INFLeXions No. 4 - Transversal Fields of Experience (Dec. 2010)
Go to INFLeXions No. _
6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1
This essay stems
from thoughts concerning my own colour field videos, from Colour
Bars (2004) through to Iris Out (2008). My main intention is to unravel some of the implications
relating to the aesthetic characteristics of colour that is processed
as digital data. The first part of the essay is about differences
between film colour, video screens, digital processing and the relation
between these technologies and the neurophysiology of colour perception.
There are sections in this part that are slightly tentative, as I am
quite lost when it comes to the finer points of electronic engineering
and neuroscience, but it strikes me that some understanding of these
fields is important. I have also written about colour from a more
empirical perspective, from the point of view of someone concerned with
trying to describe the immediate effects of certain artists’ films
and videos, including my own. In this regard, the essay deals
with the use and effect of colour in a number of experimental films
and videos, focusing on form and time-based structures that concern
the sequencing of frames on a filmstrip and the more intricate matrix
of the pixels, lines, fields and frames of a video signal. The
examples that are covered also contextualize my own work, which is discussed
towards the end of the essay.
Paul Sharits’ Ray Gun Virus (1966), which I will discuss first, calls to mind
the minimalist colour field paintings of artists such as Barnet Newman
or Ellsworth Kelly – the entirety of the screen is consumed by colour
– but the aesthetic is absolutely filmic. The most obvious and
significant point is that the colour fields in Ray Gun Virus are time-based and sequenced. Another factor, which I will come
back to in different ways, concerns the material characteristics of
the colour stimuli. When one is looking at a painting it seems
as if the colour is there on the surface of the canvas, though it might
be more proper to say that it is a particular patch of paint under given
lighting conditions that constitutes the colour stimulus. In contrast,
the materials that give rise to the phenomena of colour in film –
in the interaction between film print, projector and screen – are
composite and less easy to pinpoint. The way in which colour is
produced in video, which I come to later, is even more complex.
While many of
Sharits’ films involve iconographic imagery, Ray Gun Virus is one of his most abstract works. It begins with a pattern of
alternating black and clear frames. Subtle tonal variations are
introduced and then colour. The film involves a myriad range of
colours, from pastel shades through to saturated hues, in varying and
complex sequences. In some passages of the film there are periods
of uninterrupted monochromatic colour. There are also sections
in the film where colours fade in/out or steadily dissolve. These
passages are particularly intriguing if one looks at the filmstrip itself.
Fades and dissolves evidently result from incremental differences between
individual frames - but at what point does one colour become another
in sequences such as these; and what of the colours in between?
The sections of
single colour and fades or dissolves are the antithesis of the flickering
sequences in Ray Gun Virus, which are more striking visually
and indeed physically. The speed at which the single frames of
colour alternate in these periods of the film (projected at twenty-four
frames per second) makes for an additive form of colour mixing that
is distinctly optical. In the passages where the sequence of frames
are of a similar hue the colour mixing that occurs effectively blends
frames, but in a sequence of red and green frames (or otherwise equally
clashing colours) the contrast keeps the frames from fusing. These
sequences heighten one’s awareness that film is a medium consisting
of discrete frames; the perceptual effect of clashing frames makes a
conceptual point about the materiality of film. In certain passages
of the film two modes of colour mixing - the fades/dissolves and the
flicker of alternating colour - come together. These are the most
dynamic and complex passages of the film. In some sequences the colour
of every other frame remains constant while a dissolve between two different
colours occurs over the intermittent frames; other sequences involve
interwoven dissolves. There are very few films that explore a
form of frame-based colour mixing in such an expansive and thorough
Fig. 1 Three sections from Ray Gun Virus Paul Sharits (1966, 16mm, colour, sound, 14 mins.) USA. Courtesy of
the Paul Sharits Estate.
In watching Ray Gun Virus the viewer is encouraged to reflect on the mixture
of colours that they see on the screen in relation to the pattern of
frames running through the projector. The colour in a projected
film image is produced by light shining through the dyed medium of a
semi-transparent filmstrip, and it will be affected by the hue of the
projector bulb and the scale at which the image is projected, but it
is the colour in the filmstrip that constitutes the primary reference. In contrast, the colour in a video image has no immediate reference.
Unlike the medium of the filmstrip, the video signal is colourless.
In fact a video signal is not just colourless but invisible. (The
amplitude of a video signal can be measured but one cannot exactly see
a video signal). The difference between colour in film and video,
and where it seems to inhere, reflects one of the most significant differences
between the two mediums. In contrast to the colour in a projected
film, the colour in a video image is a product of the output technology
rather than the video signal per se. And while the production
of colour in a filmstrip is a subtractive process (in which incidental
light has been filtered by different layers of light sensitive emulsion)
the range of colour in a video image is produced by the additive mixture
of separate sources of red, green or blue light that emanate from the
technology of the screen. The optical mixture of red, green and
blue light can produce any colour in the visible spectrum.1 Looking closely at a video image on a cathode ray tube, or a flat screen
monitor, one can clearly see the clusters of small closely spaced red,
green and blue cells that make up its surface.2
video signal determines the intensity of each of the cells, often referred
to as pixels, and colours are mixed when one is far enough back from
the screen. Projection technologies such as LCD (liquid crystal display)
and DLP(digital light processing) mix colours additively as well, but
in a different fashion. In the former, the light of the projector
bulb is split three ways by a prism and each beam of polarized light
is sent through one of three LCD panels that corresponds to either the
red, green or blue component of the video signal. The pixels in
the surface of each of these panels are opened or closed to allow more
or less light through at each point in the plane of the image.
The resultant red, green and blue light is then recombined and cast
onto the screen through the lens. In the latter, a three-chip
DLP projector works in the similar way except that each beam of polarized
light is reflected, or deflected, by the microscopic mirrors on one
of three panels. In a single chip DLP projector there is only
one panel of micromirrors, which display the three separate colour components
of the video signal in turn. A spinning colour wheel in front
of the lens, timed to coincide with this cycle, produces three separate
images of red, green and blue in sequence. In theory this happens
at a high enough rate that the viewer perceives a full colour image.
In practice the spinning colour wheel often produces a red, green and
blue flicker effect.3
Fig. 2 Close-up of a Sony Trinitron CRT screen.
Colour is an even
more complex affair at the level of signal processing. A digital
video image is sampled in three respects: the time axis is sampled into
frames; the vertical axis of the picture is sampled into lines; and
a number of equidistant points, or pixels, are sampled along each line.
For example, the standard definition signal in the UK operates at 25
frames per second, and has 576 lines devoted to the vertical axis of
the picture, each of which are sampled 720 times. In a greyscale
image each pixel represents a value associated with the brightness,
or rather luminance, of that point.4 A colour image
effectively requires three different signals that reproduce the proportion
of red, green and blue at any given point in a picture. But rather
than process separate red, green and blue values for each pixel of the
sampled image, digital video is often encoded in relation to Y'CBCR coordinates, which entails a further level of abstraction. A Y'CBCR signal encodes a ‘luma’
component (Y') associated with the luminance of the image, and
two colour difference components (CB and CR). Y' is the weighted sum of the red, green and blue information, while CB and CR represent the Y' minus
blue and Y' minus red information respectively. The benefit
of Y'CBCR encoding is that it allows
for chroma subsampling - a form of compression whereby values for CB and CR are sampled less frequently
than (Y') - resulting in a signal with a lower data rate than
that of a full RGB signal. (Values for CB and CR might be sampled at two thirds or even half
as many times as that of Y'). Note that CB and CR are not colour indices, but calculated figures
from which colour information can be reproduced. Imagery that
is encoded in Y'CBCR is translated
back into an RGB colour space when it is displayed in the red,
green and blue lattice of the video screen, as described above.5
The extent to
which colour is codified in the realm of digital media might seem extraordinarily
abstract, but Y'CBCR processing
is in fact analogous to the way in which luminance and colour are processed
by the neurophysiology of the eye and brain. In a phrase that
resembles a description of chroma subsampling Margaret Livingstone explains
that, “in the retinal ganglion cells the three cone signals [sensitive
to red, green and blue] are transformed into two color-opponent signals...
and a luminance signal that represents the sum of the activity in all
three cones” (2002: 88). Seemingly our means of perceiving the
world have evolved in such a way that it is more useful or efficient
to analyse luminance and colour information separately: colour information
contributes to the recognition of shape and the perception of colour
per se, but it plays no role at all in the perception of depth, three-dimensionality,
movement and spatial organization, which are all cued by information
regarding luminance (Livingstone, 2002: 46). It is difficult to
visualize or imagine the intricacy and complexity of the neurological
processes associated with colour vision, and an added difficulty that
one might have with a neurological account of perception in general
is that it’s bracketed off from the range of theories concerning constructive
processes or ecological factors. The study of neurological activity
does describe certain effects of particular phenomena, but it doesn’t
necessarily account for the particularities of an experience (Gordon,
2004: 111). Some comprehension of the relationship between neurophysiology
and video technology is crucial because the medium in question has obviously
developed in such a way as to take advantage of the capacity (and limitations)
of the eye and brain.
To return to the
specifics of processing colour as digital data, one ought to ask what
it means that colour can be plotted in terms of a precise mathematical
model, where every colour within the gamut can be defined by a set of
coordinates. One answer to this question is that white and black
are specific numerical coordinates located in opposite corners of the
three-dimensional cube that describes an RGB colour space.
In a Y'CBCR colour space luminance
(the greyscale between white and black) is actually one of the axes.
Similarly, if one pictures the colour bars on a waveform monitor white
and black represent opposite ends of the video spectrum. White and black
are therefore colours and not only qualities of light and dark.6
Fig. 3 RGB colour space can be mapped onto a three dimensional cube. Red, green
and blue values are represented by the three primary axes that originate
at black and reach saturation at their end points. If this cube
displayed an 8-bit colour model, which reproduces 256 gradations of
red, green and blue, the numerical value attributed to red would be
(255, 0, 0) green (0, 255, 0) and blue (0, 0, 255). The values
for black and white would be (0, 0, 0) and (255, 255, 255) respectively.
Fig. 4 A waveform monitor image, measuring luminance, corresponding to the
seven stripes of the colour bars’ test signal. (nb. White is a mixture
of green, red and blue; yellow is a mixture of green and red; cyan is
a mixture of green and blue; and magenta is a mixture red and blue.)
The downward staircase shown in the waveform monitor image of the colour
bars is explained by the fact that green makes the greatest contribution
to the luminance portion of a video signal followed by red and blue.
Besides the aesthetics
of colour mixing per se, the following sections of the essay deal with
the ways in which certain works construct an experience of colour that
is mathematically coded. Many of the videos that are discussed
involve processes and structures that produce an experience of colour
that would seem to be at odds with the precision implied by digital
imaging. Broader questions might be raised if one were to deal
with videos that incorporate camera-recorded imagery, but in this instance
I have sought to concentrate on works involving computer-generated colour.
There are numerous
video artists that used colour in a bold fashion in the analogue era,
experimenting with processes that might generate vibrant hues and contrasts.
In Britain the early videotapes made by Peter Donebauer, including Entering (1974), involved a complex technological setup to produce
swathes of colour that sweep across the screen in hypnotic feedback
patterns. Some of George Barber’s irreverent Scratch videos, such
as Tilt (1984), with its chroma-keyed geometric planes of colour
set against plundered and then saturated television footage, are another
good example. But analogue video didn’t allow for a subtle or
assured use of colour: there were visible differences in image quality,
for example, when one made copies of a work from one tape to another.7 Now that video is a fully digital medium it comes with a colour palette
that has a precise frame of reference: 8-bit colour will reproduce 256
gradations of red, green and blue, making for a palette of 16,777,216 colours (256 x 256 x 256), each with a unique numerical value. In theory
digital video provides for colours that are infinitely reproducible
and highly controllable. In what follows I will compare the use
of colour in a number of digital video works, beginning with two very
early pieces: Stephen Beck’s Video Weavings (1976) and Woody and Steina Vasulka’s Digital Images (1978).8
Fig. 5 Two stills from Video Weavings Stephen Beck (1976, video, colour, sound, 10 mins.) USA. Courtesy of
Steve Beck Archives, Berkeley, California © Copyright 1974-2009 by Steve
Beck All Rights Reserved. www.stevebeck.tv.
In light of the
account of video technology and colour coding above it is significant
to note that both Beck and the Vasulkas had a hand in building their
own processing tools and technologies, allowing them to affect the coordinates
of the video image including its colour.9 The video synthesiser that Beck designed and developed to produce Video Weavings allowed for the processing of algorithms, in real-time,
that would generate patterns analogous to those of woven textiles.
The scanning line of the video signal could be seen as equivalent to
the warp and weft of a weaver’s loom (Beck, n.d.). The coloured
squares and rectangles, which are the basic components of the work’s
evolving patterns, are elementary digital forms that were produced by
the digital processing of the analogue signal. The small blocks
of colour in tessellated patterns produce chevrons, diamonds and other
shapes that traverse the screen in horizontal, vertical and diagonal
ripples, or radiate from its centre in a wonderful array. One
thing that is particularly intriguing about the work is the degree to
which the colours seem to mix. It is impossible to tell whether
it is the colours of the shapes that transform, or the expansion/diminution
and disappearance of the shapes themselves that make it look as if the
colours are dissolving.
Fig. 6 Four images from Digital Images Woody and Steina Vasulka (1978, video, colour, sound, 24 mins.) USA.
Courtesy of the artists.
Many of the Vasulka’s
videotapes, from the early 1970s onwards, document the aesthetic possibilities resulting from image processing
tools. Digital Images is an explicitly didactic piece that explains the parameters of digital processing by using the Digital
Image Articulator designed by Jeffrey Shier, who also appears in the
video.10 In the first part of this video Shier demonstrates how a binary division of the raster results in a scalable
grid. The description is fascinating and instructive in
terms of its explaining the fundamental concept of digital image processing,
which is as relevant to contemporary digital imaging technology.
In the opening section of the video horizontal stripes are used to display
the divisions of vertical axis, and vertical stripes are used to display
the divisions of the horizontal axis. The bars that demarcate
these divisions are black and red, but their colour is arbitrary; any
two colours could be used to illustrate the same point. In a later passage
complementary colours are used to display a range of simple geometric
shapes and patterns: one example is a pink ‘E’ shape on a cyan background.
Here the choice of colours is less arbitrary as complementary colours
show the pattern most vividly, though any complementary colour pair
could be used to the same effect. A series of these shapes in
quick succession, using different pairs of colours, makes for an intriguing
effect, but the video does not explore optical phenomena per se.
Instead it highlights the formal characteristics of images that result
from technological intervention. In a later section of the video, the
output of the Digital Image Articulator is plugged into the input, forming
a feedback loop that results in multi-coloured horizontal, vertical
and diagonal bars, lines and dashes that create a crazy shifting tartan
pattern. The hovering colours are unpredictable and the relationship
between form and colour is randomized and made completely unstable.
The advantage of digital imaging is that form, colour and sequencing
are made calculable, precise and reproducible, but in this passage the
logic of the Digital Image Articulator, and digital processing in general,
is thrown off kilter.
Both Beck and
the Vasulkas could be seen as latter day constructivists, investigating
and working with the component parts of the medium and its technology.
The major difference between the two is that Beck’s is an applied
and highly decorative art: digital processes have been designed and
implemented by the artist to produce a particular pattern that might
be used in numerous ways.11 In contrast, much of the
Vasulkas’ work is analytic and represents a quasi-scientific endeavour.
It is in this vein that Woody Vasulka has characterized his work as
“anti art”.12 In Digital Images the component colours are used to define the formal structures of the
image and demonstrate the capacity of digital processing. Though
the feedback patterns in the later section are the antithesis of the
earlier geometric shapes, they are the result of the same kind of technological
enquiry. In Video Weavings, the shapes and colours are absolutely specific to the patterns generated
by the processes of the work. In this light, Video Weavings fits
the West Coast tradition of abstract cinema that goes back to Oskar
Fischinger via John and James Whitney.13 Irrespective of their differences, the work of Beck and the Vasulkas
represent key examples of early video art that were ahead of their time
in the exploration of digital aesthetics. Similar formal patterns
of quadrilateral shapes, in varying colour combinations, have been explored
in more recent digital video work, as has digital distortion.
Abstraction serves different ends again however, especially because
digital technology is now practically ubiquitous.
Fig. 7 36 Norbert Pfaffenbichler and Lotte Schreiber (2001, video, colour,
sound, 2 mins.) Austria; and uta zet reMI (2001, video, colour,
sound, 5 mins.) Austria/Netherlands. Courtesy of the artists.
The videos 36 (2001) by Norbert Pfaffenbichler and Lotte Schrieber and uta
zet (2001) by reMI (Renate Oblak and Michael Pinter) represent two
contrasting approaches to colour digital imaging in recent work.
One thing that both of these pieces have in common with the earlier
work of Beck and the Vasulkas is that they were produced by directly
engaging with the technology - though it is a matter of programming
rather more than building hardware. 36 plots the parameters of digital imaging in a manner that is akin to
the first passages of the Vasulkas’ video, which cycles through the
permutations of form and colour within a given grid. The flat
graphic composition of the piece is organized in terms of a rectangle
that is set in from the edge of the frame by a grey border and split
into three sections: a black square, a white lattice, and a stripe that
runs along the base of the rectangle that is effectively a time signature.
These shapes are static forms upon which the algorithms of the piece
are played out. Thirty-six white dashes sit on the black square,
while the white lattice holds a palette of colours from across the spectrum
of an 8-bit digital colour palette. The piece begins with the
white dashes being set in motion, traveling across the black square
along horizontal and vertical paths. On the right-hand side of
the image, the colours begin to weave through the white lattice, and
newly mixed colours appear in each swatch. The movement of the
dashes on the left of the screen makes for different alignments.
At various points the horizontal and vertical dashes cross paths, pause
and mark specific coordinates. The video develops in a manner that is
thoroughly systematic: the horizontal and vertical dashes eventually
coalesce and form six white squares; and the weave through the white
lattice stops once all the colours in the palette have been mixed.
It is the right hand side of the screen that is of most concern here.
Once the piece is in motion it is ablaze with colour mixing, producing
innumerable hues. The colour swatches shift horizontally and vertically
though the lattice, which almost disappears when the weaving is at its
most intense. At the same time the colour mixing is still contained
by the white lattice and the fact that it is set in from the edge of
the screen. In this respect the video offers something of a theoretical
demonstration of the colour combinations that might be produced by the
technology. As far as the logic of the work is concerned the optical
nature of colour mixing is neither here nor there.
While the formalist
aesthetics of 36 partially resemble the first section of Digital
Images, the randomized colour patterns in the latter section of
the Vasulkas’ video resonate in several pieces by reMI. Many
of reMI’s videos, including uta zet, use sampled feedback,
glitches and distortion to act out an assault on the surface composition
of digital imagery. In contrast to the calculated plotting of
digital screen space in Pfaffenbichler and Schrieber’s work, reMI
bombard the viewer with strobing imagery and disruptive patterns, which
apparently result from overloading the technology. In uta zet rolling bands of analogue video distortion make for glitching fields
of saturated pink and green, interrupted by pixellated waves, which
are orange and blue, or black and white, echoing the clicks and cuts
of the soundtrack. Towards the end of the video deformed television imagery also creeps into the mix. reMI’s
work is aggressively anti-digital in the sense that it counters the
rational interfaces of new media technology (which 36 evokes)
and the seamless aesthetics associated with digital compositing and
high definition video. It is set on the degradation and deformation
of the video image and implies a critique of the medium. In seeking
to unravel the weave of the video image, the destructive impulse in
this work is the antithesis of Beck’s Video Weavings.
The colour in uta zet is as brilliant and vibrant as that in Video Weavings, but it certainly isn’t decorative; nor is it used
to map or highlight the formal-technological principles of video imaging
as in the Vasulkas’ work. In many respects the colour is a by-product
of processes that have been implemented to distort and degenerate the
video signal. In contrast to the era in which Beck and the Vasulkas
made their first digital video works, 36 and uta zet were made at the cusp of the present period in which
moving digital imagery is everywhere. 36 restated the underlying patterns of digital imaging, and uta zet stood in reaction to it.
Fig. 8 Still from Colour Bars Simon Payne (2004, video, colour, silent,
7 mins. 35 secs.) UK.
Each of the videos
that I have made since Colour Bars (2004) has drawn on the same
limited palette of primary and secondary colours that constitute the
standard test signal image.14 The only colours that
I have used are yellow, cyan, green, magenta, red and blue, plus black
and white, but they appear in different configurations and shapes, and
often alternate at the rate of twenty-five frames per second.
The arrangement of vertical stripes in Colour Bars adopts the
basic pattern of the test signal image. Sometimes there are only two
colours on screen at any one time because the width of the bars has
been expanded. For the most part the full complement fills the
screen, though they have often been shifted horizontally one way or
the other. In Thirds (2006), which is a piece for two projectors,
only one colour at a time appears from each of the projectors.15 The light projected by each beam, at any one moment, is a solid block
of digital colour. These colour fields are the antithesis of high
definition video imagery - where millions of pixels per frame offer
the capacity to distinguish minute differences in the detail of a picture
- because each pixel is of an equivalent value to every other pixel
within the same frame. In this regard, it makes very efficient use of
the chroma subsampling process described earlier in the essay.16 The overlapping projection beams in Thirds make for widescreen proportions, but the two pieces that I made subsequently, New Ratio (2007) and Iris Out (2008), explicitly deal with the move from the standard definition aspect
ratio of 4:3 to the widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9.17 In New Ratio, the rectangle at the centre of the screen
involves a concentration of colours in sequences that overlap, producing
an intermittently brighter palette. At the same time the full
frame alternating background colour fields reinforce and exercise the
edges of the screen. New Ratio is the first of the videos in this series of pieces to have a soundtrack.
In the first instance I appropriated the standard 1KHz test tone that
comes with the colour bars. I halved its pitch to make the lowest
tone that I would use, and then produced tones at equal intervals between
these two points assigning each tone to one of the colours between yellow
and blue, in descending order. The pulse of the looping colour
fields and sound sequences propel the rhythm of the piece. In Iris Out, the circles that expand and contract refer to a
form of transition that is sometimes used at the start or end of film
scenes. In certain passages of the video, the combination of circles
and ellipses also resembles an eye, returning the gaze of the spectator.
The colours in
each of these pieces are mixed in different ways. Some sections
of Colour Bars comprise two layers of video - which were superimposed
in the timeline of the editing software that I used to construct the
piece - making for a palette of possibly twenty-eight colours.
In compositing these sections the colour values of the pixels in each
layer were added together. In Thirds, it is the two overlapping projections that produce the effect of superimposition.
Different cycles of the eight basic colours are projected by each beam
and in the overlap a third lighter set of colours are mixed. This
is a truly additive mode of colour mixing, which results from the direct
mixture of light when the piece is projected.18 There
are two further modes of additive colour mixing that occur in each of
the videos from Colour Bars through to Iris Out: the red, green and blue pixels in the surface
of the projected image mix to produce the full palette of colours that
are perceived when one stands back from the image; and then there is
the mixture of colours that occurs when the colour fields alternate
every frame. This last form of colour mixing is due to the persistence
of vision and the effect of positive and negative afterimages. R.L.
Gregory refers to the persistence of vision as the “inability of the
retina to signal rapidly changing intensities” (1998: 116).19 An optical mixture of colours is produced by the inability to differentiate
between the several colours that pass before the eye in quick succession.
Positive and negative afterimages are also contributory factors.
Positive afterimages come in the first few seconds after the eye has
been exposed to a bright light, especially when viewed in darkness;
negative afterimages occur subsequently and are more visible against
a light surface (Gregory, 1998: 57). Livingstone refers to colour
afterimages in her account of opponent colour coding that I referred
to earlier: “If you stare at a red spot you will see a cyan afterimage,
if you stare at a blue spot you will see an yellow afterimage, and so
on” (2002: 92). The effects associated with the persistence
of vision and afterimages are suggestive, but to what degree can they
account for the colours that one sees when the stimuli come in varying
sequences at 25 frames per second?
explanation of perception also falls short when one considers the relationship
between colour and movement. As outlined earlier, the perception
of movement is cued by luminance signals, rather than colour.
The eye and brain apparently detect motion by tracking edges that entail
a contrast in luminance; shape has nothing to do with it and nor does
colour.20 However, in recognizing and describing
motion one cannot help but attach it to objects. The same is true
of colour. And to say that we perceive the trace of edges with
a high luminance contrast, rather than the movement of coloured objects,
seems counterintuitive. But in Colour Bars, Thirds, New Ratio and Iris Out it is certainly not the motion of
coloured shapes that one sees because the change in the position and
size of each shape – be they stripes, rectangles, or circles – is
radically different from one frame to the next. The perception
of movement really does become a matter of following edges, rather than
colour and form. At the same time it is impossible to separate
one’s sense of movement from that of form and colour. We do see in
colour after all. In this regard, there is a tension between colour,
shape and movement in each of these videos.
In many ways the
aesthetics of my videos have been informed by forerunners who were filmmakers
rather than video artists. The structure in each piece is based
on sequences of frames predominantly, and likewise the basic unit is
usually the frame rather than the pixel, the line or the signal.
There are numerous films that I could cite as having been influential,
stretching back to the classic abstract films of Hans Richter and Walther
Ruttmann made in the 1920s. In thinking about the way that I have
used colour in particular, I have often come back to Sharits’ films,
though the difference between the colour in his films and my videos
- including consideration of the way that colour is reproduced in these
two mediums - is as important as any surface similarity.21 In this light it is the use of computer-generated colour that makes
my work specifically digital. The colour that I have used from Colour Bars onwards has a particular quality that is different to
colour in film and indeed analogue video: it is bold, substantive and
opaque.22 Furthermore, it is also the product
of an ideal palette that is a mathematical construct. Each colour
has a specific value that nominally relates to a mixture of red, green
and blue light. But there is no accounting for the shades or intensities
of colour that one might actually see in these videos. One of
the things that I have been most keen to explore in my work is the conflict
between the apparent precision of digital colour coding and the complex
objects of visual perception.
Fig. 9 Diagram for Iris Out Simon Payne (2008, video, colour,
sound, 10 mins) UK.
Beck, Stephen. Not Dated. ‘Video
Weavings (1973-76)’. http://www.stevebeck.tv/weav.
Enticknap, Leo. 2005. Moving
Image Technology. London: Wallflower.
Gage, John. 1999. Colour and
Meaning: Art, Science ad Symbolism. London: Thames and Hudson.
Gordon, Ian E. 2004. Theories
of Visual Perception. 3rd Edition. Hove: Psychology Press.
Gregory, Richard. L. 1998. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing. 5th Edition.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Livingstone, Margaret. 2002. Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing. New York: Abrams.
Mather, George. 2008. Motion
Meigh-Andrews, Chris. 2006. A History of Video Art: The Development of Form and Function. Oxford:
Moritz, William. 1979. “Non-objective
Film: the Second Generation” in Film as Film: Formal Experiment in Film 1910-75. Eds.
Deke Dusinberre and A.L. Rees. London: Arts Council/Hayward Gallery.
Pfaffenbichler, Norbert and Sandro
Droschl, eds. 2004. Abstraction Now. Graz: Edition Camera
Poynton, Charles. 2003. Digital
Video and HDTV: Algorithms and Interfaces. San Francisco: Morgan
Rees, A.L. 2007. “Frames and
Windows: Visual Space in Abstract Cinema”, in Avant-Garde Film.
Eds. Dietrich Scheunemann and Alexander Graf. New York: Rodopi.
Sharits, Paul. 1978. “Words
Per Page”. Film Culture. 65-66. 29-42.
Spielmann, Yvonne. 2004. “Video and Computer: The Aesthetics of Woody and Steina Vasulka”.
Spielmann, Yvonne. 2008. Video: The Reflexive Medium. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Thompson, Evan. 1995. Colour
Vision: A study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception. London: Routledge.
Vasulka, Woody and Peter Weibel,
eds. 2008. Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers
1973-1990. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Karlsruhe: ZKM.
Watkinson, John. 2001. An Introduction to Digital Video. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Focal Press.
Wilkin, Karen. 2007. Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975. New York: American Federation of the Arts.
|INFLeXions No. 4 (Dec. 2010)
Transversal Fields of Experience