As much as this is a dynamic process, with aims subtly shifting and discoveries constantly being made, it grew out of certain inspirations and reflection. Those don't shift as often, and frankly, I would be worried if they did. Last year, in my critical review, I mentioned my main theoretical and practical references, trying to project them into a prosepctive professional field. For the sake of comprehensiveness, those influences should be listed again, therefore I'll repeat them here, marking all the updates and additions with this colour.
Position in the field:
# Theoretical references:
Philosophical foundations of my work were laid by a whole range of nietzschean and antiplatonist philosophers for whom the meaning is inherently connected with the form. Referring to Nietzsche himself, vitalist philosophers such as Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, to Charles Sanders Peirce's pragmatic theory of signs, founders of critical theory and poststructuralism as well as iconology and cultural analysis, I was able to construct a firm theoretical frame for my inquiries into the process of audiovisual thinking. Since listing all my inspirations in here would defy the purpose of this review, I'd like to mention just a few names crucial to my ongoing research:
- Walter Benjamin - whose Arcades are up to this day the biggest achievement of analytical reappropriation, constantly proving that the epistemological arrangement (remix) might provide more valuable observations than axiomatic deduction. Furthermore, Benjamin's objectives for Arcades are as convergent with mine as it ever gets:
This project must raise the art of quoting without quotation marks to the very highest level. Its theory is intimately linked to that of montage
Pedagogic side of this undertaking: to train our image-making faculty to look stereoscopically and dimensionally into the depths of the shadows of history
- Aby Warburg - A forefather of the modern iconology, whose precursory Mnemosyne-Atlas was an attempt at creating purely visual art-historical study. Abandoning language, he began juxtaposing reproductions of paintings, photographs and other visual materials with no regards to chronology or established order of styles. Using montage as his primary tool he was able to utilize the aesthetical and affective qualities of the objects in his critical inquiry, evoking unexpected associations, sensations and conclusions. In this graphic, metaphoric encyclopedia, with its constellations of symbolic images, he tried to animate viewer's memory and imagination to embrace the pathosformel of antiquity. With pathosformel being an indissoluble intertwining of an emotional charge and an iconographic formula in which it is impossible to distinguish between form and content his methods couldn't be more inspiring for my study of cinematic gestures.
- William John Thomas Mitchell - One of the most famous iconologists around. Few years ago, he really shook the paradigm of the field by asking about images' own needs. His famous book "What do Pictures Want?" treated visual artifacts as subalterns (A person who is marginalized and oppressed by the dominant culture, especially in a colonial context) who were denied the right/ability to speak. Verging on animism, Mitchell bluntly claims that we should develop an ethical stand towards images and listen to what they might communicate, regardless of their authors' intentions:
My aim in What Do Pictures Want? is thus not to project personhood onto pictures, but to engage with what I call "the lives and loves" of images. So, while I like very much Mieke Bal's concept of "art that thinks," I don't want to begin with the assumption that it always thinks like us. The principles of vitalism and animism require that we also take account of what are sometimes called "lower" forms of consciousness—mere sentience, for instance, or sensuous awareness, responsiveness, as well as forms of memory and desire. What we call thinking (in images or in living things) goes deeper than philosophical reflection or self-consciousness.
Among his crucial ideas are also those of METAPICTURE (that I already discussed in previous chapter) and WORD/IMAGE. What also calls for further notice in regard to artistic research is his reflection on disciplinary boundries in visual analysis:
From the standpoint of disciplinarity, this means something more than the familiar invocation of "interdisciplinarity," which in my view is a bit too safe and predictable (I've argued this elsewhere in an essay entitled "Interdisciplinarity and Visual Culture"). I prefer a notion of image science and visual culture as sites of what I want to call "indisciplinarity," moments of breakage, failure, or deconstruction of existing disciplinary structures accompanied by the emergence of new formations (to some extent this is probably a reflection of my long-standing attraction to anarchist theories of knowledge, the sort pioneered by Paul Feyerabend). It is clear, to begin with, that images do not belong exclusively to any single discipline—not semiotics, or art history, or media studies, or even cultural studies (if it is a discipline). Their study compels us to be interdisciplinary at a bare minimum, just as paleontology requires that its researchers be geologists, biologists, anatomists, and artists.
- Laura U. Marks - Media theorists and artist with a rare talent for theoretical synthesis. Her studies of so called skin of the film and alternative tacticle models of film analysis already inspired my Master thesis devoted to genre formulas in Bruno Dumont's films. Lately, she's been largely preoccupied with the concept of enfolding/unfolidng esthetics. Merging Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Lacan and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, she managed to construct a simple and convincing model of human perception:
We have long sensed that representation was not where the real action lay in contemporary art and popular culture. Images themselves are increasingly composed of information. Visual images, aural images, tactile images, and even gustatory and olfactory images - tastes and smells - often index not raw experience but information. In general, the most important events in contemporary society do not occur at the level of the image but at the level of information; they are imperceptible [...] I have chosen the terms enfolded and unfolded (or their Latinate synonyms, implicate and explicate) to echo Gilles Deleuze's explication of the Baroque aesthetics of Leibniz. Leibniz's principle that the smallest element of matter is a fold makes it possible to conceive of the plane of immanence as composed of infinite folds. The actual is thus infinitely enfolded in the virtual. To actualize something is to unfold it. How do things that are virtual - that are immanent in Experience - become actualized? They are drawn into being by the magnetic pull of one of the other planes. They are selected, from the infinite expanse of Experience, to be actualized. They unfold from Experience to become Information. They unfold to become Image.
# Practical References:
Since my research revolves around a notion of the video essay, my default frame of cinematic references starts with forerunners of the very concept of thinking through images and sounds, such as Sergei Eisenstein and heirs to Alexandre Astruc's idea of camera-stylo (camera as pen) from the so-called left bank Nouvelle Vague (i.e. Chris Marker, Agnes Varda). Nonetheless, it is the combination of strictly cinematic forms of analysis with the digital computing that could prove to be most fruitful in researching audiovisual objects in their expanded postcinematic forms and environments. The common factor of those initiatives seems to be that their input and output contains moving images. Although new names for this phenomenon pop up almost everyday, the most prevalent one seems to be: "Videographic Film Studies". They come in many forms, but all reenact videos as videos and enable us to preserve distinctive characteristics of audiovisual object that otherwise would be "lost in translation". With free video-editing software, nearly infinite availability of digitalized films and platforms of distribution, the process now have bottom up dynamics and critical video essays spring on video hosting services and websites devoted to video-criticism. Among those that I'd like to investigate further are:
Theoretical video essays created by the academic film scholars and critics (i.e. Catherine Grant, Kevin B. Lee, Adrian Martin and Cristina Álvarez López) / Essays submitted to [In]Transition – the first peer reviewed video-essayistic journal.
Supercuts (fast-paced montages of short video clips that obsessively isolate single elements from their sources, - usually words, phrases, or clichés from film and TV. Often called video memes; i.e. Harry Hanrahan)
Video essays incorporating hyperlinks and other features provided by web hosting services (i.e. Matt Zoller Seitz)
Historical video essays and making ofs included on DVDs (i.e. Criterion Collection)
CARPE (Computational and Algorithmic Representation and Processing of Eye-movements) and DIEM (Dynamic Images and Eye Movements)
Lev Manovich's Style Spaces
Refractive essay films, identified by Timothy Corrigan as those, which do not simply describe or document filmic or other aesthetic practices but specifically engage them within an essayistic arena that abstracts the very activity of thinking as a cinematic process.
# Professional Field:
For the past 8 year, I've been building an extensive network of contacts within Polish critical environment, film festival circuit and cultural management. I've written hundreds of reviews, essays, reports and articles for almost every film-oriented medium in my country, curated and organized film screenings or retrospectives, participated in several audiovisually oriented educational initiatives. In Poland, my name is unequivocally associated with film criticism and academic scholarship. Given my background and bottom up dynamics of the current developments within the video-essayistic field, it seems natural for me to look for possibilities of publishing my works within the film-critical and academic context. Substituting written forms of expression with more universal videos, might also help me break into the international circulation. Lately, I've been preoccupied with establishing contact with several major figures working on new platforms of application of the various video-essayistic forms. The group behind the first peer-reviewed journal "In:Transition", dedicated exclusively to scholarly video works might finally render it possible for me to publish videographic academic work on film. Other institutions potentially interested in this area of production are film archives, museums and festivals.
These are the possibilities of my current network. The other challenge would be to find a niche for this line of work within the film industry. It would not only require certain rebranding of my image within the field, but also tailoring the projects to the existing categories and priorities of film funds and prospective co-producers.
# Disciplinary Field (Artistic Research):
I'll address it briefly, although this might be one of my main points of concern. Being both in Academia and Art School environment, I worry that none of those fields is ready to accomodate artistic research as a sustainable practice yet.
On one hand there are Universities with their own model based on publications, citations, conferences, grants, tenures etc. My recent visit at the symposium devoted to the form of video essay in education, proved that accepting knowledge based on epistemological arrangement as valid might be the least of our problems. The whole maintenance of Academia is grounded on the rules of evalution. Subisidies, grants, positions, teaching hours and all other activities of Uni depend on the assessment guidelines. Publishing here you get certain amount of points, publishing there - another amount, by being cited, lecturing, attending conferences you validate your position in the field. And field, in return, validates your status as researcher. Regardless of the neoliberalisation of that system, it is still backed by a long tradition that resulted in certain protocols. There's a model of academically approved paper and there's no model for scientifically valid artistic research. Believe it or not - the main concern voiced by the academics during the aforementioned symposium was that they don't know how to grade their students' outcomes and in turn - academic authorities don't know how to validate researchers.
On the other hand, there are Art School with their focus on production. Artists are commonly trained as professionals who start their individual careers upon graduation. There's a system of funds, institutions and commercial enterprises put in place to back creation of artworks and entertainment, however there seems to be no structure supporting the research itself outside limited number of Master programmes (and even less impressive amount of PhD positions). In its current shape, this system practically leaves its participants or their own after finishing school. And existence of the community is a necessary condition for sustainable research.
As a scholar delving into artistic modes of conducting research I see an urgent need of addressing this problem. Merging good academic practices revolving around production and distribution of knowledge (seminars, conferences, symposia, scholarships, journals) with some of the industry practices within art field (i.e. development funds) seems to be a pressing requirement in order to think artistic research as more than curiosity.
My wish would be to participate in that process and share my expertise deriving from both worlds.