Experimental films, TikTok, and other art forms

Although I have studied art history extensively, especially art throughout the twentieth century, I don’t usually encounter art that is intentionally taxing and unwatchable. Repetition and looping, on the other hand, are entirely different for me and quite enjoyable, so it was interesting to see a mix of these techniques. I didn’t know anything about experimental filmmaking before, so the experience was confusing, intriguing, then back to confusing. I had many questions and wrote down my observations during the screening. My initial observations included words like collage, layering, sampling, abstraction, and means of editing that felt oddly contemporary, much like the parody videos today. 

Like the class discussion said, T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G was mentally taxing, inducing in different people a spectrum from boredom to anxiety. In my case, it was an uncomfortable mix of both. Destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy… Regarding the formal qualities of the film, I am drawn to the dynamic use of color and light, but I could not sit through more than 30 seconds of it before going on my phone and looking at something more calming. The rapid repetition of both images and sound created a sense of urgency that could not be escaped even when I closed my eyes, because I could still see the flickering light and hear the robotic voice.  Destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy, destroy… 

As the screening continued, I found myself becoming more and more immersed in the films. My Name is Oona was quite relaxing and poetic. Wonder Woman was funny and insightful; I was very engaged because I had never seen the show, and I completely understood the message of critiquing the depiction of females as objects of desire, even when they were superheroes. Something is to be said about all of these films: the use of unconventional techniques such as found footage, abstract visuals, and non-linear narratives challenged my preconceived notions of what constituted a film. I realized that experimental filmmaking was not just a means of creating art but also a way of subverting traditional modes of representation and challenging societal norms. The artists sought to break free from the shackles of commercial cinema and use their craft as a tool for social commentary and political activism, which was eye-opening to see.

Having been born in the era of the attention economy and a regular consumer of short-form video content, I have made “successful” Instagram posts and TikTok videos that made use of the algorithm, and it does feel good to have accomplished such goals when the standard is ever so elusive and fleeting — and I do realize this line of thinking is problematic. Hence, it would be interesting to imagine how to use formal qualities of contemporary media to critique themselves. T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G would totally work in the browser, in form of a pop-up window that cannot be exited without watching for a duration of time, almost like an uninvited virus; Vertical Roll could be transformed into a critique of mindless scrolling on TikTok; furthermore, there are already edits on different Internet platforms that use parody to make fun of celebrities, politicians, and such. Some people noted under the discussion thread that these critiques are always limited by physical constraints of the media, but so is every art form. Paint doesn’t work without a canvas; code doesn’t work without a computer; video art doesn’t work without a television. 

At the same time, 2023 is different from the late twentieth century. Although there are many restrictions imposed by online platforms, media has become less centralized (at least on the surface?) and distributed into the hands of creators, where diverse voices can be heard if they make smart use of the algorithms. Yes, there is the problem of algorithmic bias, but it is not unbeatable. With persistence and creativity, creators can find ways to work within the system and make their voices heard. Ultimately, the democratization of media offers both challenges and opportunities, and it will be interesting to see how this trend continues to evolve in the future.

Throughout the twentieth century, there was the desire to combine art and technology to make art more meaningful and technology more humanistic. Video art was one of the many examples where artists sought to control the means of influence and make it work for the people. Bauhaus came before it, and glitch/internet art came after it. There will always be resistance to new and emerging technology, and I see AI and machine learning art to be the next manifestation of the rebellious spirit of artists, especially the creative technologists. I am currently taking an AI art class, and one of the things we discussed was how prompt engineering can be put in conversation with Fluxus – it’s interesting to see themes in the past resurface and become relevant again. 

by Vivian

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