Mark R. Hancock is an editor and writer. He has written art criticism for the BBC, Furtherfield, NewMediaFix, Neural, Digicult, as well as several commisions from the Arts Council. His essay on Expanded Literature was included in Hothaus Papers from Vivid, as well as several exhibition catalogs and festival reports. His interests are the human condition and anything that causes our everyday lives and thoughts to derail for a moment, causing us to view the world anew for however briefly. Often this is an art work, sometimes just a great conversation with someone. If art works are able to capture or facilitate this process, then even better!
If you can’t remix it, you don’t own it.
The best of a creative movement is often overshadowed by the worst excesses of that movement as well. For me, video blogging is always positioned as a creative, experimental cinema practice always held out a great hope for being the place where interesting things happened for the future of cinema. And even if they don’t become the final end-point, then those experiments in themselves are enough. Those are the attractive aspects of video blogging, for me. The overshadowing happens when people perceive it as a cheap route into mainstream broadcasting. Not that there is anything wrong with it, it just doesn’t have the same appeal as a creative prospect.
Hypertext video (as Adrian Miles*) described it, allowed me to think about the relationships between word cut-ups (via Gysin and Burroughs) and visual sampling and remixing. In other words, a place to consider some of those post-structuralist investigations into ‘texts’ of all sorts; be they word, image, sound etcetera. The hyperlinks that we can embed to link to other videos or points on the timeline become in themselves a remixological act. It also gives a space to think about our relationship to the cultural artifacts and what we might do with them as part of our own cultural practice.
We live in a continuum of data that rushes around us ever faster. We can only ever hope to pluck at bits we want and find some space on the shelf to store them., If we’re lucky, perhaps one day we’ll find the time to take them off the shelf, polish them and give them a longer, more detailed inspection. One day. There’s always ‘one day’ and the promise of an opportunity to take a leisurely stride along the pathways of our magpie minds. Implicit in the notion of collection, organisation and contemplation, is the fact that we (those of us in the West, at least) are lucky enough to live in an era afforded the leisure time to enjoy this taxonomical collecting and ordering. Like Victorian British gentry, we go out in to the world and harvest the trinkets of other cultures and bring them back to show off to others.
Except of course, we no longer just display and categorise. In our personal contemporary cultures (always the plurality). We own these artifacts as much as anyone might own them. If labour can be equated to ownership in some vague Marxist grasp at theory, then working, reworking and finally distributing these artifacts as part of a remixed entity surely enables one to claim some kind of ownership of the property. If not then what’s the point in even attempting to gather and collate?
Partly, it’s the chance to reflect back our own pride at having a broad and all encompassing wellspring to draw on. And of course, to find those little snippets of occult knowledge that others (even in our more niche peer groups) might not know about. There’s a certain pride in the process. A joy that can be found in the sampling and the sharing.
If the products created by the technology companies have made it possible for us to sample and curate the cultural data-streams according to our own whims, then who are we to say no? How are we to take ownership of the messages being fired at us day after day if we aren’t also allowed the opportunity to do something with them? As the Open Source community says, if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Why shouldn’t the same rule apply to culture and the communications channels that bleed into our neural networks everyday?
Where once it may have been impossible to own the physical, now that we live in the digital era, where everything is presented as a media spectacle and we’re further removed from ‘reality’ than ever before, we should just accept that the digital is the real. If someone reaches out and puts something in your hands, surely they’re offering it to you to keep? If they place it in your hands, it’s yours. If digital is the new real, then anything that comes via a digital media into your virtual hands, should belong to you, surely? And if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Luckily, we have the technology to open most things. Or at least to remix them into something different and play with them.
In the meantime let’s just assume that all these things are ours to play and remix as we see fit. Remixing in an open source context makes everything so much more fun and less tied in to the agenda of large corporations. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but it’s outside of them that the interesting things take place and the remixing and rethinking of our cultural artifacts happens.
The video blog becomes a place for remixing found footage and our own video to create new perspectives. And besides which, cinema has been remixing culture for over a century now. The montage theory of Eisenstein reorders disparate elements to construct a new meaning. It escapes from the linear and divides our attention across a number of strands. In the 21st century it’s a trivial problem to decode and understand what is expected of us when viewing this type of montage.
Video blogging, when applied as experimental cinema is a remixological response to some of those cultural elements. Taking them from the world about us: the quotidian and everyday banality (as though anything in our lives could ever be banal!) and reordering them into non-linear forms. As though time’s arrow had been spun, occasionally snagging on some visual attraction that holds us for a brief moment. The use of interactive video blogging (vlogging/vogging, depending on your own references) is one realisation of this. The cinema vérité with access to the vast reservoir of moving images on the internet means we can sample and create new perspectives and responses to our world. We can find a way to eliminate the detritus that can often find its way into a film sequence because we just couldn’t choose the right take or the actors couldn’t hit their marks or the light just wasn’t right or the director just couldn’t make their mind up on the day. Who’s to say we can’t sample and mix in some other film moments?
Add in to that the hyperlinked options and suddenly there are a lot more ways to explore and define our own cultural paradigms and media channels.
Video blogging may not be the answer, but it certainly gives an opportunity to remix and reconsider some of the choices. It can also free cinema from the constraints of the distribution channels of conventional cinema.
*Miles, Adrian. “Cinematic Paradigms for Hypertext.” Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 13.2 July (1999): 217-26.