Saturday, April 18, 2009

Craig Baldwin at the Robinson Film Center

The following are some stream of consciousness notes from filmmaker Craig Baldwin's artist lecture at the Robinson Film Center on April 18, 2008. He's a wild ride to follow during a talk!

Craig Baldwin notes the connection between 16mm, the digital revolution and vernacular culture.

Craig showed us three clips from the 70's dimension: Three artists remixed found footage in "We Edit Life" a metatextual performance on digital remix production. Footage includes media producers, conductors an a symphony, computer users, Baldwin points out that abstraction isn't necessary and that using footage without digital manipulation serves the same pupose of deconstruction and analysis. All the footage was found in the dumpster.

The next sample comes from "outsider films" including military films, religious films, pornos, etc that get under theorized and under studied as important pieces of visual culture. We're looking at "Love Moods" I'm wondering how archiving constitutes "parsing" - in order to embody the sensibility of a certain genre? So there's no need for remix. By bringing these marginal films into a "non marginal" space we're remixing. What's outside the center is most interesting and tells us the most about mainstream culture - Baldwin draws on the image of the corona, which enables us to see the sun but isn't THE visual identifier of the sun.

The next sample, Baldwin describes as piece of couch potato culture "Life With Fear" including "Lightfoot Fever" which juxtaposes images of wild life a a performance of "Fever"

Next we look at a mashup series "TV Sherriff and the Trailbuddies" which is complete low sensibility tv show nonsense. The piece we watch is a fantastic audio and visual remix of all sorts of Jerry-related footage (Jerry Lewis, Jerry Springer, etc). They self describe as "remix television broadcasts into reconfigured gaucho style ape beats." The style really reminds me of Eclectic Method. Its eye candy you can dance/explode your brain to.

Craig Baldwin then turns to mashup megalith Negativland and he's produced a documentary about them: Sonic Outlaws. (Which I can't believe I haven't seen yet)

Peter Tscherkassky makes Lacan-esque hauntingly beautiful films:

Greta Snider's "Urine Man" personal diaries/documentary. Urine man wants you to google "urine cures bombshell" I think this film straddles voyeurism, taking advantage of a crazy person, and giving voices to the underrepresented. Its documentary kind of style films that put me in my most uncomfortable position, but also make me excited about digital media as a voicebox for democracy. At the same time, the film reminds me that democratic voices aren't always the best for contributing to cultural development (that's totally subjective - I'm at conflict re-reading my original thoughts a few days later on this piece).

Baldwin argues that cinema should not be overproduced researched market, but rather shorter works in enesembles, in microcinemas, backyards with political critique and history/political journalism. Taking it to another level of play, a bit of pop art.

Baldwin notes while discussing Tribulation 99 the dicotomy between right/left film's imagery: take language and iconography/fantasty associated with the right (fantasy, extravagance, sensationalism) and apply it to the left (which typically uses talking heads and less free image in documentary). Tribulation 99 is a pseudo-documentary about US intervention in Latin America. It mixes science fiction footage, fantastical narration, news reels, and crazy political title screens. Irrationality can be a useful political tools (racism, etc). Willingness to take things to extreme - relationship between van garde art and politics.

Compilation narrative take gestures and herd them into a new narrative. With Spectres of the Spectrum, Baldwin utilized action and science films to challenge the media environment which controls and perpetuates the popular mainstream. Kinescope images are used artifacts of the communications revolution as the history of the medium is embedded in these images.

What happens when popular mainstream culture recognizes these aesthetics and methods of commentary? Does underground culture then swing back into the high gloss production level to challenge the new aesthetic? What's the cheap point of entry in tools and methods of production that will allow us to challenge the co-option of vernacular culture (I'm thinking of tv shows that respond to tv viewer's reactions ala L Word, LOST).

Sometimes it feels like the archive just legitimizes conspicious consumption. I don't necessarily feel like remix or mashup adds enough to the larger dialogue about culture or challenges mainstream thought because of the co-option of these aesthetics and methods increasingly in popular culture. What do we do from here? Remix the remix? I have no idea. I think on avenue is to study the folk/non digital native response to new mediums, and utilize those methods in art production and design. What non-knowledgeable people do with new media and how that inform a revolution against the new mainstream (might also be useful UI/Design research)? Rather than focusing on artworks that are finished pieces or works that expose the underlying process, we need to see artwork is exemplifies the process. Perhaps something between the line of performance art and actual production methods. How can we encourage play and discover in the age of the database and instant informational satisfaction?

What I've learned from this lecture and comparing it with a recent lecture from DJ Spooky, is that when you're lecturing about remix and digital production its best to have complete control over the presentation environment (i.e., import your own footage on a computer, ask for control over lighting.) and do it yourself (and insist on doing it yourself at every venue).

I also like this interview with Baldwin for the super-informative-fantastic-free-badassed documentary Steal This Film: