Monday, June 14, 2010

animated decay

Recently I came across a video that had been uploaded and downloaded from YouTube 1000 times. Contrary to popular opinion regarding the “perfect” reproducibility of digital media, the result was heavily distorted, with images and movements rendered thick and abstract, and the videomaker’s voice sounding like it was underwater.

I’ve long been interested in the degeneration of images as they move from one medium to another, or are copied successively using the same reproductive technologies. I once took the iconic man on the moon photograph and photocopied its copies until Buzz Aldrin slid completely off the page. It took over 500 acts of copying for that to happen, and in the meantime his bulky astro-form became nearly indistinguishable from the pockmarked lunar surface on which he was standing.

Another time I took an image of a film strip from Bruce Conner’s REPORT and applied a similar technique.

Here is the original, scanned from a book:

And here is copy number 50:

I like the way the strip curves, reminding us of the malleability, and manipulability, of celluloid. In this case, Conner’s REPORT reworks the famous Zapruder footage of JFK’s assassination, so the material is already optically printed over, layered, and as can be seen with this selection, punctured. Because REPORT hole-punches through the actual moment of death, it suggests all the missing information, the gaps and empty spaces, around events we have recorded in some way, as well as the inherent flaws that such acts of recording always entail.

I tried to work with this idea of degeneration with the images used in Negative Sky, scanning found photographs and then rendering them as photopolymer dies for use in a letterpress. After they were printed, I applied a light gray ink and randomly reprinted them, sometimes over the first image, sometimes in a different spot. Vernacular photographs are suggestive of memory and keepsakes to begin with, and here I was interested in using the process of decay to push them further into the realm of ghosts.

Ghosts live, or they move, in aberrant ways. They lurk in the spaces we assume they don’t, in between acts of reproduction, even in supposedly flawless media. While the static-y videotape that haunts the Ringu/Ring franchise might be a more popular example, I think Alexander Stewart’s Errata most vividly explores this idea of animated decay. Photocopied off a photocopy, and with each page used as a frame for animation, dots and lines come alive, constantly changing shape and color and direction. The film is only a few minutes long, but it’s clear that the copies could go on mutating forever, ghosts that not only live in the machine, but transform it altogether.


Robert said...

Beautiful and fascinating. Thanks.

Alexander Stewart said...


Came across this post with a mention of my film Errata, and thought I would pass on a link to a version I recently posted with a better transfer from the 16mm print -


genevieve said...

thanks, Alexander! I wrote on Errata several years back in one of my festival round-ups, and it remains as compelling as it did on first encounter. glad to see a higher-quality transfer.

Alexander Stewart said...

Genevieve, hi-

Yes! I remember your notes on the film. Thanks for posting this up. Interesting to see the Connor photocopy project picture. There's also high-res scans of pages from my movie on my website if you're curious to see detail.

genevieve said...

link to Errata updated