necessarily an example of relational art—bodies physically interacting with each other and the work to derive meaning are not necessarily the intent. These works are also, as previously stated, shown within a traditional art setting. Regardless, it is clear that the Tiravanija print communicates something interesting, a possible mapping of relations through time in space, or exactly what Deleuze would call an intensive cartography as it is a qualitative reckoning of trajectories in space.

One artist’s work in Print/Out that does incorporate interesting flows of tension is that Ai Weiwei and his printed art books. Before Weiwei’s well-known career as an artist and political activist, he was an underground publisher. Upon his arrival in China in the early 90s after years in the United States, he encountered an almost unanimous plea from his artist friends and colleagues for printed information and images of contemporary art of the world—information suppressed by the authoritarian government. (Cherix, 22)

Ai Weiwei, Black Cover Book, 1997

In 1994 Weiwei published three thousand copies  of The Black Cover Book, a catalog of important and now iconic works from twentieth-century including Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, as well as translations of existing art-historical and critical texts, as well as artists’ submissions and essays.These books made their way throughout China via underground distribution channels. The books and their dissemination underscored the presence of a large underground artists’ network in China. (Cherix, 51)

In the case of Weiwei and his work, Bishop’s question “if relational art produces human relations, then the next logical question to ask is what types of relations are being produced, for whom, and why?” is answered succinctly. His work in these books displayed at MoMA’s Print/Out exhibition disseminated information—visual, technical and conceptual–generating conversations between artists who might be prohibited from interacting one another otherwise while also increasing awareness of world wide artistic practices within that milieu. This departs from the charges narcissism leveled against artists of relational aesthetics as these books served to unite artists in a place where this type of subversive networking was prohibited. It was in fact allowing new types of freedom in artistic practices, at the very least.

B. Paris

Bishop, Claire. “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics.” October. No. 110, 2004.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002.

Cherix, Christophe.  Print/Out. Museum of Modern Art. 2012.