The Realm of Sight + Digital Video and Structural Film

from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan

The Realm of Sight


In this last part of the introduction, we look at the frequently used term, the realm of sight. In a general sense, sight is an inevitable constitutive element of visual art. However, as clarified when I cited the authors from sociology, photojournalism, and philosophy first and foremost at the beginning of this introduction, the realm of sight within this research is a site of contemplation of society through a camera.


The realm of sight is a significant site where the research questions are examined. It is also a rhetorical and figurative space of production in which the vocabularies of this thesis are conceived and characterise the text of this thesis. These vocabularies are, for example, concealment and exposure, nuanced with power. Equally, the studio-practice as an aesthetic practice of decentralisation brings the periphery – the shadow of the growth – into sight – the light. This rhetorical and figurative expression on power permeates both the studio- practice and this written component. It is, therefore, where the studio-practice, the material embodiment of the research enquiry, and this written component are interwoven; it is where the examination and contemplation are conducted and situated answers are located. In the coming paragraphs we overview the realm of sight articulated and addressed by this research.


Digital Video and Structural Film


This research deploys a camera in the manifestation of such a realm of sight. In the manifestation through digital video, approaches and techniques that are often used in structural film are deployed. Catherine Russell, for example, states that “structural film is about looking” in the context of knowing of the Other.* This conception arises from the structuralist techniques of film as an apparatus of looking rather than of creating illusion and narrative.** As we have seen in part 1, the orientation of this research is towards a practice of the aesthetics of intimacy and opacity; the realm of sight is a site where this aesthetics is manifested through structuralist techniques.

Structural film, having developed in the 1960s to 1970s, historically concerns the materiality of film. In her essay “Time-Splits: 4/61 Mauern pos.-neg. & Weg and 31/75 Asyl”, Aline Helmcke describes a conventional filmic experience as opposed to structural film as being one in which “the viewer is usually unaware of the film’s materiality and the mechanism of the apparatus behind”.*** However, this research focuses on the digitalness of digital photography and video as data, which inherently differs from the structuralists’ preoccupation with the materiality of film. Russell, for example, on the contrary, takes a position to state that she “would prefer to argue that video is an extension of cinema”.**** However, she recognises, in comparison to film, that:

Video is a medium that extends far beyond the art world to a wider range of cultural practices, from broadcast television to surveillance, medial, and domestic uses. Video not only has changed the cultural role of film but has become a cultural tool that has had an impact on many aspects of everyday life in many parts of the world. It is better described as a ‘media practice’ than a ‘technical device’ because video is always part of culture, embedded in a network of social relations.*****

More than twenty years after her statement on video, today the use of video in cultural practice has spread even more divergently from film. However, it is still useful to understand the structuralist approach and look at some structuralist techniques shared with this research. Just as Helmcke describes the structuralist orientation in Kren’s works, so too the use of digital video in this research is oriented towards uncovering the specific qualities of the medium, rather than creating the illusion of continuous time and space.˜ The forward movement is one such specific quality in common between film and digital video with which structuralists engage.

For example, Kren establishes “a tension between the still and the moving image” through his structuralist use of the film frame in 2/60 48 Köpfe aus dem Szondi-Test (2/60 48 Heads from the Szondi Test, 1960) and 4/61 Mauern pos.-neg. & Weg (Walls Pos.–Neg. & Path,˜˜ 1961). This research, on the other hand, establishes a tension between the stillness and the forward movement through the use of photography as a slide show in the medium of digital video. What Helmcke calls “the lapse” leaving “the viewers with nothing to hold on to” could also be found in the technique of multi-screen projection of images side by side in works such as Toshio Matsumoto’s For My Crushed Right Eye (1968) and Malcolm Le Grice’s Berlin Horse (1970).˜˜˜

Another example of the tension between movement and stillness that this research establishes is manifested by the use of a fixed camera position and frame. Chantal Akerman, to cite a more recent example, employs a fixed camera and frame in D’Est (From the East, 1993) and Sud (South, 1999), in order to create a durational temporality, the stillness.˜˜˜˜

Besides these practices found in British and European structural film works and expanded cinema in the 1960s to 1970s, Dana Polan analyses structuralist approaches in American film practices.˜˜˜˜˜ Reflecting the post-war “discontinuous fragments of image culture”, in parallel with the arrivals of new technologies such as television and the eight-millimetre Kodak camera, Russell describes the use of found footage as “an allegory of history, a montage of memory traces” in Walter Benjamin’s sense.° Found-footage filmmaking or archival film practice is also known as collage and montage, as well as “recycled images” in William C. Wees’s Recycled Images: The Art and Politics of Found Footage Film (1993).°° Chris Marker, for example, in response to international political upheavals in the late 1960s to the 1970s, employed archival footage, photographs, collages, intertitles, newspaper cuttings, and newsreels in filmmaking from an anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and left perspective in his contribution to the collective film Loin du Vietnam (Far from Vietnam, 1967) and in the series On vous parle de … (Calling from …, 1969–1973).°°° This use of found footage was presented as “‘counter-information’: the need to report on those revolutionary political events and perspectives that were ignored or misrepresented by the mainstream media”.°°°° Chapter 3 further examines the use of found footage in the context of Okinawa, ethnography, and technology.

Furthermore, the structural film techniques that this research employs in an extended sense include the concept of automation and recursiveness in Rosalind E. Krauss’s theory of the condition of medium-specificity.°°°°°

*Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999, p. 157.
**Peter Gidal, Structural Film Anthology. London: British Film Institute, 1976.
***Aline Helmcke, “Time-Splits: 4/61 Mauern pos.-neg. & Weg and 31/75 Asyl”, in Kurt Kren: Structural Film. Edited by Nicky Hamlyn, Simon Payne, and A. L. Rees. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2016. p. 55.
****Russell, ibid., p. xvi. *****Ibid. p. xvi. ˜Ibid.
˜˜Kren’s title has, arguably less correctly, also been translated as Walls Pos.-Neg. and Way.
˜˜˜Helmcke, ibid., p. 56. See multi-screen version of Berlin Horse at <>.
˜˜˜˜Russell, ibid., p. 165.
˜˜˜˜˜Dana Polan, Power and Paranoia: History, Narrative, and the American Cinema, 1940–1950, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1986.
°Russell, ibid., pp. 6, 238, 243. See also Walter Benjamin, The Origins of German Tragic Drama, translated by John Osborne, London: New Left Books, 1977.
°°Russell, ibid., p. 238. William C. Wees, Recycled Images: The Art and Politics of Found Footage Film, New York, NY: Anthology Film Archives, 1993.
°°°Catherine Lupton, Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, London: Reaktion Books, pp. 109–147. °°°° Ibid., p. 120.
°°°°°Rosalind E. Krauss, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, London: Thames & Hudson, 2000, and Under Blue Cup, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2011.
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