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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