Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

Presentation on Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds – Preface to Part II

In the rich and complicated Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds, Timothy Murray conjoins paradoxical terms — digital and baroque — and suggests they are intricately linked. These terms represent artistic genres or categories, as well as periods of time: digital as current, often interactive, and electronic; and baroque as historical, ornate, and sculptural, often suggesting movement through dramatic effects. As with any genre, these terms frame audience expectations and the we way in which the work is interpreted. By considering the ways in which these two styles overlap, Murray encourages a ‘panoramatic’ interpretation of new media art which he describes as characteristic of the Baroque, encouraging both visual and spatial engagement with the work (Murray, 2008: 10).
Interested in “the extent of the interface between recent projects in the electronic arts and the public memory of early modern art, culture, and philosophy” (Murray, 2008: x), Murray explores several digital artworks — digital films, video installations, and interactive media — and considers the ways our interpretation of these works could be enriched if read as Baroque. Offering philosophical insight into new media art and its dialogue with baroque art, Murray proposes a shift toward a new paradigm for viewing and interpreting digital art that reflects the Deleuzian concept of the fold as developed in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Deleuze, 1993: 6):
A flexible or an elastic body [that] still has cohering parts that form a fold, such that they are not separated into parts of parts but are rather divided to infinity in smaller and smaller folds that always retain a certain cohesion. Thus a continuous labyrinth is not a line dissolving into independent points, as flowing sand might dissolve into grains, but resembles a sheet of paper divided into infinite folds or separated into bending movements, each one determined by the consistent or conspiring surroundings.
The notion that insides and outsides are not separate, but rather are part of the same fabric, provides an interesting entry point to analyzing phenomena, particularly in the multifaceted digital arts. Applying this Deleuzian psychophilosophical approach of the fold to digital art, Murray steers us away from linear models of projection and readings to a nonlinear, temporal approach he describes as intrinsic to the digital form. Although Deleuze speaks of the fold as it applies to Baroque art, Murray argues that the interactive nature of digital art provides particularly prime conditions for the fold — where meaning accumulates through the active participation of the audience.
Understanding the concept of the fold to suggest that projection (of art) is not the end point but rather, that meaning is generated through the in-between space the fold provides, Murray discusses the digital baroque as “enfolding the user in the energetic present, as articulated in relation to the analog past while bearing on the digital future” (Murray, 2008: 7). Shifting the paradigm through which new media art is viewed, Murray encourages a folded structure in which the artist and audience touch on past, present, and future in their interaction with the work. An audience experiences the work in the present, while the artist’s work is both influenced by and influences understanding of the past, as well as has an effect on the future.
This interest in temporal, nonlinear modes is reflected in the four defined parts of the book: From Video Black to Digital Baroque; Digital Deleuze: Baroque Folds of Shakespearean Passage; Present Past: Digitality, Psychoanalysis, and the Memory of Cinema; and Scanning the Future. These parts do not address time or temporal space as mutually exclusive, and the book itself ultimately embodies or performs the fold in its structure. Encouraging a teleological reading, Murray states that the book must be “folded and unfolded in the process of reading” (Murray, 2008: 26). At times repeating lines of text and referring both backward and forward, Murray mirrors his commentary on the archive and proposed “shift away from centered subjectivity to energized information relay” (Murray, 2008: 46). Throughout these four parts, Murray provides thorough analysis of numerous digital artworks to which he applies his theory of the digital baroque.
In Part I: From Video Black to Digital Baroque, Murray examines video installations as manifestations of the archive — demonstrating an accumulation of, and interaction with, visual and digital information. In Chapter 1, Viola’s large-scale sound and video installation The Crossing (1996) is discussed in great detail, as an example of the power of reference to past and future in digital representations or the “dissonant multiplicity of representation” (Murray, 2008: 49). The Crossing projects two videos of a man side-by-side on a large screen, and works within a common theme for Viola — transcendence. The man appears from a darkened background and walks forward until he fills the screen. He then stands still and on either side of the screen, one man is engulfed by fire while the other is saturated by water. Once the fire and water subside, the videos return to darkness again and the cycle repeats.
Murray points to the many connections he sees between this work and the concept of the digital baroque, describing in particular the role of the viewer, who must move around the space in order to see both video images in the installation. Through this movement, the viewer is “positioned in the undulating fold of the in-between” (Murray, 2008: 55) — in a temporal place of becoming. And again in the theme of cycles, Murray examines Kuntzel’s digital video installation The Four Seasons (Plus or Minus One) (1993), inspired by Poussin’s series of paintings. Kuntzel’s installation makes use of play with light and body to situate viewers between scenes in a place where they “act out and embody the interval between narrative and affect” (Murray, 2008: 70). What are the potentials of this powerful middle space in terms of immersive cinema?
Murray links Deleuze and Shakespeare in Part II: Digital Deleuze: Baroque Folds of Shakespearean Passage, specifically looking at how the concept of the fold can frame and further enhance works by filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway. Murray argues that Godard’s King Lear (1987) shifts audience perspective by throwing them into a gap between the classic and modern versions. The repositioning of the text disrupts the audience point-of-view. Moreover, Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books (1991) — the story of The Tempest — considers the baroque concept of the archive and how our sharing of memories from this archive provides an endless return in what Murray describes as the “baroque crisis of property in the social field” (Murray, 2008: 28). This relates back to Murray’s earlier discussion around cycles which, along with serialization are symptomatic of digital culture.
By amplifying the connections between the baroque and the digital, and encouraging an enfolded approach to interpreting new media art, Murray offers interesting pathways toward understanding and conceptualizing future cinemas. His approach is supported by Munster’s comments on the digital and the baroque, which also apply Deleuze’s theory of the baroque fold to enhance interpretation of the digital. As she explains, “thinking through the baroque as an unfolding ongoing event allows us to see its virtual and actual relations to computational culture and therefore to understand culture according to new modalities” (Munster, 2011: 41). This perception complements Murray’s and further emphasizes the benefits of a paradigm shift toward understanding new media through the concept of the fold.

Tue, October 24 2017 » Future Cinema