Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Will Luers is the latest artist here on Life, the Universe and Art. Currently residing with his wife and kids in Portland, Oregon, Will is a native of Washington DC. He received his MFA in Film from Columbia University, and his undergrad from the university of Pennyslvania. He recently finished an artist-in-residency at the Digital, Technology and Culture program at Washington State University Vancouver. Will's exhibitions include the Media Arts show at the Electronic Literature Organization as well as Pixelodeon. His extensive teaching record includes Parson's School of Design, Hunter College, Portland State University, Pacific University. Will's work explores the materiality of cinema as it intersects with the internet through spatial montage, asynchronous loops, seriality, hyperlinking and locative media.
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1. You situate your work as net cinema poetics. What does this definition involve? How does this concept inform the way you create work? What constitutes the ideology behind net cinema poetics?
“Net cinema”, rather than just “online video”, is net art that draws on the basic elements of cinematic language: duration, montage and framed space. The network opens up all these other possibilities: spatial montage, the non-linearity of the database, generative montage, loops and short durations (5-10 seconds).
The poetics of net cinema is what I have decided to explore with my writing and video work on solublefish.tv. I think of this blog as a brain gym, to keep alive my cinematic thinking muscles. Just like the real gym, I have to constantly argue with myself to go workout, but I always feel much better when I do. I think my “ideology” is that cinema history has given us - all of us - a powerful and universal tool to express, think, play and share on a global stage. Before we rush to find the new show business models on the internet, lets see what else can be done. There may be many new forms of cinema art waiting to be invented. And even new ways to monetize those forms.
2. Alot of your work, in particular Foliage and Steam, Light, Grid has a finely developed aesthetic that exposes the materiality of the digital. What does the material manifestation, the form and function of the digital, conceptually construct within your work? How does this affect your process of creating works?
I should say that what gets me working productively is when my intentions get out of the way. With Foliage, I was walking in a forest with my kids on an exceptionally clear Fall day. I started collecting video of the light playing on the leaves. It was many weeks later that I brought everything into Final Cut and started playing around with the materiality of the images. It struck me that the pixelate effect did three things to the image of the autumn leaves. It separated the colors into very clean abstract panels that pulsated with light. It created a natural grid with which to layer images. And it gave me an easy digital metaphor for what happens to a leaf’s color when it breaks down on a cellular level. So all of this was a discovery. With Steam, Light Grid, it was a similar process of discovery. It is only in the final post-production stages that I really know what I am doing. The surprise is what keeps me interested all the way through.
3. Steam, Light, Grid and The Walking Man, both employ scenes of the everyday, juxtaposed and interspersed in fragments. How do the everyday fragments conceptually operate within your work? How do these visual fragments function for your viewer? And how doe they relate to the digital materiality of your work?
A feature production will spend a lot of money on creating an illusion of everyday. When there is no budget, as is the case with most videobloggers, one’s microcosm becomes the subject of the work. And what a rich subject. I have spent over fifteen years as a struggling screenwriter. I enjoy writing dramatic stories for the “big” screen, but you have to rely on your own mind for source material. Inside the everyday there is an endless field of potential images. It is still a struggle to get outside of abstractions and really see what is in front of you, but as a way to collect material for post-production, the everyday is extremely generous.
I feel the need to run the material through a digital grinder and see what forms come out the other end. One of those grinders is spatial montage, juxtaposing multiple frames within a single larger frame. I guess fragmenting the images in this way keeps me from identifying to easily with their everydayness. Art wants to make the familiar, unfamiliar.
4. Rhythmic sound drives the structure of your works, especially in West Loop and Strange loop. How did you develop the sound for these pieces and how does the sound create and affect the form of the piece?
I want to work at integrating sound earlier in the process. Right now, sound is an afterthought. In the loops you mentioned, I simply searched my iTunes library for fragments that might fit. I then threw these into the timeline, slowed things down, sped things up, etc. A very similar process to how I work with the images. These loops were also remixed fragments of old movies, so I was thinking of appropriate sounds for particularly movie genres.
5. In The Walking Man, you collaborated with Joel Sugerman. This piece is strucured in nine phases, how does each phase function? The sound of the piece utilizes a distinct digital material voice contrasted with human fragments, how does the sound function in relation to the image for you? Also, how has this collaboration informed your practice? How was this different from your solo work? What were the benefits of this artistic collaboration? What were the difficulties of this collaboration?
Joel Sugerman is a very talented (and funny) actor who was staying with me for a month. I always wanted to do a project with him, but I didn’t have any clear idea. So he and I created a character who was a wide-eyed tourist visiting Portland. We would go out into the city and I would take video with my pocket camera of him interacting with the locations. Sometimes I had him do things, but mostly it was me documenting his improvisations.
I had recently read quite a lot about psychogeography and surrealist urban walks for a workshop on locative art, so I was headed in that direction. I think our ambition was to reinvent 1920’s slapstck as a net art form. That naturally led to playing with speed and changing the video to high contrast black and white. Then the multiple panels produced some interesting effects. That is when I started to write the digital voice as a commentary on walking in the city – a smooth textbook voice trying to explain and control how we experience the world. I was trying to provide some narrative unity to something quite random. In contrast to the voice, the multiple images stutter and jolt in a way that is more like life, even though as representation it is very artificial. In a way, the series became about the process of making it: the futile attempt to manage experience with technology. I am mostly pleased with it, because it gives me a path for creating stories that don’t rely on the traditional narrative shooting/cutting methods. I am very much looking forward to working with actors (especially with Joel) again.
6. How has the employment of locative technologies in your work informed your practice? Has it changed the way you create and think about the work of art? Because your work, tends to talk not only about poetics but also about the materiality of the digital, how how the use of locational technologies manifested with these two conceptual veins in your work? How does the definition of a narrative walk affect the process of making, as opposed to the poetics of your work?
Mobile applications will make it very easy to plant video in space, like you would a geocache. I am intrigued by the idea of having to walk to get to a new chapter or episode in a series. The problem is the story (or game) has to be pretty compelling. I think we might see geotagged video be a part of larger cross-platform works, like Alternate Reality Games. But then again, for anyone who has ever geocached, it is not the treasure so much as the hunt that is so gratifying. One of the challenges of net cinema in a world of sensory overload is how to reinvent the visible. One way is through fragmentation, collage, and remixing. Locative cinema offers another way by integrating screen space with movement in real space.
Top Ten List
In no particular order:
1. The community of video-art bloggers (too many to name) – we encourage each other to make things and share them
2. Raul Ruiz (esp. Poetics of Cinema 1 & 2) – combinatory cinema, pluralizing narrative sequences
3. Jacques Rivette (everything) – a cinema of being
4. Laura Riding Jackson (Progress of Stories) – stories about the stories about being
5. Samuel Beckett (short works for television) – condensed messy dramas, repetition, clarity of image
6. Eija-Liisa Ahtila – condensed dramas with spatial montage
7. Roy Ascott (Telematic Embrace) – generative art, “fields of meaning”
8. Bill Viola (esp. I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like) – video as a tool of perception
9. Adrian Miles (vog manifesto) – pioneer thinker about networked video
10. Mark Amerika (Professor VJ, Meta/Data) - net art as life practice, remixology
7. What are your current projects?
I have five or six projects I am working on. One or two will arrive someplace interesting. I am designing some small walk projects. A series made of 12 second episodes. The same old “new media” question keeps nagging me: how are we going to tell stories/create experiences that combine text, images, video, audio and now spatial co-ordinates? I am working on more narrative ideas, but that still explore the non-linearity of database structure. It’s very hard because storytelling is about control, and the database is about giving up control. It is the tension that I wake with every morning – how much to plan, how much to leave to chance.
List of Works
1. Still from Foliage, 2008
2. Still from Steam, Light, Grid,2008
3. Still from Westward,2008
4. Still from Walking Man, 2009
5. Picture from Narrative Walks, 2008
6. Picture from The Father Divine Project, 2008