Reversed Remediation: Evelien Lohbeck’s noteboek

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Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek, 2008

Evelien Lohbeck’s multimedia artwork noteboek (2008), has been selected as a Top Video in the Biennial of Creative Video, the showcase organized by the Guggenheim Museum and YouTube. 1 Noteboek exemplifies what I call ‘reversed remediation’. 2 This aesthetic strategy subverts Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s notion of ‘remediation,’ which serves a historical desire for immediacy.3 Countering Marshall McLuhan’s fear of the narcotic state that the user of a medium can enter when becoming a closed system with the medium; reversed remediation offers a chance to wake up the viewer. 4 It creates a state of critical awareness about how media shape one’s perception of the world. (Art)works that employ reversed remediation destabilize remediation mechanisms, by making media visible instead of transparent. It makes critical awareness possible because it lays bare the workings of media instead of obfuscating them. The following discussion distinguishes between the theories of remediation and reversed remediation and applies this theoretical foundation to Lohbeck’s noteboek.

Hypermediacy, Remediation, and Reversed Remediation

Hypermediacy, the multiplying of technologies, is the central operational method for both remediation and reversed remediation. According to Bolter and Grusin, in remediation, hypermediacy is used to enable a seamless transition between different (older and newer) media in order to render all media transparent, which follows a historically-determined desire for immediacy. In reversed remediation, hypermediacy is used to display the incongruities between media in order to frustrate immersion and fosters critical awareness. Hypermediacy’s oscillation between remediation and reversed remediation has at its mid-way point a fulcrum, where the movement hovers for a moment and can be pushed in either direction. To push it towards remediation, the multiple media used must work together to create a familiar outcome that soothes the user into immersion. To push it towards reversed remediation, the multiple media used must work together to create an unfamiliar (uncanny) outcome that propels the user out of immersion and into a state of critical awareness. In Lohbeck’s noteboek, this happens when one wants to manipulate a drawn duration bar but suddenly realizes that an analog environment is inserted into a digital environment, calling one’s attention to this irreconcilable incongruity between different registers of media.

Hypermediacy achieves a sense of immediacy through an illusion of transparency. Bolter and Grusin’s critique of transparency as a feature of hypermediacy only concerns “the tension between regarding a visual space as mediated and regarding it as a ‘real’ space that lies beyond mediation”.5 They acknowledge instances in which the medium is foregrounded rather than made transparent. For example, they suggest that the viewer of a collage becomes hyperconscious, as s/he oscillates between interpreting the paper clippings and torn up photographs and looking through the actual objects into an imagined representational space beyond the surface. They do not however, explore the possibility that this oscillation space offers artists the ability to critique the medium that is used and for viewers the opportunity to contemplate how one perceives and makes sense of multiple layers of media. In other words, they use the notion of hypermediacy exclusively as a vehicle for explaining remediation where it could serve just as well as a vehicle for explaining its opposite - reversed remediation. Hypermediacy creates an opportunity to actually see the media at work. It can interrupt the advancement of remediation, render turbid the metaphorical transparent window between user and medium and transform it into a mirror. Reversed remediation thus can be explained as a strategy that purposely makes media visible by displaying its characteristics in order to raise the awareness of the workings of the media employed.

The Visible Entanglement of Different Media in noteboek

Lohbeck’s Noteboek is an example of contemporary art dealing with the entanglement of media that eventually reverses the mechanism of remediation. Rather than obfuscating them in favor of a seamless transition between old and new media in order to establish an immersive relationship between user and media, Lohbeck displays the characteristics of a medium, revealing them as media per se. With her artworks in general she attempts to “confuse reality and challenge the expectations of the audience” (Lohbeck, 2008).6 This attempt already succeeds with the ironic title of noteboek, it seems that she has made an error by typing an ‘e’ instead of an ‘o’ in the word boek, but boek is the Dutch word for book and when pronounced, it sounds the same. By strikingly drawing our attention to the word boek, she makes the viewer aware of the exact word that stresses the relationship between the digital laptop and the analog (note)book.

Because noteboek’s ‘native’ environment is online, there are many different ways one might arrive at the artwork. One way to begin one’s experience of the piece is through Lohbeck’s main website, which combines hand-drawn and digital elements. By clicking the hand-drawn Internet Explorer icon one can access the ‘/films.html’ page, which offers a display of stills representing fourteen motion graphic works, including noteboek. The stills are live links to the respective videos. Clicking on a still opens an embedded YouTube video on a small screen on a new page with an identical layout.

Noteboek begins as a video of two hands opening an analog notebook, which then flip through pages to find drawings of a keyboard and a screen on the adjacent pages. The ‘keyboard’ is set on the table while the ‘screen’ is stabilized against the wall at slightly more than a 90 degree angle. The video now begins to integrate stop-motion animation. The hand-drawn ‘power button’ on the upper right of the ‘keyboard’ is depressed and an animated Window’s operating system startup sequence, including its distinctive sound, can be seen and heard (fig. 1).

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Figure 1. Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek, first sequence opening her notebook (00:08-00:13), 2008.

The performer uses the touch-pad to move the ‘cursor’ with her finger to open Internet Explorer that opens up Google.nl as the startpage. The URL is typed in the ‘address bar’ and when the animated YouTube page loads, ‘Evelien Lohbeck’ is typed in its ‘search window’ and ‘zoeken’ (search) is clicked. Video stills appear on the right side in the drawn YouTube window and the ‘cursor’ clicks on the first video. Meanwhile, the camera has zoomed in on the drawn screen until it fills the entire video screen, so the hands and keyboard have disappeared from view. Now there are exactly three recursive desktops visible: the viewer’s, the drawn one of Lohbeck’s website and the drawn one of noteboek showing the animated YouTube page with her videos embedded in it. Several of Lohbeck’s video works are selected (by the animated cursor) from the drawn YouTube playlist and shown in sequence. These videos exist both as autonomous animation works and as content in noteboek. Lohbeck, at the same time, visits YouTube in her animation and plays noteboek in a YouTube window, establishing another recursive movement through a doubling of YouTube’s interface (fig. 2A shows the recursivity of the embedded video and in fig. 2B the effect of recursivity within Lohbeck’s channel on YouTube is shown).

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Figure 2A. Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek, stop-motion YouTube (0:50), 2008.

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Figure 2B. Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek, on YouTube itself within Lohbeck’s channel (01:00), 2008.

Henceforth, it is important to switch to a full screen-mode in order to experience the maximal effect of Lohbeck’s doubling of YouTube’s interface design. If one does not switch to full screen, the effect of recursivity will still persist but one’s immersion in a hand-drawn stop-motion video that pretends to be a YouTube environment, will not transpire optimally. When viewed full screen, one clearly notices YouTube’s duration bar below (fig. 3B). A white dot moving towards the right generates a red line on the left. This bar can be manipulated by dragging the dot with one’s mouse to the right (fast-forward) or to the left (rewind), or one may just click on it and pause the video. When one does not touch the mouse for a few seconds, this bar vanishes and the viewer is immersed in the YouTube video playing in the YouTube environment drawn by Lohbeck, which also has a duration bar with a dot moving rightwards (fig. 3A). When one has seen enough of a YouTube video, an experienced user tends to press the play/pause button on the duration bar, which can be seen in Lohbeck’s animation video. But when one tries to do this in noteboek by moving the cursor to the play/pause button, the red YouTube bar appears again at the bottom of one’s screen, instantly revealing that one has been fooled (fig. 3B). The duration bar in Lohbeck’s video is a drawn one and is not manipulatable. By tricking the user into believing one can manipulate the bar and then frustrating this action, Lohbeck reveals the fact that this form of manipulation is a natively digital characteristic and does not work in an analog environment.

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Figure 3A. Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek, one visible (drawn) duration bar (1:04), 2008.

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Figure 3B. Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek, double duration bar (1:04), 2008.

When having done this once, one might think it will not happen again, but Lohbeck’s strategy of copying the essentials and placing them in just the right position on one’s screen lures one into being fooled over and over again. One wants to speed up the video by dragging the animated dot to the right and one wants to click on another video in the animated playlist and so forth, but such attempts are repeatedly foiled. The more the viewer falls for the trick, the more the work’s meta-critical potency is reinforced, calling the viewer’s attention to his or her own programmed behaviors towards media. The most uncanny experience felt is when one cannot click on the videos in the playlist while an invisibly operated mouse moves the cursor around the animated interface of YouTube and freely clicks away beside one’s impotent cursor. This could be read as a critique of how computers have structured human behavior; in other words how the modus operandi of digital environments have become so integrated into consciousness that one automatically responds to analog environments with digital behaviors that are inappropriate for those contexts. The presumption that a user can just click and drag (manipulate) everything leads to frustration when this mode of operation does not seem to work in an analog world. McLuhan and Fiore point out that “our ‘Age of Anxiety’ is, in large part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools - with yesterday’s concepts”. 7 Lohbeck indeed shows how analog and digital tools are incompatible: one cannot use today’s tools (digital possibilities) within yesterday’s environment (stop-motion animation video). She lays bare the characteristics of digital media by mimicking them in an analog medium and thus simultaneously disables them; she shows digital traits but frustrates their functionality. As Nam June Paik memorably noted, “there is no rewind button on the Betamax of life.” 8

The Producer and Consumer are Interspersed by Recursivity

On Lohbeck’s website a recursive movement is introduced which consists of the viewers’ browser address bar displaying Lohbeck’s drawn address bar (fig. 4). Lohbeck’s drawn browser frames the video noteboek that also has a drawn browser address bar. This tripling of the image of a browser with a similar address bar calls attention to the relationship between producer and consumers. It has the effect of making consumers more aware not only of their own viewing conditions but also of the producer’s calculated manipulation of those viewing conditions.

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Figure 4. recursive browsers: www.evelienlohbeck.com on desktop Saskia Korsten, 19 March 2010.

Recursivity has a long tradition in Dutch art and visual culture and is commonly referred to as the Droste effect. This term, coined in the 1970’s by Dutch journalist Nico Scheepmaker, refers to the image depicted on a 19th century cocoa tin in which a nurse holds a tin of Droste cocoa on which is depicted the same nurse holding an identical tin, and so on. Lohbeck’s Droste effect of recursive browsers is even more exaggerated in an older version of noteboek (fig. 5) wherein the video playing in Lohbeck’s drawn YouTube environment is again the video noteboek (and not other videos by Lohbeck as in the nominated version of noteboek).

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Figure 5. Evelien Lohbeck, noteboek (old version), first sequence opening the video noteboek inside the already playing YouTube video noteboek (00:51), 2008.

The viewing condition of Lohbeck’s audience is presumably at home, behind their own computers, the condition of a person slackly browsing the Internet, not expecting to be challenged by a meta-critique of the very media they are using. Lohbeck’s work is simply one window among many (indeed her own video noteboek is but one of many windows on her own ‘/films-page’). But when one suddenly realizes that one is confronted with a website that is about being a website and a YouTube video that is about being a YouTube video, one simply cannot go on looking at all the other websites or videos, without becoming acutely aware of the hypermediated environment - the multiple layers of media involved in every opened window. The hegemony of the content is thus breached. When installed at an art festival or in an art gallery the viewing condition may be adapted to an art- and new media environment, but at a cost. The subtly interwoven meta-critique is maximized in the casual home viewing environment and may get lost to some degree in an overly self-conscious and art-focused environment. Noteboek is thus particularly sensitive to its viewing context and the best viewing condition is at home. The location of noteboek on Lohbeck’s website is crucial to activate the workings of recursive browsers and to achieve the best effect of the full-screen mode. The YouTube channel employed by the Guggenheim museum for the Biennial of Creative Video uses a more recent operating system than Lohbeck does for the embedded videos on her website. As a result, when one watches noteboek via Guggenheim Play, the duration bar of YouTube does not vanish when one’s mouse is idle. 9 Although the moving dot disappears, the bar itself becomes thinner but remains visible which interrupts the immersive working of Lohbeck’s drawn YouTube environment and thereby frustrates the effect of being propelled out of immersion when trying to manipulate Lohbeck’s drawn duration bar. One is simply less compelled to manipulate the bar in noteboek, so the likelihood of being fooled and experiencing the shock of reversed remediation is diminished. Lohbeck cannot control all aspects of the work’s reception, since some of the conditions are positioned outside of the work but are still part of its content. This vulnerability to the screening context is inherent to the work’s meta-critique in the sense that it uses the medium while critiquing it. It is the work’s strength and weakness simultaneously.

Reversed Remediation: A Display of Incommensurability between Media

Lohbeck visualizes the incommensurability of digital and analog media by leading the computer user to a physical clash of incompatible characteristics. The user’s automatic act of pressing the pause button in Lohbeck’s stop-motion video, offers the clearest example for this physical clash. Lohbeck reveals the foundational characteristics inherent to a particular medium, which can be attributed to the medium’s design and use. In noteboek she clearly reveals the manipulative aspect as a natively digital characteristic, by portraying the accurately illustrated duration bar and then disabling its interactive characteristic in an analog stop-motion video. Thus, by actively using the incommensurability between media, Lohbeck makes one aware of the incongruities between various media. She does not resolve the ‘problem’ of incompatibility but rather confronts viewers with the disturbing notion of incommensurability that may lead to a critical assessment of the employed media, which is exactly the function of reversed remediation.

NOTES:

1. On October 21, 2010, up to twenty five videos selected from the shortlist by the jury of experts, including Laurie Anderson, Animal Collective, and Takashi Murakami were presented online and screened at a celebration at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, with simultaneous presentations at the Guggenheim museums in Berlin, Bilbao, and Venice. The selected videos were on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York from October 22 to 24, 2010. Link to information about the Biennial of Creative Video.

2. Korsten, Saskia I.M, “Reversed Remediation, How Art can make One Critically Aware of the Workings of Media.” (MA thesis U of Amsterdam, NH, 2010. Scripties Online UBA, Web. 10 Oct. 2010).

3. Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. “Remediation,” in Configurations (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for Literature and Science, Vol. 4.3 Fall 1996, p. 311-358).

4. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 2003 [1964]).

5. Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. “Remediation,” in Configurations (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for Literature and Science, Vol. 4.3 Fall 1996), p. 334.

6. Lohbeck, Evelien. 2008. “About Me” (section of the artist’s website, last visited on 15 February 2010).

7. McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 2001), p. 8.

8. Kolar-Panov, Dona. Video, War, and the Diasporic Imagination (London & New York, NY: Routledge, 1997), p. 225.

9. For a comparison: Lohbeck’s noteboek and Guggenheim Play’s noteboek: (go to ‘all’ and click on ‘artists list’ and then on ‘evelienlohbeck’)

Saskia Korsten is a new media scholar, interdisciplinary artist and lecturer of contemporary and new media art at Windesheim (Bachelor Art teachers Degree, Zwolle, The Netherlands). In her work, she maintains a keen interest in posing and developing questions about the systems in which she is a part. By reversing mechanisms and theories, she tries to grasp notions and possibilities otherwise lost in methodology. She regularly speaks at symposia, conferences and gives master classes.