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The Latency of the Moving Image in New Media, by Eduardo Navas

Image and text source: Telic Arts Exchange

Written for an exhibition with the same title curated by Eduardo Navas at Telic Arts Exchange, Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA. May 25 – June 16, 2007

Text released: May 25, 2007

What separates new media from previous media is, in part, waiting periods that define public and private experience; whether the download of a file from the Internet is taking longer than expected, an e-mail message has not been sent from one server to another for some unknown reason, or a large file is being rendered in video software like Final Cut Pro for output as a viewable movie, new media is largely dependent on constant moments of waiting, often referenced as latency.

Latency is used with three significations in mind. First, is the technological latency that takes place in new media culture due to the nature of the computer: the machine has to always check in loops what it must do, to then execute commands, eventually leading to the completion of a task. This is the case when someone uses Photoshop, Microsoft Word, or any other commercial application; or streams image and sound across the Internet. This constant checking in loops at hardware and software levels opens the space for latency’s second signification, which extends in social space when the user consciously waits for a response that begins and ends with the computer. Latency becomes naturalized when a person incorporates computer interaction as part of his/her everyday activities.

The third implication is based on the adjective: latent, which means potential for something that is to come if and when the waiting period is over. Latency, when considered from a cultural perspective can be entertained as moments of reflection that could make change possible: crucial decisions could be made that will affect the outcome at the end of the latent moment. Taking this social implication back to a hardware and software level, one may at times wonder if computational loops will be completed successfully. After all, the machine can potentially crash at any moment. This possibility of a crash lies latent and possesses a violent trace that could destroy all the information. Thus danger always lurks in new media culture, and a trace of instability is inherently part of the everyday use of digital tools. These three significations of latency inform the art works that were chosen for “The Latency of the Moving Image in New Media.”

The exhibit presents artists who make latency part of visual language in their works. All the works, even when deliberately invested in the exploration of a specific technology find their legitimation in social space. To reflect on this shared tendency further, the projects are organized in four areas: blogs, online projects, videos and audivisual interfaces. What follows is a contextualization of the works according to the aforementioned areas.

Blogs
Toegristle (2005 – present) , http://toegristle.com/
By Corey Eiseman (Miami, Florida, US)
Pocketblog (May 2004 – present), http://www.findelmundo.com.ar/moblog/
By Gustavo Romano (Buenos Aires, AR)

Corey Eiseman and Gustavo Romano expose latency in blogging. Both of their projects are completely dependent in breaking out of latent states to then enter others, every time a new blog post is made. What defines both blogs is not what is presented but what can potentially develop in the future based on the material that has been produced.

Toegristle by Corey Eiseman consists of the constant reworking of a digital collage. The artist statement reads: “a perpetual canvas blog, updated regularly with a new digital collage/photomontage. The unique thing about this process is that every day the previous entry is used as a starting point. Put another way, it’s the same image worked on, added to, changed a little bit more each day, and archived along the way.”[1]

As Eiseman explains further, one of the things often debated in studio art practice is knowing when to stop. Blogging, he argues, allows the artist to keep going, to never stop reworking the art object. Eiseman’s collages often include material from popular culture; Einstein, Rodin’s thinker, JFK and Jackie O. are but a few of the key figures that have appeared in Toegristle. Upon viewing Toegristle’s archive, one quickly realizes that in time all elements within the never-ending collage will be deleted—and as one examines the present image, one can sense the possibilities of the changes that may take place in the next visual composition.

Photoblog by Gustavo Romano consists of images presenting objects that the artist has carried throughout the day, carefully arranged to be photographed. At the top of his blog he states “The froth of days in my pockets – every day, every pocket.”[2]

In each image one finds various personal objects repeated, and upon examining the archive, one quickly realizes that some of the objects will never be deleted from the composition, but merely moved around; some objects which appear most frequently are a cigarette lighter and house keys. Similarly to Eiseman’s blog, Romano’s blog presents images that point to possible changes in the next composition based on what already exists; but unlike Eiseman’s blog, which is a carefully detached commentary on online-pop culture, Romano’s is a window to personal days in his life.

Both blogs are meant to present snapshots from an ongoing process, and latency becomes a moment for reflection. The viewer may at times imagine the entries as slow motion animations: days, months and years can potentially be turned into brief narratives that may last but a few minutes.

Online Art
SX70/plus/TimeZero, (2006) http://www.unosunosyunosceros.com/SX70/plus/TimeZero/index.html
By Arcangel Constantini (Mexico City, MX)
Le Catalogue, (2003 – present) http://www.x-arn.org/wiki/LeCatalogue
By Yann Le Guennec (Lorient, FR)

Arcangel Constantini and Yann Le Guennec have developed projects in which the image moves towards saturation, although with different visual variables: Constantini pushes values of colors while Le Guennec adds vertical and horizontal lines. In both projects images at some point appear ideal in their saturation, resolution and detail, but then, they keep changing until they appear damaged or destroyed.

SX70/plus/TimeZero by Constantini is an online project inspired by the vintage Polaroid camera with the same name. The online project mimics the developing process of a Polaroid photograph. It presents a series of thirty Polaroids that upon a click simulate taking a snapshot, and an image appears slowly while the viewer waits patiently to see what will be revealed. As this happens, a text appears at the bottom of the Polaroid, giving information about the place where the photograph was taken; which are various cities in Mexico and New York State. The images eventually reach that moment when the viewer can finally enjoy what has been captured as if it were an act of magic—but then the Polaroids keep developing until they turn pitch black—then to become a negative.

Latency manifests itself here in allegorical form. Not only does the user (especially the one who has taken a Polaroid in the past) know what to expect from the SX70, but the latent moment, that waiting period that is inherently part of the process to learn what will be revealed with Polaroid’s analog technology is successfully simulated. As it has been explained, a latent state is defined by what could develop based on what lies latent, and the simulated Polaroids offer an allegorization of analog technology which places the viewer in a state of waiting, speculating about the image; but unlike a person who takes a Polaroid knowing what the subject matter is, and waits for the developmental process to take place, the viewer in SX70 does not know what the snapshot has to offer.

In Le Catalogue, Yann Le Guennec has created a database of documentary images (an archive) of art projects between 1990-1996 available for public access. Every time an image is viewed, a horizontal and a vertical line that always intersect at random coordinates are added to the image, which is then again stored for access by another user. The more the images are accessed, the more lines are added.
Le Catalogue actually functions like a bridge between the blogs by Casey Eiseman and Gustavo Romano, and the online Polaroid project by Arcangel Constantini. Like the blogs Le Catalogue stays for the most part in a latent state, which can only be changed everytime the database is accessed. Unlike the blogs, which are updated by the artists, Le Catalogue is updated dynamically when the images are accessed by Internet users. Le Catalogue shares a tendency for saturation with Arcangel Constantini’s work, but instead of mimicking the process of color saturation, each image is overwhelmed with horizontal and vertical lines. Le Catalogue also shares with SX70 the tendency of moving towards a negative space, but at a much lower rate, which is defined by the viewer. Further Le Catalogue is completely dependent on how often it is accessed, unlike previous projects which are preset by the authors.

In Le Catalogue, extreme saturation is always latent; it is almost like the announcement that the end of the world is near, but never comes about. Each time the viewer accesses the images such possibility is confirmed, but not realized; one begins to imagine how the image will look once it reaches a point of extreme saturation by the crossing lines, but such possibility is always displaced and can only be imagined and therefore conceived as a permanent latent state that’s to take place at some point in the future.

In both online art projects latency is crucial to define aesthetic experience. Latency in Constantini’s work once it is experienced a few times becomes predictable, but in Guennec’s work the way the image becomes saturated with crossing lines is a random process that always points to the possibility of a chaotic future defined by traces left on the image by previous visits: functioning like a transparent archive of its history.

Videos
“Microlanscape 1,” “Peatonal_1 Warp,” “Taxi-SoundNoise”
Selections from Messy 6-1 (2006)
Reference site: http://www.manipulatto.com/paginas/projects/messy.html
By Jorge Castro (Cordoba, AR)
“State of the Union” and “Drum &
Bass Mix” in collaboration with Jimpunk & Luis Silva (2007)
Reference site: http://www.mrtamale.com/index.html
By Antonio Mendoza (Los Angeles, CA, US)
Youtube Relevance Project: Two Months in L.A. (2006 – present)
Reference site: http://katherinesweetman.com/relevance_project1.htm
By Katherine Sweetman (Los Angeles, CA, US)

Jorge Castro, Antonio Mendoza and Katherine Sweetman have created videos in which latency becomes a strategy of repetition. Latency is transferred, in the case of Castro and Mendoza, to the well-known jump cut in film language, and in the case of Sweetman to the algorithmic process that starts in the artist studio, and which she later makes transparent to the viewer in the final product.

Castro’s “Microlanscape 1,” “Peatonal_1 Warp,” and “Taxi-SoundNoise” are short videos which incorporate the aesthetic of loops inherent to computers as another element in film language. In “Microlanscape 1,” the viewer finds herself in what appears to be a train, looking out a window while traveling through a landscape which has been purposefully blurred and overlapped with two lines of text that move quickly; the text functions as a counterpoint for the movement of the train. The train ride proposes the notion of traveling somewhere with the montage of four short segments; the viewer sits in the train, waiting to get somewhere, but the viewer does not arrive anywhere. The video ends like it began, as a slice of life: no dramatic beginning or end.

“Peatonal_1 Warp” present an heavy man sitting in front of a building with a bucket. He does not ask for money, but for the most part keeps his head down, lifting it occasionally. People walk past him, ignoring him, and only a woman who shows up repeatedly (looped deliberately by Castro) acknowledges him, by dropping some money in the bucket. The people who walk past him appear distorted: their upper bodies are extended in straight linear planes moving outside of the video frame. The only people who are not distorted are the man sitting on the corner and the woman who gives him money from time to time. This project performs loops that make the latent process of the computer obvious in theatrical fashion—the video exudes “digital” aesthetics. Every moment in the video is looped, and everyone is altered in ways that only digital technology can achieve. The loops within the video add up to a pronounced waiting, which like “Microlanscape 1,” does not lead anywhere. The latency of the computer is represented metaphorically by the passive action of the man sitting on the corner—waiting for the loop to break when someone gives him money, to then fall back into a latent state, once again. And then the video comes to an end.

“Taxi-SoundNoise” shares a similar approach to the other two videos by Castro. It consists of looped jumpcuts of taxis and other driving vehicles, while people cross the street intersection. People appear to be going somewhere, but like “Peatonal_1 Warp,” they simply find themselves back on the screen. This video is frantic; in a way, it mimics the supposed quickness with which the computer is often associated in popular culture. Like the previous videos, “Taxi-SoundNoise” also has no real ending. It simply ends. All three videos can be thought of as frames (or canvases) whose edges cut off an ongoing moment in time.

Antonio Mendoza, in “State of the Union” remixes images of President George W. Bush delivering his annual report to the people of the United States. In this remix, the President is unable to utter a word because Mendoza has strategically taken moments when the President is about to speak and repeats them to simulate a scratched DVD. “State of the Union” exposes the violent trace in digital culture—that instability that haunts the computer loop. Here Latency takes effect between the skipping frames and places the viewer in a latent state, waiting to see what could happen if the skipping stops. The deliberate skipping simulates a rupture in the pre-set sequence of videos and makes obvious that a scratch is another loop that disrupts a previously established loop. This is a simulacrum in which Mendoza appropriates the language of a broken DVD to create social commentary; the viewer recognizes a disruption which ultimately is a criticism of the President’s policies during his tenure.

In “Drum & Bass Mix,” Mendoza in collaboration with Abe Lincoln and Jimpunk remixes images taken from pop-culture. Super models are juxtaposed with Bruce Lee and abstract sci-fi vehicles, mixed at great speed with Rorschach images; people sing Kareoke incessantly—and throughout the video the word “Disco-nnect” with its obvious dual meaning is repeated. The first word is a reference to music and disco culture while the second is a reference to new media technology, and more specific network society. Like “State of the Union,” “Drum & Bass Mix” also points to the moment when something could go wrong. The words disco and disconnect remixed as “disco-nnect” expose the fear that lies in such possibility. In reality disconnection is always latent in network culture. Disconnection can happen at any moment, and is avoided by people who depend on the network at all possible cost. It is the necessity to avoid disconnection that pushes people to constantly improve network technology. New media development is in part promoted by fear of this instability—a fear of disconnection to come out of its latent state. Yet, when a disconnection happens it is carefully studied by analysts to figure out how to avoid another event in the future. And once the network is up, the latent state of disconnection lies dormant once again. “Drum & Bass Mix” turns this never-ending tension into a visual spectacle.

Katherine Sweetman’s Youtube Relevance Project: A Week in L.A. consists of headlines from the Los Angeles Times combined with her own private headlines. Sweetman chose a week in which she would look up the top headlines in Los Angeles Times; then, she would also write her own headlines based on what she did on the same days. Sweetman then entered the headlines into Youtube’s search engine and extracted the top videos that showed up as results; she then presents them in an interface which shows the videos with the corresponding part of the headline right on top. The result is a sequence of a spatial video montage that slowly reveals her creative process to the viewer.

Sweetman executed for a week a self-prescribed algorithm which defined the final material that now the viewer can enjoy. She combined the public and the private based on a latent state, which very much follows the approach by the art blogs developed by Eiseman and Romano because like them, her creative development depends on daily activities: she had to wait a day to see the next headline, then she would do the search in Youtube to find relevant videos. Latency is crucial to the process in the studio, and it manifests itself in the video with the use of film language. Each set of videos is presented in parts; first, one video appears, then the next, and then part of one of the headlines, then another video and part of another headline, with enough (latent) time for the viewer to understand the relationship between image and text. Further, A Week in L.A. thrives on the undefined (latent) promise that Youtube offers anyone who hopes in her/his own way to become famous by uploading their videos to Youtube’s server.

Castro, Mendoza and Sweetman have developed works that are not primarily concerned with narrative strategies, but instead, they all successfully point to constant states of repetition that are part of a never ending, and one could even argue, vicious cycle in network culture.

Audio Visual Interfaces
Ambientador (2005 – present)
by Fuss! Reference site: http://www.ambientador.de/ambientador.html
Members include
Juan Carlos and Guillermo López, (Madrid, ES) and Timo Daum, (Berlin, DE)
Living Stereo, (2006)
Reference site: http://www.no-content.net/LST/
By Brian Mackern (Montevideo, UY)
Luciérnaga Sonora, (2006)
Reference site: http://www.cceba.org.ar/cvirtual/tpl/muestra-03/luciernaga.htm
By Julia Masvernat (Buenos Aires, AR)

The audio interfaces by Fuss!, Brian Mackern and Julia Masvernat present very diverse implementations of latency in audiovisual language. Fuss!’s implementation is initially perceived in their musical loops which never match metronomically, while for Mackern and Masvernat latency is at first obvious in their visuals. For all three projects, however, the viewer quickly realizes that the uncertain timing between sound and image is essential to the aesthetics of the projects.

Ambientador by Fuss! is an open source audio-visual interface. The term translated from Spanish means “ambience maker.” The online user can download the software to play Ambientador in different contexts, or s/he can also download a special kit which lets anyone modify it. The interface consists of three screens which can be configured in different forms depending on the context of presentation. The most simple and accessible interface is actually found online; it consists of four areas. On the top left is the selection interface, here the user can decide whether to play Ambientador in random mode or to actually mix the sound and image files manually. On the top right is a circular interface which looks a lot like a radar as well as a vinyl record; in this area selected files are placed to be played. The lower left area contains control knobs that allow the user to adjust colors and length of loops. And the lower right area is where the results are seen. In an actual peformance setting these three interfaces would be projected in a way that would allow each section to excel on their own.

Ambientador aestheticizes latency primarily in sound. At no point does anything match rhythmically. Once a loop is set in motion, this one will never match other loops that are added to the mix. Each audiovisual loop is autonomous yet complements the overall composition. The result is potential danceable music—however, this possibility (this latent state) never comes about because the latency that separates each file from others makes danceable composition impossible. Fuss! has created various interfaces, some more abstract than others, about various social activities: some about music culture and others about global politics. One interface worth noting is “The War Mix,” in which the performer can mix images and sound associated with war. Given the current global state of affairs between the western world and the middle east, one has to ponder the social implications that Ambientador proposes in a setting that at first may appear to be more ideal for a moment of escapism in a sub-cultural club where the night never ends and life problems can momentarily be put on hold.

In Living Stereo, Mackern offers several interfaces which can be used to remix preset ambient sounds. The project is divided into two major categories, “Cinema-tik” and “Sound Code.Sketches,” which are further divided into specific projects. “Cinema-tik” consists of five interactive interfaces that appropriate footage from films by Andrei Tarkvosky, William Marshall and Alfred Hitchcock, among others. These interfaces are remixes of abstract interfaces found in “SoundCode.Sketches.” The user can play with the interfaces and create her own audiovisual compositions, in similar fashion to Fuss!’s ambientador.

Latency is crucial to all of Mackern’s interfaces, especially the remixes of Tarkovsky’s The Stalker and Solaris. Both interfaces remix short audiovisual loops. Mackern selected three scenes for each remix and splits them into thin horizontal fragments divided into 10 percent of the overall screen, adding up to 100. The user can click on the left, center or right area of the screen thereby remixing the preset scenes with each other. Or they could remix a single scene by itself. No matter which approach is taken, latency becomes apparent as each section is loaded and reloaded in the interface. The audiovisual result is a set of fragments that never match, but become markers for the latency that is inevitable in computer technology, when files are being accessed. Latency, in this case is incorporated deliberately in the work itself, in similar fashion to Fuss!’s Ambientador.

Luciérnaga Sonora by Julia Masvernat translated to English means “singing firefly.” The interface of this work of art is minimal in visual design but complex in concept. The user can access sound and image files that are triggered by a set of small squares at the bottom of the screen that expand or contract in a row, at the click of the mouse. The project is about discovery: one never knows what will be encountered, and the best way to find outis to click anything that appears on the screen: squares, circles, lines.

Masvernat’s project incorporates latency as part of a performance. The user after each click has to pay close attention to image and sound in order to recognize what has been triggered. Usually it is the visual changes that are first evident. Similar to the other audiovisual projects, Luciérnaga Sonora does not match image or sound metronomically. The project makes the most of small fragments that will never match in time, but move independently in the audiovisual-scape, which in this case is very minimal in sound as well. Unlike the other projects in the exhibition, Luciérnaga is an abstract work of art. It is about formal exploration, while both of Living Stereo and Ambientador, find their strengths in allegorical citations of previous codes, sometimes presenting social commentary.

In terms of interaction, all three projects can be performed by their respective authors in performances for traditional audiences, or they can also be played by the user in a public or private space. Not only the authors of the software have the right to perform, but anyone interested in doing so.

Latent States

We live in a period when the private is becoming public; the private is being redefined by constant exposure and transparency. Recently, during a conversation, Ine Poppe, an artist, film-maker and critical writer who lives in Amsterdam, mentioned that during one of her talks in Los Angeles, a man in the audience said, “Warhol said that in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. But I say that in the future everyone will have fifteen minutes of privacy.” Upon researching this statement online I found a blog with the following quote: “In the future, we will all have our fifteen minutes of privacy.”[3] And as I searched further, I noticed that the phrase “fifteen minutes of privacy” is quite common: “An NPR reporter was on hand and the group asked for fifteen minutes of privacy to talk about some serious issues like what they were going to do if the cops …,”[4] “… veteran participant Chad explained, mentioning restrictions against everything from Broadway showtunes to more than fifteen minutes of privacy daily. …”[5] And then I ran into an excerpt from the book Precision Marketing by Jeff Zabin & Gresh Brebach that offers at the beginning of chapter 5 an epigraph by Peter Schwartz, Chairman of the Global Business Network: “Andy Warhol talked about everyone getting fifteen minutes of fame. If we’re not careful, everyone may end up with fifteen minutes of privacy.”[6]

Losing our privacy is a real possibility; the infrastructure for this to happen is present. And it is felt in all of the works that were chosen for “The Latency of the Moving Image in New Media. ” All of the works in the exhibition carry a latent trace of such possibility, thus exposing the voice of the author with a constant concern to include the actions of the viewer in the completion of the works. The videos, to be more specific, are defined by an awareness of the current state of production: Castro presents public moments but in a way that is non-intrusive, and respectful of the subject, while Mendoza makes the most of quick audiovisual montages to expose the instability of the ever-growing network, through which we communicate and are slowly losing our privacy. “Disco-nnect” could be read as a call to a moment of privacy—to unplug. And Sweetman develops a series of videos that expose the transition of the private to the public which may culminate in “fifteen minutes of privacy.” She actually presents her experiences as “headlines” in similar fashion to Newspapers. Similarly, Gustavo Romano also exposes the latent state of the private becoming public when he shows what he carried in his pockets throughout the day.

One could only hope to reflect on the implications of the private becoming subjected by the public. For this to be achieved people should consider how best to use in critical fashion the tools that push the status quo in the pre-established and still standing model of modernism. This might read as a benign statement because currently the individual certainly appears to enjoy more independence than in any other period: anyone with basic computer knowledge can set up a blog and make public his/her opinions. Yet, such possibilities are built with technology that makes it easier to monitor people’s behavior. Online communities are very aware of this and many assume self-surveillance. Such preoccupations lurk in a latent state in the works that are part of this exhibition, because all of them were created with software that, thanks to its modularity, is ready to be accommodated for the political needs of any given moment. This is the latent state that people should be most concerned about. This is the state that informs the latency of the moving image in new media, no matter how abstract the works may appear at first glance.


[1] Toegristle, April 23, 2007 (May 16, 2007),
< http://toegristle.com/?id=291>.[2] Pocketblog, February 12, 2007 (May 16, 2007),
< http://www.findelmundo.com.ar/moblog/>[3] Daily Grind, Nov. 21, 2006 (May 19, 2007)
< http://www.quernstone.com/archives/ 2006/11/in_the_future_w.html>

[4] Common Dreams, August 9, 2005 (May 19, 2007 )
< http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0809-21.htm>

[5] The Daily Gazette, May 25, 2005 (May 19, 2007)< http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/org/daily/index.php? year=2005&month=03&day=25>

[6] Peter Schwartz, as quoted in Jeff Zabin & Gresh Brebach, “Fifteen Minutes of Privacy?” Precision Marketing (New Jersey: Wiley Press, 2004), 159.

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