A moving image program Linda C.H. Lai curated for Art Central 2017 brought together film projection and digital imaging works to show experiments and innovations transcend what we call old and new media…
Moving Images in an Art Fair
On behalf of the Floating Projects Collective, I curated MEDIA X MUMM […] at Art Central 2017 (20-25 March 2017). The works I reviewed were pre-selected as they were works entered by the participating galleries in the event. This is bonus to me from a research point of view: a glimpse of the galleries that are committed to moving images, a still somewhat controversial art species for the art market, and the kind of moving-image works that are “considerable” for a gallery context. It soon became rather obvious that many of these works follow a visual discursive logic I call “recurrence” or, more fashionably, continuous looping, highlighting a flow of visual spectacles that could be appreciated as isolated, autonomous moments, thus freeing viewers from the burden of following visual trajectories to amount to the comprehension of a plotted event. Without the burden of deductive comprehension, these works are all about seeing, ways of seeing and forms of attentiveness oblivious in everyday looking. As gallery objects, digital videos may bear qualities of other art forms and their in-betweens. Many of the 16 digital works are better understood as moving paintings, stitched stills, moving sculptures, evolving collage, animation, or performances that count only as framed events. As for the two film/projection artists, Guy Sherwin […] was trained as a painter, and Lynn Loo […], started out as a musician, and their training finds ways back to moving image making, a time-based medium.
Artists I spoke to, and literature I came across on video in the art market, often point to the need to package video as an art object. This could be installing a video playable on a device into an aesthetic object, packaging the video like an album with text and artwork and so on in order to fit the imagination of an art object for collectors. A rather common practice is to extract stills from a moving image work and sell it like a print or a drawing. There is, of course, a very different kind of collecting activity, such as the Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection of Media Art, the founders of which were among the first to ask how video art should be collected and sold, and which has now become museum treasures. The couple started collecting videos in late 1980s, their first purchase being the videotape of Fischli & Weiss called The Way Things Go. In addition to the New Art Trust they founded in 1997, they have about 200 video works that can be turned on or off as they like in their home. They were already collecting prints and drawings before videos. But to them, video “changes [their] way of seeing and thinking about things.” 
By and large, moving image works are still a precarious territory. I understand if the video work is part of an object like a sculpture or installation, it would be much easier to sell and for higher value. At the 2017 version of Media X Mumm, which I personally titled “Levitated Potentiality,” I deliberately avoided the use of accessories such as cover art and packaging. Instead, I imagined myself “engraving” on one wall four streams of endlessly running images, of orchestrated pulses and contrasting dictions, dynamics of flow and varied rhythms. This is for digital moving images — I want the flow of moving images to address the audience directly, almost nakedly. As for the celluloid session, the display of the 16mm film projector could be a risk. While prints from the projected works are shown on wall for interested collectors, it came as a nice surprise to the gallery that enquiries came in on purchasing the entire installation.
The old & the new media
My resulting curatorial output was realized, as said, in two rooms, one with 3 16mm film projections by Guy Sherwin and Lynn Loo, and the other looping 16 single-channel digital moving-image works by 12 artists formed into 4 image discourses on four digital monitors. Together they form a dialogue between the old (celluloid) and new (digital) media, challenging the binary opposition often assumed in popular writing.
A selection of a total of three 16mm film projections and prints formed the first room: Sherwin’s 2 optical sound-films Eye (2016/1978) and Metronome #2(2016/1978), Loo’s Washi, 2 photographs by Sherwin (Flights and Musical Stairs) and 2 photographs by Lynn Loo (from Washi). Guy Sherwin’s two shorts, 3 minutes each, are part of a longer string of short films […] of the same length that could be re-arranged in any sequential order. This gives his works the quality of a generative ensemble that has potentially infinite iterations, and thus also reminds me of Early Cinema (see below) moments when the exhibitor, who was constantly confronted by the problem of how to create a sensible string of shorts to make visitors come back, was also the editor with creative input. It is important to note that Eye and Metronome stand on their own feet to invite us to experience time differently, as Sherwin anticipates, towards the phenomenology of seeing. One must not, though, forget that these isolated, autonomous experiential pockets of time are part of a metanarrative. Generative quality, the tendency towards re-ordering of sequences, and the collapse of time as measurable units to be replaced by the moment and its presentness, are qualities that mark many works in both sessions of the show.Taking a long view of my selection, I noted more and more of the close link between the two rooms. Lynn Loo’s Washi (16mm film, 2014) and several digital videos challenge the standard assumptions that moving image works must be shot on camera. Lens-less works are found in both sessions. On the digital side, one may say for half of the works on display, the main artistic creative activities do not lie in shooting, but in manipulation of images using software packages. In the “old media” room, a classical medium-specific experiment is clearly at work in both Loo and Sherwin’s works — a reminder of the visitors that the projector is a key part of the cinematic apparatus, except that in mainstream cinema reception the projector is hidden to help spectators focus only on the story that is told in the dark like a dream being played to them. At MEDIA X MUMM, visitors walked around the projectors and curiously studied what a projector was like while listening to the sounds of the machine at work projecting, or even smelling it. It was an unexpected moment of an old medium found new due to new curiosity of the machine. No wonder one journalist talking to me mistook the 16mm projection to be new media: surely, we are so attuned to digital imaging that there is nothing new about it and we have stopped thinking about the “machines” that make them, whereas the unassuming presence of the projectors standing among us invokes at once nostalgia and awesome wonder.
Early Cinema astonishment: celluloid or pixels
Thoughts on Early Cinema (roughly 1895-1907) gathered as I put together the program Levitated Potentiality for Art Central 2017’s Media X MUMM program. Perhaps it is not sheer resemblance.
Early Cinema was a moment of spectacles of attraction, before the term “spectacles” turned stigma of empty consumerist visual pleasure. It was a moment of spectacular attraction invoked by fascination with new machines and their affordance, of spectacles that “shocked” because they enabled viewers to look and pay attention to the world differently. It was a blossoming moment when slice-of-life actualities, trick effects, tableaux vivants, filmed burlesque and vaudeville numbers were equal in their luring present-ness. In Early Cinema, images and motion on a screen addressed our senses directly rather than called for comprehension or decoding exercises. It was a time before the Hollywood studio system’s standardization fell in to delimit our imagination to the demand of a “properly told story.”
The digital component, the Levitated Potentiality series on 4 screens, stock-takes the many ways contemporary moving image artists restore the attraction of spectacles with what new technologies afford them. On screen #1 “Dramaticity”戲場 , Liam Benson’s Fortitudine performs “affect” as an open drama whereas Owen Leong’s silent Infinite Love holds our breath for emotions in search of unknown landings, and so does Shoufay Derz’s Wash Hands on screen #3 “Fixation”鍥而不捨. On screen #2 “The Invisibles”若隱若現 and #4 “Concrete Places”落實地, familiar locations and recognizable places almost all deliriously open the door to unknown spaces – Sarah Choo’s underground world of Hong Kong’s MTR system (Consecutive Breaths), Jess MacNeil’s icy surfaces (Sparrowhawk Single […]), Derz’s desert (Departure without Return #2) and graveyard (Someone Digging in the Ground) – as they invite us to usual experiences of time by offering our attention differently. Localities nonexistent, invented or mutative, such as MacNeil’s Angle of Incidence (screen #4), Aziz+Cucher’s SB Etude II (#1) and Stephen Haley’s Repose […] (#4), are spectacles made possible in post-camera moments of creativity. Likewise, the choreographic-graphic magic of Rashaad Newsome’s Knot […] (screen #2) is only possible with packaged effects. Postcard eXotica (#1) by Diego Ramirez […] looks like a complex story, or one simply enjoys a string of loosely strung together performances for the camera interspersed with found film footage. Sylvia Schwenk […] and Hannah Raisin […] remind us not to forget the power of the camera’s presence. Raisin’s Soak I (#4) asserts temporal integrity as the video camera’s signature through “duration” and playfully uses water as a frivolous found lens. Schwenk, in her Five Prison Stories (#4), inconspicuously marks the gap between what we see and what we hear, which upsets the hierarchy we take for granted in sight and sound synchronization. In Flow (screen #4) and Unroll […] (screen #1), the visual puns of Anna Carey […] apply “regular” film language to handmade models.
What was formerly known as video art should more appropriately be called “digital imaging”: moving images made with or without a camera, oriented towards composing over recording, and highlighting what is visually potential over what is found.
The “screen” in digital imaging must not be taken for granted. It is a productive device with four frame lines generating magical games of seeing.
Questions of a different sort…
These benefits also return to us due questions. How has packaged software in the marketplace delimited our aural-visual experiences? What does it mean to engage with digital tools that conceal rather make transparent digitality as artistic raw material? What should artists do to keep open the infinite aural-visual realm? What is the place of the camera? What is a camera? How have art galleries, a relatively fresh art market for video pieces, shaped the practice of digital imaging? Levitated Potentiality has embodied many questions and answers.
As for Hong Kong’s own status of innovations in moving images, that fact that we have had a strong commercial cinema could be over-bearing. Tthe influence of film industry results in an indulgence in story-telling. There is nothing wrong about telling innovative stories, but it also means that many video artists are not necessarily part of the contemporary art world and may even be positioned outside of the gallery system. The so-called “playing with video” is just an exercise preparing one to enter the film industry one day. From an anthropological point of view, many short or experimental videos produced since the late 1980s place a very strong emphasis on the documentation of everyday life. And this has a lot to do with video recognized as the chosen medium by artists for commentaries – social, economic or political. If you look at video artworks in Hong Kong, you find that they are interested in revealing the ordinary, everyday lives of people. Put together as a group of works spanning across 20 to 30 years, they form an alternative history of the city, which is unlike accounts in the news media, which usually focus on “significant” political events or economic crisis. (Linda Lai, 28 March 2017)
 Rachel Corbett: “How I Collect: Pam Kramlich on Pioneering the Market for Video Art,” Artspace 3 July 2013. [link…]