In the text below, I will explain my recent research and works. By reflecting on them I will state my previous working method and also try to establish new working methodology in order to assist my later practices.
In last two trimesters, I have been working on how manipulation of audiovisual content (mainly cinematic materials) could alter the way of seeing. My work started in a quite simple manner, in which films are utilised as input which produces books, videos, and browser-based work, and interactive installations. The idea derived from my previous experience of déjà vu, a sensation that you feel what you are experiencing at the moment, have been already experienced before. This may has complicated reasons about how our brain works, however that’s not what I want to address here. For me it raises doubt about the ability of recognition - namely the recognition to time-space, to real fact, to personality, etc. Because of my interests in video editing. It brought me back to think about montage, but in a more broad and free sense. I started to research the cut-up techniques through different times. I have looked at the French Surrealists' game of Exquisite Corpse , Tristan Tzara's cut-up poems, the French literature group Oulipo, William S. Burroughs's and Brion Gysin's fold-in technique, etc. They were mainly used in the creation of literature and later later have been extended to video making. All these works are more or less leave a space for the performativity of their own materials.
Review of recent works
- One of my works reflects on this research is a photo book, which was produced using images and texts (subtitles) taken from the Roman Polanski's film, “The Tenant”. The images and texts are extracted at moments when characters say the word "know", and then the frames and texts are reassembled into the form of book. Some of the pages are designed to be shorter than the rest, which provides the opportunity for the reader to read across pages, and at different intervals. The repeated “know”s are situated in a half-baked story (original film), within which readers can break the linear reading experience.
How can a moment be altered when we view a narration from one point, and jumping to another, or starting from the middle, or if we were to then move the beginning to the end?
- I try to experiment with different ways of experiencing and perceiving. Later on I made a split-screen video work. The audiovisual content is extracted from the most dramatic part of the same film, The Tenant. The original shots play along with reversed each single shots. The beginning and the end of each shot can be viewed at the same time and goes on playing to the end (and beginning) of the sequence.
There are actually doubled contents but the work does not aim to double the vision but produce an altered viewing experience, different from watching a linear narrative. What I liked here is since in the work I used such a simple strategy, people could already get it straight away while watching. But they would still sense the altered experience, which I think will make people more aware of the manipulation of the content. The same data can be addressed to different experiences and purposes.
Since I got a lot of question about why I used films within my work I started to think about the content I worked with. At first sight, film may be considered as a closed system. I understand by closed system it means actually the director's choice of moving image sequences, the final result. But the media form itself rests on a database upon which choices can be made. I read an articlefrom writer, Daniel Coffeen, in which he states "a film is the product of a selection from different shots, hours of dailies and coverage – the film rests on a database." As he told the film, “what we end up seeing is only one possibility. Cut it again and there's a different movie.” Therefore, it is not hard to imagine a film has the potential to be treated as raw material. It is open-ended. The database of it is autonomous. The pieces of footage relate to each other in one or other way, which makes the permutation more exciting.
- At the same period, with newly learnt coding technique, I tired to develop different permutations with film. I wanted to make a chat-bot like Eliza which uses films as its database. The work will invite people to go into a dialogue with different characters in films. Participants can lead the dialogues, cut them and reassemble them. But in fact only a vague topic bouncing back and forth. As we know from the Eliza effect, it was sometimes so convincing that there are many anecdotes about people becoming very emotionally caught up in dealing with doctor Eliza. Even though I haven’t managed to create my own algorithm, I assembled my film according to the characters’ lines and made a video out of them.
- Besides that, I also made a browser-based work. <http://www.tangyuzhen.com/browser-based%20works/dialogue.html> People can interact with this piece by scrolling the webpage up and down. The movement/paying of each clip and the conversational text will be presented accordingly. The organisation of the materials also follows a question and answer format, like André Breton developed Q&A form in Exquisite Corpse. Indeed there is more or less unpredictable randomness. But it is not randomness that I aim to create within them. On the contrary, in order to present its performantivity, they have to work with rules and conditions.
I find It hard to use media/form to define my works. Although my previous works are mainly video projection or interactive video installations, the studying at the Piet Zwart expanded my practice. For example my works can also be presented in a book format or in browser. What influenced me the most is the strategy of the digital manipulation of audiovisual content. Just to name three works here which all used existed films as content but reassembled the content according to different time notions. The Clock from Christian Marclay; 24 Hour Psycho by Douglas Gordon; 4 Million Year 2001: A Space Odyssey. My interest to these works may derive from the time-space theme, for a long period I found it is quite fascinating. In one of my previous works (which was made before I came to study here), Time-Split<http://www.tangyuzhen.com/time-split/> in which “time-split” window set up in place of a real one. Through half the window the viewer can view the outside world in real time. The other half the window has been altered to display the view with a time-lag, at times merely a fraction of a second delayed, at other times longer. To continue this interest, I made the reversed shot with The Tenant film. But in fact, it is just a beginning that I can develop from.
In reference to Marc Lafia's The Battle of Algiers</ref> it is discussed that:"formally, the work breaks down cinema's linear structure, proposing an open ended narrative in which the viewer's intervention catalysts a set of events prescribed by predefined rules, which are based on the artists' interpretation of the original work in combination with the inherent nature of its subject." This statement also explicitly explained the artistic strategy of their manipulations in Douglas Gordon and Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion's works. But for The Clock, there seems to remain more freedom for the artist, therefore the materials are gathered to picture the artist's purpose instead of magnifying the characteristic of the material (although they might be the same sometimes). Later on, I got to know Omer Fast's work. In The Casting, "he anchors this process in his own position as a spectator, which is only possible by involving himself on the screen."  The work indeed broadened my view of the possibilities of manipulation, although it is not a appropriated work. The control of content can be so productive.
This power of control is also reviewed in Robert Ochshorn's work Montage Interdit , but more about the form of presenting. However the form itself also picturing what we watch and how we watch. My later practices as you can see above like the hybrid film and browser-based work are my reflection on these issues in a rudimentary form. I think the notion of "database-watching" and its contemporary context will feed more on my future practices.
It was a nice experience to explore different possibilities from the same material. After I took a look at my previous works as a whole, I would conclude that the cut-up technique (permutation) as a visualising strategy are used in my work to explore the performativity. However, within the text, I would rather think about what is or will be the coherent interest leading me to where I will be in the near feature.
On one hand, Permutation is one of the main concepts in my previous work. It is "self-inclusive and self-contained" (Brion Gysin) , But the performative outcome of itself can be so productive, even infinite, like the work, a Hundred Thousand Billion Poems by Raymond Queneau, which is a departure from the cut-up technique. It quickly led me to look at the database structure, relational database, object database (the Google knowledge graph), the zzstructure. To make it simple, a data model defines the relationships between different data elements and the structure designed upon the data on the basis of the relationships. Geert Lovink's notion of database-watching caught my attention. "We no longer watch films or TV; we watch databases." At this stage, the permutation gets much more complicated, it is not only about the data model or algorithm we use. We have been encouraged to have a personal relationship with the database in which we feed in more information, and get more ideal or predictable results in return. But are we really in dialogue with machine? As Lovink argued, "Cultual awareness of how algorithms function is still a long way off." It also runs into what I have read about Andrew Pickering's notion on knowledge - “seeing knowledge as situated (rather than transcendentally true) while continuing to take it seriously (and not as epiphenomenal froth)” (Pickering, 380)  What would be the epiphenomenal study when we cannot picture its whole context? What would the phenomenal inform us when it is in a different context?
I also got interested in the Dreamachine created by Gysin and Ian Sommerville. According to Andrew Pickering, "It is a nice exemplification of a technology of the self, a material technology for the production of altered states" , "We could say that the brain explored the performative potential of the material technology (in an entirely nonvoluntary, nonmodern fashion), while the technology explored the space of brain performance. " With the development of computer science and bioscience the altered state seems can be achieved easily. Like Marshal McLuhan stated, media are "extensions of man or human capability". How could the corporeal perception be extended. What if human perception was replaced by machine perception. In what way could the techno-reality shape us? This questions gradually lead me to research moist media, meat media
- The Exquisite Corpse, Revolution of The Mind: The Life of André Breton, 225
- http://www2.tate.org.uk/intermediaart/entry15539.shtm Retrieved on 3rd May, 2015
- Émilie Brout & Maxime Marion's work, http://www.eb-mm.net/fr
- retrieved on 5th June, 2015 http://www2.tate.org.uk/intermediaart/battle_of_algiers.shtm
- Omer Fast’s work, The Casting(2007)
- retrieved on 10th June, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/omer_fast/
- The Third Mind
- Networks Without a Cause
- Cybernetic Brain, 380
- Cybernetic Brain, 77
- Retrieved on 4th June, 2015 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_perception#cite_ref-Matthew-Turk_1-1