Sketch for a multi-screen video installation, which I’ll be presenting and discussing alongside some people doing amazing work in connection with John Supko & Bill Seaman’s Emergence Lab and their Generative Media seminar — next Thursday, February 26, 2015 at the Duke Media Arts + Sciences Rendezvous.

For more about the theory and process behind this piece, as well as the inspiration for the title, see my previous post “The Glitch as Propaedeutic to a Materialist Theory of Post-Cinema.”

Shane Carruth’s Whiteheadian Metaphysics of Post-Cinema #SLSA14


Above, the final slide from my presentation on “Metabolic Media,” which I delivered today at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Dallas. I post it here because it includes one of my favorite recent discoveries: a quotation from Isabelle Stengers’s book Thinking with Whitehead that, in a discussion of Whitehead’s attempts to avoid the “bifurcation of nature” into primary and secondary qualities (as the early moderns put it) or into scientific and manifest images (in Wilfrid Sellars’s terms from the 1960s), comes surprisingly close to naming independent filmmaker Shane Carruth’s 2013 film Upstream Color — thereby unexpectedly helping us to understand the strange, post-cinematic experience of this film, which in its own way seems to reject the clear separation of subjective viewing positions and perceptual objects. Who knows? Maybe Carruth even took the title for his film from Stengers’s book. I have no evidence for this whatsoever, of course, but the resonance between the Whiteheadian project and what I call the “metabolic images” of Carruth’s film is so compelling, in my opinion, that the discovery of this quote makes it fun to speculate (idly) about the possibility…

Video: Post-Cinematic Interfaces with a Postnatural World

There’s something fitting about the fact that the audio recording of my “3 Theses” on postnaturalism and post-cinema — which I presented at the 2014 annual conference of the DGfA, “America After Nature” — is overrun by the nonhuman voices of nameless birds calling to one another, blissfully indifferent to my theoretical speculations. What at first presented itself to me as something of a disappointment, viz. the generally poor quality of the recording and the occasional difficulty of discerning spoken words in particular, seemed on second thought a nice illustration — or better: enactment — of some of the ideas I put forward about the distributed agency of affect’s environmental mediation: here the human voice competes with “natural” and “cultural” forces ranging from songbirds to smartphones, failing to command their attentions but contributing to an improbable concert for a sufficiently non- or posthuman ear immersed in an ecology of material interaction.

Looking at it (or listening to it) from this angle, and getting over my initial disappointment, I decided to add some video of the various postnatural landscapes I encountered while in Germany on my recent trip. The result is another of what I have begun referring to as “metabolic images” — where the computational capture and processing of moving images, along with their temporal (and microtemporal) modulation, point to the subpersonal effects (and affects) of our embodied interfaces with a post-cinematic media environment. (See here, here, or here for more…)

(For the full effect, be sure to view the video in HD on vimeo. And finally, if you happen to have a more humanly inflected interest in the discursive “contents” put forward here, you can find the full text of my presentation here.)

“What if the camera / really do / take your soul?”

If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously claimed, then the so-called “selfie” may be less about the face that constitutes the recognizable content of such an image, and more about a deeper, less obvious form of material-aesthetic mediation with respect to the transformation of “self” in an age of ubiquitous post-cinematic cameras.

Clearly, such acts of mediation have many levels. On the one hand, we “stage” or “perform” our selves for ourselves and for our friends (and, of course, for our Facebook “friends”); at the same time, though, we do so with an awareness of the machinery of geolocated surveillance and algorithmic facial recognition systems that we feed and help to optimize with the offering of our selfies (and the metadata they contain). Is this a self-destructive tendency or an act of defiance? Do we taunt and shake our fists at the invisible all-seeing God of Hyperinformatic Imagery (or the NSA), heroically though baselessly asserting our autonomy despite our knowledge of its baselessness? Or is it just that we have resigned ourselves to the new “situation,” in which Berkeley’s maxim esse est percipi has been made a reality through a media-technical dispositif that renders superfluous the whole apparatus of angelic and divine perceptions that Bishop Berkeley still needed to keep his system from falling apart?

But the post-cinematic camera is a post-perceptual camera. Esse is now post-percipi in the sense that networks of digital and increasingly “smart” cameras are not just collecting images of “you” or “me” but instituting radical changes in the fine-grained, “molecular” scale of temporal becoming that subtends subjective (or “molar”) perception. As I have been arguing recently (see here, for example), post-cinematic cameras produce “metabolic images” — images that operate outside of visual or perceptual registers and modulate our pre-personal relations to the environment, directly influencing us at the level of our metabolic processing of duration and relation through which our embodied agencies are defined. This has to do with (among other things) the sheer speed of computational processes, which outstrip our own cognitive and perceptual processing abilities. But it also has to do with the affective density that post-cinematic cameras themselves accrue by virtue of the gap — what Bergson would call a “center of indeterminacy,” or simply a body — that these cameras install between the input and output of images, in the space of their microtemporal computational processing. On this basis, a synchronization of human and technical temporalities is made possible at the micro-level. And perhaps this is the hidden message of the medium: the selfie is not just a paradoxical performance of self (in the way that, say, reality shows problematize authenticity), it is in fact the product of a whole new ecology of agency, an ecology of anthropotechnically co-ordinated metabolisms invisibly subtending the visible images by which we seek to represent our “selves.”

With every selfie, we experiment with this interplay of visible manifestation and invisible infrastructure. Who can we be, now, and in relation to an environment filled with rapidly proliferating digital images, where everything is in flux, nothing apparently stable? Perhaps we encounter here, and try to dispel, an old fear in a new guise: that the camera is capable of stealing our souls — both through integration into systems of surveillance, and in the dissolution of our former agencies when set in relation to the molecular, metabolic processes embodied by the post-cinematic camera. In the words of Montreal-based indie rock band Arcade Fire:

What if the camera
Really do
Take your soul?
Oh no...

Hit me with your flashbulb eyes!
Hit me with your flashbulb eyes!
You know I've got nothing to hide
You know I got nothing
No I got ... nothing

Above, my own mixed-media “reflections” on the problem of the selfie in the age of metabolic modulation. Featuring artworks by Thomas Böing (Ohne Titel [Museum König], 2006), currently on display at the impressive Kolumba — Art Museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne as part of the exhibition “show cover hide. Shrine. An exhibition on the aesthetics of the invisible,” which runs until August 25, 2014.

Metabolic Images


This Saturday, February 1, 2014, I’ll be taking another stab at the notion of “metabolic images,” which I’ve started developing in recent talks. My talk will take place at the University of Cologne in the context of a series of workshops titled (after Isabelle Stengers) “Ecologies of Practice: Media, Art, Literature,” organized by Reinhold Görling (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf), Marie-Luise Angerer (Kunsthochschule Medien Köln), and Hanjo Berressem (Universität zu Köln). Here is the abstract for the talk:

Metabolic Images

Shane Denson, Leibniz Universität Hannover

With the shift to a digital and more broadly post-cinematic media environment, moving images have undergone what I term their “discorrelation” from human embodied subjectivities and (phenomenological, narrative, and visual) perspectives. Clearly, we still look at – and we still perceive – images that in many ways resemble those of a properly cinematic age; yet many of these images are mediated in ways that subtly (or imperceptibly) undermine the distance of perspective, i.e. the spatial or quasi-spatial distance and relation between phenomenological subjects and the objects of their perception. At the center of these transformations are a set of strangely volatile mediators: post-cinema’s screens and cameras, above all, which serve not as mere “intermediaries” (in Latour’s terms) that would relay images neutrally between relatively fixed subjects and objects but which act instead as transformative, transductive “mediators” of the subject-object relation itself. In other words, digital and post-cinematic media technologies do not just produce a new type of image; they establish entirely new configurations and parameters of perception and agency, placing spectators in an unprecedented relation to images and the infrastructure of their mediation.

The transformation at stake here pertains to a level of being that is therefore logically prior to perception, as it concerns the establishment of a new material basis upon which images are produced and made available to perception. Accordingly, a phenomenological and post-phenomenological analysis of post-cinematic images and their mediating cameras points to a break with human perceptibility as such and to the rise of a fundamentally post-perceptual media regime. In an age of computational image production and networked distribution channels, media “contents” and our “perspectives” on them are rendered ancillary to algorithmic functions and become enmeshed in an expanded, indiscriminately articulated plenum of images that exceed capture in the form of photographic or perceptual “objects.” That is, post-cinematic images are thoroughly processual in nature, from their digital inception and delivery to their real-time processing in computational playback apparatuses; furthermore, and more importantly, this basic processuality explodes the image’s ontological status as a discrete packaged unit, and it insinuates itself – as I will argue – into our own microtemporal processing of perceptual information, thereby unsettling the relative fixity of the perceiving human subject. Post-cinema’s cameras thus mediate a radically nonhuman ontology of the image, where these images’ discorrelation from human perceptibility signals an expansion of the field of material affect: beyond the visual or even the perceptual, the images of post-cinematic media operate and impinge upon us at what might be called a “metabolic” level.

Images that Metabolize Time (Post-Cinematic Perspectives)

Pioneering video artist Nam June Paik has been quoted as saying that video “imitates not nature but time.” Somewhat more elaborately, in his reflections on “input-time” and “output-time,” he writes: “Video art imitates nature, not in its appearance or mass, but in its intimate ‘time-structure’ … which is the process of AGING (a certain kind of irreversibility).” And elsewhere again, Paik explains his view thus: “So called ‘feedback’, video artist’s favorite word, is nothing but the scientific term for ‘aging’ … that is : enrichment in time-component or a compounded time. Like any other art, video-art also imitates the nature… but in her time-component. Ex. : in NTSC color, color is determined by time-component : that is : phase-delayline in 3.58 mega-hertz.”

Paik’s views on video’s novel relation to temporality inspired philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato to take up the question of time’s modulation in the machines of post-Fordist capitalism in his book Videofilosofia: La percezione del tempo nel post-fordisme (the first chapter of which has appeared in English in Theory, Culture & Society). And Lazzarato’s reflections (along with those of Steven Shaviro and Mark B. N. Hansen, among others) have been central to my own attempts to come to terms with the significance and experiential parameters of our shift to a properly “post-cinematic” media regime.

This past weekend (November 22-23, 2013), I had the opportunity to present my work on the topic at the excellent “Post-Cinematic Perspectives” conference organized by Lisa Åkervall and Chris Tedjasukmana from the Freie Universität Berlin. Steven Shaviro’s talk on Spring Breakers was a particular highlight for me, but I also enjoyed being exposed to thoughts on a number of topics and artworks quite outside my areas of expertise — especially a number of talks on very recent video-art pieces with which I was not previously familiar but am now inspired to seek out.

Through some serendipitous cosmic event — some alignment of the stars giving rise to an unhoped-for coincidence of spatiotemporal coordinates, intellectual and practical concerns, and the respective times of work and leisure — I also found myself confronted with Nam June Paik’s wonderful Triangle: Video-Buddha and Video-Thinker (1976/1991), currently on display in the exhibit “Body Pressure: Sculpture since the 1960s” at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (25 May 2013 – 12 January 2014). Placing a sculpture of Buddha and a small reproduction of Rodin’s Le Penseur under the constant, real-time surveillance of two video cameras connected to four monitors — two of which face each other in a closed-circuit loop of video production and machinic reception — Paik’s Triangle provided the perfect opportunity not only to think more about the “metabolic images” that (following Paik, Lazzarato, Shaviro, and Hansen) I had been theorizing at the conference, but to put these thoughts into practice in an experimental configuration.

Of course, the fact that (following the advent of the smartphone) virtually everyone today walks around with a high-definition digital video camera in their pocket has no small bearing on the significance and historicity of Paik’s work. Thus, my wife and I decided to expand Triangle‘s loop of time-metabolizing images by adding a further layer of video processing: each of us filmed different points of the sculpture’s own input/output and integrated our own video devices into the loop. The results, seen here, were synced and combined with split-screen and transparency settings (along with reverse-motion in the top video and the introduction of compression artifacts in the bottom one). In this way, we tried to expand and reflect (materially, not cognitively) on the impact of computational imaging technologies for a work like Triangle — on their radical expansion of variables (“and/ors”) which Paik described thus:


In the talk I gave over the weekend, “Nonhuman Perspectives and Discorrelated Images in Post-Cinema” (abstract here), I argued (drawing on Lazzarato’s very Paikian arguments about video):

Computational rendering processes generate unanticipated and unanticipatable images, in effect rendering post-cinematic cameras themselves strangely vibrant, uncanny. There is a dilation of affect involved, which introduces a temporal gap of hesitation or delay between perception (or recording) and action (or playback), and it amounts to a modeling or enactment of the indetermination of bodily affect through which time is generated, and by which (in Bergson’s system) life is defined. A negative view sees only the severing of the images’ indexical relations to world, hence turning all digital image production and screening into animation. But in the end, the ubiquity of “animation” that is introduced through digital rendering processes should perhaps be taken literally, as the artificial creation of (something like) life, itself equivalent with the gap of affectivity, or the production of duration through the delay of causal-mechanical stimulus-response circuits; the interruption of photographic indexicality through digital processing is thus the introduction of duration = affect = life. Discorrelated images, in this respect, are autonomous, quasi-living images in Bergson’s sense, having transcended and gained a degree of autonomy from the mechanicity that previously kept them subservient to human perception. Apparently “crazy,” because discorrelated from the molar perspectives of phenomenal subjects and objects, cameras now mediate post-perceptual flows and confront us everywhere with their own affective indeterminacy.

Another way to put this is to say that post-cinematic cameras and images are metabolic processes or agencies, and their insertion into the environment alters the interactive pathways that define our own material, biological, and ecological forms of being, largely bypassing our cognitive processing to impinge upon us at the level of our own metabolic processing of duration. Metabolism is a process that is neither in my subjective control nor even confined to my body (as object) but which articulates organism and environment together from the perspective of a pre-individuated agency. Metabolism is affect without feeling or emotion – affect as the transformative power of “passion” that, as Brian Massumi reminds us, Spinoza identifies as that unknown power of embodiment that is neither wholly active nor wholly passive. Metabolic processes are the zero degree of transformative agency, at once intimately familiar and terrifyingly alien, conjoining inside/outside, me/not-me, life/death, old/novel, as the basic power of transitionality – marking not only biological processes but also global changes that encompass life and its environment. By insinuating themselves into the molecular flows of affect, prior to the possibility of perception and action, metabolic images have a direct impact on “the way we tick” — i.e. on the material production and modulation of time and temporal experience.

In many ways, the original assemblage of Paik’s Triangle already demonstrated what I call the metabolic work of microtemporal image processing. Today, however, it provides further opportunities for experimentation with the spatial and temporal parameters of our existence in conjunction with the many cameras and screens that connect us with our contemporary environment. Expanding the variables of the work’s “and/or” configurations, our cameras can hook into Paik’s assemblage, enter into its feedback loops, but also transport those loops into larger contexts of metabolic processing and transport. Images circulate within and beyond, effectively confounding distinctions between object and process, thing and environment. By engaging with the work and aiming our cameras at it in this way, we too are hooked into the system, and our own embodied perception is displaced as it is integrated into the molar and molecular configurations that situate and underpin conscious experience. In this way, Paik’s work continues today to probe the technical modulations of time and affective life in the era of convergence, computation, and our properly post-cinematic environment.