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Dennis Hlynsky

Lepton is a non linear tool for video dialog, emerging from my collaborations with Daniel Peltz and Chuan Khoo. It started with a simple question: What becomes of video in the context of the multi-cultural space of the World Wide Web? This writing speaks to some of the concerns of web based video practice that resulted in Lepton.

My interest in the new applications of video art grows from my experience with the medium., which I began using as the core of my artistic practice in 1972. At the time, the advent of video on the heels of 16mm sync sound created a split in the community of artists using time based media. Film and Video may share many attributes but in my view they have always been distinct in artistic applications, while being similar in popular and industrial uses. The current ease of video sharing and the designs of web sites for community derive their formats and rules from the popular understanding of these two media.

lepton network A screen shot image.

The blue nodes are First Calls.  Size is determined by the number of connections. The white lines when highlighted show upstream and downstream connections. These are named Umbilical or Organic Lines.

Uploaded clips are connected at the time of submission by the person uploading the clip.

The only search function is a ChronoHighlighter that allows the bracketing of clips added at a particular span of time.

This function eases finding the “most recent” additions to the conversation. We arrived at this synaptic structure after several attempts at other models

Identifying video and film as separate artistic practices has become more difficult with the industry wide adoption of digital film production. The acceptance of digital film has shifted the film/video distinction from a material based to design framework criteria. Groups of artists continue to identify themselves as filmmakers or video makers, however identification with a particular medium is no longer is based on the source material because we are all using computers to create artworks. This distinction is akin to joining a methodology club, which are clubs of group of like-minded people who have agreed on a similar design framework. If we think of these groups as tribes, this “tribal” distinction is based on the category of decisions made while making time based media. Although applicable hardware and software may be identical in film and video production; the disciplines become distinct when seen in relation to the tribal guidelines of process and goal.

The practice of film production is generally focused on a “one to many” theatrical release. Film production depends upon a top down structure, driven by issues of narrative, high production values, and directed production. Film is therefore rooted in mechanical sensibilities; traditional film practice relies on division of labor and specialization. Video, in contrast, is considered plastic, immediate, inexpensive, evolving and pedestrian. The quality of video imagery is usurped by the ability to immediately record or create media and share this media with others, with the emphasis on quality production which is basic to film taking a back seat to immediacy. No one criticizes the bad picture quality of the video when animals attack or babies speak first words. If Film is like Oil Painting, then Video is like a watercolor (3 minute sketch). Today, however, media uploading has challenged the practices of both Film and Video.

The language we use in cinematic and photographic practices is infused with early perspective theory. We all learn perspective as a way to draw the world.  It is what is taught in grammar school art classes. Perspective is so taken for granted that we often forget that, as a way of seeing, Perspective is an invention. The gift of the Perspective invention was to bestow on the artist the attribute of individual seer, who is in the role creative supremacy over the group of viewers. The elevation of the artist to seer, director, and author is not possible when creative actions are spawned in groups. Clearly the practice of producing linear cinematic forms draws on a Perspectivist philosophy by placing the viewer in the eyes of the director.  If the sole means to view a cinematic work is in a theater with a single projector and a passive audience, then many cinematic practices continue to make sense. If, however, we remove Perspectivism as a guiding philosophy we are left with an enormous vacuum in the rules governing the cinematic tribe.

Materials and venues have incredible influence on a work of art, and this is as true of Film and Video as it is for other media. Materials and venues are the containers of concept, and the conduit of idea. The medium and message are united.  Alter the container and we alter the potential for contained concepts. If the web is a hyperlinked bundle of simultaneous media offerings, then the use of cinematic Perspectivist base needs some rethinking.

This is not a simple task. The absence of words to describe new media point to a need for a sea of change in our thinking about media production. Film terms such as protagonist, director, author, point of view, establishing shot, jump cut, non-linear, beginning, ending, and sequence point to form of seeing which is taught in our schools and fused with our assumptions of artistic practice. We can hardly speak about contemporary collaboration with out assigning specific rolls to the individuals. Collaboration in film follows an industrial model where individuals have specific jobs in a creative assembly line. (Best Boy, Actor, Cameraman, Grip, Script Girl, Union rules) Scant language has evolved to describe works produced in the egalitarianism of web media. The traditional film dialogue is specific to particular modes of media production, and yet we continue to use it to design and critique video uploads. Our continued use of this vocabulary is masking the potential of a web media dialogue.

The third phase of project began with a proposal by Daniel Peltz to include the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon, West Africa. Recognizing we were using language steeped in Perspectivist philosophy we decided to jettison film language and begin with a bare canvas. Traditionally call and response is a musical practice, easily understood, and seemed well suited to describe a video dialogue. We created a simple set of rules to guide the project. Each video must be shorter than 30 seconds to reduce the bandwidth problems of Cameroon. Everyone would post a first clip.  We named these calls.  The next week all students would make and post a video in response. To promote dialogue we added a third rule.  Participants could not respond to their own video. We created a simple HTML table and once a week would add student submissions. A back end was added in the fourth Call and Response Project.

Uploaded clips could respond to any of the “first calls” but a few began to attract the majority of responses. Thus, the desire to attract a response changed the nature of the uploaded clips.  They became gestured, elegant and conversational. A work that was “too finished” sat in isolation. These trends did not depend upon popularity but rather the ability of the maker to craft the call so that the respondent would be inspired to craft a new clip. 

Below; we used an HTML table but found it confining. Participants were responding to many clips but could only associate a clip with one parent. The table was difficult to read. In the picture below the eighth clip down respond to the top clip. We needed flexibility. We added a small arrow pointing to the newest clips. File naming was sequential. 150201 became the first response to the second response of call15. 

screen_networking Left:

We used an HTML table but found it confining.

Participants were responding to many clips but could only associate a clip with one parent.

The table was difficult to read.

In this picture below the eighth clip down respond to the top clip.

We needed flexibility.

We added a small arrow pointing to the newest clips. File naming was sequential. 150201 became the first response to the second response of call15. 

Our discussion began to focus on how the responding clips redefined the original video calls. Producing video in this context is producing relationships, as the purpose of uploading the video shifted from sharing to redefining the call. Originally, the contextual space between the clips was not visible in the table, and so we added a place where one could write a review of the clip. This writing only underscored the impression that the site merely contained a collection of individually authored works. Since in fact it was the connection rather than the clip that was paramount, clearly the project needed to evolve away from a table and toward a design emphasizing unbreakable intended relationships.

I have begun to think about this relationship as an organic line. This organic line is created in the mind of the viewer but crafted by the conversationalist. Initially the organic line was seen as an umbilical where idea and concept would flow like blood from a mother to an embryo. (Now, I consider this a bit too much of a hierarchy) A new design was needed, emphasizing the umbilical but introducing a natural formation of forces. Daniel and I spoke about events that could alter these relationships, considering, for example, how inverting the popularity of a clip could be seen as an action resulting in a change in structure. Clips could resemble an old fragile book; the more reads would mean degradation until the clip would no longer play. 

initial model

The initial model looked something like the diagram on the left.

In this example, forces pulled the nodes of video clips together, while competing repelling forces pushed them apart.

More links would alter the repelling force of a clip. 

The aim of the project was to create a structure of video clips rather than a collection of individually authored objects.

As this new vision for the design became more molecular and synaptic in concept, it came to resemble the diagrams of molecules that my chemical engineer father would constantly draw.

When Chuan Khoo became interested in the project, we discovered the limitations of our decision to create a Flash database, which unfortunately curtailed Cameroonian input.  The new design needed to include a sign up page for each individual. Immediately problematic was the notion of a self-organizing structure based on forces. Visitors were confronted with a new layout each time the page opened. Sharing became difficult, clips got lost in tangles. Rather than a self-organizing structure, Chuan Khoo gave each user the ability to save layouts. The clips could be moved, but the lines connecting the clips would expand and contract. This interface gives the site visitor the ability to move the clips, and to see relationships. With increasing number of non English speaking partnerships, the emphasis became focused on an interpretation of the visual.  Monologue vlogs have been discouraged.

This emphasis on visual language links to another concern of web media. Video upload sites are very difficult to navigate. Response-video linking is often lost when the video is played. Navigating playlists or favorites allows an understanding about the person who collected the works but ignores the maker’s intended relationships.  Only with careful navigation can one read the disjoined dialogue. These web site designs have used traditional film like criteria. Applications such as Imovie (ITunes?) and YouTube place an emphasis on the individual as producer rather than the group vision.

The emphasis on individually authored work generates a granulated site model. Tags and keywords are used to navigate the unconnected grains. Meta-data searching is useful for finding unintentionally connected clips but obscures viewing the intended connection in several ways. The art of designing hit ability into a web site is further confounding the associative nature of searching. For instance, Bloggers include cooking recipes to increase hits. Hyper jumping gives the individual the power graze but obscures the conversational video.

Another difficulty with tag searching is the dependence upon written language. Shapes and color of images can be compared but content depends upon more complex recognition of objects and their relevance to life experience. Shape and color recognition fails when teapots are seen as skyscrapers. This is problematic for the media artist who wants to be conversational with video only to find they need to learn to translate video into a thousand words to create context.

At present methods used for the purpose of following the group video conversation is underdeveloped. It is as if all the conversations between people at a party were recorded. The words spoken by each person were isolated into separate search fields. Reading the conversation could only be accomplished by using word matching regardless of the when or why the person spoke.

An alternate organizing structure springs from respecting the intended link. It focuses upon the line drawn between clips. This line is dynamic and is formed by the person reading the association between clips but is crafted by the media maker. I call this The Organic Line. I call it organic because it is not of the digital world.  Recognizing relationships is the domain of organic life. The digital world breaks when a relationship is not specified.  A capital letter in a string of code can bring the entire program to a halt. It is our task as humans to observe our world and create contextual relationships. One method of drawing these organic lines is by responding to a video clip with a video clip. The Lepton initiative aims to understand the nature of this task. As an interconnected world we are producing a sea of video produced with small highly portable video recorders. I see us as a single observant society experiencing a new organ akin to a compound eye yet we err by persisting to elevate the individual with a singular vision. Crafting a better linking system by both web designers and media makers is needed. Intentional linking must be addressed if we are to read this ongoing media conversation but it is only the first step in the longer process of filling the void left by the abandonment of Perspective.