Multimedia Art as (Potentially) Revolutionary Chance Encounter

“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.”
Comte de Lautréamont

Blast No. 1: ‘Review of the Great English Vortex’
(cover of the Vorticist journal)
Wyndham Lewis, ed.
June 20, 1914
Courtesy The Poetry Collection, State University of New York at Buffalo

Letter to Musical Collaborator:

I talked in class today about T&T and your role as producer. In light of Walter Benjamin’s essay from 1936, The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, my class discussed how modern modes of production, first pioneered in Dada and Surrealism, involved strategies of radical fragmentation, using new technologies to blast apart familiar reality and reveal regions of time and space which had previously remained unknown, unconscious. Subsequent work in the arts has sought to reconnect these fragments into larger wholes, or contain these new time zones and inner and outer spaces, within architectural and multimedia frames. In brief, samples and mashups, along with video installations (click) and soundscapes (click and click), have become the basic artistic techniques of our day. All of which is simply to say, I’m as interested in collaboration and post-production as much as anyone. Count me in.

May Ray
Minotaur (1933)

History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. It evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past. This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class give the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical one, which is how Marx understood the revolution.

Thinking involves not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives that configuration a shock, by which it cristallizes into a monad. A historical materialist approaches a historical subject only where he encountes it as a monad. In this structure he recognizes the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogenous course of history — blasting a specific life out of the era or a specific work out of the lifework.

–Walter Benjamin, “Theses on History” (1940)

Etienne-Jules Marey
(1830 – 1904)
Motion Studies

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.” Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, it extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.

–Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936)

Robert Gober
Untitled (1992)
Mixed Media
Collection of the Artist

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