[-empyre-] visual "musak" with a twist?

Jim Bizzocchi jimbiz at sfu.ca
Mon Apr 14 09:39:21 EST 2008

Renate wrote:
>Dear Jim,
>>I'm curious about the four points you list below....and I'd love 
>>for Tom , Patty and STephanie to chime in on this.  It apprears 
>>from your point of view that the critical/political engagement of 
>>the viewer is not important in the viewing process according to 
>>your criteria?  IF it must be visually engaging but not require 
>>your attention then is it not just like visual "musak" with a 
>>twist?  My sense from Patty's post is that she was actually 
>>intending to describe a very different kind of work.  Renate

Dear Renate -

Thanks for your response to my post - appreciate it.  Let me try to 
put my own post in some context.  Please accept my apologies in 
advance for the length of this response.  You raise serious and 
interesting issues, and they deserve a full response.

First, I need to say that I was describing the form that I think is 
developing, and I was not engaging directly with all of the issues 
raised earlier in this thread (such as sustainability).  I'm sorry if 
my perspective has led this conversation to stray from its intended 
purposes.  It is surely not my goal to derail or deflect this 
important discussion.

However, I do have an abiding intellectual and personal interest in 
the relationship of new technologies to both existing and emergent 
forms of creativity and expression - and that led to my initial 
response.  I believe Ambient Video is an example of this, and I am 
drawn to the form in terms of my own art, and also my writing.  I 
very much want to understand how creators will shape this form as it 

I also recognize that as the form develops, different artists and 
producers will use this form according to their own cultural, social, 
and political lights.  I think this is a good thing.   In terms of my 
own values I am currently leaning towards pluralism as a positive 
attribute.   Accordingly, I am not of the opinion that every work of 
art must conform to the same aesthetic, cultural, or political 
stance.  However, I do believe that many of the Macrocinema works 
that Patricia and Thomas cite will inevitably lead people to consider 
the reality of this small planet on which we live, and then to 
consider their own place and their own role in this regard.  I hope 
that my own work will do the same.  The fact that it may do so in a 
way that is not confrontational or abrasive is not a fault for me. 
Nor is it a fault that other works will raise similar issues more 
directly and with more fire.  I am pleased that different artists 
employ different techniques and sensibilities in the pursuit of their 
art and their values.  We will all be the stronger for that.

On to your question as to whether my sense of the viewing process is 
just 'visual "musak" with a twist'?   I am sure some of it is.   The 
archetype for the form in popular culture is the Yule Log.  It's been 
around at least since WPIX introduced the Gracie Mansion version in 
the late 60's.  It was dropped by the station, came back by popular 
demand, and I am told actually won its timesweeps - go figure.  Its 
successors have thrived on every moving image platform since: 
broadcast, cablecast, satellite, VHS, CD-Rom, DVD, and digital file. 
Last Christmas there were five different Yule Logs burning merrily on 
various channels of my cable service.  This probably is "musak with a 
twist" - it's certainly hard to call it art.

However, as you know, the term "Ambient Video" is consciously derived 
from Brian Eno's "Ambient Music".  Since "Music for Airports" he and 
other serious musicians have tried to elevate aural ambience beyond 
musak.  I respect that endeavor and enjoy many of its results. 
Similarly, if "ambient video" is to transcend kitsch and be seen as 
art, it must go beyond mere pretty pictures and engage the viewer 
both aesthetically and intellectually.  I can't speak for others, but 
the directions I am exploring in this regard include subject choice, 
composition (including light, texture and motion), manipulation of 
the time frame (both speeding up and slowing down various parts of 
the image), manipulation, deconstruction and recombination of the 
image, and a deep exploration of layering and transition.  If my own 
goal had been musak with a twist, I could have just pointed the 
camera at a fireplace or an aquarium.  Eno's own visual work 
certainly sets a higher bar - he made his own engaging and 
significant ambient videos ("Memories of Medieval Manhattan", and 
"Thursday Afternoon.") at around the same time he was developing 
ambient music.  (Eno has returned to ambient video in an interactive 
context - his latest work "77 Million Paintings By Brian Eno", is 
distributed by Microcinema.)

Finally, back to the viewer.  In fact, the viewer is central in my 
conception of ambient video.  The point is to shift the priority of 
choice back to the viewer.  The goal of most moving image work is to 
attract the viewer's attention, and then to hold it unrelentingly. 
I'm interested in trying to create works that support viewer 
attention on the viewer's own rhythms and timetables.  The four 
aesthetic challenges I outlined reflected my own view of what it 
means for a work of art to be "ambient", and goals for the kind of 
ambient work I wish to create.  In that sense, my colleague Nomig's 
preferred term "video painting" may be more communicative than 
"ambient video", given the parallel relationship to viewer reception 
and viewer attention in fine art or photography.  Regardless of the 
label, each viewer will engage in their own dialectic with ambient 
video works in those moments they choose.  That dialectic will 
inevitably reflect the combination of the creator's goals and the 
viewer's pre-dispositions - as is the case in any work. 

Once again, my apologies for the length of this response, and my 
sincere hope that I have not derailed this discussion from its 
intended purpose.  I think I will recede into the background, and see 
where others wish to take this thread.

All the best!

jimbiz at sfu.ca     www.dadaprocessing.com    www.ambientvideo.ca

Jim wrote earlier:
>>Thomas and Patricia -
>>I was very pleased to read about your interest in ambient media. 
>>"Ambient Media on Plasma" sounds like a terrific exhibition - 
>>The new flat-panel displays, in conjunction with HD visual 
>>standards, are having a considerable effect on the moving image. 
>>The video picture has never been as large, or as sharp, as it is 
>>now.  These new displays (and the widespread use of relatively 
>>inexpensive yet sophisticated cameras and post-production packages) 
>>have transformed the non-theatrical moving image.  As Gene 
>>Youngblood said:  "New Tools make for New Images".  One of the 
>>directions that is suited to the new display technologies is 
>>certainly Ambient Video.
>>I've been working in Ambient Video for several years.   My own 
>>variation on this form is representational, not interactive, 
>>slow-paced, and based on natural imagery (primarily the Canadian 
>>Rockies).  The works have a finite temporal flow, but can loop when 
>>seen on a DVD.
>>I think Ambient Video must satisfy the following difficult 
>>aesthetic challenges:
>>   * it should be visually engaging the first time you view it
>>   * it must never require your attention
>>   * it must reward your attention at any time with visual interest
>>   * it must sustain over a great number of repeated viewings
>>This is a considerable set of challenges.  I know that some of the 
>>artists listed in Tom's message rely on composition and compelling 
>>visuals to do this.  Other techniques can include the manipulation 
>>of the time base, manipulation of the image itself, and the use of 
>>slow transition (in the spirit of HG's work in an earlier post to 
>>this thread).
>>I incorporate the above techniques in my work.  You can see my own 
>>Ambient Video work at:
>>      www.ambientvideo.ca
>>I also have some papers on Ambient Video on a related website:
>>     http://www.sfu.ca/~bizzocch/ambientvideo.html
>>My colleagues, the NoMig collective from Montreal and Malcolm Levy 
>>from Vancouver, are also working on their own variations of this 
>>form.  Their preferred term is "Video Painting".   NoMig has led in 
>>the building of a website dedicated to the form: 
>>A few of the other artists that work in related areas include 
>>Douglas Siefkin <www.translumen.net>. William Kennedy ("Algonquin 
>>Autumn"), and "Souvenirs from the Earth" 
>>I am very pleased to read here that more and more artists are 
>>working in variations on these forms, and that there is curatorial 
>>interest in exploring and representing it.  Hope to hear more on 
>>this topic.
>>Thanks for your posts!
>>Thomas wrote:
>>>I would say that the definition of ambient media is
>>>fairly fluid.  The term originally derives, as I
>>>understand it, from advertising, i.e., ambient media as
>>>background images of various kinds signifying products
>>>and brand names.  With the advent of dvds and cheap
>>>projection devices, sound and image artists are
>>>now able to proliferate their work into
>>>previously unavailable public settings.
>>>G.H., I love the work that you sent. It is truly
>>>spectacular. The material that we have featured in
>>>FLEFF, by artists Simon King  African Skies),
>>>Johanna Vaude (Hybride), Eric Koziol (Ripple in the Eye),
>>>among others, isn't interactive, but involves looped
>>>electronic images, often, though not always, with
>>>sound. While Chevelier's work would seem to necessitate
>>>a museum or large  gallery space for exhibition, the
>>>work that we feature, which is commercially available
>>>(through for example, Microcinema International),
>>>can be screened anywhere that there is an available
>>>plasma screen, which includes hotel lobbies, cancer
>>>treatment centers, hospitals, before cinema screenings,
>>>and in museums and galleries as well. In this sense, it
>>>is a form of popular or populist media.
>>>(Here's a link to our website with the works
>>>that we screened this year, with descriptions-
>>>For FLEFF, we project on plasma screens on the
>>>Ithaca College campus, and projected at a downtown
>>>club behind local rock bands doing Tom Petty
>>>covers (as a prefestival benefit to raise money
>>>for a lakefront trail).  The audiences (and the
>>>bands) really respond to it, as it generates a
>>>modernized version of the whole 60s vibe, while
>>>avoiding simple nostalgia.
>>>HG wrote:
>>>  >> Ambient media occupies the forefront of new media practices.
>>>  >
>>>>  What do you mean "ambient media."   Is it for example sound
>>>  > I've done a series of morph still life that run on flat screens.
>>>  > I called them ambient video. does that fit?
>>>>  gallery10.html  Recently I met Miguel Chevalier. he doe large
>>>>  scale
>>>>  projections of computer generated flora--
>>>>  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzuRmpc78PI
>>>>  Does his work fit your definition of ambient media?  My friend
>>>>  colleague in France - Peter Sinclair has made a sound art work
>>>>  that
>>>>  reacts to the movement of the auto you are driving in an
>>>>  generates
>>>>  sounds  ---
>>>  > Is this ambient media?
>>jimbiz at sfu.ca     www.dadaprocessing.com    www.ambientvideo.ca
>>empyre forum
>>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>Renate Ferro
>URL:  http://www.renateferro.net
>Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
>Visiting Assistant Professor of Art
>Cornell University
>Department of Art, Tjaden Hall
>Ithaca, NY  14853
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au


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