Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Film Strip image from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 31, 2016

Event Summary: "The Art of Scale" with Aymar Jean Christian

At the inaugural meeting of the Chicago Film Seminar for the 2016-2017 academic year, Aymar Jean Christian of Northwestern University presented on his current research project, Open TV Beta, a production and distribution platform for independent web series and pilots by queer, trans and cis-women and artists of color. Mobilizing the concept of scale to analyze the development of work by Open TV artists, Christian argued that “production value” has different meanings at different production scales.

For small scale productions, like the work produced through and for Open TV, Christian argued that production value no longer depends upon a logic of scarcity (in which resources are rare and competition for resources is key) and that instead production value resides in a logic of capacity (in which resources are seen as something to be mined from what is available in community). In his talk, Christian focused on how space, time, and culture were utilized in Open TV productions from the 2016 season with an emphasis on mining and building capacity.

To build production value and capacity through strategic use of time, Open TV pilots crafted focused narratives that highlighted culturally specific writing and featured interdisciplinary performers who could take on several production roles at once. For example, Let Go and Let God was able to achieve a highly efficient set through foregoing sync sound in favor of telling story through dance while Southern for Pussy limited the story to a single set in order to emphasize visual style. Like Southern for PussyNupita Obama Creates Vogua also used a single set to create production value through strategic use of space. According to Christian, limiting locations and drawing on available spaces from within a community allowed artists to focus on building production value based on character development and culture knowledge. Cultural knowledge itself is a form of “production value” for Christian, and he argued that queer identity creates value for productions that draw on artists’ personal experiences, connections, and subcultural knowledge. A film about Chicago drag culture, Lipstick City, offered a clear example of how queer identity produces the production value of cultural sincerity.

In his response, Neil Verma of Northwestern University noted that the opposition between scarcity and capacity has been a key fulcrum organizing artistic practices from sculpture to dance to mass media, and he suggested that Christian’s work here opens up new questions about the relationship between quantity and quality in media production. He also suggested that Christian’s research project queers the border between production and pedagogy. 

The audience raised a variety of additional questions, including a question about what it means to still call this work “television.” Christian responded that, although he sees web series as an important shift away from the massive amounts of content that television production currently generates and towards considerations of art, he still considers web series to be “television” because the focus is on character-driven stories that unfold over time. In response to a question about whether the production value of queer identity could be described with the term “authenticity,” Christian argued for the use of the word “sincerity,” from John L. Jackson’s Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity. Unlike authenticity, which suggests something absolute, sincerity is something that is negotiated in relation, and is at issue in camp performance, as Christian has explored in an article title “Camp 2.0.”

Upcoming Events and Announcements:

The Great Lakes Association for Sound Studies had its first meeting on October 21st, with a presentation by Jim Lastra among other business. Their Facebook page can be found here:

The conference Seeing Movement, Being Moved: An Exploration of the Moving Camera took place at the University of Chicago October 27-29. More information can be found here: 

Link Roundup:

Open TV – Beta
Let Go and Let God
Southern for Pussy
Nupita Obama Creates Vogua
Lipstick City
“Camp 2.0: A Queer Performance of the Personal” by Aymar Jean Christian
“Daughter, Mother, Mirror: Zackary Drucker's Southern For Pussy” by Nicole Erin Morse

All images courtesy of Aymar Jean Christian and Open TV - Beta