Craig Dworkin: Stan Brakhage, Agrimoniac Loud Visual Noises.

At the start of my project 'Ways of Seeing' I had been reading some of the critical work of Craig Dworkin. I think his essay Loud Visual Noises about in part the work of Stan Brakhage underpinned the way I would go on to see my own project. This short video piece explored the idea of the flesh based mechanism at the front of seeing and tried to express some of the ideas digitally that Dworkin illuminates. It is a literal interpretation but as this post explains Dworkn's ideas were more a catalyst to enable a greater awareness of process overall rather than being particularly just relevant to film or video.

I wouldn't uae his essay as a metaphorical link or something that I would use as a direct means to produce a particular piece but I felt that what Dworkin was uncovering would enable me to explore more deeply elements of what might initially come to me as what might otherwise be just surface ideas.

Dworkin postulated a theory that took 'seeing' as not merely coming though an unimpeded eye or screen but he instead took account of the corporeality of the vessel through which seeing took place. He didn't introduce this as an alternative way of seeing but rather made it inclusively part of the process of perception.

He begins his essay by referring to William Blake In A Vision of the Last Judgement, William Blake confesses: “I question not my Corporeal and Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight. I look thro' it and not with it. He the contrasts this with 'A careful consideration of the origins of Blake's metaphor, that suggests a counter tradition that recognises the interference of even the most pellucid material medium'. He refers here in particular to Durer's gridded frame in painting which took 3 dimensions into 2 and with the writings of Louis Marin who describes pictorial representation as the dialectic between the veil and the window.

To “see with not through the eye,” as Blake in fact put it, would be to insist on the opacity not only of the window but of the eye itself. Such an insistence is central to the later films of Stan Brakhage, who has worked to occlude the illusion of a transparent vision, and to recognise instead the fleshy materiality of sight. These were the elements that I found most interesting in the sense that one would engage the visual organ or the mechanism through which one interacted with the external world and then develop a process of working that would include the impediments, faults or structural interjections of the visual screen.

The essay looked at a number of artists that used the machinery of sight, which wasn't necessarily the eye but often the technological carrier of the imaging process, to communicate a perspective that evidenced an acknowledgement of the vegetative and or mechanical mechanisms through which a final clarity would normally be expected. Thus artists like Jay Schwartz were investigating the potential of the xerox machine to malfunction. It was the aspects of the malfunction that made one aware of the clear screen that a xerox machine normally operates through. To explore the process of malfunction highlighted the screen through which the expected visual process passes without thinking.

Brackage an avant garde filmmaker had put it as 'Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception'. Dworkin saw in this the logic behind 'wanting to understand the project of optic untutoring as a reconfiguration of the codes of visuality and an opening of the visual field to multiple, competing and contradictory “scopic regimes.'

The intention was not to replace but to explore and the essay was a liberating look at 'seeing' that as Dworkin pointed out was an optic untutoring designed to open up visual possibilities. I found this a very good base for my way of working as it enabled me to see the possibilities beyond the immediate materiality of objects. I would initially hope to explore this as a process of video as artists such as Stan Brakhage and Paul Sharrits had done but I also saw the potential to operate beyond film using the same principles.

Whilst Brakhage's manipulation of film stock at the material level such as painting, burning, scratching was directly analogous to certain optic diseases I personally didn't necessarily want to use the same methodology to work with Dworkin's ideas. I felt they had much broader scope and could provide a solid foundation to expand ways of seeing.

 

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