Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Message is the Message

Formats. Artifacts of the medium. Hi-end, lo-end. High fidelity, low fidelity. These thoughts were bouncing around in my head this weekend as I revisited some of my older work, a series of short experimental videos.

Back in the mid-1990's, I had the opportunity to rent a tape by Eric Sachs, called "Don From Lakewood". It was revolutionary (to me, at least) in its use of low-fidelity (read: bottom-sucking quality) via the despised format of Fisher-Price Pixelvision video. Think of a pixelated, black and white video, with a blurry, flickering kind of shutter speed, and hiss-laden monaural audio. Think 5 minutes of this, fit onto a single 90 minute, Type-II audio cassette tape.

"Don From Lakewood" awoke in me a long-standing interest in lo-fi, despised formats, from consumer video (Beta and VHS) to microcassette audio. If, as Marshall McLuhan posited, the medium is the message, then what kind of message does one get out of lo-fi, despised formats?

I sought to explore this question in a series of rather introspective, personal video productions, which were used as vehicles to grow a vision and style in the field of video art, and attempt to tell a few simple stories along the way. I did a 35 minute piece, "City Central", loosely based on a tragic event in the life of a family member. This video used paper cutouts, cardboard diorama sets and surveillance camera video. The production value was decidedly not ready for prime time. Which was, to a point, part of the reason for embarking on the project in the first place.

I've come to realize that the commercial media products that we consume on a daily basis -TV news, entertainment, movies, dramas, reality shows, online advertising - are solely the result of the application of commercial interests to a mediated culture. Meaning that the slick production values and never-ending quest for better, faster, slicker, glossier are mere window dressing on what's really a commercial business venture to sell us, the viewer, to the client, the advertiser.

In truth, the art of video has little or nothing to do with this current mess. And the desire for slick production value is little removed from the glossy qualities of a men's magazine centerfold. Although video art spans a much wider field of view than mere commercial television, the sad fact is most people have never seen video art, or are incapable of being receptive to video art, primarily as a result of years of commercial mediation via broadcast TV and cinema.

The good news is that the internet, at least in its present manifestation, is still a "new medium", receptive to differing standards of production value and perceived quality. The bad news is that there are millions of videos being posted online each day. Getting one's voice heard above the roar of the crowd - not getting lost in a sea of anonymity - is the present challenge.

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~Joe

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