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"Redefining the Object of Cinema" presentation - HASTAC10 Report

WOW! First I must say that HASTAC10 is an amazing opportunity to learn about theory AND practice, and I have been truly enjoying the presentations Ive attended so far. Thank you to all the organizers for making this web-conference happen! ;)


Here's a recap of "Redefining the Object of Cinema: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Media Obsolescence" session with Bill Morrison which took place on GoogleWave on 4/16/2010 at 4:30 CST.

Morrison is a New York-based filmmaker and artist who is well known for the poetic exploration of loss, memory, and decomposition in his experimental collage films. Working with deterioration and decay as vital aesthetic qualities in his work, he references the materiality of film by taking pre-existing footage from films which have been largely lost to the natural process of nitrate deterioration, and reconstituting them as artifacts for a new artistic product.

Morrison began his HASTAC10 session by presenting three of his mesmerizing short films: The Mesmerist (2003), The Film of Her (1996), and What We Build (2005). (I highly recommend that you watch the films on the HASTAC 2010 Page ---esp. The Film of Her!).

morrison  morrison 

The session was then carried to GoogleWave where Morrison started an engaging discussion by emphasizing on being a certain digital artist who works with material that has previously interfaced with the physical world rather than being digitally captured. To Morrison, "the materiality references something beside what is contained in the frame," perhaps the fragmentary anecdotes that describe a certain historical reality.  What he finds intriguing about old forgotten footage is that much of it is not synthesized into our idea of an era.  

Yet, as Morrison points out, our interaction and relationship with the material world through the physical interface will soon be phased out because films that decay are very specific to the 20th century and speak of a certain era. He emphasized on the importance of decay in modernizing historical images and in making them relevant to contemporary viewing showing concerns about the lack of erosion in todays digital world. The absence of a viewable or knowable eroded digital file "reflects a different attitude about memory and archiving our history... its either 1 or 0, but nothing is in between."

In conversations with the audience, Morrison expressed concerns about the rapid obsolescence of digital formats, their survival, and the limitations in the number of works that will be preserved. As he puts it, while works by Maya Deren and Harry Smith will most likely be preserved due to their reputation, many titles will never make it into the transfer room. "So with the shift to new media, we can't bring everything with us. It is important to return to the archives to see what has been forgotten or overlooked, every time Maya Deren is brought in to represent a canon."

You can read the entire conversation here.



Thanks Mona for this great report. I just love Morrison's films and appreciate his WAVE comments too. I just posted my own reflections on this powerful presentation. Yet in the end, I am not ready to say that I love media obsolescene. I'm left with the pleasure of seeing Morrison's art and, at the same time, I thinking about other ways to back up my old family photos. :)


Mona - thanks for this great recap and response. I'm just watching the films now and you're right - mesmerizing! I just wrote on Patrick's blog about a film that you might enjoy too - it's called Lyrical Nitrate

One thing I'm thinking about is in response to Morrison's comment, "The absence of a viewable or knowable eroded digital file "reflects a different attitude about memory and archiving our history... its either 1 or 0, but nothing is in between."

Sure, that is literally true, things must be 1 or 0 in its base code, but it's all the things that we make those 1s and 0s do that seems to be more interesting -- and so many of those things seem to be a direct continuation of earlier practices.

And I actually think there is a huge aesthetic of 'decay' in our current moment. Some of that decay might be manufactured nostalgia or pastiche. And here, I'm also thinking about the HUGE runaway success of the polaroid iPhone app - it makes your iPhone pics look like polaroids. There are many material differences -- namely, your film doesn't come in 12 packs & you don't peel back the plastic, but you can shake the iphone itself! That slight element of magic and surprise in the construction of the image -- it seems to be a key component in the aesthetics, or poetry, of images and cultural production.

At this point my brain is decayed from an amazing 3 days -- thanks for all your work and thoughts!