“I am about to change my phone,” This thought twirls in my mind every time I press the button. The surface of recent models is button-less, manifesting its minimalistic look. Is it better? As a tactile person, I am constantly panicking about that.
Back then I once worked part-time in Videotage when I was an undergraduate. If memory serves, my tasks are straightforward: gather a pile of catalogues, type in and cross-check information of the listed video works with the digital system, and propose relevant keywords that aid user search. Knowing where I study and my interest in animation, my then supervisor Phoebe Wong readily asked for my thoughts on Linda Lai’s Door Games Window Frames: Near Drama (2012) and Ellen Pau’s Fanfare For The Common People (2010), she then continued to ask if I would consider working as an animator for Apply Daily, or whether I would ever experiment the concept of animation with the use of PowerPoint slides. Despite how those questions might appear somewhat out of the blue, this piece of memory remains to be one of the most vivid, if not thought-provoking moments I had there.
In a broad sense, this conversation points towards a re-investigation on image-making: how it is made (process/effect), what the tools are (machine/equipment), its possibilities (function/imagination), and how these continuously defined, defining elements await to evolve (construct/stakeholder). Indeed, wherever I go through any video work descriptions, the first thing that piques my curiosity is always its original format. Browsing through the VAMC archive, it’s not unusual to see a dynamic within the spectrum: Super 8 (1965), U-matic (1971), Betamax (1975)- VHS (1976), Video8 (1984)- Hi8 (1998), GIF (1989), DVCAM (1996) to name a few. As a millennial who wistfully missed out on countless analogue and early digital machines, regardless of how these formats might look all Greek at a glance, they are still a critical primary anchor to prose questions and assumptions and submerge unreservedly into the work itself.
To the contemporary, the choice of format, or medium, often demonstrates an aesthetic pursuit or gently echoes with its context in another way. Yet, to the previous generations, it tends to be a more practical reason, be it the availability of resources, or the technical limitation of certain technology, for instance, not all DSLR cameras were suitable for making frame-by-frame animation at the beginning. Local independent animator Wagner Tang (鄧滿球), who created delicate hand-drawn animation works Heads (1982), Rain Maker and Niao 《鳥》 in the 80s, once mentioned he stopped creating due to the unavailability in Super 8 films and developing service in Hong Kong (RTHK 8 Beats, Episode 5, 2002). In parallel, early computer animation also requires additional hardware to facilitate the process of computer rendering, generating a frame, ‘dropping’ it to videotape, and moving the tape on one frame for the next frame. Beyond how these hurdles reflect a kind of hardship in coping with the material uncertainties and instabilities, or the readiness to do it all over again, it also illustrates a kind of blindness and virtuosity, where artists are constantly confronted with a series of guessing, trusting, or let go, where one must combat and address these constraints with grit.
On the bright side, these uncertainties could be counterintuitive at times, examples such as Jim Shum’s (沈聖德) work Pin Yi《品一》which explores an alternative viewing experience through overlying three simultaneous Super 8 projections into one (Film Biweekly Issue 49), or Jamsen Law’s continuous explorations with digital applications, such as the digital stroke drawn agilely with Microsoft’s MS Paint (Seen on Star To Star (2003)), or Matching 4 With 12 - Digesting A Patience (2002) which engages an intense act of mark-making on screen, as if pixels and glitches are being continuously crunched for visual digestion. These creative trajectories propose an observative reading towards the nuance of images made with different machines, above the sculptural or material attention, what intrigues me is how these knobs and buttons alter the literacy towards the bigger picture.
These constellations of how one work sheds light on another will never cease. Image making is perhaps lyrical, mathematical, or increasingly speculative, though lately I have been mesmerized by its instrumental nature, its analogue or digital mediations, and how these refresh my conception of sequential thinking. In my practice, I always deliberately choose to try out different approaches. To me, from button to knob, to swipe and many more, is a journey beyond a dry game of resolution, it is to wonder if one day there would be a possibility ahead of a binary thinking of on/off, of control and let go, of the authorship and liberation in automation. What if one day we can communicate with the machines in the form of a net rather than a button? What will that trigger?
Published on Videotage Hong Kong Newsletter November 2021