Wednesday, August 18, 2010

dispositif / mise en scène

Some reflections on "dispositif" (spatial arrangement) of live media/performance/installation.


Unlike theatre theory, which after Brecht speaks of the “apparatus” when it looks critically at the operations of the stage where actors enter and exit and things mechanically go up and down (using the fly space) or rotate on a turntable or are moved about by stage hands, film theory since the 1970s, following Jean-Louis Baudry, has prefered the notion of a dispositif, the French word meaning “disposition” or “arrangement.”

Le dispositif cinématographique aurait la particularité de proposer au sujet des perceptions «d’une réalité» dont le statut approcherait de celui des representations se donnant comme perceptions.(Baudry 1978: 45)

How can we make this concept fruitful for our research on intermedial performance space (augmented environment)? Philosophers of media and social/political theory such a Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Flusser, and Zielinski became hugely interested in the notion of the dispositif in the 1970s and 1980s, utilizing it as a conceptual category for examining environments (material, technological, medial, etc.) or regulating, strategic frameworks that are configured in certain ways making it possible for certain types of phenomena to occur. While Foucault tended to emphasize the regulatory and panoptic formations that produce power, knowledge, and subjectivity, Deleuze and Guattari became more interested in the drifting and disjunctures between heterogeneous elements in a multilinear collective assemblage or dispositif. In other words, they acknowledge that arrangements are precarious and cannot always control outcomes; the lines that compose a multilinear ensemble – refered to as agencements collectifs d’énonciation or “collective enunciations” can change direction or become unbalanced and forked. When human and technological processes are intimately intertwined or cannot be easily differentiated, the component materials, forces, energies, rules and conventions, and lines of communication are not stable, their contours are not fixed but subject to a series of variables (Deleuze 1992: 159).

If we now take the obvious historical fact that there have been various kinds of arrangements of film-viewing and film-experiences, including the more recent developments in televisual media, VJing, club, event and computer culture, the heterogeneous assemblage of components would manifest itself in many different kinds of dispositions. For example, there is the particular dispositif of spectatorship attributed to the classical or mainstream narrative cinema, and its basic building block is the dark room of the movie house where spectators focus on the images on the screen rather than being made aware of the projector, the cinema’s architectural space or the industrial apparatus of film production and distribution. The thin screen is the component Vilém Flusser has in mind when he writes that images are “significant surfaces.” In most cases, he argues, they signify something "out there," and are meant to render that thing imaginable for us, by abstracting it, by reducing its four dimensions of space-plus-time to the two dimensions of a plane. The specific capacity to abstract planes form the space-time "out there," and to re-project this abstraction back "out there" Flusser calls "imagination," and he might be thinking of both the producers and the spectators who have the capacity to project and decipher images, the capacity to codify phenomena in two-dimensional symbols, and then to decode such symbols. But then he adds that the significance — the meaning — of images rests on their surfaces from which some dimensions have been suppressed (Flusser 1999).

The cinematographic dispositif therefore produces moving images by removing those other dimensions from the spectators’ gaze. In the dark room, we are in front of the screen, and there is nothing else. The mediating principle of cinema requires that the depth of projection is denied so that the depth of field may exist. Again one might say here that this is the magic of the cinematic, producing an obvious immersion effect, but the sleight-of-hand also reproduces the medium itself. As it was the case with its ancestral forms – the magic lantern and shadow play – the cinema is an ensemble of techniques to make light fall on a surface. The seemingly empty space between the projector lamp and the screen is where cinema really happens. In an online forum on “The Thickness of the Screen,” which examined the material properties of audiovisual media, Gabriel Menotti scrutinized this immersion effect, observing that just like the depth of projection, some other dimensions must be there but cannot be negotiated, in order for cinema to exist as such. Since they house the principles of the medium, those fundamental distances do not seem to be available for creative operation. When they are effectively occupied, cinema shows itself expanded – as sculpture, installation or performance. (September 2, 2009

Without going into a deeper analysis of the experience of cinematic medium, we can posit that the cinematographic dispositif is different from the viewing and projection arrangement of a multi-screen video installation, and different again from a theatrical or site-specific multimedia performance or a participatory online virtual environment such as Second Life. The crucial difference in the theatre is the three-dimensional real space which may or may not include projective media in the stage design.


Here it would be helpful now to insert a few images from the work in progress on Day 3 at our lab, i am looking at 3 workstations at the moment, one small interactive video installation in the back corner of the studio, then the large overhead projection in the center (down onto the white dance floor, where i several "actors' [images of actors or of persons] lying on the floor and yet moving ever so slightly now and then; thirdly near the entrance on the left, there is another smaller scale interactional object installation (projected image objects). Once we publish the photographs, we can continue this exploration.

Below are a couple of images from Thursday morning's conceptual session in which Joff Chafer demonstrated a scene from his current theatrical work in Second Life (Avatar Repertory Theatre). He set up a camera for transposing Sara Kraft live into Second Life and a meadow where Sarah's character (Alice in Wonderland) sits under a tree reading a book.

(Joff Chafer, left, and Sara Kraft, right, preparing Alice in Wonderland scene, during which Joff wears a black all over suit hiding him so that he can manipulate objects in SL without being "seen" by the camera in the blue screen set up)

- 08 / 18/ 2010 Johannes Birringer

1 comment:

  1. DIPOSITIF from French
    DISPOS (adj) ready
    DIPONIBLE (adj) available
    DISPOSABLE (adj) disposable
    DISPONIBILITY (n) availability
    DISPOSER (v) to arrange

    the facets of the word suggest freedom and emergence of possible structures, structural possibilities

    Using vocabulary to suggest the approach of the space:
    INSTALLATION in English suggests something stable, static, while in French, ENVIRONMENT suggests a natural space, an ecology which holds the notion of movement/breath
    'ENVIRONNEMENT'is French for installation.