Video Vortex report

Lev Manovich

The two conferences, ‘Video Vortex’ on friday 5 October, and ‘Media, memory and the Archive’ on Saturday 6 October went very well, thanks to the Argos personnel (some of them have been fired a few months ago – due to several ambiguous and crappy reasons I will not go into now – but kept on working at full force! We owe you a lot … You know who you are), interns and volunteers, and of course the great bunch of speakers and audience members. We hope you all had a good and interesting time.

We will post all pictures and video material online in a few days, but in the meantime, this is a first report, written by Barbara Dierickx. Thanks!

btw the picture of Lev Manovich is taken by “Silvertje” (Flickr name) one of the bloggers who documented the event. Anne Helmond wrote something on Lev’s talk, and Adrian Miles posted an interview he did with Jan de Pauw as an MP3)

In his introduction at the first Video Vortex conference, Geert Lovink made it clear that the subtitle ‘Responses to YouTube’, was not to be taken literally. YouTube was throughout this conference presented as a metaphore for other net-based communities like Flickr or Myspace. “Nevertheless, YouTube is a killer application. While a few years ago the music industry encountered a ‘Napsterisation’ of their business, the same is happening to the present video industry.” With the rise of user-generated content in peer-to-peer networks, Lovink wondered whether the database was becoming a new social form. There couldn’t have been a better link towards the first speaker of the day.

Lev Manovich made a plea for the development of new tools, created to measure and analyse the ever increasing online participatory culture. With consumer numbers continuously rising, ‘statistics’ seem the pefect answer – though they are meaningless without a proper contextualisation. The intention of Flickr-posters can not be derived from a list of statistics. Not all content that makes its way to the net was initially intended for wide distribution. Software industry and the developments in consumer electronics push us to share videos and post responses and thus provoke new social media behaviours. “You don’t just watch, you have to create it yourself”. Are we witnessing an increasing participatory culture or the birth of the ‘culture industry 2.0’?
Manovich aims to develop a ‘quantitative analysis of culture’ which will allow us to adequately analyze global culture and for instance its growing number of professional users. We see a large number of smaller cultural players take over from the masters of industry. Manovich illustrated his point of ‘scaling up’ with the ‘IBM History Flow Research’: what if data about the visiting frequency of a certain website could be measured for a multitude of those sites? It could render us a more adequate cultural analysis and possible visualization of this Web 2.0. Yet, to conclude, Manovich announced that these ‘software-based theoretical tools’ are not the answer; they are an alternative.

Next up was Adrian Miles. He discussed the term ‘softvideo’, as being an open form of video distribution. “What is video when we move (it) to the web?” In his theory, Miles often refers to Gilles Deleuze and his writings about cinema; more specific the relationship between shots and editing. Films are made of small parts; shots are only fragments. They are what make video and cinema. In this context, Miles uses the term ‘granularity’; the breakdown of the ‘whole’ of the film to its basic grains. Softvideo and its crystalline structure try to loosen up the tying down of these bits by traditional cinema. In editing, you produce the external relation between the shots, which can be multiple and based on narrative, colour, action and others – while in traditional video this ‘multiple’ becomes ‘single’: one choice in editing is made, f.e. based on colour, to improve the beauty of the final piece. Since softvideo has no narrative timeline, it lends itself to more musical of poetic forms. Its crystalline facets allow the establishing of multiple relations, by each shot having a view towards its others.
YouTube and other online video applications are often characterised as ‘Web 2.0 technology’ but in terms of webbed video they are more ‘Video 1’: their minimal unit is the whole video, which is way too large a ‘unit’.

Ana Kronschnabl & Tomas Rawlings are both active core members of the website, acclaimed forum for all Internet filmmakers. aims to offer an all-including framework for filmmakers using digital technology. The site is dedicated to the creation and distribution of on-line films, and has outspoken didactic intentions. At the conference, Kronschnabl and Rawlings laid their ‘Pluginmanifesto’, a set of guidelines for online filmmaking, over the YouTube model. The next proposals come from their manifesto: “A film made for viewing on the Internet is not 1_ hours long, it doesn’t have to have a narrative – structure can come from a variety of means.” YouTube videos are posted for a variety of reasons, not all of them are therefore stories with a beginning and an end. “Use Codecs and compression creatively.” This was illustrated by a video from Ana herself, shot in _ pixilation. “Filmmakers and Geeks should be friends.” When talking about the ‘geeks’, Kronschnabl and Rawlings stressed the fact that YouTube is far more utilitarian than earlier videosites like IFilm: one had to choose a certain softwareplayer, all YouTube aks you to do is press the ‘play’ button. “Never forget the medium and the viewing context.” On YouTube you see without any context: raw footage stands next to homevideo’s, video series developed only for the platform, video diary, essays, …
Kronschnabl and Rawlings also addressed the question of YouTube’s future evolutions. Possibilities according to them were the ability to search within the video itself (illustrated by a ‘Blikx’ demo), augmented reality (f.e. Sony’s ‘Eye of Judgement’) and separation of content and platform through f.e. mobile phone browsing. To conclude, the film ‘Distance Over Time’ was shown, which originated out of the manifesto-rules.

Peter Horvath later talked about the progression of technology and how this impacted the stories he wanted to tell as a net artist. The main focus of his lecture was on the presentation of his own artwork, featured on his website Horvath presented ‘The Presence of Absence’, a creation for the Whitney Artport. In this work, he often uses pop-ups to create a continuous cinematic experience because several windows play video at the same time, instead of the classical load-start-stop pattern. An explanation about the navigation on the net-based work is never given; the users have to figure this out for themselves. Because of the high level of technology involved in these works, Horvath has to let go a part of the control over the actual presentation: he is not aware of the technical configurations of the viewer’s own computer (are there for instance pop-up blockers?) and therefore he can not know how the art will look in the end. Other works by Peter Horvath shown at Video Vortex were ‘The Wartime Project’ (2003) and ‘Tenderly Yours’ (2005). His work is an example of web-based art which is deteriorating due to evolutions in pc-software. The example was given of certain browser functions that do not operate anymore and therefore are unable to display the artwork as it was meant to be displayed.

Simon Rushmeyer’s presentation was entitled ‘The artist moving (through) the Web’. It discussed new forms of artist production and distribution on the internet, as illustrated by YouTube. Rushmeyer’s first point was that of the authenticity which is provoked by many YouTube videos. People dancing in their bedroom while the camera is running, directly addressing the camera as they speak, shaking the camera as they walk. All these aspects, when seen in a video, provoke a feeling of authenticity. Rushmeyer discussed the hidden agenda of some of these videos like Lonelygirl15 and the Mark Ecko Viral Clips Series – driven by marketing they provoke an authenticity that’s completely fake.
‘The database’ also made its way in Rushmeyer’s presentation; in a ‘network narrative environment’, the database meets personal stories and information. This was illustrated by the ‘Photosynth Tech Preview’. Other examples of the YouTube-isation of the Web were given: user-generated content gets remixed by professional artists (‘Driving’, by Marc Christian Schmidt), full feature films get developed for Second Life and YouTube only. This last example, entitled ‘Four-eyed Monsters’, shows the active role of the audience in the development of these kinds of projects; the ‘active’ consumer/creator becomes a member of a special interest community and, in the end, gets to see his favourite internetmovie – via ‘critical mass ticketing’ – in a real-life theatre nearby.

Peter Westerberg started of by presenting a map he had created on the decisionmaking in the project/process of videomaking. This checklist of the video workflow, based on his own working principles, was centred around five core ‘tasks’: video-input, capture/digitisation, export videofile, editing and distribution. This distribution was then linked to online platforms for distribution of video. These had, according to Westerberg, three prerequisites. Such platform should facilitate the exchange of video to people who share the same interests. It should provide a legal framework in which issues about copyrights can be cleared. Last, is should enable artists to share their work (in) process.
Westerberg pointed out to important aspects in realising this: open source software (such as KINO, an open source edit tool) and money. The latter was illustrated by and a Chad Hurley video on moneymaking (the irony).
One of the crucial aspects online distribution platforms have to deal with, remain copyrights. Westerberg warned about the right f.e. YouTube attributes itself; they can change the terms of license anytime they want, after you’ve signed them, and without notice. The control over own material, posted on distribution platforms is – as was pointed out – not always very easy to keep in your own hands.

Keith Sanborn started of by showing the YouTube version of his piece ‘The Artwork in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility by Walter Benjamin as told to Keith Sanborn’. Sanborn mostly talked about his video-installation ‘Equivalences’, which could be visited as part of the ‘Black September’ exposition at Monty (Antwerp). He explained how each part of the work was constructed in the space of Monty and which video-elements he combined together. Examples of combinations were an image of Lenin with moving video of a girl getting a present and hysterically crying that “she had one”, a drunk Kate Moss dancing next to Saddam Hussein’s execution, Miss Teen South Carolina ‘lost for words’ and texts by Walter Benjamin himself.

The last guest at the Video Vortex conference was Johan Grimonprez. He discussed both his projects ‘You-Tube-o-thèque’ and ‘Zapomatik’. Grimonprez could be considered ‘YouTube curator’, hence he showed some of the YouTube video’s that struck him during his research.
The construction of media and politics was shown in ‘Making Up The President’, ‘Echolalia’ presented the hollow words of the Bush jr. apparatus, the Dove-ethos was being made into a parody, and so on. Politics never seem far away in Grimonprez’ work, and this also goes for the Zapomatik project. The history of the remote control and television walks side by side with the race for space and the cold war. YouTube and its ever higher levels of possible interactivity reflect onto the remote control itself: it becomes more and more an outdated object. Manual choosing became replaced with navigating on interactive DVD menu’s.