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Slowness and the Still

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Revisiting Leighton’s Art and the Moving Image for a third time -necessary by all means due to the sheer density of the fantastic work – I have come to discover great value in the last section of the introduction: “Slowness/The Still.”

My interest in the works of the works of video artists such as Thierry Kuntzel, Michael Snow, and David Claerbout fall well into this category. Their experimental techniques for video production introduced “the still” as a powerful embodiment of all that can be achieved from a fixed perspective.

Such a technique creates “an ambiguous stillness, a ‘dynamic stasis’ (as media theorist Thomas Y. Levin characterises it), more commonly associated with photography than with film” (Leighton, 39). In many respects, this technique appears tame compared to the more experimental works of those familiarizing themselves with the medium. One might even see such a lack of interaction as regression to the comforts of traditional photography techniques. In actuality, this is far from the case.

Leighton continues: “These works are static images, yet at the same time they are moving; they create a heightened awareness of time’s passing. In slowing down, halting the image or simply showing it as it is, slowness perhaps becomes a new and vital artistic strategy, one that brings about renewed attention to an ‘archaeology’ of time” (ibid).  In her rhetoric it becomes clear that the masterful effect of such films is that they convey the ceaseless passage of time. Your senses are manipulated as you view the image as simply that – an image – yet are caught off guard by the slight movements and interplay of motion. This is especially true for Claerbout’s Ruurlo, Bocurloscheweg (1910) and Kuntzel’s Venices. 

The technique of fixed perspective to create slowness is not one to be so quickly overlooked. The dialogue  Leighton commences in her writing is absolutely brilliant and has allowed me the chance to foster a new appreciation for the works of video artists wishing to achieve a slow or even still effect in their films.

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Thoughts on “Art and the Moving Image”

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In Tanya Leighton’s  “Art and the Moving Image,” the production of video as a medium and expression of hybrid media is presented in the format of an abridged yet well considered history. From form and function to utility and criticism, Leighton provides great insight into the ways in which video has become a central component of the evolution of hybrid media.

Key to her introduction to the moving image is the means by which the art form of the moving image became accessible to artists and the public alike. Leighton points to a major turning point following World War II:

The focus on the 6os has to do not only with the greater hybridity between art forms that was established during the decade but also with access. The decades after World War II were a time when access to 16mm- film equipment (at least in the US and Britain) was reasonably affordable and uncomplicated, and video became available from the late 6os onwards…The period also marked the beginning of widespread state support for the production of media workshops that encouraged different forms of experimentation. With the acceleration of new technologies, and as film gradually gave way to new forms of electronic information in the 70s, there was also an embrace of recovered or displaced media discarded by the industry. (Leighton, 14)

Without the proper affordability of videography equipment there was little market despite a growing appreciation among artists to explore the relatively young art form. With the introduction of less expensive film and less complicated gear, artists around the world were quick to begin experimentation. With the added support of workshops and other introductory courses for those interested in their own film production, it is not surprising that the moving image soon became a more accessible and incredibly popular form of hybrid media by the late 60s.

With the advent of electronic information storage and recording equipment, the remaining limitations of filmography and recording were further diminished. This served well artists and the public as the novelty of hybrid media continued to grow with each new development.

Leighton continues to develop the history of the motion image with visitations to the notions of video installation, manipulation, and, naturally, cinematic utility – all of which help to better establish the importance and grounded history of the moving image as a media and an incredibly accessible form of art production.