Category Archives: video

The Artist Stripped Bare by Her Models, Experimentum (Art and Scientism)

The Artist Stripped Bare by Her Models, Experimentum


(Art and Scientism)


Robert Edgar


There’s some old business that I feel needs attending. It’s the term “experimental”, as in “experimental film” or “experimental filmmaker”.

“It’s for this experimental film


Which nobody knows about and which


I’m still figuring out what’s going to go


In my experimental film




You’re all gonna be in this experimental film


And even though I can’t explain it


I already know how great it is” 1


TMBG usually seems on target to me, and their song “Experimental Film” is not an exception.  If I have students who say they’re going to make “an experimental film” I feel that the words have been passed on without enough consideration.
And if some kids dying of youth try to play in the higher-than-thou wading pool of art film, and pick up the swagger along with the DSLR, well, they’re just beginning anthropologists, who aren’t yet able to distinguish the magic from the process. And they’re all swimming looking for funding along with those with polished 15-second storyline-movie elevator pitches. So they’d better go ahead, wag their asses and swim.
However, I feel that there are questions that are absolutely fair to ask of those who say they make experimental films. First of all, are there really experiments that experimental filmmakers perform? Is this a field of science? Is there a kind of knowledge that artists pass on to each other that they are examining and developing through some sort of shared process? What kind of gold are we making here?
Ludwig Wittgenstein, in a manuscript he left titled “Remarks on Color”, commented on Goethe’s book “Theory of Color”:
“Goethe’s theory of the constitution of the colors of the spectrum has not proved to be an unsatisfactory theory, rather it really isn’t a theory at all. Nothing can be predicted with it. It is, rather, a vague schematic outline of the sort we find in James’s psychology. Nor is there any experimentum crucis (italics are Wittgenstein’s) which could decide for or against the theory.” 2
Wittgenstein, while not going on to devalue Goethe’s writings on color, makes that point that these  writings to do not describe an experiment that could be used to test a theory.  So, Do experimental films test theories? Is that what Hollis Frampton, or Stan Van Der Beek, or Mike Snow were doing? Is that what Frampton was writing about when he wrote that Eisenstein:

“”…was at once a gifted linguist and an artist haunted by the claims of language–and also, by training, an engineer. It seems possible to suggest that he glimpsed, however quickly, a project beyond the intellectual montage: the construction of a machine, very much like film, more efficient than language, that might, entering into direct competition with language, transcend its speed, abstraction, compactness, democracy, ambiguity, power–a project, moreover, whose ultimate promise was the constitution of an external critique of language itself.” 3

I love this paragraph by Frampton.  In it he is showing himself glimpsing that project, and sharing that glimpse with us as he does so. He seems to be laying out a foundation for something experimental: a structure (montage) that uses something outside of language to “critique” language.
What I see here is a practice, not a theory. Neither Eisenstein nor Frampton—both of whom both made films and wrote about the process—set up experiments that could be used to verify a theory. Without diminishing their importance at all, I’d say they were more involved in play than work.
When I think of art as a process, I prefer to think about what three- and four- year olds do when they are working through their scribbling phases. Do children make experimental art? There is a sense of conjuring in children’s art making. But that which is conjured is experiential to the child, not external and verifiable.  And if it could be verified, the process of that verification would not look like the child’s art making.
The artist becomes involved in the making, lost in the stuff and the moment, and often, at the end, has some object that has been produced. But an object in itself is not a proof, disproof, or verification. That still awaits an experimental—in the scientific sense—construct and procedure.
There’s a term for practices that imitate science but aren’t science: “scientism”. If art is bad science, then what has been called experimental film is probably exactly that. In the late 20thcentury, there were many practices that were thought to promise the eventual attainment of scientific method, including many anthropological, psychological and semiotic studies.  It was in the air.
The phrase “experimental film” is certainly part of that scientism. But that doesn’t mean that those filmmakers who were accused of being experimental were bad scientists. They should, instead, be approached simply as artists, who conjure experiences and in so doing, often leave art objects as the outcome.
There’s no shame in trying to do something you haven’t mastered. If only everyone believed that! If only our society supported that! Naked, without a need for the protection of scientism, without the need to be “right” when one makes art. It’s not that science—and the development of technology, or verification, or being right—isn’t important. It’s that art is also important, without the embarrassing armor of scientism. It’s not one of those, it’s one of these.

“The artist, when he encounters the present…is always seeking new patterns, new pattern recognition, which is his task.  The absolute indispensability of the artist is that he alone in the present can give the pattern recognition. He alone has the sensory awareness necessary to tell us what our world is made of.  He is more important than the scientist. 4”

1. “Experimental Film”, They Might be Giants
2. “Remarks on Color”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1977

3. “Film in the House of the Word”, in October 17, p. 63-64, Hollis Frampton, Summer 1981, MIT Press.

4. Marshall McLuhan, in conversation with Normal Mailer, 1968
September, 2011
Sunnyvale, CA

Simultaneous Opposites and 21st Century Cinematicians

This text is an introduction to the ideas behind the Simultaneous Opposites engine: what they are, and where they came from.

Formal cinema, as evidenced by structural filmmakers in the fourth quarter of the 20th century, was an expression of the mechanical tools that were available to them: the film camera, the optical printer, the splicer, the A/B rolls. Today’s formal practice recalibrates the practitioner as a cinematician: neither fixed as cinematographer or editor, special-effects artist or projectionist. The cinematician of today spans the entire cinema gestational process in a single gesture: digitizing, processing, analyzing, playing, editing, presenting, deconstructing, discovering and experimenting without the imposition of hardware and processing compartmentalization. In this developing environment, the experimental cinematician programs a cinema engine that defines a new relationship to post-mechanical cinema, and spirals into a truly experimental and developmental relationship where the medium and the self can no longer be differentiated. The cinematician develops both the sensible experience and the generative media with every new piece.

The cinematician is an adaptation of independent cinema to the speed and power of 21st century digital media.

I create and employ software engines to examine mediated artifacts forged at my zone of proximal development. My Simultaneous Opposites engine (2008-present) is a performance/navigation system for real-time traversal of existing video files, sorting through the audio and video a single frame at a time, in a arrhythmic spiraling motion. The center frame between the two ends of the spiral becomes a temporal focal plane, with the length of the jump a temporal depth of field. The navigational path is the result of a preprogrammed algorithm interrupted during traversal by triggering and modulation by computer keyboard, mouse, and MIDI guitar.

On my website ( are over 50 examples of the output of the developing Simultaneous Opposites engine. Each sequential video file exemplifies a stage in the ongoing experiment I’ve undertaken. During early work at Synapse Video in the 1970s, I integrated strategies of experimental filmmakers with those of the newly developing medium of post-television video. In the early 1980s, I sold my 16mm Beaulieu camera and bought an Apple //e. Teaching myself programming, I produced Memory Theatre One, an early seminal work of interactive computer art. Supported by the positive reaction from the small but developing group of artists who programmed, I set about to develop systems for extending Eisenstein’s montage categories to include the attribute of real-time cinema generation.

The first of these was Living Cinema, which blended video footage collected diary-style on video discs, texts from musings, audio recordings, cells to create short animation loops, graphics etc, and programmed software supporting the selection and combination of all the elements in real time in performance. I was also able to save the performance decisions and cursor moves, and re-inject them into the system later during the same performance, for a spiraled revisitation. Living Cinema had performances throughout the United States.

After a stint as multimedia specialist with Commodore Business Systems working with the video-oriented Amiga, I programmed and integrated a new system, SAND. From my website:

“The central theme of SAND: OR HOW COMPUTERS DREAM OF TRUTH IN CINEMA comes from a well-known quote that Cinema is truth 24 times a second. I grabbed stills (and sometimes generated images using 3D animation programs) of a sequence 6 frames long. I changed things in front of the camera between the shots. I then took the separate images and allowed the computer to imagine what happened between the frames–I did this using a morph program. Usually morph programs are used to change one object into another, but in SAND I used it to create an explanation (a visual one) for the changes that happened between the information that the computer had (it had only the separate stills). Of course, it didn’t always guess right: things may move from left to right, when they actually were pulled apart, etc.

“The mistakes–the artifacts from the morph–create their own poems, from their difference between what actually happened and what it “guessed” happened. My goal in the piece was to invent a new poetic space, which I believe I succeeded in doing here. And of course, there are parallels among all the media channels in the piece, as rememberances, arguments, occurrences, repeating riffs appear and advance in time”.

Unfortunately, soon after a working system was completed, I had to sell the Amiga-based system in order to purchase a business-oriented computer for my new Silicon Valley-based company Iconceptual. Only a few examples of the SAND exist.

At that same time, my video camera was stolen. I used the next few years to focus on music and musical systems. My next compositional system—consisting of software, MIDI-guitar, looping pedal and computer—generated a single piece. My “Duchamp Examination” is a demonstration of how a composer can dissect, examine and re-produce a precomposed (but not prerecorded) piece through a combination of analog and digital mastication and redigestion, in real-time solo performance before an audience. The Duchamp Prelude is a kind of electronic alapana, in which I explore the chordal sequence of the source piece “If Duchamp Drew Beautifully” through an overdriven TM-2 bandpass filter. I performed The Duchamp Examinations live online for an international audience through, as well as performances in California and New York.

Simultaneous Opposites, then, is itself the current evolution of a series of performance systems that I’ve programmed and integrated. A specific precursor is found in my 1972 16mm film of the same title. The 1972 Simultaneous Opposites was single-framed from a single tripod position. A second exploration incorporating this same approach, Intersticies, blended similar footage into video manipulation, and was produced at Synapse in 1975. Digital videos of these earlier works can be seen at

The Resonance Model of Communication, Ontic Experience, and Mirror Neurons

The Resonance Model of Communication, Ontic Experience, and Mirror Neurons

Third in a series

The worst communications model is the one that is used in almost all communications textbooks today. This is the “transportation” model, illustrated by a person’s head on the left, another person’s head on the right, and a double-headed dotted line arrow between them. The explanation is that one person has a concept, that through a medium this concept is carried to another person and deposited there. Noise is usually pictured within the medium, an element that distorts that which is transferred or transported.

This mechanical model is a major contributor to the misunderstanding of the art process, and leads to major failings in our culture as a whole.

In a slim volume published in 1973, Tony Schwartz criticized the transfer model, and suggested a model based on Marshal McLuhan’s “acoustic space”, wherein the person/recipient is within a circular field of center-moving concentric circular waves, moving from the outside in.

It should be obvious that the “transportation” or “transfer” model is just wrong. There is no physical transfer from brain to brain. The physicality is not realistic. Little object-units don’t get checked in at the station and sent to the brain where they are received. The blurriness of the human interface in this model is stunning in its ubuiquity.

I sent the following question to a number of friends:

“In experiencing works of art (and the rest of the world), there are sometimes phenomena that you find that say “I exist”. It can strike the viewer/listener/etc. that the phenomenon exists, and that because of that (goin’ down that old lonesome Cartesian road…), he (the viewer) also exists.

“Kant referred to the apperceptual, as the being conscious of one’s act of perception. But is there a word that refers to the sensed object/event that generates the moment of self-awareness?”

Rabbi Pinchas Giller: “Soloveitchik used to say ‘ontic’…?”

Soloveitchik has a text distinguishing between ontic experience and ontic proof:

The trouble with all rational demonstration of the existence of God, with which the history of philosophy abounds, consists in their being exactly what they were meant to be by those who formulated them: abstract logical demonstrations divorced from the living primal experiences in which these demonstrations are rooted. For instance, the cosmic experience was transformed into a cosmological proof, the ontic experience into an ontological proof, et cetera. Instead of stating that the most elementary existential awareness as a subjective “I exist” and an objective “the world around me exists” awareness is unattainable as long as the ultimate reality of God is not part of this awareness, the theologians engaged in formal postulating and deducing in an experiential vacuum. Because of this, they exposed themselves to Hume’s and Kant’s biting criticism that logical categories are applicable only within the limits of the human scientific experience.”
(The Lonely Man of Faith, p. 32, note)

To the extent that one accepts that the aesthetic experience I’ve described is a variety of (or analogous to) the ontic experience referred to here by Soloveitchik, one can understand the difficulty of referring to a personal experience that cannot be included in a text that refers to that experience. The artist, moving to experience this for him or her self, works to manipulate the medium to spark that experience. To explain the experience, or to prove that it exists, is not a terrible thing to do. But it is not in itself part of the experience.

From the photographer Robert Polidori:

“Hard to answer your question.
I don’t know “a” word.
But one phrase comes to mind.
M. Snow once wrote something to the effect

‘Do You see What I see?’

It’s about trying to share perceptions.

Some times when someone is explaining with words something- a concept
or the perceptive result of something,
the listener can sometimes respond…

‘I see…’ ”

Snow’s Wittgensteinian language game again separates the experience from a reference to it. That gap between the pointing and the invisible pointed-to.

From the writer Ethan Place:

The only word that comes to mind (that’s MY mind, thank you very much) is self-reflexive or self-reflection. This guy, though not discussing art, suggests intellectual intuition:

“At its most basic, intellectual intuition can be described as a subject’s self-referential, performative actualization (N Pepperell would probably say self-reflexive here, but I figured, Why not be different?). It identifies the self with the self’s activity and what this activity produces such that the self, which is to be understood as activity simpliciter, actualizes and becomes aware of what it means to be a self through its own activity. Intellectual intuition, then, designates the self’s immediate, singular awareness of itself as both a producer of meaning as well as the content of what it produces. It encompasses – and unifies – the twofold awareness of the fact that the self simply is the activity of producing meaning, and the content of this activity. Intellectual intuition is, in other words, the union of process and product.”

Alexei,, Process and Product — Or the Self-Reflexivity of Fichte’s Intellectual Intuition

Alexei’s process is a production of self-referential meaning. This reminds me of the sudden bloom of a feedback loop that occurs when you point a video camera into a monitor attached to it…at first, the image shifts a bit, then suddenly the camera sees itself seeing itself seeing itself and a rushing kalidescope pours through the video image. By spatially manipulating the camera, one obtains not only this exhilarating sudden flowing, but a continual variety of colors and patterns as the feedback continues. Big hit back in the ‘70s.

Neither Ethan Place nor Alexei are making the claim that this intuition is the aesthetic experience. It may be, or it may be a special case variation of it. The activity described does seem isomorphic with the aesthetic experience, although the perception that the self is both producer of content and the content may not be a requisite take-away.

Both media maven Dan Restuccio and Video Producer John Mabey suggested the Japanese word “Mu”. I Googled the word and found a reference that said it was derived from the Chinese word for “nothing”. This sent me digging into my wallet to find a disintegrating paper scrap on which my Chinese professor, in college, drew for me the Chinese hieroglyph for “nothingness”, or in Mandarin “wu”. This is not the “wu” character for the number “5”, but one that is similar to a purely negative adjective (with a radical character that refers to fire or burning)…hence “nothingness”. My understanding of the Japanese word is that it is the answer to the koan:

“A monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have the Buddha nature?” Joshu retorted, “Mu!”

As the phrase is in Maine “You can’t get there from here”.

John went on to suggest the word “empathy”. For me, this hit home. It not only worked for the aesthetic experience, but also for the “resonance” model of communication described by Schwartz.

The next answer I received was from Peter Matussek, the aesthetics scholar presently living in Siegen, Germany. I quote from his response here at length:

“Dear Robert,
please excuse me for being late as usual.
Your question points directly into what I also do claim as being the essence of art: creating self-awareness – in German: Selbstaufmerksamkeit. I think I mentioned this also in my writings on memory theaters.
There is a poem of Rainer Maria Rilke that expresses very clearly what you describe:

Archaischer Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

The poem describes a torso and the process of the substitution of the parts that are not visible (esp. the head and the eyes) by the imagination of the recipient.

In the last two lines the direction of looking is immediately turned around: “there is not a single part / that does not see you. You have got to change your life.”

Kant may be a good reference insofar as he describes the perception of the perception of beauty as going along with the perception of an inner balance between mind and emotion (Verstand und Gefühl).

But even more I see a ground of explanation in the new theories that explain “empathy” not conventionally, as a vague psychic intuition, but as a coordination af gestures. If you have read about mirror neurons you get an idea of what I mean. This new founding suits to older theories of art history, for example Aby Warburg’s “Pathosformeln” , i.e. gestures in pieces of art that “live on” through the history of mankind, because they meet collective memories of the body (Warburg had some contact with C.G. Jung, but more important is his contact with Richard Semon who coined the term “ekphoria”: the process of recollection by feeling a similar bodily “energy”. The famous neuroscientist Danile Schacter has recently written a book on Semon as a “neglected pioneer”.)”

Mirror neurons are a class of cells discovered in 1990 in the laboratory of Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma, Italy. Dr. Rizzalatti observed the cells firing in macaque monkeys both when they perform an action, and when they see another monkey perform that same action.

In his findings, published in 1996, Dr. Rizzalatti writes “Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.”

U.S.C.’s. Michael A. Arbib, Ph.D., writes

“For communication to succeed, both the individual sending a message and the individual receiving it must recognize the significance of the sender’s signal. Mirror neurons are thus the missing link in the evolution of language. They provide a mechanism for the sharing of meaning.”

While still using the “sender” and “receiver” language from the transport model of communication, Dr. Arbib provides an understandable mechanism for how one comprehends a message. Supporting the “resonance” model, the individual, through empathy, engages his or her own corresponding internal model. This model does not just work for visual sensing, but extends to words, sounds, sensations and metaphor (V.S. Ramachandran, Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego).

The existence of mirror neurons, and the continued study of how they work, allows for a model of communication that, rather than relegating concepts of empathy, synaesthesia, metaphor and the aesthetic experience to the outer edges of normal communication, place them squarely at its essence.

The case for art education can now be more clearly formed, from within this new model for communication.

Can you see what I mean?

The Rarified Art of the Individual

Here’s the kick: those people who stole your money? Under cover of the culture of illusion, and through the products they sold you that delayed your own self-creation, they stole your lives.

-First in a series-

With the deflation of the consumer culture that is happening all over the world today, Americans have a chance at adapting for the resulting environment.

Americans (and certainly other cultures, but certainly Americans) have for years accepted the practice of delaying the construction of a self, by spending their money—and lives—purchasing distractions. Art has been capitalized and made into objects for purchase, created by a small and distinguished tribe of specialists.

With the loss of purchasing power—so people have less ability to purchase distractions—preceded by a surge in the availability of low-cost media production tools (video and audio production, post-production and that folk-art distribution system the web) we have a corresponding surge in art making (with a lower-case “a”).

Younger generations who have grown up with computers create media easily, without a clumsy “always learn before you do” approach that was so helpful to the mechanical universe. Those at ease with computers jump right in and probe, trying one thing, learning its effect, and then trying another, burrowing into the web to find what it has to offer, or the software to find what they can produce. Alan Kay has rightly despaired of the loss of pre-planning, of an architectural approach to problem solving, in this dive-right-in approach. But the computer environment is one that rewards digital spelunking.

Instead of simply watching television for hours at a time like their parents and grandparents, a larger group is able to make their own and share it in online society. The online sites for displaying one’s own videos, or the thousands of sites for distributing one’s own musical tracks—these are the real killers of the music companies and movie theaters. That which had been the creative domain of Artists now have the floodgates open and the artists pouring their creations into them.

It is important to note that once someone has a minimal set of equipment and software, one can create for only the cost of one’s time. While every audio and video professional will argue that the quality that consumer and prosumer products can’t match that of the truly professional (and hugely expensive) equipment and software, it is absolutely the case that with today’s prosumer equipment one can produce media of higher resolution and lower noise levels than could be professionally delivered in the 1960s. Compare a HD video on with a playback of Bonanza on any CRT.

What is more important than the resolution of the new technology is the ability to produce in media iteratively. As a film student in the mid 1970s with a disabled father and a mother who was an art teacher in a public school, I didn’t have money for multiple answer prints. Filmmaking was a process of trying something, then trying something ELSE. Even editing in video, which could be done for free where I was studying, was a long and painful process involving grease pencils, two reel-to-reel decks and multiple reels of video tape that had to be wound and rewound to start points for each edit. I worked in film and video with every moment of my free time (and still do), but today the ability to revise as one goes is incredibly supportive of quick learning and quality improvement, especially when combined with a distribution and social review system that allows the creator to obtain informal and instant feedback on work in progress. And all work is work in progress.

What happened, though, was the domination of the culture of the specialist, the pouring of money into huge Hollywood projects where, by concentrating the work of hundreds of people into the production of stories of individuals, we have a slight-of-hand that further supports the unobtainable hero. Hundreds of minds and specialists are not one mind, and we addict society to watching the magical existence of screen stars to appear to make their own decisions, and overcome their own problems.

It’s not that I don’t like Benjamin Button or even Hollywood films in general. But the illusion that it has always used as its attraction has created the illusory economy and culture that is now, for a moment, shown its real structure. Here’s the kick: those people who stole your money? Under cover of the culture of illusion, and through the products they sold you that delayed your own self-creation, they stole your lives.

The aging generations who now have time but no money will logically experience mostly their loss. But a child who doesn’t have paints will scribble in the dirt. And before aboriginals were taught to paint on canvas, they painted on sand.

The desperate need this culture has, as we head into this darkest of times, is for art (small “a”) education.