The Algorithmic Nickelodeon

Yesterday was the first event on my trip to Germany and Switzerland: the symposium Videographic Criticism: Aesthetics and Methods of the Video Essay, organized by Kathleen Loock, and with talks/screenings from her, Allison de Fren, Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Kevin B. Lee, Liz Greene, David Verdeure, and myself.

Above, you will find my video contribution, “The Algorithmic Nickelodeon,” which builds on work started at the Duke S-1: Speculative Sensation Lab during my time there as a postdoc. The video is offered as proof-of-concept for an experimental approach to videographic theory–using video not (only) as a vehicle for theoretical expression but as a more radically transductive medium of media-theoretical exploration and transformation.

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“The Algorithmic Nickelodeon” at ACUD-Kino Berlin — Symposium on Videographic Criticism

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Next Friday, June 21, 2019, I am excited to present “The Algorithmic Nickelodeon,” a literally mind-bending EEG-powered videographic experiment, in the context of the symposium on “Videographic Criticism: Aesthetics and Methods of the Video Essay.”

The symposium, organized by Kathleen Loock, will take place at the ACUD-Kino in Berlin, and will bring together lots of leading practitioners of videographic scholarship to screen their work and discuss questions of aesthetics, methods, and theory.

The event is free and open to the public, so come by if you’re in the neighborhood!

Resistance is Futile Against Hot Asexuality

Recently, I wondered whether it was time to leave social media and reboot the blog as a space of active thinking and sharing. The jury is still out on whether that is feasible and even desirable. But I would like to use this space to post more than just upcoming talks and publications. In that spirit, I’d like to point out Yvette Granata’s 360-degree video CLONE (2017), which you can see above (but which is better viewed on a smartphone through the YouTube app, and even better with Google Cardboard or similar contraption).

On her website, Granata describes the video thus:

CLONE (HD Video, 2017) is a 360 video essay and a para-sexual design fiction. It narrates a future time after global climate collapse and mass pollution have made sexual reproduction no longer viable. Both sexual reproduction and the networked technology of the 21st century have all melted from the humidity produced by runaway greenhouse gasses. In this speculative future, a Xenofeminist world government has re-purposed the data farms of former tech companies for Mono-auto-sexual cloning clinics — the artificial wombs for the hot asexuality of the future.

I have recently been writing about this remarkable video against the background of big-budget movies about artificial women, including Her (2013), Ex Machina (2014), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Those movies, all of which happen to be directed by white men, are interesting meditations on, or parables of, artificial creation in an age of computer-generated imagery. But Granata’s weird video, drawing inspiration from the Xenofeminist Manifesto, goes farther than any of those movies in raising questions about the interface between gender, capital, climate change, and moving-image media.

Here is a brief snippet of what I’ve been writing:

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Talks and Events in Norway, March 2019

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In the week of March 25 – 29, 2019, I will be giving several talks and workshops in Norway — first at the Deapartment of Art And Media Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, and then at the Department of Nordic and Media Studies at the University of Agder in Kristiansand.

First, in Trondheim, on March 26 and 27, I will be participating on two workshops on videographic pedagogy and scholarship with Kathleen Loock.

Then, on March 28, also in Trondheim, I’ll be presenting work from my book project Discorrelated Images.

Finally, on March 29, in Kristiansand, I’ll be giving a talk on contemporary horror, also under the perspective of discorrelation.

Thanks to Julia Leyda for inviting me to Trondheim, and to Ahmet Gürata for the invitation to Kristiansand!

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Dreams and Terrors of Desktop Documentary — Kevin B. Lee at Digital Aesthetics Workshop

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On Wednesday, February 27 (5-7pm in the Board Room of the Stanford Humanities Center), the Digital Aesthetics Workshop will be hosting Kevin B. Lee for an event titled “Dreams and Terrors of Desktop Documentary”:

Desktop documentary is a form that both presents and critically reflects on the world as experienced through computer screens and online interfaces. Treating the desktop as a medium for non-fiction storytelling proposes a unique set of epistemological dilemmas, affective dimensions and aesthetic discoveries. These factors inform Bottled Songs, a collaborative investigation by Kevin B. Lee and Chloé Galibert-Laîné of online terrorist media. Screening excerpts from the project, Lee will elaborate on the desktop documentary approach and its applications in exploring the underlying networks — both human and technological — informing online terrorism.

Kevin B. Lee is a US-born filmmaker and critic. He has produced over 360 video essays exploring film and media. His award-winning film Transformers: The Premake played in several festivals and was named one of the best documentaries of 2014 by Sight & Sound. He was Artist in Residence of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin. He is now Professor of Crossmedia Publishing at the Merz Akademie, Stuttgart. In 2018 he and Chloé Galibert-Laîné were grantees of the Sundance Institute Art of Nonfiction Fund and artists-in-residence of the European Media Art Platform (EMAP).

Out Now: Videographic Frankenstein in Hyperrhiz 19

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I am excited to announce that the Videographic Frankenstein exhibit, which ran September 26 – November 2, 2018 at Stanford, lives on in an online version — out now in Hyperrhiz 19! There you will find 10 video works on various facets of Frankenstein‘s moving-image legacy, from early film to television and digital animation, along with creators’ statements that reflect on this history and its relations to videographic scholarship, among other monstrosities.

Thanks again to the Stanford Medicine and the Muse Frankenstein@200 Initiative and the Stanford Department of Art & Art History and Program in Film & Media Studies for their generous support of the project.

Thanks also to Helen Burgess, editor at Hyperrhiz, for entertaining the notion of publishing an exhibition of creative and scholarly videos, and for working with me to find the right format.

And thanks, finally, to the contributors for all their hard work: Matthew Fishel, Jason Mittell, Allison de Fren, David Verdeure, Carlos Valladares, Lester Friedman, Kristine Vann, and Spencer Slovic!

Also, be sure to check out the full issue of Hyperrhiz, which is chock full of more excellent scholarly and creative work!

Sight & Sound Best Video Essays of 2018

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Sight & Sound has just published its annual survey of best video essays, with responses from 47 video essay makers, scholars, curators, and critics. David Verdeure and Irina Trocan led this massive poll, which gathers votes for over 200 titles, many of which I have not yet seen.

I was happy to be included in the survey this year and to recommend a few titles that might not be on people’s radars:

Here’s my list for 2018, which reflects (increasingly as you move down the list) my interest in things that should clearly count as videographic work while problematizing key terms such as video essay, videographic criticism and maybe even video.

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Minnelli Red Carlos Valladares (a former student and recent graduate of the Stanford Film & Media Studies Program)

I especially like the attention that is given to the role that red as red, i.e. as a material/medial phenomenon, plays in articulating thematic, atmospheric and ultimately auteurist expressions. The video ran at the Pesaro Film Festival this year.

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How Black Lives Matter in The Wire Jason Mittell

While it remains a more or less ‘conventional’ video essay in many respects (voiceover-driven, incorporating close analysis, etc.), I appreciate the way this video pushes at the closure of formal/thematic analyses and asks difficult questions about the relations between fiction and reality – and thus about the role of criticism as mediating between and among them.

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Mad Science/Mad Love and the Female Body in Pieces Allison de Fren

This piece was commissioned for Videographic Frankenstein, an exhibition I curated at Stanford in Fall 2018. It continues Allison’s videographic explorations of gender, media and technology from earlier works (such as her popular Ex Machina: Questioning the Human Machine and Fembot in a Red Dress) with a view to an unexpected and fascinating collection of works ranging from Franju’s Eyes without a Face (1960) to the campy Frankenhooker (1990). The video isn’t online yet, but be on the lookout for an open-access publication of the complete Videographic Frankenstein exhibition coming very soon!

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Bottled Songs Chloé Galibert-Lainé and Kevin B. Lee

Though I have only seen fragments of this series of videos, I am confident in saying that this is groundbreaking work that takes Lee’s notion of the ‘desktop documentary’ (as enacted in his Transformers: The Premake) to the next level. The collaborative videos probe the screen as a space of production, while reflecting on the underlying networks, both human and nonhuman, that are operative in online radicalisation and terrorism recruitment.

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Touch James J. Hodge, C.A. Davis, and John Bresland

This is another work that breaks with the conventional focus on fictional works and turns instead to the messy spaces of online media cultures, probing the relations of everyday genres like animated GIFs, supercuts and ASMR videos to the pleasures and anxieties we experience in a world of always-on computing.

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The Apartment David Verdeure (Filmscalpel)

This is a wonderful example of what has been called, following Jerome McGann and Lisa Samuels, “deformative” criticism. The concept has been expanded by Mark Sample into a “deformative humanities” and adapted for videographic work by people including Kevin Ferguson and Jason Mittell, outlining an exploratory alternative to explanatory essay forms.

One of the things I like best about this piece is the way it evokes what Neil Harris, in his writings on P.T. Barnum, calls an “operational aesthetic” – we (especially if we are people doing videographic work) look at this video and are engaged by the mediated images, which invite us to dwell in them, but we’re also fascinated by Verdeure’s process: how he pulled it off. Many early comments on Facebook revolved precisely around this question of process, which in cases like this do not detract from but indeed add to the layers of audiovisual experience.

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The Topologies of Zelda: Triforce Patrick LeMieux and Stephanie Boluk

This is the farthest from what we typically (at least for now) mean by videographic or audiovisual criticism: it is not a linear video but a playable object – a videogame. And not just any game but a ‘metagame’, a game about games (about The Legend of Zelda in particular, but more generally about topologies and interfaces with videogames as systems and as screen phenomena).

As such, it is clearly a work of criticism, and one that is staged in moving images and sounds – so it should qualify for this list. It even contains scholarly asides and shout-outs to theorists like Vivian Sobchack – probably a first for videogames. More importantly, it can be seen as an important provocation in our ongoing efforts to imagine what scholarly and critical videographic work can be.