essays, video
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text reflection – hito steyerl

“The poor image has been uploaded, downloaded, shared, reformatted, and reedited. It transforms quality into accessibility, exhibition value into cult value, films into clips, contemplation into distraction. [..] The contemporary hierarchy of images, however, is not only based on sharpness, but also and primarily on resolution.”

Hito Steyerl

Demons is an experimental film/ music video collaboration with a sound designer/ composer based in Belgium and a singer/ songwriter in Italy. The narrative concept focuses on mental illness ~ we drew inspiration from the Miss Havisham character (‘Great Expectations’) imagining her in her younger years; imagining how her story might be different if she suffered from mental illness. The concept was developed and shot in 2014/15, and while we spent the better part of 2015/16 editing the footage together, life got in the way of the project getting off the ground. Two of us had deaths in the family, which necessitated putting the project on hold for extended periods. The marketing never fully came together. The launch was again postponed until 2019, as it was intended to coincide with launch of their new album, which has seen similar delays.

To me, the video now looks dated. Next to the crispness of 4K video, Demons looks like a product of an era gone by, and somehow subordinate to more contemporary video, regardless of how strong and well constructed the story might be. I feel, the example in Steyerl’s article, of the Woody Allen film where blurriness becomes a metaphor for class/ upward mobility, seems to ring true for the Demon’s work. “Focus is identified as a class position, a position of ease and privilege, while being out of focus lowers one’s value as an image” (Steyerl). The dated resolution, seems to reduce clarity on how to position, where to place this work and amongst which audience… resulting in an identity crisis of sorts.

Steyerl’s essay is notable as it was published in 2009, at the height of Youtube’s imminent rise ~ founded in 2006 to become the dominant streaming platform by 2010, yet pre-dating commercial interest as a viable media distributor for broadcast-quality content. It was around this time that I started working in video. Before then, I spent two years trying to paint (and was horrible at it!), but painting began to permeate my video aesthetic. I became inspired by the ‘scratch video’ movement— video collage of the VCR era, projected in 80s London/NYC nightclubs, often constructed from popular TV to create politically subversive meaning. I fused my actual paintings with video I captured, text I created and found footage (ie. open-source cartoons from the 1940s), to meld abstractions in my video work.

An example of this is my CYOA Rhythms installation, based on 5 independent video works which have been used in different contexts, collaborations and site-specific installations. CYOA Rhythms has been shown in various incarnations (projections, on screens, as a conceptual research project, in a film festival, etc), but in my mind, it suffers from resolution-datedness. I would like to revisit this installation, but introduce it with a layer of code to infuse some interactivity. I feel like an infusion of code might create a juxtaposition that makes the work feel more contemporary.

Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image.” e-flux. Nov 2009. Web. Nov 27, 2018.  

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