Indefinite Visions: An Introduction

Curator's Note

Light, motion, definition, compression: the conditions of recording, storing and screening moving images are subject to constant variations that pull them away from perfect visibility. Film-makers and artists often seek out and work with the resulting visual uncertainty: from the warping of space to the melding of senses, speed to slowness, darkness to glare, and blur to glitch.

This special issue of [in]Transition forms part of a collaborative project inspired by the edited collection Indefinite Visions: Cinema and the Attractions of Uncertainty (Martine Beugnet, Allan Cameron, and Arild Fetveit [eds.], Edinburgh University Press, 2017). It explores the possibility that an important function of moving images is not to show but to obscure, and that - like the photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up - the closer and deeper we look at an image, the less clear it becomes. In a swipe at Deckard’s unfeasibly detailed photograph in Blade Runner, Sean Cubitt notes: ‘The great difference between an image and the world is that the world is endlessly magnifiable. The image resolves itself into pixels or molecules of silver compounds. At a certain scale, it refuses to release any more information, becoming a physical entity rather than a picture’ [Cubitt, Sean. 2004. The Cinema Effect. MIT Press, 352]. The videos in this special issue focus on what happens when images refuse to release information and instead reveal their materiality.

The videos began life at a workshop that took place in June 2016 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, as a part of a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council project entitled "The Audiovisual Essay: A Digital Methodology for Film and Media Studies." Over the course of a day, a group of contributors to the book paired up with videomakers to explore how they might translate their chapters into audiovisual form. From this inciting incident, there emerged nine videos that together demonstrate a range of methodologies by which written research may be transmuted into audiovisual scholarship, and by which academics may creatively engage with film-makers and artists. Three of the videos are direct collaborations between an academic and film-maker ("Ray/Godard," "In Praise of Blur," and "Martyrs for the Mass"); three take the form of filmmakers’ responses to a chapter from the book ("Frames and Containers," "Flicker and Shutter," and "WTF IS THAT?"); one is an adaptation of a book chapter by its author ("The Black Screen"); and one is a thing unto itself ("Emerald Transmutation") – an audiovisual "exquisite corpse," in which source media is transformed and re-transformed by a seven of the academics, film-makers, and visual artists who took part in the Whitechapel event.

No creative constraints were placed on participants, beyond the constraint of the project’s overall theme. However, as well as responding to the theme of indefinite vision, all of the videos also – to a greater and lesser extent – incorporate indefinite vision within their own methodology and aesthetic. By doing so, hopefully, they collectively demonstrate the versatility and fluidity of the audiovisual essay.

For more on Indefinite Visions, including project documentation, visit the project website.

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