Artists' Television Access

Emergent Phenomena: The Computational Cinema of Gregg Biermann

Friday, October 26, 2012, 8:00 pm, $6-$10

“In this work Gregg Biermann has taken head-on some of the supreme moments of classical cinema and subjected them to a dazzling transformation in the digital domain. The results are exhilarating, surprising tours de force. They also have a zany quality that shows the artist to have a witty imagination. He is a prober into the hidden corners of cinema, and a master of computer-based wizardry.” — Larry Gottheim

Happy Again — 2006, 5 minutes, video,

The signature scene from the Hollywood musical Singin’ in the Rain is split into seven layers. Each layer is moving at a different speed and is visible equally in superimposition. At the temporally central point all visual and audio elements coalesce in a single frame. The result uncovers a new cinema, music and dance that are buried within the familiar iconic sequence.

The Hills Are Alive — 2005, 7 minutes, video,

An iconic scene from the beloved Hollywood musical The Sound of Music is transformed through a contrapuntal progression of split screen effects. The resulting mosaic reveals haunting melodies and reverberating dissonance.

Utopia Variations – 2008, 5 minutes video,

In this piece the “over the rainbow” sequence from The Wizard of Oz moves forward from the beginning and backwards from the end in half second intercuts. This gradually builds from one screen to a “25-voice” split-screen canon in which each voice is slightly out of sync. The resulting matrix is mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic.

Labyrinthine – 2010, 15 minutes, video,

“In Labyrinthine (2010) Biermann takes forty-one shots of memorable and iconographic moments in Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo (1958). The shots are superimposed on top of each other creating a hypnotic labyrinth of repetitions and transformations. The different moments overlap in a kind of contra-punctual proliferation lasting 15 minutes. The superimposition of images is not like we know it from classical (analog) editing, where the image is partly transparent. The images are composite sequences of concentric rectangles. The rectangular screen no longer frames one shot at the time, rather, the screen becomes a theatre for a multiplicity of images where each new shot is born within the previous shot as a new rectangle which gradually increase in size and finally covers the last shot. As it grows new shots are born within the shot and this goes on according to a rhythmical scheme where each shot is repeated four or five times. As the film develops several series of shots overlap. Cinematic motion as the movement of objects in space within the image is here competing with the movement between blocks of floating images. The blocks float like moving pictures through the screen like an approaching bullet or projectile. Ultimately, a labyrinth of movements appears both within the image (the image within the image) and between the images (the changing relationship between the images within the image). Continuity editing is replaced by a discontinuous and labyrinthine editing, and the screen doesn’t show one image at a time, but several.

 In spite of the rhythmical slowness of floating concentric rectangles, it is at times confusing to distinguish between them. It is as if this virtual multiplicity of time folding images indexes in intangible ways the constant confusion and dizziness of the protagonist of the film, Scottie (James Stewart) – and the viewer – who both are at times unable to distinguish between the different women (the woman remembered and the woman seen) played by Kim Novak. Biermann’s hypnotic repetition and manipulation of the characteristic sound track together with the “floating” iconography of the film brings in the whole repertoire of genres at play in Vertigo, which itself floats in between the Detective Mystery Thriller, Romance Melodrama and Horror. Most of the shots are of Scottie as he observes or thinks; he hardly moves here, or moves only his head slightly like in the last sequence of the first shot. The images have a stuttering and discontinuous logic which arrests and focuses on perceptual phenomena which slips away when seeing the film. Biermann opens these intervals of the imperceptible and enlarges them and turns them into art form of its own. It is as if he uses the technologically enhanced object quality of the images to explore the optical unconscious by means not envisioned by Walter Benjamin.”

–Eivind Røssaak, Algorithmic Culture, or the New Multiplicity of the Image, Between Stillness and Motion: Film, Photography, Algorithms (Amsterdam University Press, 2011)

Another Picture — 2007, 4 minutes, video,

Another Picture is a digital age motion study inspired by the “chronophotographic” work of Etienne-Jules Marey. The finale from the Hollywood classic Sunset Boulevard is split into 16 superimposed layers. Each duplicate of the scene dissolves in and out such that it is slightly offset in time from the next. The result is oddly static and hyperactive at the same time.

Crop Duster Octet – 2011, HD video, 5 minutes

“Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is deconstructed and reassembled to illuminate the patterns, rhythms and choreography of the original so as to break through and make for a eight banded kinetic tour de force. As the piece progresses the temporal displacement of each band gets closer and closer until they all unite into a remarkable grand finale.”

– John Columbus, Black Maria Film Festival

Paradiso – 2003, video, 17 minutes, stereo,

Text by Sarah Markgraf

Paradiso is the final section of my three-part Material Excess (2002-03). Material Excess is a large-scale animated movie, which borrows its structure from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Along with Paradiso it also includes Inferno (25 min) and Purgatorio (25 min).

These pieces have been screened both separately and together. The animation is for the most part created in a digital process related to the cameraless hand-made film tradition. In a photo-editing program, scans of various objects are placed on a digital image strip without regard for individual frames. These images are translated into video sequences and the result is an exploding jumble of colors and forms. By its very nature, the animation cannot directly illustrate the various bits of narration that appear in the soundtrack. The two things simply happen simultaneously.

Paradiso is constructed entirely out of junk food and pleasant, relaxing music. Nothing in paradise needs to have nutritional value. The only requirement is pleasure. In my best Monty Python accent a voiceover posits the question “was Jesus ever truly happy?” as gummy bears and chicklets dance on the screen in what critic Fred Camper calls a “half ironic vision of redemption”.

“a remarkable achievement”—David Finkelstein, Film Threat

New Jersey Gradual – video, 17 minutes, stereo, 2008

The massive Garden State Plaza parking lot is a simplistic landscape, an undefined territory with a single purpose: to temporarily store great numbers of cars while consumers shop. It is a large flat expanse of asphalt, punctuated only by painted lines, sign posts and street lights. It has little apparent aesthetic value. Because of its singular purpose, there is no reason for people to linger in this space and it becomes devoid of street life. When compared with traditional downtown urban areas that have a specific sense of place, spaces like this parking lot seem to obliterate specificity. As my car-mounted camera passes by the facades of various big-box stores, it records corporate signage. Ironically the signage does not really locate the viewer in a specific geographic location because these stores and restaurants are chains that have many locations across the country. This could be anywhere. Yet, judging by their ubiquity, these homogeneous places are ones that Americans seem to prefer over the traditional urban downtown.

The virtual shape that is employed in New Jersey Gradual is a sphere. Like the parking lot itself the sphere is simple. The computer graphics term for it is a “primitive”. Because of its relative simplicity New Jersey Gradual comes the closest of the three pieces to depicting the reality of its chosen location (although it too, at times, can verge into the cosmic). In this piece the sphere undergoes a series of pre-programmed rotations across several axes and this interacts with the single dolly shot of the lot. The texture mapping of the video onto the sphere leaves two blank areas that appear as “black holes” in the image. Parts of the image near these black circular shapes become increasingly distorted. Perhaps these black holes can be seen as consuming the landscape or perhaps they are simply geometric abstractions jamming the pictorial space. The cinematic recording of driving through the parking lot is heavily mediated by the changing virtual position of the viewer, which is like moving one’s head along the surface of a curved screen. The original vantage point of the video camera within the car is altered by the spherical projection of the texture mapping such that part of the image that was originally in front of the real camera is now behind the virtual camera. This leads to the examination of formerly marginal parts of the original frame.

Traffic Patterns – 2009, 9 minutes, video

Video sequences shot on New Jersey highways from a moving automobile are wrapped around a virtual 3D cylinder and the virtual camera moves around inside it distorting the view and encountering various reflective objects. This material is then subjected to a complex editing procedure that results in a meditative rhythmic montage.

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