1- Working Title:
A foot kicking a ball: Narrative falling apart in the VJing playground
2- Aims and Objectives:
It all started when I realized that I am intrigued by storytelling and how it can be used in the visual field, being a practitioner in graphic design. I recollect stories and link them with concepts that I am recently becoming aware of, despite the fact that I don’t have great communication skills, which makes my storytelling experiences a bit complicated. And being from Beirut, in the Middle East, my character has been molded in a way that politics and economy is a vital interest.
Based on an incident of a football hitting my face when I was four years old, to my nosebleed ruining the removable collar of my mother’s dress, to the boutique where my mother purchased this dress and the boutique’s high stature, to the deterioration of the middle class’s economical situation in Beirut the nineties, I will be looking at football practice and its implications on the sociopolitical, discussing the ‘bread and circus’ phenomenon, driven by personal narrative and subjective judgments.
Far from being a novelist and intrigued by little stories, the accident of the football strike is the start of a narrative leading to a VJing project. VJing (in my case) comes from living in Beirut, a city renowned for its nightlife despite the destructive civil war. So I figured that the best way of campaigning an idea (bread and circus) is through this hub. I want to explore the logic of digital moving image in general and VJing in particular in relation to narratives, therefore I will be writing short stories related to my theme, filming, editing, animating and juggling between the audio and the visual. The lack of communication skills from which I suffered during my teenage years, its repercussions and the nature of the VJing medium directed me to wanting the narrative to fall apart in the VJing playground. If a narrative is deciphered, does it become a set of databases? I will be looking at Lev Manovich’s ‘The Language of New Media’ to discuss this concern. In my previous experience in graphic design, I have found a comfort zone to initiate the projects, that is the mood boards I create at the beginning; how can a mood board be translated in digital moving image and will it help in randomizing the course of events? An arbitrary decision of a football player is random, and randomness is a valid concept in the digital arts world. In Christiane Paul’s words digital art did not develop in an art-historical vacuum, but has strong connections to previous art movements among them Dada, Fluxus and Conceptual Art. As for interactivity, a football game is naturally interactive. How could one embed meaning in VJing? Would that be altering the role of this means? Devising a system that allows freeing my personal narratives from the traditional form and throwing them in the VJing arena will be developed through loops of filmed and animated material.
From a historical point of view, a wide range of thinkers has studied the issue of mass-supported sports and its consequences. I will be looking at Theodore Adorno, Marc Augé, Roland Barthes and Herbert Marcuse in this part of the research.
To start, defining ‘bread and circus’ seems essential. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, ‘bread and circus’ is a ‘terminology used to explain the offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.’
Theodore Adorno speaks about how the removal or reduction of the ‘bread and circus’ or what others term as ‘useful lies’ from mass culture will threaten the continued operation of the market and society as well as higher philosophical truth.
Elena Bertozzi, in her paper ‘At Stake: Play, Pleasure and Power in Cyberspace’, describes playing football as a ‘socially permitted aggression’. In a football game, the player reads and anticipates the action of the other, never quite sure what will really happen. Mastering football is a matter of time and skill. In the aftermath of a match, the idea of restoration of dialogue between the two teams, two enemies or two competitors is omnipresent: so much so that one can see the relation of football to politics, to rulers or governors using ‘bread and circus’ policies to fulfill and distract the governed in their basic needs, diverting their attention away from politics and interfering in the political scene.
Jean-Marie Brohm and Marc Perelman, in ‘Football: From Ecstasy to Nightmare’, discuss the illusion big football games provide society’s masses. It is presented as a ‘social elevator’ for poor people. The ideology behind these big football games is that of war, an apology for physical force. Fanatic supporters encouraged and promoted by the shadow of multiculturalism – or a form of belonging in the sectarian, national, regional or ideological sense.
Marc Augé, in ‘An Ethnologist in the World Cup’, speaks about how, during big football games, the masses reclaim symbols of the republic, the flag and the national anthem which otherwise are confiscated as the property of right wing nationalists. Augé studied the football language through television screens. On small screen televisions and monitors, audiences watching a football match plunge into a so-called ‘voluntarism of imagination’, that is, the tendency of the spectator to go beyond the game by screaming and trying to visually force the relatively small-scale football players to get closer to the ball and score. This phenomenon arises from the fact that the screen is small; therefore the simulacrum of the field is a field in reduction or a micro-field. This implies football players and the ball appear in miniature, making the viewer imagine that the process of getting a goal is actually quite simple. Later, Augé speaks about ultra big screens displayed in public spaces; here, the player appears larger than usual and thus, the ability to imagine is reduced to zero. In this case, the spectator’s perception with regard to the scale of the football match becomes more complicated: The screen enlarges players, giving back to the audience, as in their early days of movie theaters, their childhood perceptions… a period where all adults appeared as giants. For Augé, the relation between the public and the television screen is revealed at the end of the match. Suddenly the event is no longer inside the screen but totally outside it. The screen is, in this case, reduced to its modest role as witness or substitute with the mere task of giving older and sick people a reflection of what is happening elsewhere. The remarkable fact, at game end, becomes the urge instantly felt by each viewer to meet the crowd. There’s something to share, something that doesn’t exist outside the sharing process; and that is the object that the screen cannot contain. It is at the same time the victory and the limits of the media… the moment when television screens become abandoned by all those who rush to the streets to congratulate each other.
Roland Barthes in ‘Mythologies’ continues the case study of mass-supported sports using the boxing scene in Paris in the 1960s. In trying to understand the football scene, one needs to question the core subject of popular games where the central event happens outside the playing field in the football sense or the arena in boxing: The delirious crowd, the intellectuals glued to their television screens and the public literally colonized by magical passes or punches.
According to author Michael G. Horowitz, philosopher Herbert Marcuse ‘sees history as an endless confrontation between reason and imposed ignorance’… The ruling class, Marcuse insists, will resort to anything to preserve its privileged position, from the artificial creation of pointless wars and weapons to the maintenance of a sterile morality to a massive ‘bread and circus’ campaign designed to numb you into bliss with new cars, football and moon landings.
I will also be looking at the repercussions of capitalism on society and humankind in general, as well as looking at the concept of ‘Normalization’ and the ‘potential’ and ‘achieved’ society by Marcuse to further support my mission.
In trying to argument the medium (VJing) in relation to the content, I will be reading about new forms of representation. I will be looking at the ‘instantaneous’ according to Paul Virilio who would argue, “Where the last century's revolution in transportation gave rise to an era of generalized mobility, our own tools of instantaneous transmission are reversing the tendency. With the dissolution of the scale of our human environment (prefigured by the telescope and radicalized by the satellite), the very reality of the world is reduced to nil (or next to nothing), leading inevitably to a catastrophic sense of incarceration now that humanity is literally deprived of horizon. Having lost our sense of the journey in the commutation of space during the industrial age, we now lose departure in the age of electromagnetics and the speed of light.” I will also look at the connotation of museums and the choice of wanting to interact live with a crowd in a nightclub.
In placing ‘bread and circus’ at the center of my narrative, I will try to argue that it is not mere coincidence that the economy in Beirut in the nineties deteriorated, leading to my mother’s inability to buy her wardrobe from this fancy boutique. Inflation was a post war fact in Beirut; nevertheless Beirut had become a potential ‘winning’ project, or at least that is what the leaders wanted people to have faith in… the mere existence of the country on the map was a victory; debt was not an issue. Politicians in Lebanon were thus investing in the economy of football, consuming football practice and football teams rather than empowering diverse institutions.
Having researched the historical background of the football theme, I do not wish to portray football as a main issue. Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon in their film ‘Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait’ managed to immerse the viewer in an awkward situation, not to film the actual ball but the star player during a football match, without showing the actual game. They were playing on the ‘ordinary’ mentioned in the beginning of the film when the sentence appears on the screen, “Who could have imagined that in the future, an ordinary day like this, might be forgotten or remembered as anything more or less significant than a walk in the park.”
Storytelling becomes the main issue behind the foot kicking the ball. It is in Marc Amerika’s words that I find the pathway to follow; in a Tate Intermedia Art interview, he describes the novel in the digital field as what print cannot contain. Amerika remixes personal narrative, philosophical inquiry, spontaneous theories and cyberpunk fictions that investigate the emergence of digitally constructed identities, fictional personas, narrative mythologies and collaborative networks. He has been working on expanding the concept of writing to include multimedia formats... He starts with a written and then tries to locate different kinds of audiences through the Internet, in nightclubs, museums, galleries, etc… For him net art is trying to blur the boundaries so the difference between cinema, digital video, digital narrative, net art and so on… is to be revisited.
At this stage, I will investigate Lev Manovich’s ‘Soft Cinema’ project that relates to the above concerns.
Watching Amerika’s films and his technique of expanding the concept of writing, I want to come out with a personal narrative about the football story and see how I can make it fall apart in a VJing environment.
Challenging a medium was the main subject to ‘Five Obstructions’, a documentary by Jørgen Leth and Lars Von Trier about ‘The Perfect Human’, a film created by Jørgen Leth in 1967. In ‘Five Obstructions’, director and mentor of Lars Von Trier, Jørgen Leth, is invited to recreate his film in five different ways or experimenting with the narrative in five different ways, each time, carrying a set of obstructions placed by Von Trier. The outcome is heart breaking, and in a way, made me wonder about the flexibility of the digital moving image field, how endless the possibilities of the outcome are. Thus the idea of VJing becomes a means to an end, where the video loops that I will create are the main content I will be working on, while their order is to be decided later.
Another contemporary practitioner in the digital arts field whose work serves as a support to my research is Jill Magid, an MIT graduate whose work revolves around the theme of recognition and identity. In her exhibition ‘Authority to Remove’ at Tate Modern, she challenges technology into sensuality, using spy cameras, videos, texts, emails on intranets, narratives, performances… to engage the systems in romantic journeys, juggling between the profile of artist, surveillance subject and surveyor. Fairly political, she questions issues of identity, power, protection and trust… It is the playfulness and challenging the system once again that comes to mind whenever I mention her work.
At this point I should try to treat the sharpness of the narrative tone in a subtle way, this will be defined once I proceed with the project’s experimentations. For instance, when I speak about the narrative style (or maybe is it too early to discuss this issue) the fighting ignorance with ignorance and corruption with an even more corrupt mentality, I think of Rose Jackson’s comment on Rebecca Horn’s artwork ‘Concert for Anarchy’ (1990) when she says, “My first visit to Tate Modern was memorable due to this piece (among others). I love grand, surreal spectacle and it doesn’t come much grander or more surreal than a piano hanging from the ceiling. It seems slightly ridiculous and makes you wonder – what’s the point of it, but then again… why not? Where else in life would this fit?”
Narrative falling apart is a challenge, narrator in Wim Wender’s ‘Wings of Desire’ states: “With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but apart and one doesn’t know anything about the other… What is wrong with peace and its inspiration doesn’t endure and that its story is hardly told? Must I give up now? Then mankind will lose its storyteller. And once mankind loses its storyteller it will also lose its childhood.” What Wim Wender is discussing sounds like narrative in a problematic environment – in his film it is the divided Berlin, in my research project it is football as entertainment in the sociopolitical economical scene.
I will be reading novels, theories related to the theme and visually translating them into mood boards, watching films and shorts and experimenting with VJing gigs in nightclubs. This is crucial for the theory usually helps me come up with ideas. I will keep track of this material on my blogspot, using it as an archive and interactive space.
I might produce a digital application form to be filled by Lebanese citizens, to help restore bits of my memory by telling me what happened with them in 1985, the year the football struck my nose.
Coming up with narrative bits based on my research process seems to be the first step in the execution of the project then working on deciphering it into small units. Then I will start filming and editing to create small loops inspired by a part of the narrative. Working on my technical skills in pure date (VJing being a means to an end) will enable me to start experimenting with randomizing the course of events.
How to diffuse my narrative and make it fall apart?
The idea of using the screen’s full potential, experimenting with its dimensions, emphasizing details and scrutinizing wide thoughts, creating a sort of a visual dictionary / library sounds like the best possibility at this stage.
I will go into VJing as an end, clubbing is the dramatic end to this project when everyone’s there; the people with a drink in their hands are my target audience. It sounds appealing to me to expose my childhood memories and come up with statements full of extreme brouhahas to a bunch of nice people chilling in a club environment.
6- Work Plan:
Unit 1: Week 1 – 60 Research, development and practice
To read, watch, research, report on the blogspot, write the narrative, come up with visuals, figure out ways and styles of filming, edit and create loops to experiment, learn pure data and contact Ed Kelly.
Unit 2:Week 30 – 60 Reflection and presentation
Finalize the narrative and the visuals and apply in the VJing environment.
• Elena Bertozzi, “At Stake: Play, Pleasure and Power in Cyberspace”
• Marc Augé, “An Ethnologist in the World Cup”; http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/1998/08/AUGE/10819
• Jean-Marie Brohm and Marc Perelman, “Football: From Ecstasy to Nightmare”
• Jill Magid, “Authority to remove”; Tate Modern, September 2009
• Tate Members; 1958-2008
• Wim Wender, “Wings of Desire”
• Jorgen Leth and Lars Von Trier, “The Five Obstructions”
• Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon, “Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait”
• Theodore Adorno, “Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life”; Verso, 2006
• Paul Virilio, “Open Sky”; Verso, 2008
• Roland Barthes, “Mythologies”; Seuil, 1970
• Herbert Marcuse, “One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society”; Routledge Classics, 2002
• Lev Manovich, “The Language of New Media”; The MIT Press, 2001
• Mark Hansen, “New Philosophy for New Media”; The MIT Press, 2004
• Peter Lunenfeld, “The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media”; The MIT Press, 2000
• Pramod K. Nayar, “Virtual Worlds: Culture and Politics in the Age of Cybertechnology”; Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, 2004
• Christiane Paul, “Digital Art”; Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2003
• Michael Faulkner and D-Fuse Editors, “VJ: Audio-Visual Art + VJ Culture”; Laurence King, 2006
• Onedotzero, “Motion Blur”; Laurence King, 2004
• Paul Auster, “Oracle Night”; Henry Holt and Co., 2003
• Mark Amerika: Interview with Tate Intermedia Art:
• Lev Manovich's Soft Cinema: softcinema.net/?reload
• Beirut on Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beirut
• Yasmin - moderated list for art-science-technology interactions around the Mediterranean Rim: media.uoa.gr/yasmin