Reflections on Refigurations: Thinking Across Media in One’s Own Work
As part of my final contribution for this course, I have decided to bring in a project I have been working on outside of my coursework, in conjunction with a student from the graduate School of Education and the Cantor Arts Center. I am taking a paper I wrote for Prof. Alex Nemerov’s course, “Ekphrasis” (later published in a collection of writings from the class titled The Art of Description) and adapting it into a short video to be distributed on the museum’s website and social media.
This project has certainly been one of thinking across media in my own scholarship and work and the expansion of my own work into the realm of the digital. The evolution of this project has been a long and multi-faceted one: it started with a class on description, then moved to the painting, which I described (or refigured) in a paper, condensed into a wall label which was installed next to the painting, and now will refigure again into the completely new media of online video for social media. While the painting is the “original” configuration, I am now in the third round of my own refiguration of the painting, refiguring my refigurations. While refiguring the painting in the written word seems to have a certain slow and careful sensibility, refiguring the painting in digital media–video–seems a bit perilous to me.
Perhaps I have read “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproduction” essay by Walter Benjamin too many times, but since beginning this project, I have been concerned about the leap to digital media. I decided not to have my own body in the video because of a feeling of weirdness of reproducing my “scholarly self” for video dissemination, fearing that the images would persist even after I wanted them to. I have wondered about the question of seriousness: can an online video really achieve the intellectual heft that a paper might, or is it automatically relegated into the ranks of cheesy and un-self-conscious (or conversely overly-ironic) world of online videos? In a way, these anxieties are best expressed with the help of Marshall Mcluhan: would the medium of this final refiguration become the message?
Despite these questions and hesitations, I have moved forward with this project and am excited for the possibilities of working in digital space. Our discussions about poetic thinking, and the prevailing mode of the critical over the creative in the humanities, have helped me move forward with this creative endeavor. Looking at a number of digital projects in our class (e.g. Jonathan Harris, the discussion of artists using Flickr and other digital photography sites, and our conversations on the WordPress platform) has helped me to think about the possibilities for poetic thinking online, and the way in which digital media can reach wider audiences. Our discussions have helped me to think of this as another stage in refiguration, a self-reflexive moment (perhaps inspired by Didion) of going back over and over one’s own work/life, and seeing what happens when things creatively or organically take new FORMS. I have had to loosen my own grip on my WORDS to let them drift into the realm of the recorded voice, the scrolling video image, the network effect.
In considering this new form, I have looked to a number of examples for inspiration. Videos from the Artist Project at the Met (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiMCOuY2sIM), videos from MoMA featuring artists (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NICodKeadp0), and other creative iterations of the museum video form (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU7V4GyEuXA) have provided me with successful examples of paintings and art historical scholarship refigured for digital media. I have tried to conceive of my project with these examples in mind.
I have written and recorded the script for the video. I have included the images that I intend to be the visual component of the video, and noted the places where original video will be recorded. The editing of images and original footage will be completed next quarter. In this intermediary moment before the project is completely, I am self-conscious about the process of refiguration, and excited for the possibilities afforded by moving my own thoughts and work across media and onto new media platforms.