Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, November 15, 2010

Summary: Andrew Johnston, “Coding Patterns: The Algorithmic Mechanisms of John Whitney, Larry Cuba and Early Digital Animation”

On Thursday, Nov 4, Andrew Johnston of the University of Chicago delivered his talk “Coding Patterns: The Algorithmic Mechanisms of John Whitney, Larry Cuba and Early Digital Animation,” from a chapter of his dissertation. Jon Cates, from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, provided the response.

Johnston proposed an understanding of digitality based in what he likes to call the “stuff of the digital” – its materials, the processes by which it works and is made, its hardware and its software. To do this he explored the techniques used by abstract animators John Whitney and Larry Cuba to create digital films in the 1960s and 1970s. Using research from interviews he conducted with the filmmakers and programmers as well as from a study of the Whitney archives, Johnston described the complex and time-consuming (as well as time-delayed) methods by which Whitney and Cuba developed computer animation from what might be understood as the aesthetics of the algorithm. Whitney’s animation signaled an attempt to produce an abstract visual art of motion structured in time which has a perceptual impact that is akin to the one music can generate. Unlike other forms of animation, his films are not meant to transport the viewer into a transcendent state or otherly world of abstraction. Rather, it is meant to generate an aesthetic pleasure rooted in the eye, one based in pattern recognition.

Addressing the uneasy placement of animation in the discipline of film studies, and the even more uneasy understanding of abstract digital animation within studies of animation, Johnston argues that animation is the technological programming and projection of movement, a definition that highlights the way in which animation is born from a technological articulation and ordering of artifacts – a definition that can encompass traditional animation of sequentially-ordered photographs, direct animation on celluloid frames, or the inputting of code to render images. Each process, Johnston notes, is dependent upon a technologically mediated process of selection that results in the projection of an arrangement of images in moving succession. Whitney, for one, recognized the similarities between these different procedures and likened the inputting of code to the manipulation of discrete frames of film.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Summary: Christian Quendler, "Camera-Eye and Dispositif: Descartes vs. Vertov"

On Thursday, Oct. 14, the Chicago Film Seminar convened at the SAIC for its first regular meeting of the year (following the September roundtable discussion that kicked off this year’s programs). Christian Quendler of the University of Innsbruck, currently a visiting scholar at Northwestern University, delivered a talk entitled “Camera Eye and Dispositif: Descartes vs. Vertov,” from a longer essay-in-progress. Yuri Tsivian from the University of Chicago provided the response.

Quendler’s talk brought together the philosophical implications of a pre-cinematic notion of the camera eye rooted in Descartes’ philosophy of subject and Vertov’s notion of the kino-eye. Following Joachim Paech’s writings on Deleuze, Quendler posited a nuanced gradation of the medial aspects of dispositif by adding the rhetorical notion of the disposition and the psychological category of disposition to the discussion. Using Descartes’ and Vertov’s competing models of camera eye, Quendler mapped out the interrelations between media, discourse and senses. The dispositif refers to a space of interaction and communication between subject and object that is organized by media assemblies where things become visible and virtually available to be identified discursively. The disposition refers to an intentional ordering of things in discourse in order to achieve a certain persuasive effect, or the logic or grammar that structures an argument. Disposition may be considered as a virtual system of knowledge in contrast to the actual manifestations of knowledge. As a triad, these concepts structure the intervening spaces where intentionality as the flow between subject and object is refracted.

In his discussion of Vertov, Quendler noted that writings on the kino-eye illustrate the state of in-betweenness attributed to the dispositive. It blends subject and object as well as being and praxis. The paramount goal of the kino-eye is kinesthetic resolution, which can be correlated to Descartes’ notion “seeing better”. However, while Descartes’ imperative is geared towards ascertaining an autonomous object, Vertov’s resolution is best described as the visceral effect that result from calibrating technology to the chaos of life. In a Deleuzian sense, Quendler asserted, the kino-eye represents a threshold where different kinds of discourse break and discourse. Vertov’s kino-eye aligns with a highly heterogeneous discourse regime, which raises the question of the discursive order. Quendler views Vertov’s kino-eye as a model of camera vision that places an emphasis on “seeing more.” In contrast to Descartes, the visceral appeal of the kino-eye conceives of a linkage between camera and eye as “internal organs.” In its experimental alignment of medial and dispositional structures, the kino-eye generates a discursive order that is radically at odds with Descartes’ method of discourse and classical notions of subjectivity.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Session #3: Andrew Johnston on Early Digital Animation (Nov 4)

It's that time again! This Thursday, November 4, the Chicago Film Seminar welcomes Andrew Johnston, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago to present his talk "Coding Patterns: The Algorithmic Mechanisms of John Whitney, Larry Cuba and Early Digital Animation." Jon Cates, Associate Professor of Film, Video, New Media & Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will provide the formal response before opening Q&A to the whole group.

Here is the brief abstract Johnston has submitted in advance of his talk:

This paper examines the development of digital filmmaking and animation technologies in the 1960s and 1970s through an analysis of John Whitney and Larry Cuba’s films. Whitney made some of the first digital animations while an artist in residence at IBM from 1966-1969 and later worked with a variety of programmers through the 1970s, including Larry Cuba on "Arabesque" (1975). Through an analysis of the materials employed in the construction of Whitney and Cuba’s films, my paper attempts to make an intervention into contemporary discourses that highlight the ephemeral nature of digital film or that neglect the importance of how specific platforms and programming languages affect both visual aesthetics and notions of digital technology. I show how these filmmakers were each deeply invested in working through a negotiation with digital technology that attempts to reveal both the mechanism’s expressive logic and its limitations while simultaneously exploring the nature of animation.

Location: This session will meet in our usual space, at the School of the Art Institute, 112 S. Michigan Ave, Room 1307, starting promptly at 6:30pm.