腹語系:微敘思考 “The Ventriloquists… Thinking Narratively | 4-17 July 2020 (2:00-8:00pm Tue-Sun) | video dreamwork, thought paths as montage sequences, sight-and-sound data visualization of well-known moving image works, creative and critical writing on narrativity | 63 works by young artists from the School of Creative Media’s BA program. Why do we install so many voices into Floating Project’s limited space? | 夢式敘事。影像/圖像蒙太奇。聲影數據圖像分析名作。探索敘事的創作性及評論文字。 | 63 個創意媒體學院文學學士課程的年青創作者的聲影訴說。為何於此時此地在「據點」有限的空間群星匯聚?2020年7月4-19 下午二至八逢星期二至日。

**key visuals used in poster: Madeleine Chan’s “Cartography of Ideology,” a pictogram for the film The Way Things Go (Fischli & Weiss); poster design and feature image: Madeleine Chan

***The Ventriloquists series (newsletter of the exhibition, daily updates)

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Every breaking away from the conventional, dead, official cinema is a healthy sign.
We need less perfect but more free films. …
There is no other way to break the frozen cinematic conventions than through a complete derangement of the official cinematic senses.
— from Jonas Mekas‘ “true diaries” (1959.02.04) — “Call for a Derangement of Cinematic Senses”

 

***中文撮譯在英文論述之後

 

It is far from just another student works exhibition…

Summer is here, typically 33 degrees Celsius in June and July. Is typhoon Mangkhut’s next of kin dawning to give us a wild shake like the last Mid-Autumn Festival?… Cycles of life repeat and it’s up to us to recycle with impactful differences. In about 14 days in May, I put to rest 360 student works so their makers could move on with grades that promise some kind of a future into the interregnum. But I could hardly shut down the ambiences I still feel, nor the jockeying thoughts that have challenged my complacency. Enigmatic some works are, the intensity of craftsmanship marks them for the worth of their own existence. In my mind’s eye, I could see them lost in thoughts, crafting words and images. Was such intensity driven by isolation, forced by the lock-down, invoked by depression and desperation, or incited by the urge to rise above the water? I gather that before I forget, and before I’m more “drowned” in problem-solving for the next academic year, I’d better find a habitat for these somewhat unruly articulations so they can be recalled and revisited one day. Seldom has it happened that I’m afraid of not remembering well…

This summer, remembering is the essence of our existence.  Remembering-and-recalling was once associated with nostalgia, but that’s too much an inflection of postmodern pastiche. I appeal to Walter Benjamin who describes the images we made of the world are “thoroughly colored by the time to which the course of our existence has assigned us to” (Illuminations 1969, 253). I find this a liberating way to think of the dynamic relations between art and society. Benjamin’s quote points both ways: how our milieu and the world out there incite individual artists to take specific actions, and how taking a long view we may find subtle yet still recognizable resonances from within a community over time.

2019-2020-HK-streets-shopping malls-parking complexes-MTR stations — that’s the shared chronotope (M.M. Bakhtin) in which we create and yet there’s no unison in the voices I have heard. Each articulation is unique, a shift in sentiments, a deviant mark of known textures; and so each work is a world of its own, the personal history of its maker concealed yet presencing. You see a clock, you see an ordinary street scene of our city, you see a young woman standing in front of the mirror… Without the need of much explication, each stands out and speaks a special tongue. So remembering is not exactly commemoration — it is far more personal and full of blank spaces for the injection of subjectivities whereby our articulation could be point-blank to enigmatic.

In face of many more future cycles unimaginable we shall have to survive, let’s preserve the multitudinous yet subtle articulations of the moment. Preserve them, so we can listen intensely to the unspeakable. What I fear is the total loss of those voices that utter fearlessly to want to be heard. What do we do to extend their shelf life for a good chat?

 

Experiments

The works that form The Ventriloquists are from different creative assignments in the course of 13 weeks, all intermedia in nature, and trans-category in character.

(1) The first group, now called “Thought Paths,” are montage sequences, which allow primarily still images (found or made) and one short video fragment to explore the horizontal spread (time-based trajectory) and vertical thickness (processual textures) of narrativity.

(2) The second group, Pictograms, is an exercise of narrative analysis via transmediation. The analysis of a well known moving image work (e.g. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai, Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon, Jiri Trnka’s The Hand,  Zbigniew Rybczynski’s Tango, Sarah Pucill’s Magic Mirror, Christopher Nolan’s Inception etc.), then extended to include short stories and experimental literature (e.g. by Italo Calvino and the OuLiPo), will be presented as sight-and-sound data visualization that combines methods drawn from music scoring, map-making, chronology and story-boarding.

(3) The third group of works are short videos: they could be dreamwork, theme-based persuasion, or generative moving-image construction, 2-4 minutes long, all answering to the criteria of rigorous narrativity.

(4) A fourth type are writings, either a piece of experimental creative writing exploring generative literature, or a response essay to theoretical writings on narrative theories in film, game design, and interactive world-building.

(5) A final group of work are elaborate concept plans for an interactive world-building narrative game.

Selections from Group (4) and (5) will be published on Floating Teatime during the exhibition period.

 

a pictogram by Madeleine Chan for an episode of Queneau’s Exercises in Style

 

Experimental spirit

“Every breaking away from the conventional, dead, official cinema is a healthy sign. We need less perfect but more free films. If only our younger filmmaker — I have no hopes for the old generation — would really break loose, completely loose, out of themselves, wildly, anarchically! There is no other way to break the frozen cinematic conventions than through a complete derangement of the official cinematic senses.” This is a quote from Jonas Mekas‘ “true diaries” on 4 February 1959, an entry titled “Call for a Derangement of Cinematic Senses,” when he was 37. At that time, Stan Brakhage already started making his “everyday” films (e.g. Cat’s Cradle), an avant-garde move that Mekas joined in mid to late 1960s, notably with Walden in 1969 generally acknowledged as representative example of the “diary film.”

The 13 on-line meetings during the COVID-19 lock-down (February to April, 2020 in a course titled “Narrative Strategies & Aesthetics of Time-Based Art) is about experimentation. Yet no experimental practice really stands without engaging with history — to affirm artistic achievements while differentiating what is critically sustaining an art form and what is just a matter of sheer conventions of specific moments that are doom to decompose or ossify as they gradually lose touch with the forceful origins of innovation. COVID-19 has perhaps pushed many of us into depression or even claustrophobia. Take a different perspective, the young artists here have maximized their creativity with minimum resources. Brakhage, Mekas, and many female diary film innovators in the 1970s-1980s would all stand by us.

If I could go to the mountain tops and scream, I would protest against how the rich concept of narrative has been hijacked to mean well-told stories only of a specific tradition, turned into a global norm due to economic expansionism. One result of this is the dissociation of narrative concepts from documentary, poetry and animation, among others, in our everyday usage of the term. At the core of narrativity is the unfolding process and what makes up that process. It could be the unfolding of an argument, a purposeful persuasive discourse, a thought path of expressed sentiments or the formal delineation of the irrational side of our consciousness such as in the form of dreamwork. The core of anything called documentary is the formation of an argument, carefully selected assemblage of facts and details, a mode of persuasion advanced through alignment and juxtaposition of facts. As for animation, narrativity connects with many art forms (painting, illustrations, puppet show, sculpture etc.) and often a natural outgrowth of the material deployed, such as charcoal in William Kentridge’s works or sand-on-glass, paint-on-glass and scratched celluloid in Caroline Leaf’s works. [1] The narrative substance in both Kentridge and Leafs’ works is the work of controlled automatism built on the imaging material’s physical properties, without any use of storyboarding.

 

Constellations … Ventriloquists thinking narratively

The 63 plus many other works not on display do not grab me for their perfection though they also exemplify craftsmanship. Short montage works cross the boundaries between still photography, recording, shooting, drawing, sketching, collaging and animation…; and many a dream state is materialized as dreamwork enigmatizing raw emotions. Pictograms of moving image works strengthen the skeleton of sight-and-sound unfolding…

The Ventriloquists, who voice out skilfully through something else, form a constellation of sight-and-sound surfaces, the clash of countenances. Together an ensemble of feeble voices preserved to form a sonorous, anti-orchestral symphonic clash.

Narratively speaking, the individual ventriloquists are all practicing their own reasoning, from point to point, from details to details. Each work is a world. Each work is a cluster of history, like meteors arriving in our realm of visibility from thousands of millions of space travel, from somewhere… And this is how I envisioned this on-site display… To accommodate 63 works in Floating Projects’ minus-800 sq ft exhibition space facilitates; the show becomes the challenging clustering of silence and presence, utterances and absence. It may be fully stuffed, perhaps skilfully concealed, yet quietly inviting and contemplative. Shhh… Listen up.

Exhibition period extended to 19 July 2020

 

poster designed by Madeleine Chan

炎夏在此,呼一口氣。看著一個剛剛完滿的又一個循環,學期早已劃上了句號,桌面上 360 個形象圖和活動短片,各有個性難以歸類,都同樣是對「敘述」(narrative) 的定義敲上問路的門,大膽推開,問著:「我這個作品故事性極微,談得上敘述理論嗎?」

因著一個我愛的藝術家的一句話,過去的十幾年好像得到了有重量的總結。我可以站一站,然後再上路。Jonas Meka (美國實驗電影及日記電影開創者之一)說:

「我們需要少些完美的電影,但需要多些自由的電影。」我覺得他簡單有力的說盡了我用幾千字也說不完的苦衷。這句話,大概是為甚麼我還在做錄像。這大概是為甚麼我有意、懷疑也盡力的陪著「微敘事」的方向去教學、處理影像歷史、推動錄像宣言」;。這大概也勾畫了「據點。句點」對影像的一種核心價值,也延伸至藝術創作的整體。

造夢是一回事。點夢延夢又是另一回事。兩種「夢」有著天淵之別。

點夢延夢需要膽量。這匯展的63個作品的創作人如何想法?只知道,夢延向現實是可以的,也發生過。這陣子都想著這些。而且,知道有膽量是一回事,有策略,問題逐步解拆是另一種的氣魄。我們很需要,也覺著他/她們有這樣的氣量。

暑假很快會淡出。這個尚正徘徊於進退之間的過渡 — 香港、我們 — 可如何「記住」此刻,存留當下?當下,「記住」突然變得至要。「記住」可以是懷緬、懷舊,可以很浪漫,自我增強。處於眼前的這個「句間」又或「空白時期」,「記住」是留個印記、暗號,證明我們曾經在這裡、都存在過,而且不是空泛模糊的存在或只是別人的依附,而是特定的時空和語境裡,擁有過瞬間卻複合的感思,字句無法盡載,關注又未必趕上大潮流,而且幹著活。「群體」的瞬間(不是組織)的合力可以如何讓眾聲喧鬧,又相互扶持?

63個作品合體為星群,微聲合洪亮的協奏,不分主副:夢式敘事,線性的歧路花園。影像/圖像蒙太奇,似動畫非動畫,另類邏輯。圖像數據分析名作,地圖、樂譜、故事板通通挪用。「敘事」並不是一個剛陽浩大的超級理論。它是一個推動我們進入行動式思考的樞紐。「敘述」、「敘事」絕對不能被壓縮為「紀錄」、詩詠、抽象表述的相反;而「故事」,只不過是「敘事性」眾多目標之一。「敘」是層層剖開,步步推進;「述」強調發聲,把未能看見的化為可被感知的。在這個13週的「閉門」實驗所裡,「敘述」有很多外號 — 情節構築、思路、歧路花園、夢的結構、論述、聲影逐步展現的弧度、意識形態等等。最要緊的,是《腹語系》裡的作品群,個性不一,都直指「敘述性」的思考的豐盈成果。COVID-19 的家居限令帶來了情緒低落,反過來,我們嘗試用最限量的資源把創意推到極致。

 

Notes

[1] See “An interview with Caroline Leaf in English” on www.carolineleaf.com › PDFs 

Related Reading:

Go to Event Post for The Ventriloquists, 4-19 July 2020