Tag Archives: review

Email and ipads in ancient Rome?

I spent a day with IT4Arts, the London City-based Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (a Guild) which provides free advice and training for non-for-profit Arts organisations such as the Screendance Journal, but also big established institutions such as, the Roundhouse, the Royal Albert Hall, Tate, and BBC etc.

A most fascinating talk was given by Tom Standage from The Economist, author of Writing on the Wall (2013). Applying current, social media vocabulary to the means of communication amongst the Romans and in the Middle Ages, he argued basically that they had networks of communication that functioned much like our social media, with messages and news that were sent from person to person, and with news that were trending across networks and others that faded away quickly.

According to Standage there are three phases of media development, with Really Old Media from 60BC through to 1833, Old Media until 2000, and New Media since then. The Really Old Media included paintings as a form of selfies, letters on papyrus delivered by slaves and copied to others as a sort of email equivalent, a whole system of messengers (tabelari) as broadband, and a culture of copying books and adding books to personal libraries as an equivalent to person to person distribution. An example of a social media savvy person as suggested by Standage is the Evangelist Paul, who wrote letters to key churches, such as his letter to the Colossians, knowing that they would be copied time and again until eventually every church would hold a copy and hear about his ideas. Strategic blogging and tweeting, in other words, is not exactly a new idea.

No doubt there were significant changes with the invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press with movable types in around 1450, but the changes were gradual. Initially any printing was small scale and served mainly to amplify the person to person distribution. For example, when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in protest against the Pope’s selling off of indulgences – which supposedly saved people from going to purgatory and which Luther saw as a complete con – he discovered the power of printed distribution. His first theses were written in Latin, addressing the more learned people and thereby limiting the readership. Noting the considerable interest in his theses Luther then translated them into a form of German, and it took a mere two weeks for the theses to be distributed around the whole of Germany. (A little side effect was that this nationwide distribution established a common German language.) According to Standage, Luther’s thesis can count as an excellent example of peer-to-peer distribution.

As Standage proposed, later historical social media phenomena were, for example, the coffee houses of the 1600s, which acted as debating chambers and thrived on the buzz created by the newly imported coffee. The Tudors had a thing called the commonplace books, which were personal diaries of sorts and used for noting poems and ideas. The commonplace books were shown to friends for the purpose of sharing inspiration and for copying. Occasionally, Standage added, they were circulated amongst several authors as in the court of Anne Boleyn and served to speculate and to ‘gossip’ on who was whose lover etc.

Only in 1833, Standard argued, did the press achieve the kind of mass distribution we know today, which established a radically different, controlling, and top-down circulation of the news. While in Luther’s time small printers would print, for example, a 1000 copies and remunerate the author by handing him 100 of those, from the 1800s the press was owned by the very wealthy who impose their own version of the news, temporarily overriding social media circuits.

Standage concluded that the social networks of the Really Old Media had essentially allowed for the same kind of synchronisation of opinions we experience today with twitter, blogging and Facebook, and which underpin events like the Arab Spring. Hence, the ‘new social media’ must be considered as a revival of ancient horizontal distribution systems. Current social media have amplified the reach and speed of communication  through new technologies, but they are not a new phenomenon as such. The old coffee houses – hotbeds of ideas and centres of innovation – meanwhile morphed, over time, into new kinds of businesses like insurance brokers, and fuelled collaborations and scientific discoveries.

All of this reminds me that getting together, talking and sharing ideas is absolutely vital for any culture. That was precisely the situation at the beginning of the screendance venture, when Doug Rosenberg, Katrina McPherson and I secured the funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for an international Network in Screendance. The Network fund allowed us to gather a set of key people and to meet twice a year, either in the US or the UK, and to spend a few days together talking. Most crucially the Network fund had not required us to predetermine what exactly we were going to do together! Out of these intensive encounters then came the idea, that we needed a dedicated platform for the publication of debates in the field of Screendance, and that led, a mere six months later, to the launch of the Screendance Journal. It is a great shame that nowadays days most funding proposals require a fully formed plan of action and a whole set of outcomes before one has even started meeting. This disregards how ideas are formed, and how people become productive. Three cheers for the AHRC for keeping up the Network Grant.

For videos of the IT4Arts talks see Information Technologists

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Chirstinn Whyte’s Review of LIFF

Leeds International Film Festival has been a high profile presence on the major circuit for almost three decades. Traditionally screening programmes across an eclectic range of fields, from animation to sci-fi, the festival last year dipped a toe into the under represented – in British festival terms, at least – genre of screendance.

This initiative could be viewed as being either exceptionally brave, or extremely foolhardy, in a climate of diminishing state funding and recent loss of all other domestic festivals. Over the last ten years, well-established ventures in Brighton, London, Liverpool and Edinburgh have been extinguished in turn like lit points on a map, leaving LIFF as sole torch-bearer for a genre experiencing international academic and artistic acclaim, but which has traditionally struggled to attract dedicated film festival audiences.

Read on…go to Chirstinn Whyte’s blog UNSPOOLED, also published on the LIFF Screendance FB page. More on the competition here.

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2nd Edition of Light Moves Festival

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Some thoughts on the Light Moves Festival, by Claudia Kappenberg

Last week I spend three days at Light Moves, in Limerick (Ireland). The festival offered a rich combination of screenings, symposium, installed works and talks by seasoned artists whose practices ask profound questions as to who we are and how we relate to the world around us.

Performance artist Nigel Rolfe shared images of an extensive body of work, including a couple of works on video, in which a lone figure exposes itself to the elements. Nigel Rolfe at a screendance festival? This might seem like a stretch to some, but I think it is only a sign of our times and of what there is to come. The screen is becoming ever more ubiquitous, and more and more artists are embracing it as a means to make work and to visit/ revisit their material and ideas.

Rolfe undertakes durational, often daylong interventions and condenses these into 2min long videos, giving as much as glimpses of the work through one slow pan. As a member of Black Market International he is one of a group of artists who have been challenging the cultural and cultivated self by asserting their physical material presence, through durational performances in both urban environments and in the landscape. It is a practice of surrender it seems, to time, weight, and whatever conditions one might find oneself in. Sometimes an audience witnesses this work, sometimes Rolfe has no one for company.

In the everyday our bodies tend to be a kind of background at the service of the mind, and inversions of this constellation tend to be painful and unwelcomed. Watching a performance which challenges this order of things, and even witnessing the process on film can be quite unsettling. So why does Nigel Rolfe go to such extremes, expose himself, at times even endangering his life? The work makes me think of ancient sacrificial rites and lone wolf adventures, of existential feats and extreme sports. However, the work also has a strong aesthetic and performances give rise to striking and beautiful images. Performances can look like paintings made from body, earth and sky, not unlike the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and his contemporaries. Surrender of Self in the search of the sublime perhaps? This work is as much part of our cultural traditions as it is on its margins, and perhaps this paradox is what makes it so intriguing.

As part of an exchange with the Australian multi-arts centre Carriageworks, the festival also included an exhibition of several works that form part of 24 Frames Per Second, a set of 24 new commisions for screen-based work at the intersection of film, dance and the visual arts. One of the works presented at Light Moves was Running Tongue (2015), the latest cinematic collaboration between choreographer Siobhan Davies and filmmaker David Hinton. The work and its creative process was discussed at a conversation between the curators Mary Wycherley and Jürgen Simpson with Sue Davies. Peeling back the layers that led to this composition, Davies described the brief for the 22 independent dance artists who were invited to make a few seconds each. Key to the composition was a selection of 250 proverbs that Davies and Hinton selected from across the world and which delineate and define woman in one way or another. The invited artists were also given a folder with the visual material and painting references, and they were asked to make a composition within a still image that included a freeze frame of a female, naked runner in profile. This female runner was also the link between the different scenes, running through psychedelic cut-out forests and pausing briefly in each of the scenes. The individual scenarios had to be composed as a photographic collage, all the imagery had to be set in London, and movement was considered a luxury. The resulting work is a highly surface-conscious, digital tapestry of textures, colours and shapes, a series of tableaus with strange and unpredictable constellations. Furthermore the whole thing is not a fixed sequence but digitally randomised. No two screenings will ever be the same.

While the tableaus tend to have a narrative feel, there is little actual story telling and the fragmented nature of the work is somewhat unsettling. Yes there is the lone runner travellling from scene to scene but her solitude is not mitigated. Things happen to her she does not react or interact. Her big stride is beautiful and energetic, but the ongoing, neverending cycle turns it into a relentless and somewhat exhausting activity. One could read the work as a portrait of a generation, in which thoughtfulness and tenderness alternate with sudden spouts of violence. Against the backdrop of the recent, seemingly random attacks in Paris, Germany and Tunesia, and the sudden flare-up between Russia and Turkey, this seems all too real.

The choreographed randomness was already present in All This Can Happen, the previous collaboration between Davies and Hinton and another kaleidoscopic composition of cultural life forms and their multiples. All this can happen, say the films, and all this takes place on screen. Maya Deren argued that film was the defining medium of the 20th century. In the 21st century any differences between the screen and the everyday are melting away.

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Embrace your foolishness

“By avoiding dancing, Shakespeare’s Jacques refuses the embrace of his own foolishness,” writes  in the Guardian in a review on dance on the big screen. And I would add that this aspect of dancing is gaining a new currency at a time when life is increasingly measured, standardised and accounted for. Read the full article;

The glorious folly of dance on film

From Singin’ in the Rain to The Full Monty and Strictly Ballroom, dance films celebrate our human capacity for improvised, limitless joy.
Michael Newton, The Guardian, Saturday 28 June 2014
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French blog Digidanse

Nicolas Villodre (Collections, La Cinémathèque de la Danse, Paris) reviews After Deren, the new issue of the International Journal of Screendance, and comments on a recent discussion and presentation on Screendance at the Figures du geste dansé;  Digidanse

 

 

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Filmaktion at Tate Modern

After Leonardo, 1973 – 2012

Malcolm Le Grice, 1973, 3 screens, performance with Keith Rowe, as part of Filmaktion, The Tanks, Tate Modern, London UK

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All this can happen

Last night the new film and collaboration between Siobhan Davies and David Hinton was premiered at Dance Umbrella.

‘All this can happen’ is a major oeuvre, a choreographic and editorial feast with a stunning visuality and amazing soundscape, which take the viewer on a long walk, so to speak, as in Robert Walser’s short story The Walk (1917).

The introductory notes include this description: “Frame by frame, we follow this man’s thoughts and experiences through a constellation of images from a world in all its random diversity. As in a flick book, ordinary movements from everyday activities appear, evolve and freeze, creating a striking choreographic work that playfully blurs our sense of memory, imagination and our sense of self.”

The random diversity includes many things from urban street scenes, kids playing, a man strolling down a country lane, a giant, a traumatised individual staring out from a bed,  greyhounds racing and filmstrips ending in abstract patterns. There is much to think about this epic journey, its sounds and images.

If anyone would like to write a review of this film for the next issue of the International Journal of Screendance please get in touch with us!

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