Video art as a methodological power of the false
[extract from RGS-IBG 2016 conference paper, full version here]
It is relevant to consider video art as pushing geographic methods towards what Deleuze, primarily in his second book on cinema but also in different places, terms the ‘powers of the false’. Put simply, if true narration refers to forms of narrative that unify, represent, control and identify forces, temporalities, characters, social realities, and so on, then, by contrast, false narration actively opens up towards the irreducible multiplicity of the event for the purpose of fabulation of a people to come. As Deleuze notes, and following Nietzsche’s philosophy, ‘The false ceases to be a simple appearance or even a lie, in order to achieve that power of becoming which constitutes series or degrees, which crosses limits, carries out metamorphoses, and develops along its whole path an act of legend, or story-telling.’ (2013, 283) Thus, rather than making claims towards any ideals of truthfulness or representation, video art is explicit in refraining from a will to truth and instead, produces its own reality, and its own source of inspiration. So, how then are we to start enrolling video methods as methodological powers of the false? I want to suggest a double Deleuzian movement may be a fertile conceptual point-of-departure.
Movement 1: figuration, figural
The first movement is conceptualised by Deleuze in his work on the painter Francis Bacon: the move from the figurative to the figural. The production of the figural configures an act of balancing between figuration and non-figuration, where figuration refers to representation and illustration, and non-figuration to absolute deterritorialisation or total abstraction. As such, as Deleuzian art theorist O’Sullivan points out, the movement towards the figural does ‘not involve a simple turning away from the figure or from the human, but a kind of stretching or twisting of it’, a turning to forces of falsification (O’Sullivan 2006, 64) The resultant logic is one of sense and sensation, rather than of essence; its intensity being more directly perceptually felt than objectively real. If in paintings such as those of Francis Bacon, as Deleuze points out, the figural consists of ‘asignifying and nonrepresentative lines and zones, line-strokes and colour-patches’ (Deleuze 2003, 101), then one way in which video artists have sought to achieve this movement is by attending to technological failure.
Technological failure in video is usually regarded by geographers as a feature to be avoided at all costs. The geographer Michael Gallagher, for instance, insists that ‘leaving audio to take care of itself or hoping for some miraculous post-production quick fix for sloppy sound […] is likely to be detrimental to the quality of video research’ (Gallagher, 2015: 166). Video artists such as Rosa Menkman, by contrast, enrol ‘glitches’ as productive points of uncertainty. Glitches, as short-lived faults in hardware and software, are effected here, in the words of O’Sullivan, ‘To break a world and to make a world.’ (O’Sullivan, 2009: 251)
In Menkman’s video The Collapse of PAL we recognise a landscape, or at least we think we recognise a landscape. It’s familiar yet estranging. It shakes as if experiencing an earthquake, almost collapsing onto itself, leaving it hanging somewhere in between the truthful and fiction, in between representation and non-representation. Menkman hints at the purpose of her skewing of landscape through glitches: ‘a source for new patterns, anti-patterns and new possibilities that often exist on a border or membrane (of, for instance, language).’ (Menkman, 2011: 340) Because the material forces take on their own lives, creating worlds beyond both control and expectation, what Menkman’s video production shows is an embracing of ambiguity, a being open to chance encounters and a being unafraid of not knowing, It is thus less occupied with a reproduction of ‘truthful’ past sensations, instead, in opening up to and manipulating material forces of uncertainty to produce the figural, that is, to produce ‘false’ future perceptions, sensations, and relations to the world.
Movement 2: movement-image, time-image
In addition to the one from figuration to the figural, there’s a second movement of the powers of the false central to strands of video art with relevance to geographic methods: the one from movement-image towards time-image. Both concepts are, again, drawn from Deleuze’s second book on cinema. Put briefly, in this book he draws on Bergson’s syntheses of time, to outline what he considers to be a significant divergence in approach to temporality between pre-war cinema and post-war cinema. Where the movement-image of pre-war cinema projected time as chronological, linear and universal variation, the time-image of post-war attends directly to the corporeal multi-dimensionality and non-linearity of time, recognising that, as Italian film director Fellini suggests, ‘We are constructed in memory; we are simultaneously childhood, adolescence, old age and maturity’ (Fellini in Deleuze 2013, 104). As such, in the words of Deleuze, [time-images] ‘shatter the empirical continuation of time, the chronological succession, the separation of the before and the after’ (Deleuze 2013, 160).
So can this mean for video productions as constituting a power of the false? In Time Delay Room by Dan Graham (1974), we see a man walking into a room to witness a video installation. The rooms depicted on the two screens remain empty. Seconds after his actual entrance, the left screen presents his entrance. Seeing him standing still in front of the screen offers the illusion that image and non-image are now in-sync. As we see him lift his arm in only one register, we realise time is out-of-joint. Chronological, rational or truthful time of the movement-image is warped and destabilised to cultivate ‘false’ movements and ‘false’ continuity, where at certain times not-necessarily true pasts co-exists, and other times, incompossible events appear simultaneously. The aim here is not to smoothen difference out, but to bring together differently charged temporalities in an act of disjuncture which exceeds the potential of the sum of its parts. The resulting irrational intervals generate a hard-to-grasp feedback loop between different events, different times, different participants and their different acts of communications. Through a form of montage, the work is thus concerned with co-producing new events, temporalities, identities, rather than with arresting them. The time-image embodies a methodological potential for geographic video methods that is calling for further exploration.
Deleuze G 2003 Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation London, Continuum
Deleuze G 2013  Cinema II: the Time-Image London, Bloomsbury Academic
Gallagher M 2015 Working with Sound in Video: Producing an Experimental Documentary about School Spaces In Bates C ed Video Methods: Social Science Research in Motion New York, Routledge 165-186
Manning E 2015 Against method In Non-representational Methodologies: Re-envisioning research Vannini P ed London, Routledge
Menkman R 2011 Glitch Studies Manifesto In Video Vortex Reader II: Moving images beyond Youtube Available online at http://art310-f12-hoy.wikispaces.umb.edu/file/view/Glitch+Studies+Manifesto+rewrite+for+Video+Vortex+2+reader.pdf
O’Sullivan S 2006 Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation New York, Palgrave Macmillan
O’Sullivan S 2009 From Stuttering and Stammering to the Diagram: Deleuze, Bacon and Contemporary Art Practice Deleuze Studies 3 247-259
Simpson P 2011 ‘So, as you can see…’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices Area 43 343-352