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<nettime> Vernacular Video
twsherma on Sun, 28 Jan 2007 12:09:34 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Vernacular Video

Vernacular Video

by Tom Sherman

Video as a technology is forty years old. It is an offshoot of
television, developed in the 1930s and a technology that has
been in our homes for nearly sixty years. Television began as a
centralized, one-to-many broadcast medium. Television's centrality
was splintered as cable and satellite distribution systems and
vertical, specialized programming sources fragmented television's
audience. As video technology spun off from television, the mission
was clearly one of complete decentralization. Forty years later,
video technology is everywhere. Video is now a medium unto itself, a
completely decentralized digital, electronic audio-visual technology
of tremendous utility and power. Video gear is portable, increasingly
impressive in its performance, and it still packs the wallop of
instant replay. As Marshall McLuhan said, the instant replay was the
greatest invention of the twentieth century.

Video in 2007 is not the exclusive medium of technicians or
specialists or journalists or artists--it is the peoples' medium.
The potential of video as a decentralized communications tool for
the masses has been realized, and the twenty-first century will be
remembered as the video age. Surveillance and counter-surveillance
aside, video is the vernacular form of the era--it is the common and
everyday way that people communicate. Video is the way people place
themselves at events and describe what happened. In existential
terms, video has become everyperson's POV (point of view). It is an
instrument for framing existence and identity. There are currently
camcorders in twenty per cent of households in North America. As
digital still cameras and camera-phones are engineered to shoot better
video, video will become completely ubiquitous. People have stories to
tell, and images and sounds to capture in video. Television journalism
is far too narrow in its perspective. We desperately need more POVs.
Webcams and video-phones, video-blogs (VLOGS) and video-podcasting
will fuel a twenty-first-century tidal wave of vernacular video.

What Are the Current Characteristics of Vernacular Video?

Displayed recordings will continue to be shorter and shorter
in duration, as television time, compressed by the demands of
advertising, has socially engineered shorter and shorter attention
spans. Video-phone transmissions, initially limited by bandwidth, will
radically shorten video clips.

The use of canned music will prevail. Look at advertising. Short,
efficient messages, post-conceptual campaigns, are sold on the back of
hit music.

Recombinant work will be more and more common. Sampling and the
repeat structures of pop music will be emulated in the repetitive
deconstruction of popular culture. Collage, montage and the
quick-and-dirty efficiency of recombinant forms are driven by the
romantic, Robin Hood-like efforts of the copyleft movement.

Real-time, on-the-fly voiceovers will replace scripted narratives    .
Personal, on-site journalism and video diaries will proliferate      .

On-screen text will be visually dynamic, but semantically crude.
Language will be altered quickly through misuse and slippage. People
will say things like I work in several mediums [sic]. Media is plural.
Medium is singular. What's next: I am a multi-mediums artist? Will
someone introduce spell-check to video text generators?

Crude animation will be mixed with crude behaviour. Slick animation
takes time and money. Crude is cool, as opposed to slick.

Slow motion and accelerated image streams will be overused, ironically
breaking the real-time-and-space edge of straight, unaltered video.

Digital effects will be used to glue disconnected scenes together;
paint programs and negative filters will be used to denote
psychological terrain. Notions of the sub- or unconscious will be
objectified and obscured as quick and dirty surrealism dominates the
creative use of video.

Travelogues will prosper, as road films and video tourism proliferate.
Have palm-corder and laptop, will travel                             .

Extreme sports, sex, self-mutilation and drug overdoses will mix with
disaster culture; terrorist attacks, plane crashes, hurricanes and
tornadoes will be translated into mediated horror through vernacular

>From Avant-Garde to Rear Guard

Meanwhile, in the face of the phenomena of vernacular video,
institutionally sanctioned video art necessarily attaches itself even
more firmly to traditional visual-art media and cinematic history.
Video art distinguishes itself from the broader media culture by its
predictable associations with visual-art history (sculpture, painting,
photography) and cinematic history (slo-mo distortions of cinematic
classics, endless homages to Eisenstein and Brakhage, etc.).

Video art continues to turn its back on its potential as a
communications medium, ignoring its cybernetic strengths (video alters
behaviour and steers social movement through feedback). Video artists,
seeking institutional support and professional status, will continue
to be retrospective and conservative. Video installations provide
museums with the window-dressing of contemporary media art. Video art
that emulates the strategies of traditional media, video sculpture
and installations or video painting reinforces the value of an
institution's collection, its material manifestation of history. Video
art as limited edition or unique physical object does not challenge
the museum's raison detre. Video artists content with making video a
physical object are operating as a rear guard, as a force protecting
the museum from claims of total irrelevance. In an information age,
where value is determined by immaterial forces, the speed-of-light
movement of data, information and knowledge, fetishizing material
objects is an anachronistic exercise. Of course, it is not surprising
that museum audiences find the material objectification of video at
trade-show scale impressive on a sensual level.

As vernacular video culture spins toward disaster and chaos, artists
working with video will have to choose between the safe harbour of
the museum and gallery, or become storm chasers. If artists choose
to chase the energy and relative chaos and death wish of vernacular
video, there will be challenges and high degrees of risk.

Aesthetics Will Continue to Separate Artists from the Public at Large

If artists choose to embrace video culture in the wilds (on the street
or on-line) where vernacular video is burgeoning in a massive storm
of quickly evolving short message forms, they will face the same
problems that artists always face. How will they describe the world
they see, and if they are disgusted by what they see, how will they
compose a new world? And then how will they find an audience for their
work? The advantages for artists showing in museums and galleries are
simple. The art audience knows it is going to see art when it visits
a museum or gallery. Art audiences bring their education and literacy
to these art institutions. But art audiences have narrow expectations.
They seek material sensuality packaged as refined objects attached
to the history of art. When artists present art in a public space
dominated by vernacular use, video messages by all kinds of people
with different kinds of voices and goals, aesthetic decisions are
perhaps even more important, and even more complex, than when art is
being crafted to be experienced in an art museum.

Aesthetics are a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of
beauty. For the purpose of this text, aesthetics are simply an
internal logic or set of rules for making art. This logic and its
rules are used to determine the balance between form and content.
As a general rule, the vernacular use of a medium pushes content
over form. If a message is going to have any weight in a chaotic
environment--where notions of beauty are perhaps secondary to impact
and effectiveness--then content becomes very important. Does the
author of the message have anything to show or say?

Vernacular video exhibits its own consistencies of form. As previously
elaborated, the people's video is influenced by advertising, shorter
and shorter attention spans, the excessive use of digital effects, the
seductiveness of slo-mo and accelerated image streams, a fascination
with crude animation and crude behaviour, quick-and-dirty voice-overs
and bold graphics that highlight a declining appreciation of written
language. To characterize the formal "aesthetics" of vernacular video,
it might be better to speak of anesthetics. The term anesthetic is an
antonym of aesthetic. An anesthetic is without aesthetic awareness.
An anesthetic numbs or subdues perceptions. Vernacular video culture,
although vital, will function largely anesthetically.

The challenge for artists working outside the comfort zone of museums
and galleries will be to find and hold onto an audience, and to
attain professional status as an individual in a collective, pro-am
(professional amateur) environment. Let's face it, for every artist
that makes the choice to take his or her chances in the domain of
vernacular video, there are thousands of serious, interesting artists
who find themselves locked out of art institutions by curators that
necessarily limit the membership of the master class. Value in the
museum is determined by exclusivity. With this harsh reality spelled
out, there should be no doubt about where the action is and where
innovation will occur.

The technology of video is now as common as a pencil for the middle
classes. People who never even considered working seriously in video
find themselves with digital camcorders and non-linear video-editing
software on their personal computers. They can set up their own
television stations with video streaming via the Web without much
trouble. The revolution in video-display technologies is creating
massive, under-utilized screen space and time, as virtually all
architecture and surfaces become potential screens. Video-phones
will expand video's ubiquity exponentially. These video tools are
incredibly powerful and are nowhere near their zenith. If one wishes
to be part of the twenty-first-century, media-saturated world and
wants to communicate effectively with others or express one's position
on current affairs in considerable detail, with which technology would
one chose to do so, digital video or a pencil?

Artists must embrace, but move beyond, the vernacular forms of
video. Artists must identify, categorize and sort through the layers
of vernacular video, using appropriate video language to interact
with the world effectively and with a degree of elegance. Video
artists must recognize that they are part of a global, collective
enterprise. They are part of a gift economy in an economy of
abundance. Video artists must have something to say and be able to
say it in sophisticated, innovative, attractive ways. Video artists
must introduce their brand of video aesthetics into the vernacular
torrents. They must earn their audiences through content-driven

The mission is a difficult one. The vernacular domain is a noisy
torrent of immense proportions. Video artists will be a dime a dozen.
Deprofessionalized artists working in video, many sporting MFA
degrees, will be joined by music-video-crazed digital cooperatives
and by hordes of Sunday video artists. The only thing these varied
artists won't have to worry about is the death of video art. Video art
has been pronounced dead so many times, its continual resurrection
should not surprise anyone. This is a natural cycle in techno-cultural
evolution. The robust life force of vernacular video will be something
for artists to ride, and something to twist and turn, and something
formidable to resist and work against. The challenge will be Herculean
and irresistible.



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