Week 15: Searcher Post

For the last searcher post, I’ve selected a video art piece named Sound & Vision: Immortal Lands produced by British-born multimedia artist Alexander James in 2019. James has a successful career as a painter and is often renowned for his unique understanding and usage of colors. Nevertheless, the artist has long expressed his interest in working with mixed media such as fabrics, clothing, and even film. After spending time traveling and living on the road in both the Arizona and New Mexico deserts, James experiences “lucid dreams that he believes were directly manipulated by the surrounding atmosphere in the desert” (“Alexander James”, 2023). Fascinated by this experience, he decides to utilize raw footage recorded during his stay there to “recreate particular memories and moments from past experiences” (“Alexander James”, 2023).

The video begins with James providing a voiceover in which he mixes descriptions of the desert such as “this orbit of malicious intruding sand, little metal objects” with abstract phrases such as “ignite life’s freakish colors, bite back the delicate mirrors”. At the same time, the visuals are modified to evoke a quality assimilated to the thermal imaging. Such a design reminds me of Global Groove (Nam June Paik, 1973) as Paik also manipulated visuals in his work to maximize their impact on the audience. Concurrently, while I am unsure whether it is an intentional homage to the classic, the horse constructed by lines at 1:21 reminds me of the lion in Big Electric Cat (Dean Winkler and John Sanborn, 1982). The character with a mirror instead of a head shown at 2:20 prompts me to think of the mirror-faced figure wearing a black cloak in Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943).

James characterizes Immortal Lands as “a manifestation of my dreams into an unknown place bound together by sound, landscapes and meticulously edited footage” (“Alexander James”, 2023). As I recognize various elements that share similarities with those from works we’ve screened in class, I understand and realize James’s interest in mixed media. Corresponding to his own statement that “if I work hard on a subject or on a painting I’ll take the element of that painting that I really liked and then carry it with me on to my next thing”, James consistently creates interesting and insightful works that blur the boundaries between different art forms and produces interesting experimental pieces (Stanley, 2016).

Week 13: Reader Post

In the reading “The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation”, Hito Steyerl centered her discussion around the idea of “image spam”. Steyerl’s main concern lied in the groups of people that got represented by those spam and how the spam revealed about humanity. Specifically, individuals in the spam predominantly embodied characteristics such as “horny, super skinny, armed with recession-proof college degrees, and always on time for their service jobs, courtesy of their replica watches” (Steyerl, 1). According to Steyerl, image spam presented “‘ideal’ humans, but not by showing actual humans”, therefore it functioned as an inappropriate model for the public to emulate (Steyerl, 2). At the same time, she introduced a second explanation regarding image spam’s representation, which was in contrast with the first one: the discrepancy between the idealized images in image spam and the real appearances of individuals indicated their refusal to have their true identities shown in a public media as “within a fully immersive media landscape, pictorial representation—which was seen as a prerogative and a political privilege for a long time—feels more like a threat” (Steyerl, 3). Such a reasoning was highly attractive to Steyerl as it diverged from the positive impressions people conventionally associated with representation. With that in mind, she went on to examine the political and cultural representation in current society and asserted that “while visual representation shifted into overdrive and was popularized through digital technologies, political representation of the people slipped into a deep crisis and was overshadowed by economic interest” (Steyerl, 6). She concluded the article by addressing the “crisis of representation” as she viewed this era as “an age of unrepresentable people and an overpopulation of images” as the image spam, regardless of which reasoning readers chose to align with, couldn’t serve as effective representations of the public (Steyerl, 7).


  1. At the very end of the article, Steyerl briefly talked about people shown in the image spam. In the previous paragraph, Steyerl called the image spam “a negative image” because she believed “it is an accurate portrayal of what humanity is actually not” (Steyerl, 3). However, if the image spam was synthesized by capturing actual individuals, would it still be a depiction of humanity?

Week 15 Searcher Post

Alan Resnick is a filmmaker whose work has fascinated me for years. While he leans more towards comedy than most of the works we’ve explored in class, Resnick’s work is not only narratively and stylistically inventive but also thematically rich. He is most famous for his equally hilarious and disturbing Adult Swim short films, but arguably his most unique project is Alantutorial. AlanTutorial is a Youtube channel created by Resnick in 2011 that elevates the potential for the video-sharing medium and filmmaking in general. Released sporadically over the span of four years, these strange how-to videos at first seem innocuous but soon mold into a much darker story as we learn more about the dark life of the seemingly real character releasing the videos. While I won’t reveal the many twists and turns of the series, Resnick was able to tackle complex ideas such as Youtube’s (and our capitalistic system’s) exploitation of creatives for monetary gain and the dangers of losing one’s identity in chasing conventional notions of success. What is most fascinating to me is that the channel existed for years before people realized it was a work of fiction. By uploading the videos without any credits, flashy editing, or external context, Resnick was able to blur the line between reality and fiction. While not incredibly similar to How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (Steyerl, 2013), it is interesting that both projects parody the how-to format to explore complex thematic material.  

In the mid-2010s, Resnick began creating short films for Adult Swim that, like Alantutorial, were simultaneously hilarious, terrifying, weird as hell, and dense with social commentary. Upon rewatching one of my favorites, Unedited Footage of a Bear, I was reminded of a few of the films we’ve seen in class. When the woman in the commercial encounters the alternate version of herself, I thought of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (Deren, 1943). Both the visual style of this sequence and the thematic ideas of the destruction of the self seemed to be influenced by Deren’s masterpiece. When considering Resnick’s Adult Swim projects, I am again reminded of Hito Steyerl’s How Not to Be Seen. The equally comedic and eerie tone and absurd narrative tangents of his films seem to take inspiration from the German filmmaker’s work. 

Overall, Alan Resnick is a contemporary filmmaker whose projects reflect many of the topics we’ve discussed in class. Refusing to sacrifice his distinct creative vision, opposing the stylistic characteristics and values of mass media, and offering thematically rich yet malleable messages that encourage active viewer engagement, Resnick exemplifies numerous principles of experimental filmmaking.

Week 10 Responder Post

Mothlight :

The film was produced by what seems to me like a groundbreaking technique at the time. Brakhage did not use a camera but pressed all the items he collected between two strips of 16mm Mylar tapes. The images seen are leaves, grass, and dead moth wings. According to Brakhage himself, the dead moths were brought back to life by the filmic machine when the film was played through the projector. That also reinforces the title of this film.

The basic principle of how film works is the projection of light on a screen. When the light reflection of the dead moths is presented on the screen, they seem to be brought back to life in another way to the audiences. It is the re-representation of life by inanimate objects.

The other interesting aspect of the film is how it focuses on the matter that is non-human. While normal films all have a primary focus on human and a narrative, Brakhage took elements of nature into consideration and presented an abstract expression short film about the life (or death) of plants and moths.

Synchromy :

I find this film somehow similar in some sense to Mothlight. It also departs from the human-centered filmmaking we are used to.

The soundtrack is not pre-recorded but happens synchronously while the film is being played. Because McLaren assigned certain colors and shapes a corresponding note, audiences hear the sounds simultaneously while seeing the color when these images are projected. This concept is named as “graphical sound”, which particularly interests me.

Notes on (nostalgia) :

The film’s name is very suitable for the content. The whole film shows what happened in Frampton’s past by photographs and the narration by Michael Snow. What struck me is the act of burning photographs while telling each story. It seems to me that the slowly burning of each photo symbolizes the fading of each period of time that photo represents. By burning the photos while telling the story, Frampton creates a sense of nostalgia while actively recalling the past.

The photos bring me to recall one of the issues we discuss in class — index. The photos serve as an indirect existential bond between the real past, Frampton, and audiences (in this case also Snow). Before the next photo is shown, audiences see the previous (relatively) photo still in the process of completely turning to ashes while actively imagining the next story because the narrator already goes on telling the next one.

At last, I keep asking myself two questions: 1, Why are the photos burnt on a stove? 2, Why is the story narrated by another artist instead of Frampton himself?

Week 10: Searcher Post

Among all the pieces we watched this week, I was deeply captivated by Norman McLaren’s Synchromy (1971) in terms of his innovative approach of translating sounds into visual images. Specifically, I was curious about the techniques McLaren employed to create the soundtrack as well as his intention to construct a film like Synchromy, given the fact that cinematic digital sounds were not invented until the 1990s, five decades after McLaren embarked on his career as an experimental filmmaker.

The first source I’ve found is a journal article that provides a great overview of McLaren’s career and his typical production techniques. According to William E. Jordan, “the popularity of Norman McLaren’s films is certainly due in a large measure to their appeal to the senses” (Jordan, 1). The focus of McLaren’s works lies on “animations”—he designated “‘lifelike’ qualities” to “what is ordinarily considered inanimate”—and thence often involves the visualization of sounds (Jordan, 1). Specifically, he created synthetic sounds by directly drawing on or manipulating the film strips: “I draw a lot of little lines on the sound-track area of the 35-mm film…The number of strokes to the inch controls the pitch of the note: the more, the higher the pitch; the fewer, the lower is the pitch” (Jordan, 6). This indeed helps to explain the shift in pitch as the numbers of cubes in the middle of the frame decrease in Synchromy (0:50-0:57). Moreover, McLaren claimed that “by drawing or exposing two or more patterns on the same bit of film I can create harmony and textural effects”, which is also consistent with the segmented sequence around 4:40-4:45 where we observe two types of cubes that both vary in colors and sizes and hear the chords they create (Jordan, 6).

In addition to the article, I also found a video in which McLaren directly demonstrated the process of hand drawing sounds. In opposition to the conventional way in which sounds were recorded and stored as distinctive patterns of light and dark on the films, McLaren manually drew patterns on the films and explored the possibilities of generating sounds. Such a method is considered to grant the filmmaker “direct, personal control at every stage of the film’s production” (5:16-5:19).  

Week 9 Viewing Post

Peyote Queen (de Hirsch, 1965) was a wild viewing experience full of psychedelic animations and kaleidoscopic images. In the flashing, multi-colored drawings over black that occur forty seconds into the film, there are the symbols of male (♂) and female (♀), along with other undefinable images. When the split screen shots begin, we are treated to a barrage of abstract, kaleidoscopic images of varying colors, most prominently red and yellow. Two minutes and seventeen seconds into the film, de Hirsch finally gives viewers a decipherable image, seemingly a woman’s breast, but even this definable feature is still abstracted into a kaleidoscopic form. Shortly after, there is a stark music change, jumping from an intense drum beat to an upbeat tune (3:07). With this shift in sound, de Hirsch presents us with colorful, flashing drawings of lips, flowers, eyes, breasts, and a clock, just to name a few. However, this upbeat section is short-lived, as we once again return to the intense drum beats over abstract drawings and kaleidoscopic images. The final two minutes are by far the most abstract, presenting us with blurry, kaleidoscopic shots of indecipherable objects. I don’t know if there is any concrete meaning to the film, but it seems de Hirsch sought to give viewers an experience of sensory confusion, ultimately attempting to make us comfortable with viewing something we can’t understand in words. The use of symbols in the film might relate to the idea of how humans interpret arbitrary signs into certain meanings, and it is interesting to note that the upbeat music plays over the section in which these decipherable symbols appear. When the intense drum beat is playing, the images are much more abstract, possibly representing how humans fear looking at things they can’t understand. I relate to this, as I at first tried to find concrete meanings in the abstract images of Peyote Queen. However, by the end of de Hirsch’s film, I found that I had accepted the incomprehensibility of the images and simply appreciated the abstractions on-screen. Do you think the drawings of lips, flowers, eyes, etc. serve any deeper meaning in de Hirsch’s film? 

Samadhi (Belson, 1967) was an entrancing film of celestial-like imagery that felt incredibly grand in scale. What fascinated me most was the fact that I could not once decipher any of the images I was seeing or figure out how Belson created/filmed them. It is interesting to consider that Belson’s film was influenced by his experiences with yoga and Buddhism. While I don’t have much knowledge or experience in either of these fields, I would describe the vibe/feeling of watching Samadhi as meditative and can understand how Belson sought to create a “trip through the chakras” (de Chardin, 172). What do you think of Belson’s statement that Samadhi is “a documentary of the human soul” (de Chardin, 171)?

T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (Sharits, 1969) was a challenging film that toyed with my aural and visual perceptions. The film primarily consists of four rapidly shifting shots: a man holding scissors to his tongue, a hand over the man’s mouth, a close-up of an eyeball surgery, and a close-up of genitalia. Throughout the entire runtime, a voice repeats the word “destroy,” but the word quickly becomes abstracted in the mind of the viewer through its rapid repetition. By the end of the film, “destroy” had morphed into “this straw,” “distraught,” “his story,” and numerous other sounds in my mind. After our screening, Professor Zinman mentioned that this was an anti-war film. While I don’t completely grasp the connection, it might have something to do with the idea of how someone’s mind can be manipulated into holding certain meanings. Through the repetition of the word “destroy” combined with flashing imagery, my brain conjured up different words and sounds even though no other words are spoken in the film. This might show the power that the presentation of words and images has in shaping a person’s perception, relating to a country’s indoctrination of its soldiers into blindly fighting for their side. What do you think the images of the film have to do with the anti-war message?

Week 9 Searcher Post

The topic this week is Perception and Psychedelia. I gained a better understanding after reading all the assigned readings. However, at first, I just associate these two concepts closely and simply with patterns we see. Patterns have the visual power to affect our senses, creating possible uneasy feelings or even hallucinations. For example, everyone has seen those pictures with lines that trick your eyes. You might see curved lines when they are straight or see a still pattern with a swirl slowly spinning when it is in fact completely still. Some other patterns make you dizzy. If you stare long enough, you might see dots and circles coming out in your vision.

“Hallucinations are directly related to states of excitation and arousal of the central nervous system, which are coupled with a functional disorganization of the part of the brain that regulates incoming stimuli.” (Ronald Siegel) Brakhage pointed out that hallucinations do not come from external stimuli. This view is in sync with the definition of the act of “seeing”, which is receptive, generating images internally, rather than actively “looking”.

I believe that Harry Smith (whose early abstraction works from 1946-1957 I linked above) is closely related to this week’s topic. First of all, Harry Everett Smith is an artist who was involved in a wide range of fields, an important influence in the Beat Generation, and an active figure in the Hippie movement. Like lots of artists at the time, Smith advocated the use of drugs like weed, LSD, and mushrooms to aid sensory enhancement and achieve stimulation to create art. He described seeing and hearing things in drug experiences. The sounds he heard also became a major inspiration for the music he composed for his films.

Smith’s artwork style resembles many of the films we are watching this week. His films involve lots of abstract geometrical patterns. There are simple lines, shapes, and images like light dots, curves, and close-eye visions. Occasionally, solid items are presented in a weird dimension of color and space.

p.s. Smith was an acquaintance of Jordan Belson and the Whitney brothers (James Whitney and John Whitney), whose works we deal with in class.