Between two sheets of time.
A particularly interesting notion is what I referred to above as post-narrative. Post-narrative refers to a state in which the sub-narrative structure is developed to such an extent that it makes the narrative completely obsolete. It sometimes literally pushes through the narrative and renders it useless. If there is a message to convey, it is done without recourse to any semantic or semiotic instrument such as speech (actually, any form of language), text or connotation. Post-narrative aspires to engage the viewer on a libidinal level. It deals with the appropriation of affect in order to deliver its content with as little intervention as possible by the conscious mind. It is the Kuleshov effect[i] without the actor. It is the ‘Ah, so cute!’ without the kitten. It is porn without the flesh. It is the pure conveying without the knowing. This type of intensity is needed to avoid the pitfall of shallowness. After all, affect, or ‘to be affected’, has nothing to do with the medium as such, nor with the narrative alone. To compare media at the level of narrative, or even their mere properties, does not serve any purpose at all.
Through our discussions, the project’s participants gained access to these insights and to the ‘hidden’ attributes of the moving image. Many preconceived notions about what film is or can be were dismantled, opening the way for new outcomes. As mentioned earlier, there were few restrictions regarding what the result should be, the process shaped both ‘instruments and material’ for the design. These meetings also served as a testing ground for some of the research on the reversal of the space-time axis, which enabled me to harvest insights and opinions from an architectural point of view. This concept of reversal hinges on my proposition that time is antecedent to space: space is created through motion and is not something that has a pre-established existence. Following this line of argument, space is not the third dimension, but the fourth. Space is a derivative of time. Space is 4D. This might sound much more philosophical than it actually needs to be, given the context, although this thinking finds considerable resonance with the philosophy of Deleuze, whose work has been used in various contexts to create a framework for experimentation and exploration in this field. I would like to address this proposition at a very practical level.
If we regard the narrative level of a moving image as the programme of the design, then the creation of its structure will follow the instructions that are generated from this. But if we generate the instructions on the basis of some other structure – a previous or distant structure – then the narrative would follow the structure. A narrative in architecture places action in space. The amount of movement or specific use of the space and the demands of the user determine the usability of the space. In cinema we do the opposite. Time is inhabited by the ‘user’. The motions sculpt space on the basis of the demands of the programme (the narratives). This is not just a reversal of outside-in to inside-out or any other conception of that kind, it is a fundamental reversal of concept. I propose that architecture writes time through space and cinema writes space through time. This is a reversal of the space-time axis.[ii]
Producing the vital collapse
Understanding a reversal of the space-time axis marked the start of the next phase of the project: the collective production of a short film on the basis of the data that had been harvested from the film clips. This phase required a more hands-on approach. To develop this, the elemental framework of ‘obstruction-thinking’ was introduced, whereby a set of useful yet unfriendly obstructions were set up to test and develop the students’ synergetic skills and design solution abilities. The main aim was to shift the focus in the students’ decision-making process from the high reason (trained) perspective to the heuristic (obstructed) perspective. On the basis of the central premise of the documentary The Five Obstructions by Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth,[iii] a strategy was defined to provoke the students into using their databanks as the leading source and structure for the construction of their own moving image. Simultaneously, the protagonists and actions were defined for each group, introducing architecture as the main character. In this process, the architecture was not an object without its own desire, but an active and equal partner in the film. Using the underlying structure of their analyses, participants created a dialogue between the Van Nelle factory[iv] and the NAi,[v] while applying a number of (visual) obstructions proposed by their instructors.
At this point it is essential to point out that at the time Camera Eye took place, the production of moving images (for student assignments) was more difficult than it is today. A series of deliberations on the quality and purpose of the entire exercise led to the decision to engage a professional video production crew to do the actual filming on location, for which the groups of students planned, storyboarded, shot listed and directed the entire shooting phase. This enabled the participants to enter the field of moving image production at a level that left enough room to be in control of the essential instruments of creation and construction while ensuring professional quality in production and processing. The initial films were group efforts. Six groups started, seven groups finished: one group split into two due to conflicting ideas about the audio-visual aspects of the film, a development we fully embraced. The entire operation of planning, shooting and editing took over three months. By carefully going through all the essential steps in producing these moving images (with the aid of a proper theoretical context), the participants had made a transition from dealing with audio-visuals as something happening on the screen to something that happens in the screen. By taking ownership of the production, they had gained control over the construction of a different reality. They discovered the reality within the moving image to be something new, and not merely the representation of some other reality.
Deleuze claims that cinema brings us the ‘movement image […] capable of thinking the production of the new’,[vi] and although the group had discussed this prior to the actual construction of the films, it was only afterwards that these words gained strength. The discussion had shifted from regarding cinema as a form of representation to recognising cinema as an independent entity: an abstract machine. We began talking about ‘inhabitants of the screen’ and ‘the world out there in the screen’, which holds the potential for any narrative to emerge. The notions of astaticism versus fixity and narrative-driven construction were rapidly replaced by intervention, contingency and open-endedness. These new paradigmatic codes proved to be essential in the next stages.
The tutors responded to the presentations by inserting ‘obstructions’. All participants were to re-edit the three-minute films they had produced collectively into a one-minute personal version. By insisting on the creation of a personal version we forced the participants to experience the limitations on the process exerted by the medium. In other words, the moving image offers an unlimited number of possibilities, yet in order to make something that can be understood by others, filmmakers are very limited in what they can use. The triple reduction in the process (first, film clip into data; second, from schema into film; and third, the re-edit of the film into a shorter, personal version) took its toll on the ‘readability’ of the product. What was created could not serve as architecture due to its illegibility, yet it was not cinema either, since there was no room for any narrative to unfold. It was the collision of two media on the basis of their weaknesses, not their strengths.
Photo-credit: Alfred T. Palmer, photographer, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. No known restrictions on publication.
Title: Switch boxes on the firewalls of B-25 bombers are assembled by women workers at North American [Aviation, Inc.]'s Inglewood, California, USA, 1942
[i] Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov dissected the effects of juxtaposition in cinematic montage. Kuleshov demonstrated in the 1920s that it was the assemblage of shots that determined the audience’s willingness to attach a specific meaning or emotion to it.
[ii] Hans Reichenbach, The Direction of Time (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1956), Theodore Sider, Four-Dimensionalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), Lawrence Sklar, Space, Time, and Spacetime (Berkeley: University of California, 1974).
[iii] The Five Obstructions, directed by Lars Von Trier, (2003; Hvidovre: Zentropa). In the film, Von Trier challenges Leth to remake the same film five times over. Each time, Von Trier imposes a new set of regulations and limitations (the obstructions) to provoke Leth into producing a new solution. It is as much about the psychology of the filmmaker as it is about filmmaking itself.
[iv] Designed by Leendert van der Vlugt in cooperation with civil engineer J.G. Wiebenga in 1932. It is located at Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam, Holland.
[v] Designed by Jo Coenen in 1993. It is located at Museumpark 25, Rotterdam, Holland.