Tag Archives: art institute of boston

Thesis Semester, Engage (10-4, Rampart)

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A more connective, centralized install, featuring videos front and center. The videos would be displayed on separate televisions, not a laptop, but this arrangement opened discussion into the relationship between the painting and its video counterparts.

 

My thesis semester has begun…

Fresh from the January residency, crit notes in hand, I face a synthesis of work and research, method and methodology, text and talk.

I had the opportunity to show the interdisciplinary elements of The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert in several configurations, the last of which is highlighted (rather informally) in this post. A tightened space, slightly reminiscent of an entertainment center, invited the most connective read of the work, but the installation is not yet resolved. This semester’s studio component will allow me to finalize the most logical install. 

By and large, viewers felt the project was 90% complete and visually & conceptually fascinating. Most found the work contemporary, rich and relevant and enjoyed (or at least understood) the interdisciplinary approach. Dissonant responses mostly suggested focusing on one medium, rather than employing an interdisciplinary approach.

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One of the more linear installs, featuring the Viewmasters on a separate podium.

I also had the opportunity to show the video works in two time-based screenings, as large-scale projections.

For the first screening, I presented three of the “episodes” without context. Viewer response was compelling and surprisingly on-target, even for those unfamiliar with the project. Responses suggested a pervading sense of panic, time-ambiguity, doubt and narrative denial, recognizing an unstable televisual space where actions and reactions occur in a wormhole-loop. Other responses included a sense of confusion (what the hell is happening?) and recognition of color palettes and recast characters as iconographic moments.

The longer screening allowed me to briefly set up context, which actually led to fewer comments and questions after the showing. Perhaps the setup explains everything left confusing (or tantalizing?) in the original works.

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Screen cap from “Rental (Requesting Backup”

 

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My info “station,” featuring bibliography, works from previous semester and other vitals.

Though I’m not required to write an official residency summary this semester, I did excavate my residency notes, crystallizing a “road map” for my own backend use.

In a nutshell, my academic component is centered on writing the thesis and artist talk, completing any necessary (additional) side research, polishing my defense and practicing my performance.

The studio component will deal with resolving the installation, completing a third painting for the series, digging into the digital imaging (and true stereoscopy) and working through a few additional video episodes and presentation strings, in dialogue with my final mentor.

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The Cascade(s)

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Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades, Sylmar, CA. Near Foothill Freeway.

“Connecting images to images, playing with series of them, repeating them, reproducing them, distorting them slightly, has been common practice in art even before the infamous ‘age of mechanical reproduction.’ ‘Intertextuality’ is one of the ways in which the cascading of images is discernible in the artistic domain – the thick entangled connection that each image has with all the others that have been produced…”

–Bruno Latour, What is Iconoclash?

My third semester is now folding into my fourth, or thesis, semester at LUCAD/AIB and I’m in the process of wrapping up for the January residency. I will be shipping Roy and the Mojave Subsequence in late December and the video pieces, View-Masters and reels will accompany me in person.

My semester bibliography, thesis outline, and artist list are available under Papers.

The Los Angeles Cascades (Sylmar, CA)

The Los Angeles Cascades (Sylmar, CA)

“As we encounter the data cascade, each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow… transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives.”

Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture

This semester, The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert (my interdisciplinary thesis) made tremendous headway and I have a clear direction for resolving the final moments of …Moments. 🙂 The residency will give me the opportunity to gauge ideas about installation and continued relevancy of its interrelated parts.

“…the crucial distinction we wish to draw … is not between a world of image and a world of no-image– as the image warriors would have us believe – but between the interrupted flow of pictures and a cascade of them.”

–Bruno Latour, What is Iconoclash?

I also met with Les Ann Holland, my second semester mentor, during November and brought her up to speed on the project’s progress since we last met. I’d like to work with her during my final semester and I’ll be proposing that to my final adviser in January.

Between the (technical) end of the semester and the beginning of the residency, I’ll be continuing work on the next video piece, Ambush, producing more digital stills, and practicing stereoscopic imaging. I’m also doing a lot of reading for the upcoming critical theory course and fleshing out side sections of research that were identified while writing my thesis outline.

Onward!

The Cascade(s) in Situ, Emergency!

The Cascade(s) in Situ, Emergency!

Video, Still

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In delicious, meta-telescope fashion, I’ve been taking screen caps of my video art.

The videos themselves are already either composed of sequenced screen caps, or of sampled and heavily modified clips that in turn generated other sets of screen caps (and subsequent digital images). I’m excited about the results:

Digital Autumn

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Though I’ve mostly been focusing on video work, research, painting and writing, I’m still plugging away at the digital montages, developing new stills all the time as standalone pieces, and as fodder for future paintings.

I’m still using the digital imaging as a field of intense investigation, allowing time ruptures and even micro-narratives to rupture the painterly surface.

The batch of stills I produced in October and November were red and blue heavy, and I leaned away from my typical infusion of orange-pink-yellow to provide some visual variety, without losing the scheme of the digital desert.

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Some of them even pulled rather dark, and I allowed them to push the outer edge of my palette to see where the language was headed:

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See a selection of additional digital stills in the gallery

I’ve also quite enjoyed catching stills from my own videos, which themselves are composed of twice-removed captures:

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Haunted Temporality: The Loop as Semi-Narrative Engine

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AJ is trapped in an endless helicopter-gunfire-convertible chase through the desert…

Ren Adams
Research Paper 3
Peter Rostovsky – Advisor
October, 2014

Haunted Temporality: The Loop as Semi-Narrative Engine

Note: Footnotes are below, if internal links don’t direct you there properly.
Download and Read PDF Version

Loops are powerful invocations, abandoning linear narrative for the intensity of a continuous present, capable of establishing, disrupting and directing temporal relationships. Media theorist Lev Manovich suggests the loop is actually “a new narrative form appropriate for the computer age,” even as it occupies a liminal, anti-narrative space between story and instance (Manovich xxxiii).[1] The term ‘loop’ itself describes a complex range of repetitive gestures, from 3-second animated GIFs to middle-ground montage (establishing shots, action sequences in television) and the broader, or nearly imperceptible, cycles found in contemporary art (e.g. Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho[2]). Woven into longer segments, loops can even establish a haunting sense of repetition and reappearance, affecting the viewer’s relationship to the viewed and the recalled. This flexibility allows loops to serve as an effective investigation into the conflated space of time and memory. In the case of my own video work, they allow access and reference to the uncanny familiarity of television and its rapid-fire montage experience. The video components of The Cascade incorporate loops to provide the kind of mosaic understanding of space-place that come from a de-centered, semi-narrative form. The loop provides critical negotiation of the televisual structure and the ways we commit and recall memory-images,[3] opening my artistic process to post-narrative methodology.

The contemporary loop recalls proto-cinema and early avant-garde film[4]—the active image repetition later supplanted by cinema’s reliance on linear narrative (Manovich 315). Early cinematic devices like the zoetrope and zoopraxiscope animated short sequences—dancers whirling, a horse jumping a fence, and so on, by “mapping time onto two-dimensional space” using sequenced, discrete images spaced around a circle (Manovich 51). These analog devices used physical motion to speed through individual shots, simulating activity within a closed-circuit (Manovich 296-7). They were capable of expressing an instant in time, a suspended action, often with its own micro-narrative (the horse jumps, the dancers dance), but without reliance upon storyline. With the emergence of cinema proper, the language of film abandoned the ‘artifice’ of the loop, avoiding repetitious sequences to stress the illusion of realistic ‘capture.’[5] The more cinema embraced capture, the more it bound itself to the forward-moving act of storytelling (Manovich 300-01). Cinema thus behaved like novels and theater, with clear progression through a series of events.[6] Since early television heavily mimicked film, it initially embraced the loop-free approach (Fiske 15), but as television developed its own language and aesthetic system, it integrated (even centralized) loops for defining program elements, story structure, and all manner of serialized and episodic development—even systems of re-run, re-make, programs, commercials,[7] and consumption.[8] Loops also resurfaced in video games, animation and the internet, reincarnated as short videos, animated GIFs and the like, carrying a renewed sense of the immediate present (Manovich 315). In current pop culture, loops are critically, even playfully integrated into the fiber of daily life, popping up in Facebook feeds, apps, games and television, expressing emotion, advertising products, making political statements, and so on.[9]

Thus, loop forms are an alternative to cinematic narrative. Repetitive structure prevents a clear understanding of beginning, middle and end, erasing our reliance on static waypoints while expanding a single moment into a potentially infinite, self-spiraling universe.  This allows contemporary artists to manipulate the viewer’s relationship to time and memory (even to place and event), just as the use of repeated sequencing in television programs reinforces the viewer’s sense of flow, place and character by offering a mosaic[10] of recorded experiences the viewer must link by viewing.[11] Where cinema unfolds an elaborate story system, loops invite focus, even frustration, functioning as discrete, contained occurrences or as open-circuit systems that manipulate the audience expectation set by visual media (Fiske 62).

The loop in a broader sense can also describe the progress of televisual language (and structure) itself. Most programs rely on formula, such that viewers gain a sense of familiarity with series they have never personally watched, simply by participating in televisual exchange (Fiske 17).[12] Unlike the linear drive of cinema, television reveals the nature of its ideas, characters and events as cross-referenced mosaics that may even span years of development (Fiske 125)(Footnote 9). In TV, literal looping segments become intertextual references, suggesting the repetitive structure of the programming and a GIF-like condensation of proto-cinema, while establishing rhythm, expository information and aesthetic value. The re-use of stock footage loops, for example, provides a punctuating rhythm that can link multiple seasons and ideas across, and through, the visual mosaic.

Looping stock footage is an established television practice and though the loop may contribute to the story, it is actually a collapsed, or excised, unit of time, without narrative—used repeatedly to transition the primary material.[13] Driving sequences from Emergency! and Adam 12 are excellent examples of this kind of punctuating loop. Each episode contains pre-recorded, circular footage of emergency vehicles or police cars leaving the station, hurtling through city streets or returning to the garage. The loops are not immediately apparent, but reveal ticks over time: the same cross traffic, pedestrians and clouds populate the time-frozen cycle. Repetition also suggests the endless, grueling process of rescue and law enforcement, so the loops also have conceptual meaning for characterization, but there is a composite relationship here, where action sequences and establishing shots form a kind of nonlinear temporality (135), resurfacing across multiple episodes to mark infinite spiraling points, yet the “narrative does not proceed as simple causality” (Birnbaum 137). Though the story moves forward because the police rush to the scene, the act of rushing is divorced and looped, intertwined with the “indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual…” creating double images, or looping engagements (Farr 23).

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The Day After (1983)

In contemporary art, loops can provide overall structure, as in Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, Cory Arcangel’s Clouds (2002) or Stan Douglas’ Overture (1986).[14] Punctuating longer works, or used in variation, the loop encourages viewers to consider the nature of time and the relationship between the reinvented continuous and the discrete, to see multiple potentialities simultaneously and to establish formal rhythm, as in Claudia X. Valdes’ In the Dream of the Planet (2002).  Valdes employs intense cycles and ‘reincarnated’ excerpts, in order to direct viewer interpretation and to reinforce Cold War conditions. In The Dream of the Planet (2002)(Fig. 1), Valdes appropriates made-for-TV-movie The Day After (1983), compressing the two-hour film into a 56-second loop.  The loop is repeated six times in rapid succession, with each incarnation skewed to emphasize a different aspect of Cold War anxiety: the military complex, social upheaval, survival, detonation, media, etc.… The original film grapples with a fictional nuclear escalation between the United States and the Soviet Union, culminating in a full-scale nuclear war. In the condensation, images hurtle past, allowing only a frantic glimpse of each person, each situation. The cycle slows with terrifying agony as missiles launch, buildings collapse and the media responds—distilling the doom of the original into a frenetic, semi-narrative commentary. The painfully recognizable, yet ultimately unreliable loop incites a state of hyper-arousal that parallels nuclear paranoia. Valdes’ ability to distill the made-for-TV movie, its subtexts and anxiety, with her own queries, is an excellent example of the haunted loop, which refers to, and reenacts, its own apparitional forms—making it incredibly relevant to the distillation of action and interaction in The Cascade.[15]

My video work considers the way loops are capable of suggesting the space of spatial memory and whether repetition provides a condensed sense of the mosaic found in televisual language.[16] Embedded, unstable grooves offer the viewer contextual déjà vu—where they begin to identity recognizable sequences, but are confronted by uncertain, semi-narrative that haunts itself with its own re-visitation. This perpetual re-enactment suggests the denial of traditional story, while establishing a dream-like state where characters engage and re-engage, running over a tight temporality that flirts with story.

So I Asked… (2014)(Fig. 2) establishes this kind of haunted, repetitious cycle via deeply interlocked, repetitious passages. Opening with two firefighter-paramedics caught mid-conversation (then interrupted by an emergency call), the tumbling, heavily altered stream collides with a rotating sequence of loops (a landing helicopter, a high speed gunfight, rescue vehicles en route, etc.). The loops continually intertwine, ghosted, as intensity builds. The increasingly anxious, overlapping dialogue suggests “something happens, is happening, goes on happening…” (Drucker 23), though sequenced temporality ruptures: the ‘goes on happening’ may actually occur before the initial ‘something’ that sets off the chain. The paramedics seem to be responding to a gunfight, yet the rescuers themselves are caught in a disruptive loop that leaves the title question unasked and the rescue unresolved, though viewers can rely on their knowledge of televisual language to determine that a rescue has been, or will be, attempted. We are unable to rely on linearity, yet the hurtle of loops describe the events most likely to have occurred, though order is unclear—rather like catching episodes out of sequence, leaving us to infer connections.[17]

I also take into consideration the telescoping stages of video itself: the time of the original filming, editorial time in appropriative postproduction, the immediate present of the watching viewer, the viewer’s present-into-past transition and the after-processing (and any subsequent recollection). The intensity of repetition is meant to reinforce the experience of an immediate, unyielding present, both in terms of ‘story’ progression and reception. The moments-after transition through what has immediately passed suggests: “time flows and each present fades but doesn’t disappear” (Birnbaum 139), amplifying the sense of déjà vu as almost-identical snippets continually resurface. This holds true in Valdes’ work, as well as in the stock footage loops I reference in my own work. So I Asked… (and other Cascade videos) may even behave as fragmentary, fragile archives—bound by our desire to sort out the phenomena of “haunting,” and the activation of memory that occurs with reappearance (Farr 12). Are we seeing the same event as an instant replay? Are we remembering an earlier incarnation, or is a similar event happening repeatedly in the same space, over time? The embedded loops thus recall the instant-moment introspection of proto-cinema, or the characterizing, time-independent stock footage of the appropriated programs.[18] The semi-narrative is stitched, overlaid and underwritten by time.

Loops possess a kind of visual déjà vu adapted from proto-cinematic experiments, re-contextualized by digital culture, manipulated by television and increasingly fundamental to contemporary art. They are versatile vehicles of conceptual delivery, raw enough to link and characterize television and capable of leading to surprising engagements with the haunting re-enactment of contemporary life. Loops can be semi-narrative, providing time-introspective context for larger stories, or they can perform as narrative-defying moments of their own, operating outside traditional viewer expectation. They fundamentally speak of time, memory and reflective space, especially when divorced from big-picture enslavement, becoming a postproduction, anti-narrative engine, disruptive and interstitial. Repetition changes our engagement with the ‘place’ of moving image, making loop investigations a relevant, even vital, expression of our time—a way of zeroing in on the atoms of information flow.

Works Cited

Adams, Ren. So I Asked… 2014. YouTube. 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

Birnbaum, Daniel. “Crystals.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 137-144. Print.

Boyd, Mark Cameron. “Postnarrative Structure.” Theory Now. 10 April, 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Culley, Peter. “Two Works by Stan Douglas.” Vanguard 16:4 (1987).

Dienst, Richard. Still Life in Real Time: Theory after Television (Post-Contemporary Interventions). Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. Print.

Drucker, Johanna. “Temporal Photography.” Philosophy of Photography 1:1 (2010): 22-28. Print.

Enwezor, Okwui. “Documents into Monuments: Archives as Meditations in Time.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 133-136. Print.

Farr, Ian. “Introduction/Not Quite how I Remember it.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 12-27. Print.

Fiske, John and John Hartley. Reading Television. Florence: Routledge, 1978. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Valdes, Claudia X. “In the Dream of the Planet.” Portfolio. Claudia X. Valdes. 2002. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.

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Figure 1. In the Dream of the Planet (2012). Claudia X. Valdes. Video (Installation View).

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Figure 2. So I Asked… (2014). Ren Adams. Video.

[1] Manovich also suggests it is “relevant to recall that the loop gave birth not only to cinema but also to  computer programming,” thus tying loop logic to database execution—a fundamental 20th and 21st century interface   (Xxxiii)Loops are found in proto cinema and at the beginning of cinema, then re-emerge in new media. (215).
[2] Gordon’s installation incorporates two projection screens which simultaneously play an endless loop of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), one proceeding forward, the other backward. The loops move at only a few frames per second—so slowly that casual viewers may not even recognize change or directional progression at all. Longer consideration of the piece reveals the uncanny, unnerving and crystallized sense of frozen (yet endlessly progressing) cinematic time, as they loop in such long spans, few could sit through the entire motion—even as they are aware of the sweeping loop.

[3] Theorists like Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Paul Sartre suggest the uncanny, layered experience of memory is a process part logic, part hallucinatory. Ricoeur applies some of Henri Bergson’s memory theory, when interpreting Sartre’s psychology of imagination by describing a kind of intermediary memory as a mixed state, where “the ‘memory-image’ [is] halfway between ‘pure memory’ and memory reinscribed in perception” (Farr 14). The memory-image, or mixed media we construct in our minds, is never wholly factual, or entirely reliable, instead a play between the imaginary and conscious, between the interpreted and the understood.

[4] Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Man with a Movie Camera re-enacts the proto-cinematic loop, embedded in longer experimental montage that remains relevant to new media considerations (Manovich xiv, 316).

[5] Manovich suggests “narrative cinema avoids repetitions; like modern Western fictional forms in general, it puts

forward a notion of human existence as a linear progression through numerous unique events” (315-316).

Cinematic linearity is not just a storytelling structure, but an attribution of larger psychological ordering techniques in Modernity.

[6]       At least mainstream/dominant cinema. Avant-garde cinema plays by different rules.

[7] Television theorist Richard Dienst claims television endlessly cuts away from program moments to return to the “traffic of images and sounds, to all the messages carried by all the messengers crossing through the world” (129). This creates a loop of program-commercial-program-commercial.

[8] Artist Nam June Paik echoes television theorists when he suggests “the fundamental concept of TV is time…” (Dienst 159). Television is recorded, produced, cut and offered in terms of time, so time is not only a fundamental concept, but also the fundamental shape of television. The familiar loops we encounter in viewing owe much to the backbone of the medium. Thus, “time is the substance of television’s visuality, the ground of its ontology and the currency of its economy” (Dienst 159).

[9] Their ubiquitous culture-wide return can be attributed to larger postmodern and ‘digimodern’ cultural shifts, not expounded here.

[10] Which more closely resembles oral tradition than novels or theater, where characters repeat, refrains establish elastic structure and context, but in which stories exhibit a kind of fluidity not found in directional cinema. Television has been likened to oral tradition by more than one theorist (Fiske 125). Viewers gain an understanding of characters and events by viewing, digesting and cross-referencing visual information. We get a sense of who Jack Bauer is, not because of lengthy cinematic development, but because we cross-patch, experience and unite threads from 9 seasons of 24. This is similar to the way in which audiences might come to understand the epic poetry or folktales of Odysseus or Coyote.

[11] Cinema and radio are considered ‘hot’ media because they extend and deliver a focused sensation; the viewer or listener watches, listens and receives to gain understanding. Television is considered a ‘cool’ medium because the viewer must do most of the work; “the screen supplies mere metonyms, we make them meaningful” (Reading 123). Because information about characters, events and plotlines are stretched across multiple episodes, even multiple seasons and years, and TV occupies living space, rather than the black box of the focused theater, television asks the audience to perform and engage. Episodes do not even need to be viewed ‘in order’ to garner a sense of the program’s reality. Thus, it is “only at the moment when the semiotic codes interlock with the cultural awareness supplied by the viewer, whose own context will play a part in shaping that cultural awareness” (Fiske 123).

[12] We may catch an advertisement for a new detective show or medical drama and already have a sense of the kind of language, pacing and aesthetics that are likely to be offered, related in part to past viewing experiences, or to general cultural understanding of genres. We know how sitcoms are meant to behave, etc.
[13] Thought it may contain the kind of micro-narrative present in the spinning zoetrope: the vehicles turn a corner, the firemen jump into the engine and leave, etc.
[14]  Arcangel’s Clouds is a new media projection piece, endlessly rebuilt in real time from a modified Super Nintendo game cartridge. The background clouds from Super Mario Brothers provide an infinite, fabricated loop.

In Stan Douglas’ piece, a 16mm Edison Company promotional film is looped under a narration from Proust. In the cycle, a train curves through a British Columbian landscape in an infinite circle (Boyd)(Culley). The voice-over is contemplates the transition from waking to sleeping, echoed in the uncanny monotony of the endless train ride. Here, the loop is at first uncertain. The film lasts 6 minutes—enough time to seem discrete, yet the viewer realizes the train is passing through the same terrain, just as our minds do (especially during the process of recollection). Here, the loop offhandedly illustrates the philosophy of Proust’s memory-grooves (Boyd).

[15] The Cascade is my three-part, interdisciplinary thesis, which includes painting, video and interactive elements. The interactive component also makes use of loops, though it is not discussed here.
[16]  A number of television theorists describe cinema as ‘linear’ and television as ‘mosaic.’ Viewers gain a sense of who the characters are, the world they inhabit and t, mosaic, oral tradition(reading television 125)

[17] Due to my schedule, I was unable to watch the first four seasons of The Office in real time, or in ‘proper’ order. Instead, I watched their non-sequential re-broadcast in syndication, which made no attempt to present the series in linearity. Instead, I saw snippets of the before and after of several relationships and dramatic story arcs, piecing together the total experience by seeing events out of turn. The overall mosaic offered a smattering of details that came into focus only after viewing each puzzle piece separately. I thought of this as a critical motive when constructing my videos, as this is often the case with shows in re-rerun, or for viewers who miss a week’s installment. We understand television as mosaic, and we know how to complete the metonymic role of television (Fiske 123). We are the connotative agents (Fiske 41).

[18] My videos intentionally reference the looping stock footage of the appropriated television programs. Loops invoke re-enactment, whether suggesting repeat activities or behaving as discrete repetitions in themselves. Thus, the overall atmosphere recalls previous stories and future adventures, while flirting with narrative, but not offering closure.  By overturning cultural expectations of narrative progress, the videos undermine the process of viewing that we are most familiar with (Boyd).

Televisual Memory and the Telescoping Fire Station: Landscape as Media-Memory Site – RP2 F14

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Ren Adams
Research Paper 2
Peter Rostovsky – Advisor
September, 2014

Note: Footnotes are below (and relevant), even if page links don’t work.

Read or download PDF version

Televisual Memory and the Telescoping Fire Station:
Landscape as Media-Memory Site

There are wormholes in Southern California; space-time tunnels that link varied points, fusing time with landscape, reality with the vividly scripted. Los Angeles County Fire Station 127 is one such distortion—the perfect metaphor for the conflation of time, place, memory and contingency I refer to herein as the ‘telescoping elastic-space’[1] of mediated landscape. Media impact individual, cultural and historical negotiations, affecting our understanding (and even recollection) of locative forces. Televisual information also informs memory and our associations with real places and events, with little distinction between fiction and fact. Landscapes become dynamic memory-sites—active platforms that condense (and overlay) our perception of time, history and place. This interrelationship becomes multiform when landscapes are recognized or remembered in (and through) television—referencing the way media[2] informs our understanding of space-place, generating connections to distant or imaginary locations and interactions. When we think of a specific, culturally mediated site—including settings only encountered via representation—we engage a spiral of physicality and temporal locality. The site is shaped by the mutable process of remembering and forgetting, by literal and virtual encounters, often without index. This elasticity is ripe for artistic investigation and I probe the condensation of place, time and media-memory in my interdisciplinary installation: The Cascade: Moments in the Televisual Desert. My engagement with the conceptual space-place of Los Angeles County and its entanglement with the real, the scripted, the culturally iconic and the personally mythologized considers landscape a functional site of cultural and geologic exchange. The work attempts to open dialogue between the real, the fantastical and the geologic, conflating place with time and allowing landscape to index a kind of relative oscillation: a memory-textured platform of exchange.

Station 127 (Figs. 1 & 2) occupies a literal, physical location (at 2049 East 223rd Street in Carson, California), simultaneously operating within the scope of fiction, imagination, history and recollection—an active, transient state; a telescope of temporal engagements. In continuous operation since 1967, it has also ‘performed’ as the fictional Station 51 on Emergency! (1972-1977),[3]—and whose interior was replicated on a Universal sound stage, with half of the filming occurring on-site, the other half on a precision simulacrum (Yokley 102).  Through international syndication, the building became familiar to millions—its likeness spanning 129 television episodes, 6 TV movies, syndicated replay, photographs, individual memories (experiential and scripted), the lives of stationed firefighters, actors and producers who worked in its parallel metaverse, the journeys of media pilgrims[4], local populations, Google Street Views,[5] websites, home videos, even fan culture inclusions (fanfiction, fanart). The native desert-urban space of the television program and the humble firehouse present a mythologized America, an elastic platform affecting public understanding (and cultural memory) of the American medical system and of Los Angeles, reframing the region for those who live it, and defining it for those who virtually experience it.[6]

Scholar-artist Renee Green suggests “many people’s earliest recollections now include films and TV or films on TV or played by VCRs. Memories include social and private recollections—how old I was, who I was with, where I was. Films themselves now serve an indexing function to assist in gaining access to memory,” (Green 53).[7]  Returning to our telescoping fire station, LaCo Firefighter/Paramedic Jeff Brum describes his youthful fascination with Emergency!, claiming it directly influenced his decision to become a paramedic; the fiction of media-place influenced his career. Later, Brum was actually stationed at 127 and found the confluence of personal, televisual mythology and lived experience uncanny. The physical reality “still looked like it did in the TV show,” yet Brum was now living the hyper-real by literally embodying a once-mythical media role in life, in the literal, physical location where the show was filmed (Brum qted. in Yokely 103-104). Television narratives themselves have become part of our working memory-experience, blended with the actual to become a ‘hyper-actuality,’ tied to moments, perceived experiences and places. TV distorts our sense of the “situational geography” of social life, allowing us to be present at (and to remember) both real and fictional events that occurred across vast and even imagined geographic locales (Buonanno 19). The limits of physical space no longer solely determine who we are, or what we remember.[8] Dislocated televisual experiences transcend physical geography (Buonanno 86) and, in fact, “where TV confronts the real, or Being, it is no longer easy to say where real ends and the deviation, distortion or diffusion begins” (Dienst xii). In Brum’s case, the two are permanently intertwined.

This phenomenon is not limited to a two-engine fire station, of course. ‘Telescoping elastic-space’ can describe nearly any media-imprinted monument, cityscape, building, or region.[9] The Vasquez Rocks (Agua Dulce, California) are another excellent elastic-point, capable of referencing the collision of the personal-historical and the ubiquitous, packaged nature of ‘experience’ through Hollywood. Google it and you find a wormhole of interrelated and meta-referential material—including screen captures from Star Trek “Arena” (Gorn vs. Kirk!), scenes from Star Trek the Next Generation (which meta-references “Arena”) and The Big Bang Theory, the latter of which features characters in Star Fleet uniforms, performing a media pilgrimage to the site of Star Trek filming fame, as they operate within a fictional superstructure that recognizes both the ‘realness’ of the national park and the media-memory embedded in both viewer and character (inciting future imitation of the imitation).[10] The literal Hollywood-referent site collapses past and present, personal and cultural, underscoring the idea that the Vasquez Rocks are part of a lived, regional experience, even as they embody a semi-fictional fantasy-space which can literally be traveled to, but which requires some act of memory or fabrication to complete the connection. In a broader sense, these memory-resident sites take on a mythical status, a link to the lore of Americana itself (Bourriaud 97). Both fire station and rock formation embody a telescoping rift of extant space, imagined worlds, and personal history.

Television happens in (and affects) real space, in real time, no matter the resulting moments and relationships. The fire station is real. The rocks are real. They are subject to the passage of geologic time and human intervention. Scholar Johanna Drucker suggests “every photograph has temporal dimensions… the time of exposure, historical time, time of development, cropping, the time of reception and circulation—like any other cultural artefact… caught in a web of ‘varying temporalities’ (Drucker 23). This can be expanded to television representation, which is composed of similar temporal dimensions, including the time it takes to film, edit, cut, score, playback, broadcast, syndicate, and so on. The image and its time-sandwich, moving or still, becomes an experiential event. Every reference, episode, story—every encounter with people, the physicality of stucco, bricks, urban density, coastal industry and desert canyons overlay the site-platform, viewable as a collapse of points into one presence; a present that identifies, even revisits, its own history, fiction and future.

The Cascade: Moments in the Televisual Desert extends this flexible, television-inflected space beyond the metaphoric Station 127 to encompass greater Los Angeles County, with its juxtaposed urban-desert environment, endlessly indexed through the specter of Hollywood. I am interested in this landscape as a site of personal, cultural and social exchange—mediated through programs that were filmed there during the height of Hollywood.[11]  As a child, I recognized the collision of my lived reality-space with the fiction of televisual time—the TV screen mirrored my sense of place. Famous programs played out in familiar environments—stores, streets, freeways and regions, forming a simulacrum of my world, or perhaps a wholly present extension of it. This virtual landscape, collaged and montaged, deflated the distance between broadcast and reality, in some ways nullifying the distinction.  Theorist Alfred Shutz suggests—there are “multiple realities” in our life-worlds (Shutz, qted. in Buonanno 75); media-inflected wormholes that form who we are. For Shutz, “TV’s imaginary worlds flow with everyday life; it blurs separateness between orders of reality.” (77), co-existing in multiple states. The TV-mediated landscape becomes a permeating condition not limited to Mojave Desert locals, extending a collage of interpretive micro and macro relationships made possible by telescoping elasticity—as each viewer navigates their own media wormhole.[12]

Video works from The Cascade… deal with this wormhole effect, tackling the fusion and fracture of landscape as it encounters the language of television. To develop videos, I use footage sourced from a handful of television programs filmed in LA County, mutating and manipulating clips in order to emphasize a pervading sense of landscape as root (and catalyst) for media-site experience. I cross-reference actual locations, excavating instances of city and desert, action and interaction, in order to collapse, condense and entangle sequences that defy narrative resolution. Elements tumble in a time-warp montage, flirting with story, yet existing only as suggestions linked by place and space. Events may be concurrent or overlaid on the same spot with years, hours, moments or only seconds between instances. Thus, connections repeat, fracture, loop and expand, folding moments back in on themselves as if caught in a transient spin.

Encounter (Fig. 3) provides an almost theatrical, yet televisual, experience that suggests the rich mythology of the supernatural desert—a well-circulated cultural memory-myth. A web of events occur along the same strip of desert highway, collapsing televisual time around an endless night. The ambiguity combines memory and fantasy as characters negotiate a sequence of encounters—from the suggestion of alien abduction and military conspiracy to the complexity of interpersonal relationships.  Familiarity with the original source material is not necessary, as the language of television remains—as does our cultural awareness of ‘encounter’ tropes. The unstable event ‘simulcasts’ multiple points in telescoping space[13]—actions and events taking place in simultaneity, yet with a fleeting sense of before, during and after: “something happens, is happening, goes on happening…” (Drucker 25). These traces are once removed from their physical location by the original filming, again removed by the act of capturing a temporal instant, then re-entangled with an incomplete, cross-time patchwork. The mutative environments thus inhabit the actual, the imagined and the transient place of recollection, emblematic of a collapsed space conflating personal history, geologic reality and cultural mythology.

The videos attempt a kind of hybrid memory experience; history interceded by television. Repetition even invites the viewer to experience a certain déjà vu, as characters repeat motion sequences and camera zooms. Movement and layers suggest time, though there is no single, grounded moment—instability, ambiguity and contingency speak to the unreliability of memory, geology and Hollywood fabrication. The videos play on theorist Margaret Sundell’s suggestion that “we encounter the struggle to represent ‘what it might be like to momentarily inhabit the gap between an object’s existence and our ability to pin it down” (qted. in Farr 21). It reminds us that for every act of recollection, every fictional performance, there is a physical and experiential subtext—and that media affects our understanding of history, myth, location and identity.[14]  In this case, I attempt to activate a telescoping elastic-space by re-entering the language of video.

TV enables an image of history as an “assemblage of dissembled distances from the instantaneous present” in one respect, but the present is always rebuilding itself, and revitalizing the once-old (Dienst 78), just as television constantly cannibalizes its own history in a continuous present.[15] Telescoping elastic-space connects varied points in time, physical space and personal experience, exhibiting the kind of “televisual flux [that] emits a new kind of history—jumbled, familiar, open—which is never yet ours.” (Dienst 78), yet never completely separate from our perception. It is like the distance between the indexical photo and the digital image which can represent that which never existed, while mediating assimilated cultural (and personal memory) in virtuality. The mutable telescope has no beginning and no particular end. Even after the fire station is demolished, the geologic site remains to link a new series of relationships.

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Figure 1. Los Angeles County Fire Station 127. Screen capture from Emergency! Season 2, Episode 10, “Dinner Date” (1972).

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Figure 2. Los Angeles County Fire Station 127. Google Street View. Google. Image captured Nov. 2011. Web. Accessed 6 Aug. 2014.

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Figure 3. Encounter (2014). Ren Adams. Video.

Works Cited

Bourriaud, Nicolas. “The Journey-Form (3): Temporal Bifurcations.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 96-101. Print.

Buonanno, Milly. The Age of Television: Experiences and Theories. Trans. Jennifer Rice. Chicago: Intellect, Ltd: The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.

Dienst, Richard. Still Life in Real Time: Theory after Television (Post-Contemporary Interventions). Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. Print.

Drucker, Johanna. “Temporal Photography.” Philosophy of Photography 1:1 (2010): 22-28. Print.

Farr, Ian. “Introduction/Not Quite how I Remember it.” Memory. Ed. Ian Farr. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012. 12-27. Print.

“Filming Locations.” The Official Dwight Schultz Fansite Message Boards. The Official Dwight Schultz Fansite. 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.

Green, Renee. “Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae.” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006. 49-55. Print.

McCoy, Kevin. Mentor meeting. 3 Sept. 2014.

Newcomb, Horace. Television: A Critical View. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Reyes, Jorge. YouTube Comment. “Station 51 Inside Tour.” YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 9 Feb. 2013. Web. 3 Sept. 2014.

Yokley, Richard and Rozane Sutherland. Emergency!: Behind the Scene. Sudbury, MA:  Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2007. Print.

FOOTNOTES

[1] It is “elastic” because it is capable of expanding, contracting, mutating and adjusting for each observer and at different times, in different contexts. The telescoping reality of a location includes its physicality, temporality (simultaneous past, present and future as experienced by individuals and groups), its stories and associations…

[2] Cinema also frames our understanding of location, identity—even ideology, but for this paper, I focus on televisual impact and television theory, especially given the vital differences between televisual and cinematic language (Farr 23).

[3] An hour-long, American medical drama produced by R.A. Cinader (Adam-12) and Jack Webb (Dragnet), which had measurable impact on the growth of paramedic and emergency response programs (Yokley V-VI, 16-17). In recognition of the show’s effect on the American medical industry, the Smithsonian inducted equipment (including the BioPhone and helmets) into the National Museum of American History, a fascinating cross-over between the scripted, the iconically hyper-real and the nationalist narrative of the museum-archive (Yokley VI).

[4] Television theorist Milly Buonanno suggests “media pilgrims travel to sites where TV was filmed. The visit can take on a ritual occasion. The rare opportunity to be physically present in the real place where TV was filmed” (79-80). Bridging this gap recognizes the poignancy of real-unreal connections, and liminal spaces between extremes. Visiting the real makes the fictional experience all the more real, even if the pilgrim knows the site is fictionalized.

[5] Shows like Emergency! function as an early form of Google Street View; a proto-virtual-database of streets and locations, caught on tape as establishing shots (McCoy). The actual television footage becomes a semi-documentary process of space-time that reminds us the programs are shot in real, yet mutated, space.

[6] Fan sub-culture, like the memory-seekers at the Official Dwight Schultz Fansite travel to locations captured in The A-Team (1983) which also spans greater Los Angeles County. Fans journey (literally, or via Google Street View) to match television mythology to real sites, discovering which places still exist and which have undergone dramatic change (“Filming Locations”). They build a collaborative archive of material online. For many, their only understanding, or at least their earliest understanding, of California comes from virtual representation. For those who lived there, before or after the original filming, the televisual information adds new depth to the personal experience.

[7] …concepts she actively investigates in her own work. Many of Green’s pieces, like Partially Buried in Three Parts, start with a “genealogical trace” tied to the artist as individual, but which negotiate broader considerations of media as history, monument, and time (Merewether 50). For Green, media allows the viewer to regain a sense of access to past events, while considering the way media itself affects personal, social and cultural social memory (Merewether 53).

[8] Maine artist Matthew Meyer had a connection to, and familiarity with, the California desert, as referenced in The Cascade… though he had never personally been there. His landscape-memory was informed (even created) by the site’s televisual presence. Thus, he related to the artwork, and its referenced sites, through this personal filter. His associations with the desert were mediated through the fabricated specter of popular culture, and this dimensional play between public and private memory is vital to The Cascade…

[9] It can even encompass entire nations and national identities. The image of America presented to non-Western cultures, by way of media distribution, carries with it the kind of interpretive sense of space-place locative media can imply. American heroes and theories, frustrations and ideologies are packaged, either overtly or as blended subtext, within American televisual products. The televisual information become exports subject to a space-place that affects how ‘outsiders’ understand, perceive, and even expect America to behave.

A mentor of mine originally viewed The Wonder Years in India, before moving to the United States. Set in the 1970s and idealistically scripted for a 1980s Baby Boomer audience, the dramedy presented a non-specific, typified American suburban pseudo-reality that my mentor understood as a factual representation of life in America.  In this case, his understanding of American socialization was heavily influenced by the ‘Anywhere, USA’ fantasy that itself was tied to a non-indexical (and metaphoric) version of a typical suburban landscape. He later showed his wife, also from India, the series, in order to give her an idea of what American children experienced in school—though most viewers, myself included, recognized the saturated, sentimental and fabricated nature of the content.

[10] Beyond Hollywood references, the photo deluge includes pets and campers, models and postcards, run-of-the-mill landscape photography, fan remakes of TV sequences, selfies, digital manipulations and official park materials. This whirl of media tourism—fun in itself, is more compelling when we consider the way sites become iconic memory connections between fiction-reality and physical space.

[11] The height of Hollywood-in-Hollywood. Now ‘Hollywood’ as televisual concept includes countless production sources. The project may be rooted in my personal connection to Los Angeles County, but it is important that the landscape of my childhood was itself the body of Hollywood. By 1960, American television was Hollywood (Newcomb 34).

[12] The impact of media-memory on the relationship to site is a textured, multi-faceted web that affects those who lived in the depicted spaces, as well as those who only saw it through television, including others mentioned throughout this paper, like Matthew Meyer, Jorge Reyes, Jeff Brum and members of the Dwight Schultz Fansite.

[13] The site is actually the Vasquez Rocks National Park.

[14] YouTube user Jorge Reyes posted an anecdotal, relevant comment on one fan’s filmic documentary of his media pilgrimage to Station 127: “my parents purchased a 1974 Nova at Cormier Chevrolet, and one morning (sometime in the mid 1970’s) my brother and I accompanied my father to the dealer for car service.  I suggested to my brother (I was about thirteen years old, and he was around eleven.) to go for a walk around the corner, and we encountered the station looking exactly like the one in the program, and as a firefighter drove in, apparently reporting for duty, I confirmed with him that it was the Emergency station, but it was not Station 51; it was Station 127.  I still have the two 110 Kodak film prints, and negatives, that I took that day (I happened to have my Kodak “Hawkeye” 110 camera with me that morning, and I still have that little camera to this day.); one shows my brother in front of the station, and the other is of the refinery-type structures across the street visible on some program exterior scenes.”  Reyes’ personal account ties his childhood experiences to both a system of documentation and confirmation, planting then-contemporary experiences with a show he was already familiar with, still currently watching, and which, years later, still stirs site-based recollection.

[15] Archived and older television still exists with a strange vitality that eludes even classic cinema. The televisual past gets renewed via the abundance and proliferation of specialized viewing (with growing veracity thanks to genre channels and on-demand delivery). Television is a medium that contains its own history and frequently resurrects and cannibalizes it (Buonanno 21). History becomes constantly mediated by viewing it in the endless present. By re-using television from previous decades, I also re-engage the archive, opening and re-contextualizing material with a personal bend that still grapples with undying media tropes.

Major Decisions: The Narrow Way

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Besides being the semester mid-point, my 3rd-semester mid-term coincided with major changes in the final direction of my thesis project, The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert. I plotted several distinct pieces that need to be completed before January and determined the final format and physical considerations of the last part of the triad: the interactive.

So, in addition to continued conceptual investigation, I grappled with medium, technique and materials in a direct way–clearing the “limitless possibilities” that were effectively making part of the project freeze, Hamlet-style, from too many options.

The three-part, interdisciplinary installation will include painting and video, which were already decided, but the possible format of the video, plus the final direction of the third element–the interactive R/W component, were still up in the air.

The interactive component had so many potentialities it became limiting instead of liberating.  I had built and cross-referenced output format lists, based on suggestions and investigations, which implied the third component could take nearly any form–from interactive fiction to downloadable apps–digital images on paper to responsive environments. I had also started down all of those avenues, experimenting without critically tying each output back to my concept.

I did some conceptual housekeeping, sweeping away techniques that did not directly communicate my concept and its ties to televisual experience (output formats like websites, phone apps and Processing referenced digitality flavored by the Internet, speaking less about the nature of television and more about the broader computerized spectrum of 21st century communication). Instead I zeroed in on a form of stereoscopy for the third component, which ties in to memory theory and physical interactivity, while referencing televisual memory on several levels. I’ll do a big reveal later in the semester, but it feels good to weed the garden of endless mediums! The interactive has become stereoscopic. If the stereoscopy does not hold up to more rigorous critique, there are several other formats that can be revisited.

Above: Completed Encounter video.

The video display has been narrowed down from a wild list of on-site projections, digital photo frames, and room-filling environmental shifts to a single monitor or system of multiple monitors which play the videos with out-loud audio on the main display. During the last residency I found viewers were split 50/50 on reception of the videos on a large scale or more intimate size. The larger scale referenced the black box of cinema and filmic language. The smaller scale referenced television. While it would be interesting to construct an enter-able televisual space, with multiple projections in a darkened room, I found that referencing television via the televisual screen makes the most sense, especially the more I’ve dug in to the differences between television theory and cinematic theory. The black box of cinema expects the viewer to sit down and focus on the language of film, much like the novel, which restrains, constrains and uses its own cultivated language–characters and locations are fully rendered in a lengthier window of time than your average television episode, yet it has a much shorter expanse in which to develop virtual relationships than a 24-episode tv season. It’s more complex than this, but in a nutshell, cinema is over-arching, encompassing. Television is episodic, fleeting, but builds a dynamic mosaic for interpretation. We engage with tv on different days, in different moods–but film is meant to be consumed in one shot, one specific length.

Television is a “white box” medium which co-exists in our personal, social and lived-in spaces. We don’t turn the lights down (unless we’re watching a filmic experience on television) to engage with it. Instead, TV occupies a light, lively room. We may pass in front of the box, doing chores, talking, temporarily engaging the screen, getting wrapped up in bursts of sound, snippets of dialogue… it is a medium of oral tradition, of mosaic image-memory, of fragmentary, flowing storytelling. It occupies more hours with us in our physical geographies, in our relationship to friends and family in location-situated space.

Showing the videos on a television-referent monitor as wormholes into time, space, memory, landscape, histopry and television makes sense. Even those who prefer to view television via Netflix or Hulu on computers or mobile devices engage with the media intimately, yet with an odd sense of passive control, small and close. In the white box of the gallery space, it makes sense. With lights on, the rest of the installation lit and occupying pass-through space… it makes sense!

My decision was influenced by discussions with fellow students, faculty, advisors, my mentors–and by viewing a variety of video art projections and installations in person, gauging my response to the physical display, as well as the response of other visitors.

I’d still like to experiment with an all-tv room, or with projections on scrims, but in my gut I know tv will show tv.

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I’ve also narrowed the way further. The sheer amount of material that was filmed in Los Angeles County between 1965 and1989 is staggering. I had initially limited the pool of resources to television, rather than the thousands of hours of cinematic references to the same geographic considerations, because I knew it would be overwhelming.  I also knew the inclusion of film would change the dynamic (and personality) of the language I would be investigating and the forms the project could take. Thus, I had to leave Soledad Canyon gems like Duel (1971) off the table.

These early decisions remain in place. However, the pool of available television is itself a massive, decade-spanning archive. I fielded hours of television time, watching, hunting, scouring, sampling, barely melting that formidable iceberg tip. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my reasons for choosing certain programs are systematic and (hopefully) logical. Even with the guidelines I set for myself, the archive was still too big and expanding too quickly (nearly everyone at the last two residencies has suggested additional programming, additional genres), so I drew the line. I’m not adding any more programs, as tempting as it is (and even as I constantly remember more episodes and programs filmed in these locations!).

I’m finding the ground much more fertile when my ever-expansive view returns home, focused and narrowed on the final stretch.

My crystallized, official schema:

Program Selection

1.) They had to be filmed in Los Angeles County during the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s (the heyday of LA County as the seat of American television filming).

2.) They had to be programs I had originally watched in their first (or partial first) run, or in syndication during those same decades (in-context viewing).

3.) They had to offer some kind of iconographic contribution to the project; the “paramedics” or the “detectives.”

4.) They had to be dramas (I excised sitcoms, cowboy serials and other programs early on, as the language is quite different–though I can see returning to investigate these genres in the future).

5.) They had to be programs I had actually enjoyed watching, or felt some obsessive compulsion to engage with. This is why, for example, Airwolf isn’t on the list. I frankly didn’t like it. This is important for the earnest angle, which leaves sarcastic critique at the door.

6.) I had to be a distilled, representative array, including highly recognizable works paired with obscure memory-traces (a la Douglas Gordon, Renee Green).

For the second half of the semester, I’m planning to complete the rest of the video set, which magnifies various tropes and locations, including Ambush, Airplane (Rental), Car Chase, Auto Accident, Secret Air Base, Sniper, Desert Fire, and Military Action – (titles not final). I’ll be working my way through these with my palette of clips and ideas, though some may carry over to next semester. Plus, I’m working on new digital stills (see the two this post) and I intend to finish the next 2-3 paintings in the series.

And, here’s Pink Floyd’s – The Narrow Way. For the hell of it. http://youtu.be/TJaj_2xsHzc