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A preliminary artistic research project conducted by Sven Vinge at the National Film School of Denmark, 2020-2021
“If the plastic arts were put under psychoanalysis, the practice of embalming the dead might turn out to be a fundamental factor in their creation.” / André Bazin (1960: 4)
Having dwelt for some time on how to start my presentation of the artistic research project “HONEYMOON IN POMPEII – work in progress” I’m currently conducting at the National Film School of Denmark, I came to the conclusion I might do it with the words of film critic André Bazin. What I admire in Bazin’s writings on art is his ability to draw comparisons between seemingly very different fields of study and, writing in a clear and distinct style, allow surprising and poetic ideas. The quote is the opening of his essay “On the Ontology of the Photographic Image” (1958) in which Bazin discusses the specific qualities of photography and how the medium of film captures objects in their actual duration or time span. Bazin reflects on a possible unconscious desire in humans to replicate the world … or more specifically, themselves. Although recent media theorists and artists are reflecting on his writings as prophetic of newer 21st century simulation technologies such as virtual reality (VR), it’s not the reason I came to think of him. It’s rather that his associations (and his way of describing them) resonates with a fascination I’ve always had for molding- and casting processes (or any sort of registration of objects). My father was a ceramic artist and throughout our childhood, my brother and I would make small plaster casts of our hands and faces. It was fun and inspiring. But tragically, our father was severely alcoholic and suddenly passed away when I was twenty years old. In the experimental documentary “In my father’s hands” that premiered at the film festival CPH:DOX in 2017, I deal with my troublesome relation to my father and his sudden passing. In the film, I cast actors to play my father, I compare their hands with a metallic cast we had made of my father’s hand in my youth, and I even try to impersonate him myself. Throughout the film, I consider more or less farfetched ideas about the molding- and casting-processes and whether or not one could envision resurrecting a lost relative and maybe - as a film director - have a cast made and just thoroughly insist on the live-inducing ‘action!’ so often used on set.
My father was a ceramic artist and my brother and I made lots of casts from different molds with him. This is a mold and metallic (bismuth) cast of his right hand.
It features as a recurring motif in my documentary film “In my father’s hands” (2017)
Whether it was due to my early childhood working with molds and casts, I’m not sure, but on a study trip in high school (before the loss of our father) I visited the archeological site of Pompeii in Italy and was struck with a rather morbid interest in the casted victims of the Vesuvius eruption in the year 79 ad. I found- (and still find) something simple and beautiful in the archeological technique used from the mid- 19th century to ‘resurrect’ these victims. Plaster was poured into the voids left in the volcanic ash and through this process casts were made of the victims in their dying moments. Reflecting on this process now after having studied film and worked as a director for some years, I inevitably think of Bazin’s thoughts on the photographic media. It is as if God (or Nature) had photographed the Bay of Naples and its surroundings - and that humans two thousand years later developed the film. It’s a narrative stretching millennia but with clear-cut turning points. A resonance between nature and culture. Nature calling – humans reacting. Bazin draws analogies between the mummifications in ancient Egypt and the plastic arts but exploring different art forms and media, one could also turn to the casted victims of Pompeii.
HONEYMOON IN POMPEII - in progress: artistic research project, Sven Vinge, 2021
“HONEYMOON IN POMPEII – work in progress” is an artistic research project initiated at the National Film School of Denmark. At present, it’s not part of a PHD-fellowship or fully financed as a finalized project or exhibition. The project is what we in Danish call ‘modningsprojekt’: A preliminary small-scale project with the ambition of laying the groundwork for a potential larger project. My ambition with the project is to explore similarities and differences between various media and also the concept of transmediality through the production of a transmedia artwork and an audience test thereof. Aside from working in theater and film, I’m not an experienced artist when it comes to transdisciplinary work and since it’s a preliminary project, I’m as curious to what questions may be raised through the process than any clear-cut conclusions. Throughout the work, I’m privileged to draw on my fascination with Pompeii and the archeological method used to resurrect the victims of the catastrophe in 79 ad., not necessarily in relation to the actual historic event but rather in a more abstract sense in regards to registration, archives, preservation, eroticism, and time.
Artistic research is in many ways an intertwined practice in its combination of artistic practice and more reflexive scientific research. The objective of “HONEYMOON IN POMPEII – work in progress" is manifold as much artistic research is: It’s a personal venture into uncharted territory to gain new insights and practical skills and simultaneously a reflection on the process that hopefully raises interesting questions, inspires or otherwise benefits researchers, artists, colleagues, students at art schools and maybe even you … whomever you are.
Through different collaborations during the initial phase of the artistic research project, I’ve had the chance to produce a prototype of a transmedia artwork involving film, sculpture, virtual reality, and literary text, make an audience test of it, and write this reflection.
The intention in this initial phase (covering the production of the prototype, conducting the audience test and reflecting on it) is to attain a deeper hands-on understanding of working in the various media (film, text, sculpture, and VR) and the combination of them in a transmedia artwork. A further goal - and the reason both the presented artistic work but also the research as such is currently ‘in progress’ – is to potentially initiate a larger project or join forces with other projects either in Denmark or abroad. Covering different artforms, I hope a joint project between various art schools could be envisioned in the future not necessarily drawing on my personal work inspired by Pompeii but maybe addressing some of the questions raised by this preliminary project.
I’ve given the artistic research project the subtitle ‘work-in-progress’ as a definition both of the transmedia artwork I’m developing but also the research project as such as I hope to initiate a larger project on transmedia work in cooperation with other artists. Here I’ll describe the ‘progress’ of the ‘work-in-progress’ as it has developed over approximately one year.
The project was initiated in March of 2020 as a preliminary project and is now reaching it’s (first) closure with this reflection in April 2021.
Although I had envisioned a chronological order of steps, first theoretical research, then the practical work and finally the audience test and reflections thereon, I ended up with a more simultaneous approach in regards to theory and practice allowing more flexibility in planning the production.
My intentions with HONEYMOON IN POMPEII were in some ways twofold, the first easily explained (in regards to the research), the other not so much (in regards to my specific practice at the specific prototype artwork).
The intentions vis a vis the research project was simply working on a transmedia artwork and reflect on the process to gain more insight and practical skills, hopefully to the benefit of others as well. Inspired by newer theories regarding storytelling across media (Henry Jenkins, Marie-Laure Ryan, Lars Elleström) but also montage theories of Russian formalism and the later neoformalism proposed by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell from the 80s onwards, I wanted to explore how a storyworld (which I think is quite similar to the Russian term fabula) is construed by an audience perceiving and interpreting cognitive import from various media products. In his book “Narration in the fiction film” (1985), David Bordwell argues for the advantage of analyzing stories with regards to the story/discourse dichotomy inspired by the Russian terms fabula (story) and syuzhet (discourse). Bordwell argues for a third aspect which is style.
In the fiction film, narration is _the process whereby the film’s syuzhet and style interact in the course of cueing and channeling the spectator’s construction of the fabula. _ / (Bordwell, 1985: 53)
When thinking of storytelling in various media, I would argue that Bordwell’s notion of style is interchangeable with medium. Spectators construct the fabula (=storyworld) through the syuzhet presented in a chosen medium or across various media.
Through the artistic research project, I wanted to challenge myself by working in media I was not familiar with from my own practice (sculpture and VR) but also test how an audience would experience and reflect on a specific transmedia work. In many ways, I see the Russian formalists as having practiced an early form of artistic research. The famous montage experiment where Lev Kuleshow intercut footage of an expressionless actor and different other shots (ex. soup, corpse in a coffin, etc.) to test how an audience construes meaning in the joining of different shots is a clear example of artistic research. I think experiments such as these inspired me to plan an audience test of a transmedia as a different kind of ‘montage’, a montage of different media products instead of individual shots in a film.
But an experiment such as this could have been done with other media, artworks, sources of inspiration, a more political activist stance, or whatever. What were the intentions behind the actual artwork with the working title HONEYMOON IN POMPEII embedded in the artistic research aside a formalistic play with forms? Well, since the project was defined as a work-in-progress and wasn’t relying on a finalized artistic outcome with a specific audience or exhibition venue in mind, I allowed myself to be quite intuitive in my approach and explore themes and ideas I found difficult to explain and intitiate collaborations with other artists and technicians I would find inspiring.
In my twenties, I had an ambition to work on a similar project inspired by the archeological technique used in Pompeii but had never found the actual form or financial support to really ‘start digging’ to use an archeological metaphor. Now, more than a decade later, starting March 2020, I decided on forms (the selected media) and also obtained an initial financial support through the National Film School of Denmark and the Ministry of Culture in Denmark supporting artistic research.
I quickly realized that I wasn’t pleased with the narrative I had considered in my twenties and that I had actually thought of exploring in the preliminary artistic research project: It was an overly romantic and surreal story of a young couple wishing to preserve their love for eternity and therefore casting themselves as sculptures inspired by the victims of Pompeii (a suicide leading to eternity). My thought had been to make a film about the young couple building this weird structure in which they’d be cast, write a final letter or something left by them, and then sculpturally make an actual cast of them (which could be seen sort of a pay-off to use a dramaturgical term), each media presenting a fragment of the story for the audience to interpret.
The working title HONEYMOON IN POMPEII had a kitschy feel to it or maybe a contrapuntal clash between a notion of romantic love and sudden death or catastrophe I felt suited the romantic and surreal narrative. However, I suddenly found the story that fascinated me in my twenties banal and clichéd, and I felt I should take a step back and maybe even loose the notion of a consistent storyline altogether and let myself work more intuitively, something that’s not easily done in commercial filmmaking - at least not with a final work, distribution outlet, and audience in mind. One could say I left a ‘storyworld’ I had built in my youth around this young couple and their romantic love and at least momentarily dropped the notion of a clear narrative. I also felt hesitant about the title but decided to keep it due to its contrapuntal value.
As research, I revisited some of the work I’d explored before and other artworks inspired by Pompeii (Gardner, Lapatin, and Seydl, 2012). I questioned myself in regards to my fascination with the victims of Pompeii and the idea to tell a surreal storyline inspired by them. I realized (and admittedly, I may have known) that my fascination of molding- and casting processes and the notion of stopping time, aside from a mere formalistic interest, had a strong erotic side. I somehow began to archeologically examine my own unconscious desire to reference or appropriate the archeological technique used in Pompeii. As an echo from my early twenties when I read the Swedish author Augusts Strindberg’s play “A Dream Play” (1901), I came to think of a scene between a young man and woman getting married in the play:
HUSBAND. My joy has no limits, and I could now wish to die
WIFE. Why die?
HUSBAND. Because at the heart of happiness grows the seed of disaster. Happiness devours itself like a flame. It cannot burn forever, but must go out some time. And this presentiment of the coming end destroys joy in the very hour of its culmination.
WIFE. Let us then die together this moment!
/ (Strindberg, 1983 : 240)
The dialogue may have resonated with my initial idea of a couple wanting to preserve their love for eternity – a pair of the casted victims of Pompeii have even been named ‘the lovers from Pompeii’. In some ways I felt the notion of stopping time, preserving a specific moment, sex, and love met the darker aspects of the catastrophe and sudden death. I reread German author Wilhelm Jensen’s ”Gradiva” (1902) in which an archeologist Norbert Hanold is drawn to a young woman portrayed in a bas-relief. He calls her Gradiva (the one ‘splendid in walking’) and ends up so obsessed with her and especially her manner of walking that he travels to Pompeii to meet her and magically, he finds her in the midst of the volcanic eruption in the year 79 ad. A couple of years after its publication, Sigmund Freud wrote an analysis of the story or rather of the young archeologist and his obsession with “Gradiva” using the metaphor of archeology to exemplify the idea of psychoanalysis as he had done before. Gradiva has since become a modern mythological figure interpreted by surrealist artists in the 20th century who were inspired by the newly developed field of psychoanalysis (Gardner, Lapatin, and Seydl, 2012).
In the context of transmediality, it’s certainly interesting to study Gradiva’s trajectory through different artforms, sculpture, literature, films, etc. Another perspective could be a more critical reading of gender-representation, the male gaze, objectification, etc. I find both to be out of the scope of this artistic research project although I acknowledge some readers/perceivers may find my research or the prototype embedded in it problematic when read in the context of the latter perspective.
Reading Jensen’s short novel and Freuds analysis inspired me on to levels, both in regards to the actual story of the young archeologist and in regards to the archeological metaphor of unveiling hidden areas of one’s consciousness. An artist I discussed the project with encouraged me to read Jacques Derrida’s lecture/book “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” delivered in 1994 and I found it fascinating and inspiring. However, I must admit I had difficulties understanding all of Derrida’s theses. This isn’t necessarily on account of Derrida being abstruse but more likely on my limited knowledge of psychoanalysis and Derrida’s other writings. My former studies in film theory had been directed at more easily penetrable work such as the ones mentioned in regards to transmediality, the writings of Russian Formalists and their American disciples Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell and others theorists such as Noel Carroll and Seymour Chatman (although I hold no prejudice against the French, being half French myself, and admiring André Bazin). I associated Derrida’s reflections with the archival and retrieval process that the archeological procedure of resurrecting the Pompeian victims is an example of (Nature somehow archiving and humans retrieving). Something seemed to resonate with my initial idea of a doomed romantic couple wanting to preserve their love for eternity - the archival process actually creating what is archived (as with the victims) “(…) the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event” (Derrida, 1994 : 17). Derrida actually diagnoses the archeologist Norbert Hanold in Jensen’s novel with ‘archive fever’ and I honestly considered if I, through my reading, had been afflicted (maybe due to the intense news on the corona pandemic): “It is to have a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement” (Derrida, 1994 : 57).
Aside from researching on theoretical discussions of media, discussions of archeology in regards to psychoanalysis, and starting a process of self-diagnosis with the help of Derrida, I dug into rather lowbrow artifacts and - due to the erotic nature of the project - porn. I early on considered the VR part of the project to be a ‘choreographed dance’ but scraping the surface of these words, I envisioned it to be a more explicit sex scene (in a sense, porn) but to use a Russian formalist term ‘defamiliarized’ (Shklovsky, 1917) through visual effects and the technical apparatus of VR.
I called the Danish porn producer and performer Denice Klarskov and had a very inspiring chat with her. When I asked her if she’d ever encountered or heard of porn inspired by molding- and casting processes, she laughed. She had not but we discussed sadomasochism and BDSM which of course has some similarities with casting processes in the sense of being tied up and losing control. After discussing the ideas with Denice, I researched further and found a genre of porn, I hadn’t encountered before. It’s a genre called Time Stop Porn, Freeze Porn, or similar titles referring to the concept of stopping time. Although being a bit hesitant due to the possible ethical issues some would find with such genres or porn in general, I was quite intrigued and felt it had some sort of resonance with my work. I read “The Fermata” (1994) written by Nicholson Baker and found it interesting in its combination of pornography and aesthetic contemplation. Of course, both Baker’s novel and the Time Stop Porn genre are troublesome in many regards if not considered as playful, fictious, immoral fantasies that are otherwise forbidden. The book and most of the examples I found on the genre online was portraying the same simple idea of a man being able to stop time and do whatever he wished with women frozen in space – an almost necrophiliac desire come through. Although a far cry from more elitist 21st century surrealist art, writings inspired by Pompeii, Derrida, etc., I found a thematic similarity between these writings/artworks and the freeze time porn, I had discovered, especially in relation to the resurrection of a frozen/death Pompeii and the young archeologist in Jensen’s novel who has a paradoxical obsession with a ‘static’ bas-relief but simultaneously with the implied ‘movement’ of the portrayed woman.
My personal experience in filmmaking is that the artform is understandably but severely affected by the high costs of production. Artists in the industry are working intuitively, being inspired by associations, at times working with improvisation, but given the fact the gatekeepers offering financial support (public or private) and producers have to be convinced of one’s ideas and especially its appeal to certain audiences, one is required to clearly articulate what the intentions with a specific film are and even present the core of the film in another media; as short written pitches, synopses, scripts, etc. My colleague Rasmus Kloster Bro is specifically challenging the traditional workflow relying heavily on written scripts and explores the ‘video sketch’ as an early development tool either as a replacement of the script or in addition to it in his artistic research project “Video Sketching as a Foundational Tool” (2021). Having the rare chance of working on a project that wasn’t required to end in a specific realized artwork to be publicly exhibited (and especially not a film with the requirement of a rather large audience), I decided to stay in a non-consistent storyworld not relaying on a clear casual storyline or easily fleshed out fictional world. One could describe it as an illogical virtual world combined of the things that fascinated me, both immaterial such as conceptual ideas, themes, etc., and material such as the casted victims of Pompeii and the settings and characters in other artworks as Jensen’s novel. Instead of the initial romantic, naïve but quite consistent storyline of a young couple wanting to preserve their love for eternity (I might even had alluded to the corona virus or a forthcoming environmental catastrophe similar to the destruction of Pompeii as catalyst for their wish), I chose to let go and work more intuitively materializing aspects of a puzzling virtual world born from my interest in the archeological method used in Pompeii in the four chosen media. I’m not sure it was the right decision but I felt more confident it would benefit the artistic research and that I would find the respondent’s reactions to the prototype more interesting if I was not able to predict their answers as I think I would have had I followed the steps of my doomed couple.
From June to November 2020, I simultaneously worked on the four parts of HONEYMOON IN POMPEII. I worked intuitively from a cloud of different sources of inspirations: Some drawn from discussions with friends and colleagues, some directly from the ashes of Pompeii and others from artists working with themes relating to the city. I here describe the collaborative process of conceptualizing and producing the four parts in each their medium. The literary part was written in the last week leading up to the actual test on Saturday December 5th 2020.
My work in the four media was related but also disconnected. As the overall responsible, I initiated the work with different artists, technicians, etc. for each media. All were informed that I was simultaneously working in different media loosely inspired by Pompeii and the archeological casting technique used there but not necessarily the details pertaining each part.
The virtual reality experience was produced by Mads Damsbo at the production studio Makropol. Early on, and due to my research and inspiration which definitely tied the Pompeii casts to an erotic theme, we decided to work with explicit sex – what we hadn’t done before. I found it interesting regarding the project but also in developing my personal artistic practice as I’ve always felt quite timid and shy directing erotic scenes. We initiated a collaboration with producer Anne-Sofie Steen Sverdrup from Bedside Productions, a company which produces porn that challenges the more mainstream heteronormative aspects of the established porn industry (www.bedside-productions.com). We discussed the possibility of creating a ‘living sculpture’ in VR: A sculptural work that would respond to the audience’s own physical movements: When the perceiver stands still, the sculpture moves and when the perceiver moves, the sculpture freezes. Aside from this, we decided to keep it simple, working with two performers and a very simple setting. In regards to sex and gender, we decided to let it depend on the casting-call we published on social media and see who of the interested performers best suited the project. In the published casting call we explicitly stated everyone interested were invited to contact me, that the work entailed explicit sex, that performers should be 18+, and that it was part of an artistic research project.
Simultaneously, I considered the sculptural part of the project. I thought of a sculptural three-dimensional representation of a couple either as a cast from a mold or maybe printed from the volumetric footage of our virtual reality work. But instead, I chose to work more directly with inspiration from Wilhelm Jensen’s “Gradiva” and quite spontaneously chose to order a plaster copy of the bas-relief from the Staatliche Museen’s Gipsformeri (Replica Workshop) in Berlin. I had discussed possible ways of sculpturally interpreting the relief with another artist and asked Malene Bang, associate professor at the School of visual arts at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts if she could help vacuum-casting the bas-relief with different sheets of plastic. As mentioned regarding inspiration, I felt some Derridean archive fever or at least felt some similarities to the archeologist’s obsession with the bas-relief in regards to my own decade-long fascination with the Pompeian plaster casts. Receiving the relief sort of aligned myself with Norbert Hanold who likewise orders a plaster copy of the relief on returning from a trip to Rome where he has seen the original.
“On a visit to one of the great antique collections of Rome, Norbert Hanold had discovered a bas-relief which was exceptionally attractive to him, so he was much pleased, after his return to Germany, to be able to get a splendid plaster-cast of it. This had now been hanging for some years on one of the walls of his work-room, all the other walls of which were lined with bookcases.” / (Jensen, 1902).
The copy of the bas-relief I received from the Gipsformeri in Berlin feeling an uncanny alignment with Norbert Hanold as I too was much pleased ‘to get a splendid plaster copy’ of it.
Regarding the film, I completely abandoned the idea of representing a couple in some efforts to build a construction in which they could be casted as a sculpture (see sketch in ‘Inspiration and initial research’) and instead chose to invite two actors to rehearse an idea I had following my reflections on “Gradiva” and also Sigmund Freuds analysis of the novel. It’s quite obvious that the protagonist Norbert Hanold has an obsessive interest in the portrayed woman’s manner of walking which in Freudian terms can be seen as a sort of foot fetichism resulting from a childhood trauma. I researched on the issue and found it very interesting. In most (if not all) online forums, its clearly men fetishizing women’s feet and not vice versa. For some - but not all - there’s a feeling of submission related to the practice of worshipping women’s feet. What moves me is that this minority of men in many cases are ashamed of their desire and very hesitant to share their fetichism with potential partners in fear of rejection. My reflections on this led to a simple, realistic, and present-time scene in a sports store. A young man is helping a woman buying running shoes using a regular technique of filming her manner of running to recommend the best shoes – an allusion to Jensen’s novel in which Hanold walks the street of Berlin to scientifically research if any women walk as Gradiva. I wrote some versions of the scene and with the help from producer Mads acquired a used treadmill and had it – with some difficulty – carried into my apartment. The idea was to try out the scene with a couple of actors and then potentially shoot it on location in a running store.
It was great fun working with actors Aske Bang and Minna Flyvholm Tode on the short film about the young man helping a costumer buying running shoes. I named him Norbert as the archeologist in Jensen’s novel. Before rehearsing, I’d been at a shoe store, tried on running shoes and discussed how the employees filmed the costumer’s running on a treadmill using a specific app on an iPad. Aske and Minna visited me twice. First, I rehearsed with them without any recording devices. The second time, we simply shot the scene from the fixed perspective one would shoot a running test, letting the characters walk off screen, rewind and watch the video and discuss it, a technique I had thought interesting as it relies on an intradiegetic camera turning into a intradiegetic viewing device for the characters (being able to rewind, slow, or stop) in visual alignment with the perceiving audience.
Actually, our small test was meant just as a rehearsal but I ended quite satisfied with the result and chose to use a cut-down version of the scene with some graphics mimicking the running app and minor sound design as part of the proto type of HONEYMOON IN POMPEII – and instead focus on the virtual reality experience which proved way more difficult to produce.
The technique Mads and Makropol proposed using for the VR installation was relying on ‘volumetric recordings’. Unity developer Balder Brusch and 3D technician Mark William had to hack different workflows known in the computer games industry to figure out how to shoot our scene in a way that would allow further post production, experimenting with the visuals of the three-dimensional scene, and allowing for post sound work by sound designer Mads Michelsen. It has been a learning experience to follow the collaborative effort and gain some insight into the challenges of VR production, applications used, devices, etc., but it has not been the focus of my research to document this work.
Anne-Sofie Sverdrup from Bedside Productions helped with the casting of the performers for the scene. We chose to collaborate with Signe Skovbye and Jens Mollberger who both had a thorough understanding of what would be required performing in the scene. Throughout the whole process and especially relying on the great expertise of Anne-Sofie, I learned a great deal about securing a safe environment necessary to discuss, collaborate on-, and shoot an explicit sex scene.
Volumetric recording is a method in which a situation is shot simultaneously from different angles with cameras both recording regular footage and distance to various points of the recorded scene thereby allowing a 3D simulation to be constructed in post-production.
On this sketch, I’ve tried to illustrate our set-up with four cameras shooting volumentric footage (with a fifth camera from above as a back-up)
In post-production, we chose to change the actual photorealistic look (similar to the pictures above just shot with my smartphone) to a more abstract point cloud in a way I felt connotated the falling ashes of a volcanic eruption (but may as well be interpreted as stars or snow). I was very impressed with Anne-Sofie, the performers, Mads, Balder, and Marks skills in creating what we had envisioned: A sort of living ethereal sculpture depicting a sexual act from beginning to end where the perceivers wearing the headset can affect the perceived through their own movements: When they move, the couple freezes in time, when they stop moving, the sexual act continues. Also, the VR-experience allows perceivers to actually penetrate the virtual ‘sculpture’ and experience the couple’s bodies from the inside or even embody them if placing themselves in their positions. Sound designer Mads Michelsen created a sound design from foley recordings made by Cathrine Les Dous and various effects that also responded to the movements of the perceiver and especially if they stood still or moved themselves.
The following two videos was created by technical consultant Martin Stebbing who has a keen understanding of volumetric recordings and helped out with technical issues on the production. It was very inspiring to see which effects could actually be achieved when preestablishing a decisive camera-movement and allowing lots of time to render effects. However, the same visuals might not have been possible in the actual installation where the rendering is done in real time which were one of the reasons we went with a simpler (but in my opinion, aesthetically beautiful) point cloud.
Independently of the film- and VR-work, I visited associate professor Malene Bang who’s in charge of the laboratory for sustainable materials at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. She had offered to help with the vacuum-casting of the Gradiva-relief I had purchased from the Staatliche Museen’s Gipsformeri (Replica Workshop) in Berlin. It was exiting to gain insight to the technique and having done a few test ‘prints’, I decided to make different copies where the relief would go from an almost invisible abstract form to a very precise although transparent copy of the plaster copy.
A short video showing the vacuum-casting technique using the huge machine ‘Dracula’ at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts:
We made six copies which I had some difficulty bringing home in the metro. On the way home, I took some pictures of the plastic reliefs lined up in the subway station near the academy: in a way representing Gradiva as she boards a train in Copenhagen anno 2020 instead of stepping on the stones leading over the roman streets in Pompeii. I thought it was quite fun and interesting until a conductor firmly asked Gradiva – or maybe it was me – to leave.
Regarding the literary work embedded in the prototype, I must admit, I kept postponing it, especially because it was the least technically challenging aspect of our work. It had been quite difficult to realize the other parts and I had to be sure they were at an acceptable state to be used in our test. I had found a simple way of presenting four of the six plastic relief copies suspended in a rectangular aluminum-frame of 2x2x1 meters. For the text, I had considered many options after having left the storyline of a doomed couple and their final words: Should I create sort of a diary written by the young man in the sports store detailing his failed efforts to find a woman who’d accept his fetishizing of her feet? Should I maybe present the initial proposal for the artistic research project thereby embed the overall intentions of the project within the transmedia artwork, that in turn could be said to be embedded in the overall artistic research project, maybe describe some of the sources which had inspired the project? I eventually ended up appropriating actual passages of Wilhelm Jensen’s 1902-novel. I had a feeling a translation of some of its passages to Danish would be comparable to the ‘adaptation’ of the bas-relief we had created in plastic and maybe yield discussions of iconic vs. arbitrary signs and how they can be adapted and readapted. I translated some passages from an English version of “Gradiva” (translated by Helen M. Downey, published in 1918), including the beginning and ending. From the chosen passages, the reader would meet the archeologist Norbert Hanold, get a detailed description of the bas-relief and his obsession with the portrayed young woman and especially her manner of walking and follow him in his search for her including his frustration with young newlywed couples (the many Gretchen and Augustus) on their honeymoon venturing to Italy indifferent to everything aside themselves – a passage I felt might have a connection with the provisory title of the trans media artwork as a whole.
“ As agreed, I’ve translated some passages of Helen M. Downeys’ English translation of Wilhelm Jensen’s German “Gradiva” from 1907 – that is, a translation of a translation.
The passages are marked with page numbers from the Moffat edition of Downey’s translation from 1918 in which the actual story ranges from the pages 3 – 118.
I’ve included the opening and ending.
Best regards, Sven ” (I now realize I made a typo as Wilhelm Jensen’s book “Gradiva” was published in 1902)
With the four individual parts forming the actual prototype of the transmedia artwork HONEYMOON IN POMPEII, Producer Mads and I planned the test to be exhibited for a small audience and collaborators on Saturday December 5th, 2020:
The film gave the impression of an actual iPad recording from a shoe store. A man helping a woman test her manner of running to select the right running shoes but clearly crossing her personal boundaries in his obsessive interest in her feet.
The film was not subtitled in the test in which we had only chosen danish-speaking respondents.
The sculptural part was the four transparent plastic reliefs suspended in a rectangular aluminum frame representing a walking woman ranging from an almost invisible abstract form to a very precise figure similar to the plaster cast with which the reliefs were made.
The literary part was translated passages of Wilhelm Jensen’s book including a short description telling the reader it was a Danish translation of an English translation (a translation in 2nd degree), printed on 5 A4-pages and stapled together in the corner.
The first paragraphs describing it as a translation of a translation would have no meaning if the text had been presented in English in the test and my conceptual idea of reproductions/adaptations being part of the overall transmedia project would have been lost.
In the test, the text (Danish version) was simply presented as 5 A4-pages stapled together at the corner.
A PDF of the text side by side in Danish and English is embedded below …
The VR experience was an installation relying both on a psychical three-dimensional space with an about 85 cm tall round column the audience was invited to touch and sit on, while they experienced and interacted with the ethereal sexual encounter on a similar but more abstract column in their VR-headset.
Watch a short video presentation of the VR part from the following link. It’s a cut-down version of a screen recording with sound intercut with friends trying it. The actual time span of experiencing the VR part where one could start and stop time depending on one’s own bodily movements was about 7-10 min.
“HONEYMOON IN POMPEII – work in progress” is my first work in the field of artistic research. At first, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to explore an area of interest I had long considered exploring (in regards to the arts in general: transmediality, in regards to my own artistic interest: molding- and casting processes and inspiration from Pompeii). However, I must admit I felt it was difficult to interchange between being a researcher trying to appropriate some of the methodologies from scientific research (some of which I’m familiar with from my film studies at the university) and being more artistic and intuitive in my approach. Quite early in the process, I changed the directions of the artistic work itself, going from an initial intention to create a surreal but causally consistent story of a young couple wanting to preserve their love for eternity having themselves cast as sculptures – sort of the Lovers from Pompeii - to a more intuitive approach where I would explore different sources of inspiration and, in a mixture of improvisation and more or less conscious choices, try to create different artefacts inspired from the same virtual, illogical, and inconsistent storyworld, a sort of cloud containing themes, characters, events, etc. built from an initial fascination with the archeological casting technique used in Pompeii but also paths leading into time stop porn, feet fetichism, explicit sex, meditations on eternity and time, and so forth. As described, I found this intuitive approach to be the most interesting and inspiring (maybe due to the fact, that I wouldn’t be able to predict the result to the same degree as I would have with my initial idea). However, in the context of artistic research I wasn’t altogether sure: When exploring transmediality, would it have been more beneficially to stick to a quite simple, consistent, and casually logic storyline, represented in different media or maybe only parts of it in each their media and then do an audience test and reflect on it?
In the following I’ll reflect on our audience test including my own observations and thoughts on the process and prototype work and further questions, this initial artistic research project has raised – which I hope future artistic research projects may explore.
Producer Mads Damsbo and my ambitions were to invite 12 persons to experience the prototype of HONEYMOON IN POMPEII and allow them 15 minutes perceiving each media (artefact) in a random order before answering a questionnaire on a computer. We rented a well-suited place, divided it into four separate ‘rooms’ with intermittent stage walls so the audience would only experience one part (the film, text, VR or sculpture) at a time without having any knowledge of the other parts, except, that they would eventually watch a short film, read a text, try out a VR experience, and perceive a sculpture which would all be part of the work exhibited.
We had hoped for a mixed group of people as respondents. However, for different reasons (cancelations and corona difficulties) we ended up with 9 persons, 1 man and 8 women. 2 were in their 20’s, 5 in their 30’s, and 2 were over 50 years old. We mainly invited the audience through the production studio Makropol’s SOME accounts and as expected many of the respondents were interested in new digital media, art, and culture. In regards to research methodologies, one cannot interpret the respondent’s answers as representative for a specific group of people. The questionnaire was rather a qualitative effort to gain some insights into what some individuals experience and reflect upon it in regards to the transmedia test presented and possible questions is may raise.
Two of the respondents knew of the project (though not in details): One knew producer Mads Damsbo and another, a student at the National Film School, had heard me present it there at a very early developmental stage. The others had no knowledge whatsoever of the project except that it was part of an artistic research project, that it would be a test of a transmedia artwork consisting of film, text, sculpture and VR, that it would be in Danish, that its title was HONEYMOON IN POMPEII, and that they would experience four different parts with 15 minutes for each part and afterwards have about 30 minutes to answer a questionnaire on a computer (anonymously or not as they preferred).
One of the first questions was ‘if you were to describe your experience for a friend in a few paragraphs what would you say?’ – From the answers one can see some of the terminological difficulties one faces regarding transmediality. One respondent describes it as ‘an intimate exhibition with four different artworks. An exciting, surprising, sensual and humorous experience’ (En intim udstilling med fire forskellige værker. En spændende, overraskende, sensuel og humoristisk oplevelse), another describes it as ’an erotic multimedia artwork’ (‘et erotisk multimedieværk’). In my opinion, these answers reflect an interesting terminological structure regarding transmedia artworks or transmedia storytelling in general. Is the prototype of HONEYMOON IN POMPEII a transmedia artwork, an exhibition of different artworks, a mixed media artwork, or more easily defined within the field of installation art? This is probably a question relating to how separated/easily distinguished the different artifacts are and I do not readily have an answer except that one can argue that a transmedial artwork in itself is a medium consisting of different media. Therefore, one can use the word ‘media’ on different levels, one referring to the all-encompassing media (transmedia, installation, multimedia, exhibition) or to the embedded media (film, text, sculpture or VR experience). This sheds light on an important distinction one should make when discussing transmediality in artistic research.
An audience member describes the experience as ‘It’s an experience that across different media explores sex, feet, boundaries and reproductions. Parallels drawn across the individual parts gives an overall experience that further enhances the interpretation of the individual parts’ (‘Det er en oplevelse, der på tværs af medier beskæftiger sig med sex, fødder, grænser og gengivelser. Paralleller draget på tværs af delværkerne giver et helhedsindtryk der udvider forståelsen af de enkelte oplevelser’). I’m unsure whether I would define HONEYMOON IN POMPEII as transmedia storytelling due to it not being a consistent and logically construed storyworld (as it would have been had I stuck to the doomed couple). However, the answer is clearly consistent with some of the important features of transmedia storytelling defined by Henry Jenkins especially if one interchanges ‘storytelling’ with a broader ‘experientiality’.
“Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.” / Jenkins, 2007
Aside from raising the question whether or not abstractly joined artifacts should be studied as transmedia storytelling similar to franchises such as those Henry Jenkins implicitly defined in my colleague Simon Andreasen’s research project “Storyworlds 2.0”, what I specifically find interesting in the respondent’s answers is the references to what is represented: sex, feet, boundaries, but also what I interpret to be more extradiegetic aspects in relation to the production of the artifacts, the ‘gengivelse’ which I translate as ‘reproduction’. I’m not sure but the respondent may refer to the ‘translation’ of the originally German text from English to Danish and maybe the translation of a bas-relief in the plastic vacuum ‘prints’ presented in the sculpture. I think this raises an interesting question as to what we observe as being linking different media in transmediality: what is being represented, how it’s being represented or how a particular representation came about (it’s means of production).
Working as a film director and having studied some of the important insights into audience’s ‘co-creation’ of the represented story (ex. Bordwell), I was very interested in knowing whether prior knowledge of Pompeii or artworks inspired by the city had influenced the test audience’s interpretation of the prototype. 7 of the 9 knew of Pompeii. For some it had no influence on the experience, but one answers: “predominantly at the end when I experienced the part in VR as the last part, it came together in relation to associations and an understanding of the human condition as fusions and diffusions in eternity and a sculptural landscape through Pompeii’s ashes’ (not easily translated from: ‘mest til sidst da jeg oplevede VR værket som den sidste del, samlet det sig. i forhold til associationer og forståelse af en menneskelig situation som sammensmeltning og opløsning i forevigelse og skulpturelt landskab gennem pompeiis askestøv’). Another writes ‘(…) the thought of something long gone. That things do not always vanish slowly, but that when changings are prompt, we use more time in our attempt to understand it afterwards’ (‘(…) tanken om det forgangne. At noget ikke altid forsvinder langsomt, men at når forandring er prompte, vil vi bruge endnu længere tid på at forsøge at forstå det efterfølgende’). Some of the discussions I had with producer Mads Damsbo was whether or not I should have included a more specific description of the archeological site and maybe the casting-technique that had inspired the project. I chose not to but regarding research methodologies, one could consider conceptualizing an artwork relying heavily on prior knowledge and then invite two groups, one having an extensive prior knowledge and one not and explore the different interpretations. This would raise the question whether or not the perceiver’s memory and consciousness should be regarded as a medium in itself affecting the interpretation of the external stimulus, which is an aspect of transmediality Lars Elleström describes in “Transmedial Narration Narratives and Stories in Different Media” (2019). Also, it raises the question of paratexts and whether or not descriptions, be it biographical information on an artist in a museum or even the title of an artwork – in our case HONEYMOON IN POMPEII – are themselves part of the studied artwork which in turn would make nearly all artworks transmedial to a certain extent (especially if we also consider the perceivers consciousness and prior knowledge a medium).
Asked if the respondents felt something linked the four parts together, all answered ‘yes’. I had chosen the word ‘something’ (noget) instead of more specifically, theme, story, or the like, to keep it open for interpretation. However, this poses a dilemma because of course ‘something’ links the four media: The mere fact that they are presented in an artistic research project links them, that they are experienced within a certain timeframe or at a specific site link them together, etc. Fortunately, all the respondents reflect on other aspects I find interesting for the research project.
One states, that it was in reading the text, he/she realized what linked the different parts but does not elaborate further. One briefly mentions the woman portrayed in the text and the sculpture, one refers to ‘feet and the idea of reproduction’. A longer answer refers to the Pompeian plaster casts and again it suggests the importance of collateral work done by the audience in their individual perception of the work: ‘Initially, I didn’t see a connection between the VR experience and the other parts, but now reflecting on it, maybe it has something to do with the couple having sex resembling the stone sculptures one can see casted in Pompeii. And that you can move around yourself and explore how the two move and how their movements look from different angles’ (’Umiddelbart kunne jeg ikke se hvordan VR oplevelsen hang sammen med de andre, men nu når jeg tænker over det, så måske det har noget at gøre med, at de to der havde sex mindet lidt om de stenskulpturer, som man kan se afstøbt i Pompeii. Og at man selv kunne bevæge sig rundt og gå på opdagelse i hvordan de to bevæget sig og hvordan bevægelserne så ud fra forskellige vinkler.’) Later in the questionnaire, the same respondent mentions that the VR didn’t feel linked to the other. This may imply that the interpreted link related to prior knowledge of the casted victims of Pompeii didn’t feel as strong as more explicit links (as the woman in the text and sculpture or the feet fetichism of the archeologist in the text and store employee in the film). I find this interesting in the context of artistic research and would definitely consider practicing a more conscious practice in joining different artefacts by intermedial characteristics but also experiment to make those abstruse and rely on the potential collateral work done by the audience in linking seemingly different works/stories into a potential joint transmedia experience. One can argue – and it may be obvious – that transmedial interpretation of joint media can rely more or less on autonomous features of the representation (explicit characteristics: characters, events, settings) or on a participatory interpretation and cocreation of the transmedial links by the individual perceiver. Regarding the latter, one could argue it’s not always the artist or institution (franchise, museum or the like) which creates a transmedia artwork, but (at least at times) the perceiver in his/her/their subjective interpretation.
8 out of 9 respondents feels the chronology of the presented parts influenced their experience. ‘(…) If I had read the text first, I would probably have recognized the woman in the sculpture and maybe studied her more closely (‘(…) Jeg tror, at hvis jeg havde læst teksten først, så ville jeg f.eks. kunne genkende kvinden i skulpturen og måske studeret hende lidt nærmere.’). Regarding the question of mentioned prior knowledge, one should also think of each part giving a certain impact on the audience which affects the continual interpretation of the transmedia work in question. One describes a feeling of ’pieces falling into place’ (en AHA-oplevelse) at the third part of the experience where a connection apparently was revealed/perceived. The respondent mentions she/he is glad it wasn’t too early in the experience which corresponds to classical notions of dramaturgy from Aristoteles onwards relying on a turning point towards the end of a narrative. As a lecturer on dramaturgy and screenwriting, I’m inclined to explore this further: Is the classical notion of a turning point in storytelling comparable to a sudden connection construed by an audience in front of a more or less abstruse transmedia artwork? Are audience members of a film and other artworks (especially transmedial) actual protagonist – sort of archeologists - joining different leads and clues and feeling themselves a pay-off when the pieces falls into a larger whole?
In relation to chronology, one responds: ‘Focus on feet at the beginning of the VR. I saw VR first and just thereafter the film, and I think it made me realize earlier than it otherwise would have, that there was an (inappropriate) sexual tension in the film’ (‘Fokus på fødder først i VR. Jeg så VR først og lige derefter filmen, og jeg tror det gjorde at jeg hurtigere end jeg ellers ville have, fik et indtryk af at der var en (upassende) seksuel energi i filmen). Not all notice the young man’s focus on the woman’s feet when the represented couple ‘awaken’ in the VR experience, however, this respondent did and it’s interesting to see how witnessing this before watching the film of the young employee helping a woman buy running shoes affects the interpretation of the latter. Whether or not the representations are easily linked, one brings characteristics of what one has previously witnessed into one’s cognitive response to the following media similar to the mentioned Kuleshow experiment with different shots in a film. In this case the focus on feet and sex in one media (VR) propels the perceiver to detect a sexual tension in the iPad-film before it’s obvious. One could argue that the representation in one media has focalized the perceiver’s encounter with the next media (or maybe refer to Russian formalists and editing techniques).
One answer refers to the fragmented representation as opposed to a clear-cut storyline: ‘I see the parts having a connection, and I inevitably project the already perceived information into the next part experienced but in a fragmented form, since they do not all refer to the same story (which I appreciate)’ (’Jeg ser delene i sammenhæng, og læser de foregående informationer nødvendigvis ind i den næste- men fragmentarisk, da de ikke udelukkende peger på den samme historie. (hvilket jeg synes er godt)’). Through such answers, I’m reminded of the interesting distinction made between transmedia storytelling relying on a consistent and logically coherent storyworld that most audiences would recognize in similar ways, and transmedia storytelling or art in general, where the connections between the various media and what they represent seems more abstract or open to interpretation. One could use the metaphor of a group of tourists visiting a fully fleshed out storyworld and each of them agreeing in regards to what they experienced after their visit compared to many individual archeologists, each with their own prior knowledge and skills, digging at various points in a field finding clues referring back to a hypothetical hidden world or different worlds combined.
One respondent reflects on more perceptual qualities of the media than the mere representations. The answer was written in English: ”I just enjoyed this discovery process. My mind went from concentrated (reading) to meditative (observing) to entertained (watching) to fascinated (experiencing). Perhaps the fact that I generally really enjoy VR made it feel like I had saved the very best for last.” I find this answer interesting in is being more about the media characteristic than what is actually represented. What do we do with specific media? Read, watch, listen, etc. In working with transmediality or installations of different media, one could conceive of different ways of engaging the senses and perhaps even through this alone (and not relying on any specific representation) achieve a feeling of unity/connections in the presented artifacts, a roller-coaster of different sensations induced by different media. This respondent obviously felt the VR was suited at the end. This could have different reasons (he/she refers to his/her own general enjoyment of VR) but could one envision a dramaturgy of different media in themselves, maybe starting with simple basic media or what some would call mono-modal media at least in regards to the senses involved and then furthering the complexity by adding sensorial input, ex. seeing for reading literature, seeing and listening for perceiving film, seeing, moving and in some cases touching for perceiving sculpture, seeing, listening, moving, and touching for experiencing VR. In some sense there is an increasing perceptual requirement of the perceiver going from the text to the VR experience but contrary to this, there’s the complexity of arbitrary signs in the text (in our case, requiring understanding the Danish language), not present in the VR experience.
We asked into each specific connection drawn between all possible pairs of two: Film-Text, Film-Sculpture, Film-VR, Text-Sculpture, Text-VR, Sculpture-VR. In the following I reflect on some of the answers regarding the perceived connections.
Only one of the pairs had less than half of the 9 respondents perceive of a specific connection and it was the Sculpture-VR. ‘(…), not so strong a connection, but I had noticed the sculpture’s (the first part I experienced) position of the feet, and when the VR started with touching of feet, I felt a connection. It is also possible this was first realized explicitly when watching the film’ (Igen ikke så stærk en sammenhæng, men jeg have bemærket skulpturens fod position (det første delværk jeg så) som noget særligt, så da VR startede ud med berøring af fødder, synes jeg at fornemme en sammenhæng. Det er også muligt at dette først blev rigtig tydeligt for mig da jeg efterfølgende så filmen.). Another sees a very different connection not relying on the represented feet but merely perceptual qualities (answer in English): ‘The VR piece is wonderfully sculptural. A sculpture in light. When I was observing the sculpture, I looked at the most defined piece and all the other “planches” behind. It gave a similar sense of depth and infinity as the VR’. Having worked with the VR installation as a ‘living sculpture’ I find this answer interesting. Due to their specific qualities as interactive, the sculpture and the VR experience invite the audience to choose their own perspectives from which to perceive the artefacts. I’ve often considered if VR is comparable to theater, film, or sculpture and of course it depends on the specific work at hand. However, it’s interesting to notice the respondent’s reflections on the perceptual qualities being similar and not necessarily what is being represented. A third answer regarding the VR-Sculpture connection refers to the overall title: ’The title explains the connection – it’s set in Pompeii’ (‘Værkets titel forklarer mig sammenhængen - det foregår i Pompeii’). As mentioned, this raises the question as to whether or not the title in itself can be interpreted as a media channeling information that unites the other media characteristics.
In contrast to the VR-Sculpture connections being the less obvious (4 out of 9 feeling a specific connection), the Film-Text was the one most respondent felt was connected, in fact all 9. In different ways, the respondents describe the fascination of feet, movement, fetichism, etc. as relating the film and text. One explains (in English): “The film felt like a 21st century version of the text. The obsessiveness. The feet. Looking for that specific arch. Being so consumed by a part of a woman. The relentlessness of desire. I suppose the text’s main character felt less objectifying of the basrelief woman. Not that the film objectifies the runner, but of course the “foot specialist” does.” There’s definitely a reason to see the film as a 21st century version of the text at least in the similarities between the foot specialist and the archeologist. Drawing on the respondents answer, I find it interesting, that the connection is not necessarily a question of the two characters being ‘the same’, but just being ‘alike’ in some respects. As media can share certain characteristics (ex. the individually chosen perspective experiencing the sculpture and VR installation) so can characters (ex. the fascination with feet and gait shared by the archeologist and the foot specialist – ‘the relentness of desire’). Researching on transmediality, one should be open to many connections, associations, parallels, not necessarily relying on a consistent storyworld where one encounter the same character in different media, ex. Sherlock Holmes, Superman, Indiana Jones, or drawing on an early example of a transmedial character, Jesus Christ.
An interesting answer in relation to the Film-Sculpture connection sheds light on the fact that a group of representations may depend on a single part among them to be interpreted as being interconnected (could actually be the title itself as suggested). If a perceiver is exempt from experiencing a ‘linking’ part of the experience, the transmedial interpretation is at risk: ‘Without the text, I would have difficulties connecting the two [film and sculpture], but the text focus on the woman’s feet, binds the sculpture and film together’. The three artefacts do not all direct a focus on the feet. Experiencing the sculpture, there’s no explicitly guidance in regards to the position of the feet but having read the text, the respondent’s perception is altered and suddenly a transmedial aspect is revealed. Another respondent writes she/he already noticed the particular gait of the woman in the sculpture which was the first part she/he experienced and later found his/her detection of it confirmed in the following parts: “I saw the film after having experienced the sculpture (but before the text), and it confirmed a certain foot-theme and that the sculpture’s gait was noteworthy” (‘Jeg så filmen efter at have set skulpturen (men før teksten), og det bekræftede at der var en form for fod-tema og at skulpturens fodposition var bemærkelsesværdig). The two answers shed light on individual differences in perception. In one case the text focalizes the perception of the woman’s gait as portrayed in the sculpture, in the other it confirms an already perceived and interpreted aspect. Regarding the former, one could use a metaphor, describing a mediated part such as the text being similar to a museum guide urging one to pay attention to a specific detail of a sculptural work instead of just letting the audience themselves choose their focus.
Having reflected on a possible construing of transmediality not relying on consistent storyworlds but rather associations drawn between more immaterial themes, character characteristics or perceptual similarities, one can also see a connection by contrasts (a unity of opposites). As one reflects regarding the VR-Film connection: ‘The opening shot … the foot, the ancle, the erotic meeting between a man & woman, but portrayed as successful and not, out of balance (film) and in balance (vr)’. There are similar characteristics in terms of objects (feet) and events (a meeting) but also differences (in opposition) in balance/out of balance and when the contrast is strong enough, it actually feels uniting as if there’s an underlying mechanism that have chosen to link the two representations due to some similarities (a couple) but also strong oppositional differences (in and out of balance). One writes in English: ‘Watching the film made me pay more attention to the female character’s feet in the VR. If I remember correctly part of the foreplay he’s also kissing her feet. There’s a nice opposition between the two pieces. Something about the foot fetish and non consensual exploitation of a patient in opposition to the sincere love making of the couple in the VR piece puts both stories in relief (to borrow from the sculpture and the text)’. Again, an opposition can actually foster a transmedial interpretation. The respondent consciously appropriates transmediality in the metaphor of ‘putting something in relief’ using a media characteristic in another context.
Due to the important and prominent questions being addressed these years regarding race, gender, sex, me-too issues, etc., and my own admitted recognition that this artistic research project, and especially the chosen work within it, could yield questions on the matter or potentially offend some readers/audiences, I asked if the respondents felt the experience was problematic ‘in anyways, for example in the inspiration drawn from other artworks, the portrayal of gender, sex or other aspects’ (‘på nogen punkter, eksempelvis ift. inspirationen fra andre kunstværker, portrætteringen af køn, sex, eller andet?’). To this, all 9 respondents answered ‘no’ which I’m of course glad to hear, although I definitely acknowledge that others may feel differently. In my discussions with colleagues and friends during the process some have raised critical questions regarding the appropriation of the Gradiva figure that can be argued to be part of a patriacal male objectification of a female character and part of a problematic artistic practice throughout history. Am I, through my project continuing a problematic practice that I should rather criticize or object to? I’m honestly not sure and regardless, I hope my artistic research project can benefit other artists, students and whomever choses to read it whether or not they find it problematic in ethical terms. There are hidden, dark, uncanny themes in what I have been working with (ex. the interconnection of sex and death), but I think art is (at times) an outlet for such perspectives and associations that we may not necessarily enjoy in real life.
Although the project is a preliminary project and I didn’t conceptualize the artwork embedded in it with any intention of public exhibition or critical response and feel appreciations such as scores are rather ridiculous, I couldn’t help myself to ask the respondents how they would score the total experience ranging from 1 to 7 with 7 being the best. 3 noted 5, and 6 noted 6. Regardless of the arbitrary nature of such scores, reflecting on the answers, I did find a common interest and fascination with the experience and the perceptions and feelings it generated.
We included a last option for comments/suggestions before giving the respondents the option of choosing anonymity or not (which they had been informed was possible). One respondent gave us the suggestion of working in another direction in regards to the sound design of the VR experience and I think she/he definitely has a good point. The respondent noticed that the visuals of the VR were rather abstract (the dots defining a sort of ethereal contour of the couple) whereas the sound was more realistic with moaning and kisses clearly resonating through the sound design. I agree that it could be more interesting withdrawing or suppressing some of the foley sound we made and maybe try other directions, music, sound design not referencing sex, or other. Other respondents express satisfaction with the experience, one writing the ‘text was beautiful’ and the ‘video fun’, which I’m glad to hear (although I ‘stole’ the text from another author). Actually, I was surprised to see many respondents and other people we invited to test the transmedia prototype laughing while watching the iPad video although it is clearly the one representing an explicit sexual misconduct (the young man not immediately accepting the costumer’s rejection). This made me think of theories of humor (the superiority, relief and incongruity theory) and how the film probably both relied on relief (it’s disturbing and we need to laugh to relieve ourselves of the pressure) and incongruity (testing running shoes in association with sexual misconduct). The latter perspective is in accordance with Danish screenwriter Mogens Rukov’s (co-writer of the much acclaimed “Festen” (1998) ideas of ‘the natural story’ which would be the procedural template of testing running shoes in a sports store being obstructed by a ‘scandal’, a son accusing his father of sexually molesting him in a speech at a family reunion or an employee defying the expectations of the costumer trying out running shoes.
When working intuitively or with improvisations, possibilities arise that otherwise may not have been noticed in one’s fierce struggle for a specific goal. Especially two aspects of the artistic research opened themselves by mere chance but I feel are worth pursuing in my future work.
The most obvious happened, when we had finished the audience test and removed the stage walls separating each room where the different media products were exhibited in each their secluded room. We had decided to invite a few friends and the collaborators having helped with the different parts of the project and let them experience the various parts. Now, I had initially thought of the VR experience as being an individual and subjective experience where one audience member at a time would privately investigate the installation and this was how we invited the respondents to try it. We had a monitoring screen showing their point of view just to notice any technical difficulties. Now, we removed the walls separating each individual media, the sculpture, film, literary text and virtual reality installation, put on some music (Christmas music due to the time of year), drank some Glögg, and exhibited the parts while talking/having fun. This accidentally opened up a new interpretation of the whole work as rather an ‘installation’ than a transmedia artwork (the distinction not necessarily easy to make but meant in regards to how separated the individual parts are). And what I personally found most intriguing was the interest shown by our friends and colleagues in watching each other try out the virtual reality experience. It became an artwork embedded in another artwork. 1) A virtual reality experience - to be perceived individually, 2) A person engaged in a fascinating embodied exploration of something and a monitor showing what the person is watching – to be perceived by a group of people. I guess many artists in newer media or performance art are conscious of this double feature of different interactive performances but in regards to this project, it came accidentally on the day of testing – and I’m sure, I’ll be more consciously appropriating this feature in future works.
Comparing the following video showing guests trying out the VR installation with an audience watching them with the video presenting the actual VR installation as an individual experience ‘from the inside’ in the chapter ‘Presentation of the four parts joined in our transmedia test’, one notices the difference and what I would argue is an artwork to be experienced individually embedded in a larger public exhibition, a perceiver of the former becoming performer in the latter.
Another accidental path was quite literally the one going home from the Royal Academy of the Arts where Malene Bang had helped me produce the six transparent plastic-reliefs of “Gradiva” and I brought them home in the subway train. In comparing the iPad film and the VR installation, I see an interesting contrast in the very present-like 21st century feel of the foot specialist working in a sports store and the more abstract and universal feel of the VR-experience, but likewise I appreciated the contrast between the millennia-old figure of Gradiva boarding the quite new subway train in Copenhagen, 2020. I’m not sure why – I may just have been tired after a long day’s work - but I found that moment quite fun and aesthetically interesting.
Throughout the artistic research process, I have found myself struggling with the scientific-like requirements of ‘research’ and my desire to plunge into a more feverish intuitive artistic practice with no clear goal. Although it has not been easy running these aspirations in parallel, I feel the project has given me a much-needed chance to explore transmediality both practically in regards to the produced prototype and as a preliminary research topic raising questions, I hope to address in future projects possibly in cooperation with other artists and art schools.
How do we classify what may be entitled ‘mixed media’, ‘installations’ or ‘transmedia artworks’? Coming from filmmaking and having studied analyses on transmedia storytelling, I’ve read about large commercial franchises spanning interactive games, films, television series such as Star Wars, Game of Thrones, The Matrix, Indiana Jones, etc., and I guess I sort of mimicked this in a much smaller and non-commercial way involving the more traditional media of sculpture, literature, film and the newer VR. However, was my separating of the artefacts to be experienced individually for 15 minutes each enough to be explored as transmedia or should I rather have investigated it as installation art or mixed media art and does it matter?
When discussing ‘storyworlds’ and their interpretations by an audience, how do we deal with more abstract works of art combining different media and also to what extent the audiences in their individual construing of meaning should be considered media themselves. The large franchises seem to revolve around quite consistent and logically coherent (though often fantastic) storyworlds and my colleague Simon Andreasen at the National Film School of Denmark explores storyworlds in similar consistent forms in his artistic research “Storyworld 2.0”. In addition to this approach, I think it may be interesting to discuss and explore what one could entitle different centrifugal and centripetal forces in interpretation of transmedial connections. Referencing a consistent storyworld similar to the real world is a centrifugal force connecting the different artefacts and results in audiences sharing a common understanding of the represented world in different medias. However, to what extent can this uniting force relay on other aspects, individual assumptions, themes, affects, character traits (as opposed to characters), inspirations, etc.? How do we practice and reflect on transmedial abstract art?
Could transmedial artistic practice further one’s work in a particular media and how? Simon Andreasen’s project “Storyworld 2.0” already raises this question and explores how creating a media-agnostic storyworld (or at least trying since it’s impossible) can generate multiple and diverse artworks. Throughout this project, I had ideas for ‘spin offs’ to use a term known from television production. As an example, I’m interested in investigating the very limited camera perspective in the iPad film for larger scenes or maybe a whole film and also explore the character working at the sports store more closely and maybe develop a film on him and his fetish, or I envision using the VR Installation as a standalone work, maybe submitting is to festivals featuring erotic work or using it in non-artistic contexts discussing gender and sex. Likewise, I found it interesting to notice the accidental paths the project yielded. I think it would be interesting in future research to study transmediality both as a goal in itself but also more closely as a development tool in fleshing out stories/abstractions for specific media such as is already seen in Simon Andreasen’s research. I feel working in various media has helped me notice specific affordances and peculiarities of filmmaking and therefore think it’s beneficial to encourage students of art to work with different media and not necessarily the ones associated with their particular school/field.
How would a metaphor of archeology benefit artistic practice and analysis of art? Lecturing on dramaturgy, I often use the metaphor of archeology to explain differences in plot points in storytelling. I’m especially interested in those plot points were nothing necessarily changes in the diegetic world except for one’s knowledge of it and its characters. However, it’s actually revealing that I did not choose my fascination with Pompeii as a departure point thinking in terms of the archeological metaphor for transmedia storytelling as such. Reflecting on the whole process, I now realize archeology is an interesting perspective on transmediality itself. I found it interesting to witness how the test audience of our transmedia work connected dots and had a feeling of something falling into place – a realization of connections that are similar to an archeologist unearthing different clues and forming hypotheses about them. Linking different artefacts and studying their effect on an audience drawing on the metaphor of archeology can benefit storytellers or artists in various media and as an inspiring read, I recommend Jennifer Wallace’s “Digging the dirt – The Archaeological Imagination”.
I hope a future research project explores transmediality with a trowel.
Andreasen, Simon: Artistic research project at the National Film School of Denmark: “Storyworlds 2.0”, 2021.
Aristoteles: “The Poetics” Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. Accessed on the 15th of March, 2019: http://classics.mit.edu//Aristotle/poetics.html - Translated by S.H.Butcher.
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Bazin, André: ”The Ontology of the Photographic Image”, published in Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4. pp. 4-9. Berkely: University of California Press. 1960.
Bordwell, David: Narration in the fiction film, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
Bro, Rasmus Kloster: Artistic research project at the National Film School of Denmark: “Video Sketching as a Foundational Tool”, 2021.
Derrida, Jacques: “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression”, Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer, 1995), pp. 9-63
Elleström, Lars: Transmedial Narration Narratives and Stories in Different Media, palgrave macmillan, 2019.
Freud, Sigmund: Delusion and Dream: An interpretation in the light of psychoanalysis of Gradiva , Dossier Press, NY, 2015.
Gardner Coates, V.C., Lapatin, K., and Seydl, J.L.: The Last Days of Pompei. Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection. Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Getty. (2012).
Jensen, Wilhem. . Gradiva. Trans. Downey, H.M. New York, NY: Moffat, Yard nd Company, 1918.
Jenkins, Henry: “Transmedia Storytelling 101”, henryjenkins.org. March 21, 2007. (retrieved, February 21st, 2021).
Shklovsky, Viktor: “Art as Technique”  Retrieved from https://commons.erau.edu/db-hu-300-fall2020/11 - February 21st, 2021.
Strindberg, August: “A Dream Play”, 1901. In “Strindberg, Five Plays”, Translated by Harry Carlson, University of California Press, 1983.
Ryan, Marie-Laure: “Story/World/Media” in Storyworlds across Media: Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology, 2014, ed. by Marie-Laure Ryan and Jan-Nöel Thon. University of Nebraska Press; 2014.
Wallace, Jennifer: Digging the Dirt – The Archeological Imagination, Bloomsbury Academic, 2004.
HONEYMOON IN POMPEII - in progress: artistic research project, Sven Vinge, 2021