Film: Epitaph

by Beauchamp Art

 

Epitaph

Epitaph [Stills]

Epitaph is a short looping video made from a collection of photograph’s of gravestones from an unused archive. This is accompanied by a distorted song that seemed thematically appropriate. This is to be part of a video installation, to be displayed in profile.
Confusion will be my epitaph, an overload of obituaries becomes a benign and banal visual archive, with no individual’s memory distinguishable from the rest.


Though taken from my own photographs, the compilation of categorised images may be seen to comparable to the online archive, though with one rather than many producers, which now the video is complete and uploaded may be accessed by multiple users simultaneously, furthering its chaotic visual fracturing. Similarly, “only when the Web absorbed enough of the media archives did it become a universal cultural memory bank accessible to all cultural producers” [Manovich, 2001: 250], it is only through the mass contribution to the cumulative archive that the Web may be seen to embodied, or at the very least, reflect the society which interacts and maintains it. Much as the graveyard is contributed to by the community with every individual that passes adding to its archive.
The title, Epitaph, refers to the short description of a person that accompanies their death, that may be read out at a funeral, put in the newspaper, and written in brief on the gravestone. An alternative title for this piece could have been Domesday, the Great Survey of English land complete in 1086, the first grand centralising of information regarding the populous, which may be considered the historical counterpart to the modern census; though if social media was appropriately, topologically, indexed, something like Facebook may be considered a comparably successor to the Domesday Book, but the content is generated by the people willing (in exchange for use of the site; meta-data is sacrificed resulting in targeted adverts) not extracted from them (Mark Zuckerberg ≠ William the Conqueror).
However, as Domesday seemed too literal a titled, Epitaph felt more appropriate and tied into the soundtrack more effectively.

 

Epitaph Still - 03

 

For this piece I created a portrait video using an archive of images of gravestones which had been residing on an external hard-drive for several years. This was designed to be displayed in such a way as to reflect the role of decay in a digital environment, and embody the loaded meaning of the original source material.
After a number of sketches and drawn plans as to possibly means of display, I felt that the physicality of the television or computer screen was one way that the piece could be shown; in portrait in conjunction with the floor, so that the screen would suggest a similar presence to that of the grave. Moreover, by having the TV on the floor, it would be below the natural gaze, allowing the imagery to slip into the background, hinting at the banality of the overwhelming images, and the deliberate ignorance towards the inevitability of death.
I drew out a range of designs ranging in complexity; some featuring elaborate wooden frames with printed or Lino marble textures covering the surface, accompanied by the recently acquired artificial grass, possibly in conjunction with a pot of artificial flowers, to create atmosphere of the graveyard and artifice. I also thought that the video could work well displayed on a tablet computer, to make a sort of desktop mourning shrine. To take this further, I also toyed with the idea of accompanying the display of the video with a Facebook group featuring accounts made using the details of each image, to make for a multi-media mourning experience. I also tried projecting the piece onto plastic grass, and other surfaces, with varying levels of sucess. However, some of these ideas seemed flippant, or to time consuming, so were not pursued.
Nevertheless, I did go on to test the video on two televisions in conjunction with some of the artificial grass samples, in a few different enrolments around the studio and project spaces, which proved to be fairly successful. Though after completing and documenting these display tests, I have not followed through with the piece in any further capacity, though I would like to test it out in an exhibition at some point.

The video was made to be displayed portrait, rather than landscape, turning the screen on its side. This was strongly influenced by some video pieces I saw in London over the summer, in both the Art Stabs Power and Phantom Limbs exhibitions (though the latter turned a projector on it side, not a monitor). It seems a more contemporary trend in visual art to turn the screen around, thereby separating from its domestic purpose and making it an object to be looked at, not just a transparent interface.
Epitaph Still - 08

To create the piece I selected all of the in-focus portrait images from the collection (as there were just as many landscape), then loaded them into After Effects, setting them to the appropriate aspect ratio and scale for the format (due to the number of images, and as the camera used to take the pictures was older than the ones used in my other film, I went with 2K resolution, double HD, but not the maximum scale; as this still allowed me to take fairly high quality still images, but still reduce the processor intensity of the project.
I then exported the sequence at 25fps (though importing into Final Cut increase it to 29fps, meaning the length of each frame would be slightly warped, but not noticeable so). This was then slowed down, and duplicated several times, multi-layering the video to form a complex palindromic composition that would loop when played through, but also within itself; like a harmonic sound wave, repeating itself at regular intervals to coincide with other layers of repetition. The visual equivalent of having the same sound at different octaves, but rather than increasing the frequency of a note I increased the speed of the film. This multi-layering of different speeds results in an unobservable frame rate harmonic, which may be observed when viewing the project images (as one may see on version of the video playing at 100% forwards then backwards, another at 50%, 25% simultaneously, etc). Using the Optical Flow frame blending mode, the various disconnected images of graves would then blur together, and return to the first image fluidly. This draws attention to the interplay between the frames as eel as between the layers, reflection how with new media may indicate that “relations will be more important than categories; functions, which are variable, will be more important than purposes; transitions will be more important than boundaries; sequences will be more important than hierarchies.” [Menand, 2001; 123]

 

Epitaph Still - 15
Presenting the image sequence as a deconstructed narrative which thrives on its non-linearity, reflecting how, as Deleuze describes: “we have the fleeting co-presence of multiple time zones, in a continuum that activates and de-territorializes stable identities and fractures temporal linearity.” [Deleuze , 1988: 165] It is the multiplicity of images accessed simultaneously that interconnect with one another critically to form a basis for understanding through the externalised multi-faceted body of knowledge, like the computer screen with many windows open at once, connected together through shared applications, online content and hypertext, forming a unified aesthetic through chaos.
Rather than combining images through collage, the images are blended together more overtly, reflecting how a more contemporary attitude to reprocessing imagery, as described my Lev Manovich; “where old media relied on montage, new media substitutes the aesthetics of continuity,” thereby “creating a visual narrative through continuous transformations of image layers, as opposed, to discrete movements of graphical marks or characters,” producing “A mosaic of fragments without any strong dominant” [Manovich, 2013: 143, 266, 278].
I chose a mix of opacities settings that would produce a fairly dark aesthetic, to continue the morbid tone of the work, though would still be bright enough to see the details of the images weaving together. I also darkened the edges of the film and altered the colours slightly to provide a greater sense of consistency to the image.

This was then accompanied by a soundtrack made from the King Crimson’s song, Epitaph; taking the verse that opens with the line: “Confusion will be my epitaph” to a very confused, distorted and chaotic conclusion. Multi-layering, looping, and stretch the song as I did the video. It was distorted to the point at which it would no longer be recognisable, simple becoming moving noise. However, I stretch the “Confusion” line over the length of the video, with the stretch sound forming peculiar sound capes to accompany the piece, which resulted in sounding like a choir performing in a grand cathedral, hallowed, but hollow voices. I also cut the audio so that the sound trail from the end of the film would play at the start, meaning the sound would loop fairly unnoticeably.
Overall, I believe this to be a fairly successful video piece with the potential to be made all the more interesting by how it installed into space.

Epitaph [Stills]

The video stills were kept in landscape rather than rotated to a portrait orientation so the corresponded to the film, although it is designed to be shown in portrait, it would not fit with a screen display effectively. Much as the video had to be exported in landscape, so it could be displayed on a rectangular, 16:9 screen effectively, rotating the physical  TV or monitor rather than the image. This is purely a practical consideration, and the stills should not be rotated for digital display, as they would there would be a dissonance between them and the video.

 


 

Epitaph


 

References:

  • Deleuze, Giles (1988) Bergonism. Zone Books. New York. USA. Cited in Braidotti, Rosi. (2013) The Posthuman. Polity Press. Cambridge. UK: 165,
  • Manovich, Lev (2001) The Language of the New Media. MIT Press. USA.
  • Menand, Louis. (2001) The Metaphysical Club. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Cited in Manovich, Lev. (2013) Software Takes Command. INT Edition. Bloomsbury Academic. London, UK: 239
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