Alex Itin just cross-posted a wonderful new piece on his blog, and Vimeo.
I watched it on Vimeo and was struck by the terrific back and forth discussion between Alex and the people who are looking at his work. It’s gone beyond “cool video dude” and “you rock” to include rather thoughtful sharing of feelings and riffs on ideas for new work. By engaging with his “readers” in the way that he is, Alex is building a community around his work. He is inventing a new medium and unconsciously taking on the role of “author in a networked environment” that we talk about so often on these pages.
Check out this exchange on Vimeo about the video:
I am struck by the compromise Alex has to make as an artist in order to build a community around his work. When we first met, Alex was making brilliant multi-modal works combining his paintings, video and audio mash-ups. While on the one hand he had complete control over how the elements appeared and combined it was done in proprietary software which created standalone documents which seriously limited the size of his potential audience. In 2005 he became the institute’s first artist in residence and we made a blog for him where he started posting a continuous stream of individual works. Moving onto the web provided a much larger audience, but the blog format meant that he lost the ability to make complex layered works. Alex’s big web breakthrough came when he started to post his paintings to Flickr and his videos to Vimeo. This allowed him to begin a dialog with his audience and even to begin a series of exciting collaborations with other artists. But at the expense of having to put his paintings on one site and his videos on another.
The balkanization of art works (video here, photos there, and audio in yet another space) in the web 2.0 environment is frustrating, but i completely understand why it’s better to show your work in a place which fosters a dynamic and lively back and forth. I look forward to the day when artists won’t have to make a trade-off between form/content and community.
Sophie 1.0 is being released next week and Alex is the first artist we’re giving it to. Sophie documents don’t display in a web page (yet) but they do have an online component which enables people to have a conversation about the work in the “margin” of the work itself. Stay tuned, we’ll put an announcement up here of Alex’s first Sophie.
Last week there was a wave of takedowns on YouTube of copyright-infringing material -? mostly clips from television and movies. MediaCommons, the nascent media studies network we help to run, felt this rather acutely. In Media Res, an area of the site where media scholars post and comment on video clips, uses YouTube and other free hosting sites like Veoh and blip.tv to stream its video. The upside of this is that it’s convenient, free and fast. The downside is that it leaves In Media Res, which is quickly becoming a valuable archive of critically annotated media artifacts, vulnerable to the copyright purges that periodically sweep fan-driven media sites, YouTube especially.
In this latest episode, a full 27 posts on In Media Res suddenly found themselves with gaping holes where video clips once had been. The biggest single takedown we’ve yet experienced. Fortunately, since we regard these sorts of media quotations as fair use, we make it a policy to rip backups of every externally hosted clip so that we can remount them on our own server in the event of a takedown. And so, with a little work, nearly everything was restored -? there were a few clips that for various reasons we had failed to back up. We’re still trying to scrounge up other copies.
The MediaCommons fair use statement reads as follows:
MediaCommons is a strong advocate for the right of media scholars to quote from the materials they analyze, as protected by the principle of “fair use.” If such quotation is necessary to a scholar’s argument, if the quotation serves to support a scholar’s original analysis or pedagogical purpose, and if the quotation does not harm the market value of the original text — but rather, and on the contrary, enhances it — we must defend the scholar’s right to quote from the media texts under study.
The good news is that In Media Res carries on relatively unruffled, but these recent events serve as a sobering reminder of the fragility of the media ecology we are collectively building, of the importance of the all too infrequently invoked right of fair use in non-textual media contexts, and of the need for more robust, legally insulated media archives. They also supply us with a handy moral: keep backups of everything. Without a practical contingency plan, fair use is just a bunch of words.
Incidentally, some of these questions were raised in a good In Media Res post last August by Sharon Shahaf of the University of Texas, Austin: The Promises and Challenges of Fan-Based On-Line Archives for Global Television.
The New York Times continues to do quality interactive work online. Take a look at this recent feature that allows you to delve through video and transcript from the final Democratic presidential candidate debate in Iowa (Dec. 13, ’07). It begins with a lovely navigation tool that allows you to jump through the video topic by topic. Clicking text in the transcript (center column) or a topic from the list (right column) jumps you directly to the corresponding place in the video.
The second part is a “transcript analyzer,” which gives a visual overview of the debate. The text is laid out in miniature in a simple, clean schematic, navigable by speaker. Click a name in the left column and the speaker’s remarks are highlighted on the schematic. Hover over any block of text and that detail of the transcript pops up for you to read. You can also search the debate by keyword and see word counts and speaking times for each candidate.
These are fantastic tools -? if only they were more widely available. These would be amazing extensions to CommentPress.
Random House Canada underwrote a series of short videos riffing on Douglas Coupland’s new novel The Gum Thief produced by the slick Toronto studio Crush Inc. These were forwarded to me by Alex Itin, who described watching them as a kind of “cinematic reading.” Watch, you’ll see what he means. There are three basic storylines, each consisting of three clips. This one, from the “Glove Pond” sequence, is particularly clever in its use of old magazines:
I’ve never been a fan of book trailers, but this disturbing six-minute agitprop piece promoting Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is genre-transcending. It doesn’t hurt that Klein teamed up with Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, who made what was for my money the best major release picture of last year, “Children of Men.” Here, Klein and Cuarón are co-writers, Cuarón’s son Jonás directs and edits, and Klein provides narration over a melange of chilling footage and animation that sets up her central thesis and metaphor: that free market capitalist reforms are generally advanced, undemocratically, through breaches in the social psyche created by political, economic, environmental or military shocks. It’s a shocking little video. Make you wanna read the book?
The Times has published its first video “letter to the editor,” a 10-minute mini-documentary by Charles Ferguson on the decision by L. Paul Bremer and other US officials to disband the Iraqi army shortly after the US occupation began. The video is posted as a rebuttal to a recent op-ed by Bremer that tried to redistribute some of the blame for that catastrophic blunder that arguably gave birth to the Sunni insurgency.
This is no doubt a milestone for the paper, although calling it a letter to the editor is slightly disingenuous. Ferguson isn’t just your average concerned reader, he’s a highly respected filmmaker and author who has made a full length doc about Iraq, “No End in Sight,” from which much of this video’s material is taken.
Moreover, at ten minutes, and meticulously edited and produced, filled with interviews with top military brass and gov’t officials, the clip is more on par (at the very least) with a full op-ed. The main opinion page even features it as such – ?under op-ed contributors – ?rather than placing it down among the letters. Will we eventually see actual ad hoc video letters to the editor from “readers” at large? That could be interesting.
Nomenclature aside, though, this is a fantastic broadening of the Times‘ editorial output. Once again, they prove themselves to be one of the more innovative digital publishers around.
Alex Juhasz, a prof at Pitzer College and member of the MediaCommons community, has just kicked off an exciting experimental media studies course, “Learning From YouTube,” which will be conducted on and through the online video site. The NY Times/AP reports.
The class will be largely student-driven, developed on the fly through the methods of self-organization and viral production that are the MO of YouTube. In Juhasz’s intro to the course (which you can watch below), she expresses skepticism about the corporate video-sharing behemoth as a viable “model for democratic media,” but, in the spirit of merging theory with practice, offers this class as an opportunity to open up new critical conversations about the YouTube phenomenon, and perhaps to devise more “radical possibilities.”
…this initiative is part of a long history of distance learning efforts, though taken to another level, both because of the melding of subject matter and delivery options, but also the ways this class blurs classroom boundaries physically and conceptually. We need to acknowledge this history, both innovative and failed, if we want to see Juhasz’s efforts as more than an interesting experiment, but as one emerging out of a long tradition of redefining how learning happens. As media scholars, we are on the forefront of this redefinition, able to both teach about and through these technologies and able to use our efforts to both critique and acknowledge their uses and limitations…
Sorry to sink for a moment into celebrity gossipsville, but this video had me utterly mesmerized for the past four minutes. Basically, this guy’s arguing that Britney Spears’ sub-par performance at the VMAs this weekend was do to a broken heel on one of her boots, and he goes to pretty serious lengths to prove his thesis. I repost it here simply as an example of how incredibly pliable and reinterpretable media objects have become through digital editing tools and distribution platforms like YouTube. The minute precision of the editing, the frequent rewinds and replays, and the tweaky stop/start pacing of the inserted commentaries transform the tawdry, played-to-death Britney clip into a fascinating work of obsession. Heads up: Viacom has taken the video down. No great loss, but we now have a broken post, a tiny monument to the web’s impermanence.
Via Slashdot, I just came across what could be a major innovation in science publishing. The National Science Foundation, the Public Library of Science and the San Diego Supercomputing Center have joined forces to launch, SciVee, an experimental media sharing platform that allows scientists to synch short video lectures with paper outlines:
SciVee, created for scientists, by scientists, moves science beyond the printed word and lecture theater taking advantage of the internet as a communication medium where scientists young and old have a place and a voice.
The site is in alpha and has only a handful of community submissions, but it’s enough to give a sense of how profoundly useful this could become. Video entries can be navigated internally by topic segments, and are accompanied by a link to the full paper, jpegs of figures, tags, a reader rating system and a comment area.
Peer networking functions are supposedly also in the works, although this seems geared solely as a dissimenation and access tool for already vetted papers, not a peer-to-peer review forum. It would be great within this model to open submissions to material other than papers such as documentaries, simulations, teaching modules etc. It has the potential to grow into a resource not just for research but for pedagogy and open access curriculum building.
It’s very encouraging to see web video technologies evolving beyond the generalized, distractoid culture of YouTube and being adapted to the needs of particular communities. Scholars in the humanities, film and media studies especially, should take note. Imagine a more advanced version of the In Media Res feature we have running over at MediaCommons, where in addition to basic blog-like commenting you could have audio narration of clips, video annotation with time code precision, football commentator-style drawing over the action, editing tools and easy mashup capabilities – ?all of it built on robust archival infrastructure of the kind that underlies SciVee.