Lev Manovich on Mon, 2 Sep 2002 18:59:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Spatial Montage, Spatial Imaging, and the Arheology of Windows: a Responce to Marc Lafia

Lev Manovich 
[September 1, 2002]

Spatial Montage, Spatial Imaging, and the Arheology of Windows:
a Responce to Marc Lafia

    1. Montage vs. Co-Presence.

My apologies for responding to Marc's exellent text so late - however, now
that some of you had a chance to visit Documeta 11 and to see the works he
discusses, this maybe a good moment to pick up the thread. (For those who
will not be going to Documenta, note that the Documenta installations of
Isaac Julian and Eija-Lisa Ahtila would be also included in ZKM's Cinema
Future exhibition which opens on November 15.)

I think that Marc's observations arevery perceptive and that his overall
paradigm of "the spatialization of the image" is a productive way to start
thinking about various recent practices of a time-based (and now,
"space-based" as well) moving image. I agree with Marc that "new spatial
cinema or spatial imaging" often bypasses the logic of montage (i.e.,
juxtaposition as the source of meaning and effect) in favor of other
logics - which Marc started to map out.

Yet I also think that Marc's proposal that "the whole concept and project
of montage or cinema as the place from which to speak of these new forms,
new regimes of image is wholly inadequate and a looking at the moment in a
backwards fashion" is being underminded by his own examples. He does admit
that some of the key practioners of "spatial cinema" - Sherin Neshat,
Eija-Lisa Ahtila, and Isaac Julian - all rely on the cinematic montage.
And while I agree with Marc that a number of other "spatial imaging"
installations included in the Documenta 11, or show elsewhere, do not
operate within the cinematic montage paradigm (works by Chantal Ackerman,
Lorna Simpson, Fiona Tan, Bruce Nauman at DIA), I still think that the
montage paradigm can be a useful starting point to understand how these
works function diffirently.

Eloborating what the new paradigms of spatial image are would require at
least a few articles but let me very briefly comment on one of these
paradigms. Marc writes: "the distribution of images spatially complicates
the intensity of such [montage] strategies and grammars as they are
deployed in parallel. A parallel that at times is not necessarily
juxtaposition, and may be even be thought of as a-parallel." I have the
same feeling that many "spatial imaging" works also do not rely on
juxtaposition. The terms I would use to talk about their logic is
"co-existience," and "simultaneity." Documenta installations of Lorna
Simpson and Chantal Ackerman, as well as Doug Aitkens's "Electric Earth,"
work not by juxtaposing images but by adding them next to each other. In
contrast to montage, where juxtaposition of images is used to built one
single whole narrative world, in these works diffirent times and/or spaces
presented in diffirent images simply co-exist. They do not "talk" to each
other as in cinematic montage - instead they simply ignore each other.
There is no single space and time they add up to. In rhetorical terms,
this is the logic of metonomy.

In "The Language of New Media" I used the quote from Foucault' lecture
"ŒOf Other Spaces" as a justification for the approprietness of spatial
montage today - but I now think that this quote better describes this new
sense of "co-existence" (or ³co-presence) where co-existing elements
simply ignore each other, and a considerable mental and emotional effort
is needed to connect them to each other at all. Here is the quote: "We are
now in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in epoch of juxtaposition, the
epoch of near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed..." Of
course, since Foucault (or rather, his translator), places "simulaneity"
next to "juxtaposition," which may suggest that we keep trying to
"montage" together whatever "dispersed" and "simultaneous" elements we
encounter. ((think of driving through Los Angeles's neighboorhoods and
trying to find some common denominator between them - a futuile exercise I
engage in periodically since I moved to Southern California seven years

I am looking forward to part 3 of Marc's text. Meanwhile, I would like to
clarify some of my earlier statements about "spatial montage" in relation
to Marc's discussion of them.

    2. Montage and GUI Windows.

Marc writes: " Lev describes windows as a collection of various kinds of
data that form a block that graphic designers are accustomed to arranging
or seeing as elements that make up a page. In other words, as described by
Lev, these windows don¹t represent coexisting events happening in
different durations of time, the varied windows form the semblance of a

While visually windows of GUI can be be connected to film montage, it may
appear at first that, ultimately, GUI and cinema obey two diffirent
logics. Cinema indeed often presents us with the juxtaposition of times
and/or spaces belonging to the same fictional world; in GUI the
"signifieds" of diffirent windows typically have no connection to each
other (for instance, a document opened in a Word, the spreadsheet opened
in Exel, music tracks shown in a MP3 player, etc.)

However, it actually turns out that the two logics are much closer to each
other than we may expect. According to Alan Kay (the lecture at UCSB,
April 2002), when in the late 1960s he conceived of twindows as general
interface technique, he was thinking of Ivan Sutheralnd¹s Sketchpad (1962)
­ which itself followed the standard convention of engineering and
architectural drawings to present multiple views of the same 3D object /
3Dspace in diffirent windows. Sutherland's used this convention for his
computer CAD program; Kay and others generalised this technique, extending
it from VISUAL domain to other domains. In GUI, multiple windows not only
show diffirent views of a 3D object / space but of ANY data (for instance
multiple views of the same document in Word). And while an engineer or an
architect were typically working with one object / space at a time (i.e.,
dealing with 4 views of one object/space), GUI allowed a the user to work
with a few projects at once, easily switching from windows belonging to
one project to windows belonging to another project (within one
application), as well as between diffirent "work desks" (i.e., diffirent

The fact that windows paradigm was derived from the conventions of using
multiple windows to look at the VISIBLE world is very relevant to our
discussions of montage. It means the following. While today multiple
windows of GUI showing diffirent views of the same data or diffirent data
generally do not refer to spatial dimension at all (with the obvious
exeption of CAD or 3D animation software), originally (i.e., in the case
of Sutherland's Sketchpad) they did. Therefore it becomes possible to
think of GUI windows in terms of diffirent SPACES co-existing on the
screen - not a "mental space" but the actual physical 3D spaces.

Following this argument further we realise that GUI windows are related to
film montage in substance, and not just in apperance. Cinema presents us
with various windows onto a single physical (and fictional) space. In the
case of montage, these multiple views are juxtaposed with each other -
think of a chase scene where a film repetedaly switches back and forth
between two locations ­ or, the more extreme example of "Kuleshov's
Effect" according to which a viewer has a tendency to construct a single
coherent physical/fictional from an arbitrary image sequence. But of
course cinema often avoids such extreme juxtapositiona in favor of a
"peaceful co-existence" of diffirent views of a physical/fictional world
of a film (note that this "co-existence" is quite diffirent from
"co-existence" as descibed above where diffirent images do not form a
single coherent world.) This "peaceful co-existence" is what we also found
in GUI: diffirent windows showing one document; diffirent windows showing
diffirent documents but still belonging to a single application; finally,
diffirent applications each with its own set of windows running on a
computer in the same time, some not doing anything and waiting until the
user input, others engaged in some computation and/or monitoring. And
while today the sense of a single world behind all these windows is gone,
recalling the connection between GUI and "Sketchpad" (and the convention
of engineering/drafting graphic communication which it followed), helps us
to see connection to cinema as well.


3. Montage and Compositing.

Marc writes:

"Lev puts forward the notion of spatial montage as a way to get a grasp on
and understand the new aesthetics of compositing, the procedure that takes
us to spatial montage. Spatial montage for him refers to layering, this
smooth layering referred to above. ... The term spatial does not refer to
the spatialization or distribution of image as seen in many art and film
works today but a post renaissance deep space of layers and smoothness."

Although this point does not have bearings on Marc's subsequent original
discussion of spatial imaging, I think he does not correctly represent
here. Therefore I would like to clarify the relationship between my
concept of spatial montage and compositing, so we can adequately use them
in subsequent discussions.

I see compositing and spatial montage are two diffirent phenomena. For me
"spatial montage" means meaningful juxtaposition of more than one image
stream within a single screen. In the book I discuss the works by Boussier
and Lialina to develop this concept further. Both works juxtapose multiple
images within a single screen, creating both a visual and semantic
contrast ­ which for me justifies talking about them as a type of montage:

³In general, spatial montage would involve a number of images, potentially
of different sizes and proportions, appearing on the screen at the same
time. This by itself of course does not result in montage; it up to the
filmmaker to construct a logic which drives which images appear together,
when they appear and what kind of relationships they enter with each
other.² (section ³Spatial Montage² in The Language of New Media).

When I was finishing the book in 1999, I could not find any examples of
spatial montage in contemporary cinema, and this is why I use as my
examples a net project (Lialiana) and a CD-ROM multimedia project
(Boissier). In the next couple of years, the spatial montage gradually
become more present in in film and television, from Mike Figgis¹s Timecode
(2000) to a TV series "24 hours" and many music videos and commercials.

The new layered space achieved through diffirent types of compositing
(discussed in the earlier section ³Compositing and New Types of Montage)
is a diffirent phenomenon. It refers to the ³technical² or ³material²
shifts in the organisation of a moving image. If traditional cinema
privelleges the temporal relationship between a particular image and other
images which come before and atter, computer cinema brings in a set of new
relationships which can be described by terms ³spatial² and
³simultaneous²: the relationships between diffirent layers ina 2D or 3D
composite, the relationship between a frame of a movie and other
information which can be hyperlinked to this frame, etc. These new
³techniques² of a moving image can be used to achieve ³spatial montage² ­
but as the examples of Boissier, Lialina (and numerous works from the
history of art) show, spatial montage can be created without them.

> Thanks to those of you who've posted me.
> In search of a Poetics of the Spatialization of the Moving Image Marc
> Lafia (part 2)


Dr. Lev Manovich | www.manovich.net | manovich@ucsd.edu Associate
Professor of New Media, UCSD 2002-03 Guggenheim Fellow 2002 Digital
Culture Fellow, UCSB 2002 Fellow, The Zentrum für Literaturforschung,

Address: University of California San Diego, Visual Arts Department, 0084,
9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0084, U.S.A

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