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Mission to Earth

‘Mission to Earth’ is a science fiction allegory of the immigrant experience. It adopts the variable choices and multi-frame layout of the Soft Cinema system to represent ‘variable identity’.

It is one of the “movies” or projects that are hosted on the DVD published and distributed by MIT Press (2005). This DVD is assembled is such manner that every viewing experience is different. All elements of the screen are interchangeable. The screen is divided into different smaller screens, and every screen or windows hosts it’s own movement, motion. The narrative and the length of the movie is different every time you view it.

As  I found out in Manovich interview:

The editing of the films was done semi-automatically with the help of Soft Cinema software written by Andreas Kratky. Using the rules defined by the authors, the software generates variable screen layouts and also selects the sequences of media elements that appear on the screen. The elements are drawn from a media database unique to each film. Each of the films on the DVD explores a particular area of the aesthetic landscape made possible by this approach.

Mission to Earth follows (if I can use the term “follow” in something as nonlinear as this) Inga, an extra-terrestrial being who comes to Earth by her government’s demand. Over the course of years, she becomes somewhat ambiguous where her loyalties, memories and emotions lie. After she receives a call to come home, her laceration becomes even more evident. She doesn’t know where she belongs anymore. I see Mission to Earth as a story about the fragility of identity and what makes it stable. In a world where pictures are flying at us, by us and  near us at great speeds, where people we know are virtually and empirically close, but ontologically and geographically distant one is always engaged in a dialectic of narratives.

That dialectic is shown on a screen; the music feels somewhat arbitrary, multi-windowed screen doesn’t really say much per se. We are de facto confronted with the screen and driven to make sense of things. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

The “movie” reminds me of video games.I am propelled through not so thick layer of narration. It exist, but is not dominant, nor self sufficient. It is also a characteristic of video game. The user is encouraged to find his way through, but then again, on every step reminded that this is only a movie, and I am a steady spectator waiting to see where it leads. But then again, unlike most of the movies, this one requires me to participate by reading and watching simultaneously two or three screens at any given time to make some sense. That interface is making me forget about the loss of narrative aspect (through words) and is inaugurating the new narrative through obligatory perspective contained in three screens. These screens represent my freedom in choosing a perspective, and at a same time are anticipating it’s imprisonment. It becomes clear I cannot be satisfied without a firm ending.

By re-examining my views I found that the medium in which the message is contained is very significant to my expectations of the narrative. This was on a DVD, which for me represents a solid medium and normally contains a complete work of art (whatever that may be). Surfing the Internet I sometimes feel similar to what I felt in this movie, torn apart between different perspectives, in need to rewind or go backwards, jump ahead…

But, when I’m on the Internet, my freedom is limited only by content on it, and my imagination to combine it. This DVD does not and cannot provide that. It provides only a small portion of what user generated software can create. But that is enough for a start.  I think it should not find itself fighting with traditional and modern cinema discourse, as it is not in the same league. Classic, linear or somewhat less linear work of art has its purpose, the artistic drive to speak (about) something. The dialectic between what the author wanted to say and what did we notice is not the dialectic present in the new media’s Soft Cinema project. The new dialectic is present between two or more authors, and it requires whole new system of investigation and study. It is a system (or nonsystem) whose future we are all creating,right know, on the web, in the limitless sea of content.


April 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Soft Cinema

Soft Cinema, the project of media theorist Lev Manovich and designer Andreas Kratky is, in a way, completely different from all of the traditional media forms I was talking about earlier. If the history of the classical cinema can be seen as linear, traditional, analogous, the creation of Soft Cinema can perhaps be seen as it’s counterpart; digital, nonlinear and postmodern.

Soft Cinema cannot be seen as a production in fordistic terms, but nevertheless, it builds upon the notion of mass production, but organic and individualized production. Maybe an example should be made:

If I consider A Modern Times to be a paradigm of fordistic and repetitive discourse that can only be seen as creative through slapstick and other forms of movie representations Modern Times, Chaplin, 1936

maybe the best example for the new style of production should be something among the modern dystopian films like The Island. Here, the production of babies should be something individualized, adjusted for any type of person. Of course, it is a Hollywood sci-fi big budget movie, and the matrix of bad people, big fight and happy end through the fulfillment of heterosexual relationship must be accomplished.

The Island

Nevertheless,  the idea stands. We, as a spectators need something more. Many of us doesn’t want to be passive anymore (YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook to name just a few indicators). Soft Cinema is a project that should provide us with some autonomy over the process of creation. Not only that, it is a metaphor of our everyday lives. Life that is not only influenced, but more often manipulated by the networked culture we are emerged into (or more exactly,  that we created, as emergence bears a passive element, which would suggest we are just a puppets in a techno-deterministic world of electronic horror).

The idea continues on the negative notion of speed that Paul Virilio introduced, but adopts it for better’s sake. Today we have the ability to manipulate and sort any work of art directly on the Web, without the need for institutionalized recognition. Thus, with the help of tags, user recommendations and computer algorithms we may experience art directly, without the serum called art history. We can combine it, take something from it, delete the rest, recommend and proceed further. Soft cinema is like YouTube; when you enter, you never know when will you get out.  And just like Elsseasser asserts in his Constructive Instability essay, it is a thin line between waste of time and creative linking, adopting, referencing and modulating. But then again, it has always been a thin line to draw in arts. But it’s a line that we must draw ourselves, from the center of things, rhizomatic in Deleuzian terms. And Soft Cinema, like many software/hardware based algorithms/art projects/sites enables us just that.

April 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hypertext, the begining…

The emergence of hypertext is kinda expected if we look at the computer history and the history of literature in general. One of the first use of hypertextual arrangements can be traced in ancient scripts in the form of comments (Derrida talks a lot about these comments) beneath the main text. They are “explaining” or referring to other texts.

Literature always knew to find it’s way through increasingly challenging audience. Stephan Mallarme wrote his  “One toss of dice will never abolish chance“, perhaps the first truly hypertextual poem.  After that 19th century experiment, not until the second half of the 20th century did the notion of hypertextual writing came to spotlight again.

Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden Of Forking Paths” explores the possibilities of multi-dimensional  writing and creating. To me, it represents a spiritual predecessor of modern hypertext. Borges’ occupations were always in the liminal zone of something that will later become more easily accomplishable with the development in information and computer technology in general, and that is the obscurity of words, labyrinths of meanings, mirrors and duplicates and their relation to the so called originals.

The development of new media marked the emergence of new writing technology. That change is similar to the change in the Gutenberg Galaxy, of which McLuhan speaks. Bolter detects a new economy of writing (Bolter, 1991). Just as late medieval boom of literature and literacy changed the economy and culture of Europe, the emergence of electronic literature and computer interaction in general is once again changing our reading habits. But there is much more to that. As some theorists notice, hypertext is changing cultural and political sphere (Moulthrop), and is changing our understanding of text, as our semiotics of the text more specifically (Manovich) .

Digital text is nonlinear (text in print is almost always linear) , is variable (traditional is fixed) and perhaps most importantly, it is not just replicable, but alterable, convertible. All of this traits are somewhat in debt to the computer’s algorithm. It does what human cannot. It changes text’s path, way of unfolding and linking different lexias. Lexias are standard textual units but are accessible in nonstandard way (by linking, most commonly). The development of World Wide Web enabled hypertext production to quickly gain it’s momentum through sharing and linking on the Internet. It can be seen as “upgraded” Gutenberg Galaxy, in terms of speed, distribution and accessibility.

Michael Joyce’s Afternoon, A Story (1987) is considered to be a first truly hypertext story. Many more followed, but never really gained popularity of their printed counterparts (Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”, most notably).

Lev Manovich would not stop on hypertextual research. In recent years, he began working with something very similar, yet one step further in developing human generated art.  He called it Soft Cinema, as an abbreviation for Software cinema. How does it carry on where hypertext stopped, can it be considered hypertext and what does it mean for future cinema production, I will try to answer in the next post.

April 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hypertext and the new ways of reading

Development of information theories in the early 1950’s led to emergence of cybernetic theory (with Wiener and others) on the one side, and Transformative theory of 1960’s with McLuhan, Ong and Havelock on the other. McLuhan, in the spirit of the prophet, analyzed and predicted many of modern electronic ways of doing and thinking. In his time, radio, telephone and television represented the paramount of “thinking globally”. But, reading his “Understanding Media” (1964) today, one will found almost the same “symptoms” in our modern-day life as in his, 40 years old.

The same thing is with cinematography. With some variations, almost the same problem exist from the beginnings of cinema until today.

Bunuel tried to, in his surrealist perspective bring some of these issues on the screen with his widely acclaimed Un chien andalou (1929). The issue is the need for juxtaposing the mainstream with something new. While Hollywood was making genre movies and big budget movies like Intolerance (Griffith, 1916) and many others, with famous 180° ramp and rather linear narrative, french surrealists experimented with narrative flow, dream-capturing and something Derrida would call “out of joint-ness”.  To be out of joint in these movies meant to offer something that mainstream had only in small traces.  Logic was replaced by the absence of logic, time was removed, focalisation was constantly reconfigured.

It would be wrong to assume that there exists a clear gap between mainstream and unconventional art. The main example is classical Hollywood film noir. It incorporates a little of German expressionism, surrealism and classical Hollywood film-making.

Nevertheless, I think that the main difference between those two is the avant-garde use of technology. While mainstream can copy, sometimes better than the original, a truly unconventional mode of production incorporates new modes and uses of technology. For Soviets, it was montage, editing. For television (over cinema), it was multi-program continuous flow (Williams, Programming as Sequence or Flow).

For hypertext it was new way of using computers for the creation of new type of literature. And finally, for the Soft Cinema, it is going to be the use of computers and user generated software for the creation of independent and contingent narration and discourse in general.

In next post, I will shed some light on the history of hypertext, and how it relates to Lev Manovich project Soft Cinema.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


History of cinema, especially Hollywood cinema is often seen as linear.  Somewhere in the 1820’s Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took a first photograph. Then, the Lumiere Brothers shot the first “movie” in 1895. Then Hollywood appeared.  Fordistic style of production began. Creating movies like on assembly line, it created genres, rules of the game.

Today we go to the cinema, watch action movies, melodramas, romantic comedies like there’s nothing more to cinema than Armageddon or Titanic.

Those who are really passionate about the history of cinema will know that the most commonly used and mentioned history is not the only history.

The existence of movements such as Soviet Montage or French Avant-garde (Surrealism most notably) in the post WWI Europe proves the inherently ambiguous structure of any work of art. One cannot judge art by the number of “art history” books that he read, nor can he judge film production and diversity by the number of mediocre (at best) movies that end up in our local multiplexes.

Artistic diversity’s modus operandi is the constant re-shifting between the mainstream and the “obscure”, unpopular and popular.  In that sense, experimental faze of Man Ray or Bunuel will help me detect the way we talk about art.

My aim is to look at Lev Manovich’s project “Soft Cinema” today, and to compare it to other movements in the history of art. Thesis is that, despite the new technology and it’s advances, the aim of the artist remains pretty much the same. The only thing that changes is means of representation.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment