Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Zen for Mobile Phone Video

Three pix from the gig at the Korean Buddhist Research Institute in Seoul:

"Artist, Medium, Instrument"
Nam June Paik's "Zen for Film" in the background

"Artist, Medium, Instrument"
Mark Amerika's "Zen for Mobile Phone Video" in the background

"Artist, Medium, Instrument"
Film director Jang Sun-Woo responds to my keynote

Paik’s "Zen for Film" (1964) reflects the influence of his long time colleague and composer John Cage, whose affiliation with Zen Buddhism is said to have inspired his most famous work of art 4' 33" (a sound composition consisting of silence for that exact duration, but that defies silence by allowing for whatever sounds are filling the environment during the "performance"). As the artist Stephen Vitiello has written, "Paik's 'Zen for Film' consists of clear film leader and is projected showing only the white light and accumulated bits of dust picked up by the film and caught in the projector’s light."

Vitiello continues:
The critic Irving Sandler once thought Paik's work, especially his TV Buddha, was a kind of Buddha Sitcom. "But it’s not a one-line joke," suggests Sandler. "What else can it mean? Does it demean an established religious icon in the spirit of Fluxus iconoclasm? Or, is it spiritual: the Divine looking at the Divine without interference? Instantaneous holy feedback. God using electronic media to contemplate Himself. Why Not?"
Why not, indeed. Artists use electronic media to contemplate themselves too. And not just to contemplate themselves as artist-mediums but as flux personas navigating the networked space of flows where the resonance of all that has come before pulsates like an archive fever waiting to be discovered so that it too can be sampled and remixed into an impermanent form (Sukenick: "Form is your footprints in the sand when you look back.")

Just as Paik revealed the TV Buddha, we might now find ourselves collectively and collaboratively revealing the Networked Buddha, the impermanent and forever-in-flux new media environment that artist-mediums circulate in as part of a larger practice that Paik refers to as "the science of pure relation or relationship itself."

For me, Paik's "Zen for Film" soon became source material for my own work of new media art entitled "Zen for Mobile Phone Video" (which recently appeared as part of my "Mobile Phone Video Art Classics" exhibition in London this summer).

When I first saw "Zen for Film" at the Centres George Pompidou in Paris last September, I was in the middle of my own research investigations into the changing nature of both cinema and photography, especially in relation to digital networks, bodily drifting, roaming interiority, proprioception, and ways of seeing. This practice-based research has as its protagonist a digital flux persona (a "philosophictional figure") who uses an unconscious neural mechanism to project deep interior shots. The digital flux persona takes on the role of instrumental medium whose generative art challenges our sense of what is real and what is unreal – that is to say, what is natural and what is virtual. A cluster of questions I keep asking as I explore the use of new media technologies is:
  • Is reality always already a "mixed reality"?
  • That is, is it a blur motion fringe-flow sensation of what we consider natural or organic and what we perceive to be virtual or other, and are these mixed realities continually being postproduced by the artist-mediums who generate them?
  • Is the movement toward virtually inhabiting nature as a body-image, one that mobilizes its visual consciousness through the networked space of flows, an indication that the idea of the self is an imaginary fiction?
  • And yet it is all too apparent to me that this other figure I am indicating here – the digital flux persona – the NOT-ME, is itself an imaginary fiction. What is the difference?
  • Is the artist-medium, the one that is reflexively and proactively improvising the movement of their body-image as flux persona in the networked space of flows, capable of severing themselves from the world of ego?
  • And if so, is this what it means to live on the cusp of ones unconscious, readiness potential?
"Zen for Film" is, in fact, a film. Film is old media, not new media. The question I had for myself while first viewing the work was: How can this work be remixed into a so-called new media context and still retain its initial meaning? What was its initial meaning? Was it important to retain it? What does it mean when we can take our portable digital gadgets and selectively capture whatever data we feel we need in order to further improvise our own lives as we struggle to position our body-image in the world?

My answer was to "film" myself filming the "Zen for Film" artwork, and to do it on my mobile phone using the lowest grade mobile phone video recorder on the market. As a result of this digitally-imposed degeneration of the image, things changed. In my remixed version, "Zen for Mobile Phone Video," it was no longer clear film leader and dust particles accentuated by the projector's light suggesting the residue of culture sticking to the emptiness of being. Now it was about shadow, reflection, intervention, degeneration, the crenellated human figure, and particles of pixelated matter that were fragmenting around the edges – the edges of "digital being" as my flux persona was becoming "lossy" – that is, as my body-image was caught in an art-historical feedback loop that slowly revealed how my own in and out state of presence was made of nothing more than granular artifacts in an impermanent state of rendering / being rendered. And yet, contrary to Paik's original work, "Zen for Mobile Phone Video" indicated a body.

If an embodied digital flux persona performing their daily practice as an artist-medium becomes a kind of compositional instrument acting on whatever ground is available, then we may also view them as a kind of fictional philosopher who, like the electronic figure I call the remixologist, is always already in the final stages of postproduction. But those final stages are never really final, or at least they don't feel that way as I push myself further into the Infinite, that unidentifiable space of mind where the unconscious projections of near future events always keep me on the cusp of what it is I am in the process of creating while experiencing this all-over-sense of "being in perpetual postproduction," even as my remixological methods smudge together with what I used to think of as simply being in production...

The history of new media is the history of the world. For example, we can time-travel back to Germany in 1805, where we find a short essay written by Heinrich von Kleist, collected in his now out of print An Abyss Deep Enough. The essay is entitled "On the Gradual Fabrication of Thoughts While Speaking," where the author intuits the unconscious neural mechanism that triggers creative thought and writes: "For it is not we who know; it is rather a certain condition, in which we happen to be, that 'knows.'"

How deep is deep enough?

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