“From the beginning, the miniature speaks of infinite time, of the time of labor, lost in its multiplicity, and of the time of the world collapsed within a minimum of physical space.”1
Media Miniature charts a specific line through the last decade of media art experiments (1995-present). Small, short, light, cheap, and slow. These are the terms by which a recent group of artists working in digital moving image and sound, some for portable devices, have accomplished an astonishing range of new work. In testing the conceptual framework of narrative, film, text, sound, and visual art, this exhibition gathers together seven artists who push a limited scale of choices to create intentionally miniature work with monumental implications.
“Thus the [miniature] book encapsulates the details of everyday life, fitting life inside the body rather than the body inside the expansive temporality of life.” 2
Rather than attuning itself to ever-escalating advances in technology which arc towards increasingly diminutive size, this exhibition aligns itself with a discourse on older forms of invention, such as the western printing press and the decoration of miniature books, and what their production reveals about the social condition. Individuals interacting with their laptop computers, cellular telephones, and i-Pods resemble the fifteenth century learned fingering their book of prayers to access an imaged world and spiritual grace. What was once a mass social experience, whether in cathedrals or coliseums, is possible again to carry in a pocket. Additionally, these new personal reliquaries for the 21st century reflect a matrix of expanded social networks nonetheless human in connections.
In 1995, Lev Manovich, artist/theorist, produced a series of short, small, black-and-white Little Movies in digital Quicktime looking forward to when (a year later) personal computer web pages could support video over a networked worldwide audience. Referencing the moving-image revolution of the early 20th century, Little Movies remains flexible in its distribution format including its original intended web-driven platform and, once downloaded, multiple forms of dvd playback/projection. Presented for Pratt Manhattan Gallery on handheld Playstation portable players, Little Movies acquires a new lightness in wireless mobility.
While known for large-scale installations, feature length films, and operatic compositions, several artists in the exhibition sought the freedom of making shorter, less labor intensive yet fully resolved pictorial statements permitted by the accessibility of programs such as Final Cut Pro which turn a home computer into a professional editing suite. In Confessions of an Image (1996), media artist Marc Lafia created a series of short and small (color) abstract videos filmed, edited, and scored by himself. Although moving on to create many ambitiously realized media projects, Lafia has continued to return to this personal format adding algorithmic sequencing to the visual timing and audio tracking of his intimately captured films.
Similarly, writer/director Dave Simonds conceived, performed (with others), edited, and scored a series of short episodic films. While the bumpers (2004-present) revolves around a single male character, each film chapter does not necessarily follow a linear narrative sequence. Rather these fragments of a life constitute independent stories with whole insights intact about the modern experience of life. In-between feature-length, multi-channel films and large-scale interactive installations, Grahame Weinbren returns to his series of short videos “Letters” loosely organized around the twenty-six letters of the Roman alphabet and presented at Pratt Manhattan with a custom triggering interface. Layered with sources in art, music, film, and literature, Weinbren speaks of the satisfaction in setting himself a timeframe of a day to conceive and produce these films which maintain an arc of meaning and an emotional tempo similar to his longer duration works. Like plein-air paintings, these “mini-movies” possess a completeness of gesture and a fullness of implication, often freeing the artist to distill the core of larger projects.
The fact that the miniature book could be easily held and worn attaches a specific function to it. Its gemlike properties were often reflected in its adornment by real gems.This book/jewel, carried by the body, multiplies significance by virtue of the tension it creates between inside and outside, container and contained, surface and depth.
Performance-media artist Jane Philbrick conceives her work in industrial and miniscule dimensions merging technology and her research on the human voice and linguistic structures across time, space and cultural expressions. Her choice of scale is dictated by associative themes embedded in the content of her work that necessitate either expansive or reductive formats. Part of a series on the Song of Solomon, the transcendental Judaic love poem, Voix/e (2002-3), presented on an i-Pod, plays the Song’s lyrics in separate male and female voice tracks, each speaking only the consonants or vowels respectively for either the left or right cast-gold ear bud. Videopoem is an equally contemplative work that shuffles the letters of the word “mother” against the backdrop of a classic Hollywood film, Stella Dallas. Simultaneously separated yet connected by a swinging door, a woman (mother) bids her daughter good-bye as she leaves with her father. Finally, Press captures the popular David Bowie song Changes but adapts it to the artist’s name “Jane.” Its casual placement either on a gallery wall or in found spaces lends itself to curious, tentative triggering as the artist’s “voice” is persistently proclaimed. Similar to the concept of a Freudian slip or deja-vu, these minimal pieces whisper for our attention as their message slips in between an idea and intrigue.
“The social space of the miniature book might be seen as the social space, in miniature, of all books; the book as talisman to the body and emblem of the self; the book as microcosm and macrocosm; the book as commodity and knowledge, fact and fiction “3
Fee Plumley and Ben Jones a.k.a. “the-phone-book Limited” (www.the-phone-book.ltd.uk) and Charlene Rule (www.scratchvideo.tv), found distributed networks intrinsic to their work in seeking expanded spaces for audience and expression. With their collaborators, Plumley and Jones began creating, producing and serving as instructor-activists in generating short poetic texts on cellular telephones as young artists based in the United Kingdom. Their workshops have grown to include increasingly available sophisticated video technology including a “Philmphest “workshop session for Pratt students that will produce short digital films for mobile phones in the exhibition. Plumley and Jones’ interest in reconsidering the phone screen as a tablet for creative text and image engages not only an audience of one but, through the wireless viral landscape, proposes virtually unlimited communities for artistic experience.
Trained as an experimental filmmaker and skilled as a professional editor, Charlene Rule sought an audience in 2004 for her autobiographical video shorts via blogging communities to develop the practice of “vlogging.” Rule committed herself to posting twice a week as a minimum, and while the small bits of narrative -- a squirrel in her closet, dinner conversations, current books/movies -- are rooted in personal experience, they never reveal an entire identity, person or history. The software she uses allows others to suture additional narrative, graft commentary, and free associate content. Vlogging permits the roles of audience and author to switch fluidly, and the polarities of anonymous reserve and shared emotion, proximity and distance, stranger and friend to perform in a single gesture.
Brought together as independents, the exhibition suggests an eco-system of new geographies. Evoking a mediated forest with developing social behaviors flowing through electronic vines, Media Miniature willingly exposes the fiber of its construction. For a moment, a global pulse captures its own emergence into transparency.
New York, 2006
Many thanks to Pratt staff Eleanor Moretta, Interim Director of Exhibitions; Nicholas Battis, Assistant Director of Exhibitions; Katherine Davis, Exhibit Designer; and to media and lighting consultant Christopher Warnick for the realization of the exhibition project.