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Re: <nettime> Vernacular Video (expanded version), Tom Sherman 2008
chad scov1lle on Wed, 26 Nov 2008 07:56:26 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Vernacular Video (expanded version), Tom Sherman 2008


'We give away our attention by the split-second to
incoming traffic on our cell phones, PDAs and laptops. Our observational
skills have suffered as we have mastered multitasking. We now commonly
send messages while we are in the act of receiving information.'

Yep, we are finally Full Duplex.

/*Chad Scoville
/*http://ad3pt(dot)tumblr(dot)com
/* TWITTER ME >> ad3ptnanosec
-----Original Message-----
From: Tom Sherman [mailto:twsherma {AT} syr.edu]
Sent: Monday, November 24, 2008 09:22 AM
To: nettime-l {AT} kein.org
Subject: Vernacular Video (expanded version), Tom Sherman 2008

[Note: the following is an expanded version of "Vernacular Video,"originally published in shorter form in Les Fleurs du Mal, issue #2,Montreal, Quebec, September 2006; and is now in print in the VideoVortex Reader: Responses to YouTube, Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer(eds.), Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008.]VERNACULAR VIDEOTom Sherman Video as a technology is a little over forty years old. It is anoffshoot of television, developed in the 1930s and a technology that hasbeen in our homes for sixty years. Television began as a centralised,one-to-many broadcast medium. Television's centrality was splintered ascable and satellite distribution systems and vertical, specialisedprogramming sources fragmented television's audience. As videotechnology spun off from television, the mission was clearly one ofcomplete decentralisation. Forty years later, video technology iseverywhere. Video is now a medium unto itself, a completelydecentralised digital, electronic audio-vi
 sual technology of tremendousutility and power. Video gear is portable, increasingly impressive inits performance, and it still packs the wallop of instant replay. AsMarshall McLuhan said, the instant replay was the greatest invention ofthe twentieth century.Video in 2008 is not the exclusive medium of technicians or specialistsor journalists or artists -- it is the people's medium. The potential ofvideo as a decentralised communications tool for the masses has beenrealised, and the twenty-first century will be remembered as the videoage. Surveillance and counter-surveillance aside, video is thevernacular form of the era -- it is the common and everyday way thatpeople communicate. Video is the way people place themselves at eventsand describe what happened. In existential terms, video has become everyperson's POV (point of view). It is an instrument for framing existenceand identity.There are currently camcorders in twenty per cent of households in NorthAmerica. As digital s
 till cameras and camera-phones are engineered toshoot better video, video will become completely ubiquitous. People havestories to tell, and images and sounds to capture in video. Televisionjournalism is far too narrow in its perspective. We desperately needmore POVs. Webcams and videophones, video-blogs (vlogs) andvideo-podcasting will fuel a twenty-first-century tidal wave ofvernacular video.What Are the Current Characteristics of Vernacular Video?Displayed recordings will continue to be shorter and shorter induration, as television time, compressed by the demands of advertising,has socially engineered shorter and shorter attention spans. Videophonetransmissions, initially limited by bandwidth, will radically shortenvideo clips. The use of canned music will prevail. Look at advertising.Short, efficient messages, post-conceptual campaigns, are sold on theback of hit music. Recombinant work will be more and more common.Sampling and the repeat structures of pop music will be 
 emulated in therepetitive 'deconstruction' of popular culture. Collage, montage and thequick-and-dirty efficiency of recombinant forms are driven by theromantic, 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 textwill be visually dynamic, but semantically crude. Language will bealtered quickly through misuse and slippage. People will say things like'I work in several mediums [sic].' 'Media' is plural. 'Medium' issingular. What's next: 'I am a multi-mediums artist'? Will someoneintroduce spell-check to video text generators? Crude animation will bemixed with crude behaviour. Slick animation takes time and money. Crudeis cool, as opposed to slick. Slow motion and accelerated image streamswill be overused, ironically breaking the real-time-and-space edge ofstraight, unaltered video. Digital effects will be used to gluedisconnected scenes
  together; paint programs and negative filters willbe used to denote psychological terrain. Notions of the sub- orunconscious will be objectified and obscured as 'quick and dirty'surrealism dominates the 'creative use' of video. Travelogues willprosper, as road 'films' and video tourism proliferate. Have palm-corderand laptop will travel. Extreme sports, sex, self-mutilation and drugoverdoses will mix with disaster culture; terrorist attacks, planecrashes, hurricanes and tornadoes will be translated into mediatedhorror through vernacular video.>From Avant-Garde to Rear GuardMeanwhile, in the face of the phenomena of vernacular video,institutionally sanctioned video art necessarily attaches itself evenmore firmly to traditional visual-art media and cinematic history. Videoart distinguishes itself from the broader media culture by itspredictable associations with visual-art history (sculpture, painting,photography) and cinematic history (slo-mo distortions of cinematicclassics
 , endless homages to Eisenstein and Brakhage, etc.).Video art continues to turn its back on its potential as acommunications medium, ignoring its cybernetic strengths (video altersbehaviour and steers social movement through feedback). Video artists,seeking institutional support and professional status, will continue tobe retrospective and conservative. Video installations provide museumswith the window-dressing of contemporary media art. Video art thatemulates the strategies of traditional media, video sculpture andinstallations or video painting reinforces the value of an institution'scollection, its material manifestation of history. Video art as limitededition or unique physical object does not challenge the museum's raisond'etre. Video artists content with making video a physical object areoperating as a rear guard, as a force protecting the museum from claimsof total irrelevance. In an information age, where value is determinedby immaterial forces, the speed-of-light m
 ovement of data, informationand knowledge, fetishising material objects is an anachronisticexercise. Of course, it is not surprising that museum audiences find thematerial objectification of video at trade-show scale impressive on asensual level.As vernacular video culture spins toward disaster and chaos, artistsworking with video will have to choose between the safe harbour of themuseum and gallery, or become storm chasers. If artists choose to chasethe energy and relative chaos and death wish of vernacular video, therewill be challenges and high degrees of risk.Aesthetics Will Continue to Separate Artists from the Public at LargeIf artists choose to embrace video culture in the wilds (on the streetor on-line) where vernacular video is burgeoning in a massive storm ofquickly evolving short message forms, they will face the same problemsthat artists always face. How will they describe the world they see, andif they are disgusted by what they see, how will they compose a neww
 orld? And then how will they find an audience for their work? Theadvantages for artists showing in museums and galleries are simple. Theart audience knows it is going to see art when it visits a museum orgallery. Art audiences bring their education and literacy to these artinstitutions. But art audiences have narrow expectations. They seekmaterial sensuality packaged as refined objects attached to the historyof art. When artists present art in a public space dominated byvernacular use, video messages by all kinds of people with differentkinds of voices and goals, aesthetic decisions are perhaps even moreimportant, and even more complex, than when art is being crafted to beexperienced 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 orset of rules for making art. This logic and its rules are used todetermine the balance between form and content. As a general rule, the
 vernacular use of a medium pushes content over form. If a message isgoing to have any weight in a chaotic environment -- where notions ofbeauty are perhaps secondary to impact and effectiveness -- then contentbecomes very important. Does the author of the message have anything toshow or say?Vernacular video exhibits its own consistencies of form. As previouslyelaborated, the people's video is influenced by advertising, shorter andshorter attention spans, the excessive use of digital effects, theseductiveness of slo-mo and accelerated image streams, a fascinationwith crude animation and crude behaviour, quick-and-dirty voice-oversand bold graphics that highlight a declining appreciation of writtenlanguage. To characterise the formal 'aesthetics' of vernacular video,it might be better to speak of anesthetics. The term anesthetic is anantonym of aesthetic. An anesthetic is without aesthetic awareness. Ananesthetic numbs or subdues perceptions. Vernacular video culture,although 
 vital, will function largely anesthetically.The challenge for artists working outside the comfort zone of museumsand galleries will be to find and hold onto an audience, and to attainprofessional status as an individual in a collective, pro-am(professional amateur) environment. Let's face it, for every artist thatmakes the choice to take his or her chances in the domain of vernacularvideo, there are thousands of serious, interesting artists who findthemselves locked out of art institutions by curators that necessarilylimit the membership of the master class. Value in the museum isdetermined by exclusivity. With this harsh reality spelled out, thereshould be no doubt about where the action is and where innovation willoccur.The technology of video is now as common as a pencil for the middleclasses. People who never even considered working seriously in videofind themselves with digital camcorders and non-linear video-editingsoftware on their personal computers. They can set up 
 their own'television stations' with video streaming via the Web without muchtrouble. The revolution in video-display technologies is creatingmassive, under-utilised screen space and time, as virtually allarchitecture and surfaces become potential screens. Videophones willexpand video's ubiquity exponentially. These video tools are incrediblypowerful and are nowhere near their zenith. If one wishes to be part ofthe twenty-first-century, media-saturated world and wants to communicateeffectively with others or express one's position on current affairs inconsiderable 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, categorise and sort through the layers ofvernacular video, using appropriate video language to interact with theworld effectively and with a degree of elegance. Video artists mustrecognise that they are part of a global, collective enterprise. Th
 eyare part of a gift economy in an economy of abundance. Video artistsmust have something to say and be able to say it in sophisticated,innovative, attractive ways. Video artists must introduce their brand ofvideo aesthetics into the vernacular torrents. They must earn theiraudiences through content-driven messages.The mission is a difficult one. The vernacular domain is a noisy torrentof immense proportions. Video artists will be a dime a dozen.Deprofessionalised artists working in video, many sporting M.F.A.degrees, will be joined by music-video-crazed digital cooperatives andby hordes of Sunday video artists. The only thing these varied artistswon't have to worry about is the death of video art. Video art has beenpronounced dead so many times; its continual resurrection should notsurprise anyone. This is a natural cycle in techno-cultural evolution.The robust life force of vernacular video will be something for artiststo ride, and something to twist and turn, and somethin
 g formidable toresist and work against. The challenge will be Herculean andirresistible.Venturing into the Broader Culture of MessagingThe culture of messaging is transforming art into a much more extensivesocial and political activity. The role of the individual artist ischanging radically as complex finished works of art are no longer widelyembraced enthusiastically by audiences. Attention spans have shrunk andaudiences want to interact with the culture they embrace. Audiences areconsumed by the compulsion to trade messages. Today, messaging is allthat matters. Instant messaging, voice messaging, texting, e-mail, filesharing, social networking, video streaming and all manner ofinteractive synchronous and asynchronous communication are the order ofthe day.The speed and pervasiveness of electronic, digital culture is erasingthe function of art as we knew it. The world of top-down,expert-authored one-to-many forms of communication have given way to thebuzz of the hive. The br
 oadcast and auteur models, where control ofcontent remains firmly in the hands of a few, have disintegrated.Speaking horizontally, one-to-one or many-to-many, now dominates ourtime. Our cultures are no longer bound together by the reception andappreciation of singular objects of thought, but by the vibrations andoscillations of millions of networked transceivers. Transceivers, thosedevices for receiving and authoring messages, the video enabled cellphones and laptop computers and PDAs with webcams, are erasing thedifferences between artists and audiences as both move towards a cultureof messaging.In the early 1960s the communications revolution, satellite-basedtelecommunications, made it impossible to maintain an art separate anddistinct from the culture at large. Boundaries between art and thebroader culture simply broke down due to increased communication.Abstract expressionism, the zenith of Clement Greenberg's high modernism(art for art's sake) was crushed by a deluge of
  advertising imagery. Popart marked the beginning of the postmodern era. Postmodernism resultedfrom a technologically determined collapse of the boundaries segregatingand protecting the art world from a broader culture dominated byadvertising. Chaos has characterised Western art ever since, as for fivedecades we have experienced the relative freedom of an 'anything goes'philosophy of expanding pluralism. Feminism and many previouslyunheralded Others (and content in general -- the counterpoint toabstraction and formalism) took their turns in the spotlight of apostmodern era churned by the broad, alternating strokes of minimalismand the ornate. The formal properties of postmodern art and cultureswing back and forth between the classic simplicity of natural forms(minimalism) and the playfully complicated synthetic hodgepodge ofbricolage (neo-rococo).If pop art essentially signified the big bang that commencedpostmodernity, an era characterised by cultural diversity and hybridit
 y,then we can imagine fragments of art mixed with culture flying away fromthe centre of a cataclysmic implosion. The postmodern implosion of theearly 1960s resulted in an expanding universe where art and culturemixed haphazardly. Art remained as a concept at the centre of thepostmodern implosion, recognisable only through art historicalreferences. Art was pure and identifiable only if it quoted or repeatedits past, an art history crowned by its highest order: abstraction - thezenith of modernism.The Second Implosion: Postmodernity Itself CollapsesWe have now undergone a second, even more violent and gargantuanimplosion. The second postmodern implosion took place early in themillennial decade: 2002-2005. The cultural debris of the expandingpostmodern cultural mix, the delightfully insane levels of diversity,hybridity and horizontality characterising late twentieth centuryculture and its fragmented, disintegrated pockets of contemporary art,had reached a density and weight so 
 disproportionate to the vacuum atthe centre of 'art' that a second complete collapse was unavoidable. Inother words, after five decades of relative chaos, postmodernity itselfhas collapsed and imploded with such intensity that we now occupy a vastcloud of cultural disorientation.If this exercise in cultural cosmology seems unreal and strangely rootedin a philosophical premise that art has an important function increating, remaking and even maintaining order in our increasinglyturbulent cultures, be warned that this text was written by an artist, abeliever in the value of art. Artists believe strongly that it is theirrole to push cultures to change as a result of the imposition of theirart. Art is extreme, twisted, marginal culture; a minority report.Artists believe they are agents of change and act accordingly. Artistsask embarrassing questions. Artists are ahead of their time. By simplyembracing the present, thereby glimpsing the future, artists leadaudiences reluctant to l
 et go of the past. The principle tenets of thebelief system of art are that art refreshes culture and somewhatparadoxically that the history of art can anchor culture during stormytimes of disorder. We live in such stormy times.Art is a belief system in crisis. At the centre of this belief system wefind art chained to art history, to times before the dominance ofcomputers and the emergence of networks and vastly distributedauthorship. We find contemporary art that finds security in looking likeart from the early to mid-twentieth century (modern art). While thesehistorical references have been stretched to the breaking point by timeand technocultural change, the broadest public persists in embracing anidea of art that remains antithetical to television, radio, cinema,design, advertising, and the Web. The Web of course encompasses all ofthe media before it and stirs the pot to the boiling point with a largedose of interactivity. Art at the centre necessarily acquiesces to thep
 arameters of art as have been defined by the history of art, refusingto be corrupted by interactivity, but for more and more thinking peopleart historical references are unconvincing and useless in the face ofour collapsing cultural order. These anachronisms are security blanketswith diminishing returns.One thing for sure is that levels of uncertainty are up big time. Thespeed and volume of cultural exchange is undermining the lasting impactof 'original' ideas, images and sounds, and the economics of bothculture and art are undergoing radical change. In the millennial period,everyone is looking for a foothold. Artists are just as uncomfortablewith instability as everyone else, but the prevailing myth has it thatartists seek and thrive on uncertainty. But there has to be some orderbefore artists can break the rules. Seeking order and security, artistshave been moving back and forth between two pillars of thoughtthroughout the five decades of postmodernity: 1) the history of a
 rt is asource of order and content in a posthistorical era, and 2) culture inthe broadest sense (television, cinema, radio, newspapers, magazines,music, the Web), has its own mind-numbing conventions in formulaicprogramming, but provides access to broader audiences. Artists inhabitand straddle these opposing, negligibly conjoined islands of form andorder and gaze at the turbulent universe swirling around, under and overthem.The Immediate Environment following the Collapse of PostmodernismThe immediate environment is a cloud-like swirl of fragmented particlesand perforated strips of culture and art. The second implosion has beendevastating; delightfully so if one is selling telecommunicationstransceivers. Isolation and alienation must be countered by real andpotential social opportunities. MySpace, Facebook and YouTube come tomind. Digital, electronic networks provide the only perceivable orderand stability in the immediate environment. Digital telecom is thelifeline. This is
  ironic as digital telecom and the horizontal,decentralised nature of internet communication has been the major factorin eroding institutional authority and order. Museums, universities, thepress, religions and the family have all taken major hits. Internetcommunication, while having tremendous advantages in terms of range andasynchronous time, has serious shortcomings in depth, especiallyrelative to a physical social world. On the other hand, a physical andsocial grounding through links with a virtual world are better thannothing. Nature, we are told, is on its deathbed. The autonomy of theindividual has eroded psychologically to the extent that the body hasbecome a fleshy temple. We savour our food, go to the gym, have sex andotherwise push ourselves physically, to the point of exhaustion, inorder to feel our bodies.The current environment favours messaging, the propagation of short,direct, functional messages. The characteristics of poetic art,ambiguity and abstraction, a
 re not particularly useful in a messagingculture. We desperately seek concrete correspondences between our worldof messages and the physical realities of our bodies and what remains ofnature. While messaging can extend beyond our immediate physicalenvironment, the body must remain in contact with the earth. Globaltelecom, the breakdown of space and time, is balanced by the emergenceof microregionalism. Cities are redefined as manageable neighbourhoods.Nature is attainable in specific places; say a clearing in a wooded areabehind a graveyard. Messaging often coordinates physical meetings inparticular spots at specific times.Messaging differs from industrial culture (cinema, television, radio,newspapers, and the synthesis of these smokestack media through the Web)in its pragmatic referencing of the body and specific locales. The bodyis the last autonomous, 'original,' non-mediated physical object, atleast until it is cloned, and its geographical position can be trackedand note
 d. A person, a body, may issue voice or text messages, but thebody is referenced physically by photography or video to create a senseof the site of authorship. Messaging is tied down, given weight andactuality through references to the emanating body. Disclosures of placeare also key to message functionality. 'I'm having a coffee at Starbuckson Marshall Street. (here's my image to prove it) Where are you?' Thismessage from Starbucks differs from art and industrial culture such ascommercial cinema in its brevity and simple goal of placing the body.Obsessive messaging interrupts longer, more complex objects of thoughtlike cinema. Movies, television and certainly literature are perforatedas audiences and readers are sending and receiving messages instead ofpaying total attention, thus breaking the continuity of narratives.Cultural objects are perforated by messaging, compounding their state offragmentation at the hands of advertising. Longer, more demandingnarratives are being 
 blown full of holes by the apparent necessity ofmessaging.Ambiguity and abstraction fare poorly under the siege of constantinterruption. Explicit, pragmatic short message forms, repeated forclarity and effectiveness, may survive the perforation effect. Thisperforation analogy can be used to describe consciousness itself in themillennial decade. There is no such thing as an interruption anymorebecause attention is defined through the heavily perforated veil of ourconsciousness. We give away our attention by the split-second toincoming traffic on our cell phones, PDAs and laptops. Our observationalskills have suffered as we have mastered multitasking. We now commonlysend messages while we are in the act of receiving information.The millennial environment is strangely similar to a premodernenvironment in that accurate description and literal representation tendto rule. The authors of messages (texting, voice, e-mail, webcam, clipsfor video file sharing networks) have short-term
 , clearly definedgoals. In this period after the collapse of postmodern industrialculture and art the environment is 'stable' only in the sense that it isunrelenting in its turbulence and incoherence. There is no room forsmall talk in this kind of environment. The behaviour of other speciesin environments and ecologies with high levels of uncertainty offersinsights into our current situation. For instance, scientists think thatbirds only say two things, no matter how elaborate their songs at dawnand dusk. The birds say 'I have a really good tree,' and 'why don't youcome over and have some sex?' Human messaging follows similar patternsin terms of directness. I have a body and I am in a particular place.Use your imagination to figure out why I am contacting you.The medium of video, and in particular live, real-time video, is theheir apparent to the summit of messaging. No medium establishes presenceand fixes position as well as video. The development and application ofcommunic
 ations technologies forced the initial collapse of modernism inthe early 1960s. The coming of age of digital telecom in the millennialdecade has created the conditions for an even more complete breakdown ofthe meaning of industrial culture and art. We now navigate within athick cloud of shifting cultural debris, anchored by networks permittingus to interact. Most of the messages insist that we exist and insurethat we can sustain ourselves (the business of water, food,companionship, amusement, sex, shelter within the broader concerns ofeconomics and politics).Given the reality and inevitable growth of such a culture of messaging,there are questions we have to ask about the future of culture and art.When will poetic work emerge again in a network-anchored culturedominated by straightforward pragmatic exchanges? And if ambiguous andabstract messages once again emerge, will there be anyone left with thestrength of attention to read them? And finally if artists cling to abelief s
 ystem that includes the potential for transforming culturethrough autonomous, strategic interventions, then how will they do soeffectively in a culture of messaging that continues to diffuse thepower of individual messages in favour of an increasingly scattered,distributed, collective authorship?-----Note: Acknowledgment is due to the art historian Arthur C. Danto for theclarity and utility of his analysis of postmodernity. Danto's After theEnd of Art (Princeton University Press, 1996) served as a springboardfor my scan of the post-postmodern culture of messaging in 2008.# distributed via : no commercial use without permission#  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,# collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets# more info: http://mail.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l# archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org


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