· cinema as mirror / face ·

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In our last session we explored the subject of cinema as face and mirror and how the spectator participates of this. Mirrors can work in cinema as either a window to the unconscious or a cinematic sign that reflects or reflexes what has just been seen. On top of that we discussed about the mirror neurones and how cinema stimulates them.

In order to further expand myself on the topic and to clarify my explanations, I picked the Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed film ‘Memento’. This neo-noir psychological thriller from 2000 is known for its complex non-linear narrative. From my point of view, cinema as mirror is perfectly pictured in this film using the main character, Leonard Shelby, a series of key objects and a mind-knotting scene structure throughout the entire film.

I would like to start with the more logical and literal meaning of mirror: the object that reflects what is in front of it. Many are the times that Leonard stares in front of the mirror to see his reflection and all the tattoos all over his body that he uses as eternal important notes to himself. The fact that Nolan presents this significant aspect of Leonards life through a mirror, makes the audience aware that Leonards is also a spectator of his own life contemplating those tattoos that work as clues for both him and the audience. Similarly, the idea of cinema as face is illustrated through the Polaroid pictures Leonard takes of the other important people that to his own judgement are related to the murder of his wife. Underneath the pictures, he writes down key information about the person on the picture. This key information is likewise delivered to the audience and it’s in some cases the only news the viewer has about certain characters.

Secondly, ’Memento’ works as a window to the unconscious in the sense that the audience travels to the mind of the Leonard. This is accomplished by the odd alternation of scenes that builds the film. This puzzled structure leaves a disturbing and disconcerting feeling on the audience that, in fact, helps the viewers to go inside Leonard’s conscious and identify themselves with the disorientated mind of Leonard who suffers from short-term amnesia and is unable to store recent memories.

In regard to the cinematic sign that reflects what has just been seen, ‘Memento’ is the best example I could think of, and in my opinion it perfectly fits the purpose. Thus, the film follows two main timelines that can be easily distinguished because one if in black and white and the other in colour. Those timelines are constantly mirroring each other. For instance, Leonard sees a Polaroid or reads one of his tattoos, and the next scene is a flashback of how Leonard first discovered that bit of information, or he talks on the phone about someone and the next scene introduces that person. Hence, the scenes are consistently reflecting each other like a corridor of mirrors until the end of the movie when the illusion breaks and the audience eventually discerns what is the truth and what the reflection.

All in all, I believe that doing cinema as a mirror is one of the most complex yet elaborated and jumbling ways to do it. Indeed, is a more effective way to drag the viewer into the movie and make him or her not just witness the story from outside but get them lost in a labyrinthine set of mirrors that instigates them to take part in the story and choose what to believe, what to trust, what to support. From my perspective, a more interesting and stimulating way to watch a movie.

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· Typography and language ·

We got started with the following statement:

Typography can be treated as an image itself

Text doesn’t need an image to stand by itself. Actually there is a metaphor that Beatrice Warde (1900-1969), who was a typography expert and publicity manager for the Monotype Corporation, uses in her book “The Crystal Goblet” that explains it pretty well: you have to worry about what’s inside the goblet not about the goblet itself. That is to says that the content is much more important than the contender. Despite so, the typography needs to have a relation with the content because, otherwise, it would be just decoration.

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Beatrice Warde (1955), ‘The crystal goblet’ or ‘The printing should be invisible’.

We were supposed to understand that typography interferes somehow with how we read and also that the typography needs to be entertaining by its own. This is one of the main principles of 8vo, a graphic design firm founded by Simon Johnston, Mark Holt and Hamish Muir back in 1985. They created, for instance, a new -and weird- disposition for a essay to make it more entertaining, engaging and appealing to the eye.

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Design by 8vo.

To sum up, the typography has to work for the text and it is graphic designers jobs to create the relationship between these two subjects. As once the American famous graphic designer, David Carson, (1954) did. He tried to fit a text he was given to the blank space he had by using a 5p font.

Nevertheless, to be able to play around with the text, first you need to know some basic keys about storytelling and narrative processes. The main thing that not even a graphic designer can modify is the Story Classical Line which is roughly the initiation of a conflict until it reaches the climax and its decrease until a resolution is found.

Moreover, we went through an introduction about semiotics which is about signs and its meanings, something very useful for a graphic designer. It all began in the mid 19th century with the Swiss linguistic Professor Ferdinand de Saussure and the American Charles Sanders Peirce. Both of them realised in a short time of difference that there are some meanings that comes naturally, the signifier, and other that are both personal or cultural interpretations, the signified. The first one is called the denotative meaning of the item and the second one, the connotative meaning of it. So we can get the connotation of an X subject by our own reading or because it’s a global cultural and conventional agreement.

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For example, the traffic lights: everyone understand the meaning of each colour, red, orange and green, -signifier- but when we apply these colours to the traffic lights they become ‘stop’, ‘cross quickly’ and ‘cross’ -signified-. The meaning of each colour is a convention as they mean the same for everyone and yet there’s no logical relation between the colour and its meaning, the society created these links.

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Colour of the traffic lights -signifier/sign- & their meanings -signified/concept-.

Taking this into account the designer can mess around with the different meanings of the words to get the word that fits the best the purpose of the text, its content and its look.


Reference List

Eyemagazine.com. (2016). Eye Magazine | Feature | Beatrice Warde: Manners and type. [online] Available at: http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/beatrice-warde-manners-and-type [Accessed 6 May 2016].

Mitchell, W. (2005). What do pictures want?. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Slatter, A. & Homer,N. (2016) ‘Typography and language’ [Lecture to GMD1] T303: Contextual and Theoretical Studies. UAL

Warde, B. (1955). The crystal goblet. London: Sylvan Press.

· The Net ·

 

The purpose of this lecture was to present all the ways, the technology and particularly the net have affected the message and the way we communicate nowadays.

The first point made was through a serie of Google Street Views. All those photographies represented different and perplexing exacts moments happening in a common world. In other words, various disconcerting realities taking place at the same time. This collection of pictures is actually a particular and painstaking research that created the “9 eyes” project by the Canadian artist and essayist Jon Rafman.

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Pictures from Jon Rafman from his ‘9 eyes’ project, showing different realities going on at the same time. 

This was, indeed, an example to realise the infinite possibilities that the network offers us just with a few clicks. Is about this immense and easy accessible world of what the Spanish sociologist, Manuel Castells, discusses in his book “The rise of the network society”, (1996). He stands that the 95% of the information existing about every field is digitalised and that the 2.5 billions of the entire 8 billions population has access to Internet.

The truth is that technology is drastically changing the society and the way we communicate with others as the instantaneity of the online platforms is taking the lead whereas the physical interaction seems to be more and more complicated nowadays, as it requieres both people in the same place at the same time rather than a couple of screens to type on. And, obviously as the means of communication change, so does the way we express the message. And this is exactly what he Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan stated in 1964 in his book ‘Understanding Media: The extensions of Man’:

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

About technology and our response towards them, he wrote:

“Perhaps the most obvious “closure” or psychic consequence of any new technology is just the demand for it. Nobody wants a motorcar till there are motorcars, and nobody is interested in TV until there are TV programs. This power of technology to create its own world of demand is not independent of technology being first an extension of our own bodies and senses”

That’s why Internet caused such a vast effect on our daily lives, as it become another “extension of ourselves “ as the radio or the TV did at the time.

In order to understand properly the concept of the medium being the actual message, we were ask to write down a sentence that hadn’t ever been said before and to post it in different social networks. Mine one was:

‘Spoons of cereals are marrying slices of apple in a sledge of toast’

This way we could see how our nonsense message was changing according the platform -medium- we were using. For instance, in Twitter we needed to make it fit the 1400 characters, if we sent it through email to Andrew, it needed to be little bit more formal. Therefore, in all the cases the message was exactly the same but we transformed the way we conveyed it.

The other main topic of the lecture was the photographies and its importance in nowadays society and our relation with them. According to the famous photographer Susan Sontag, pictures are just used to prove reality. That is to say, that something doesn’t becoming real until there is a picture of so. Similarly she also supports the idea that “to photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge-and, therefore, like power”. Indeed, an idea that shouldn’t come us as a surprise in our materialistic and selfish society. The Argentinean writer, Jorge Luis Borges, already stated so in his quote “The map is not the territory”. In fact, this metaphor can not only be related to photographies, but to the net: having all the information on the online sources -map-, doesn’t actually mean that we gained all that knowledge -territory-.

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The quote from Borges “The map is not the territory”

And to finally link both concepts, photography and net, we discussed about the ‘poor images’, something almost inherent to the new technologies and the fact that we assume that poor quality images aren’t acceptable in certain circumstances but completely inadmissible in other cases. A good example of poor image was the “emojis” or the bad connection images on Skype. In those cases, what’s important is to receive an image but it doesn’t matter if it’s not a hd one. We concluded the lecture distorting the code of an emoji by including in the code our nonsense sentence.

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Emoji with the distorted code

All in all, it was an engaging lecture that proved the influence of new technologies and the endless sources of information on the way we express ourselves and particularly in the imagery we consume.

 


 

Reference List

Borges, J. L. (1946) ‘On exactitude in Science’ Los Anales de Buenos Aires.

Jon Rafman (no date) Available at: http://9-eyes.com (Accessed: 4 May 2016).

McLuhan, M. (1964) ’Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man’. New York: McGraw Hill

Slatter, A & Harnett, J.P. (2016) ‘The net’. [Lecture to GMD Year 1] T303: Contextual and Theoretical Studies. UAL

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On photography’ New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Sontag, S. (2004) ‘Regarding the pain of others’ London: Penguin Books.

· Space & Place ·

What is it exactly home? What is the actual meaning behind the term ‘home’? We often relate it to the place were we belong and were our roots are, a place where we simply feel safe and comfortable. However, ‘home’ happens to be a far rougher concept. For instance, an igloo can definitely be home for inuits, but it is obviously not factual for everyone.

We were presented during the lecture the case of ‘Pruitt-Igoe’ which was a large complex of public houses in St. Louise, Missouri, designed by the architect Minoru Yamasaki, known for the design of the World Trade Center. The purpose of this urban plan was to solve the problem of overcrowding that was existing back then in the streets. It was first occupied in 1954 and since then its state started to decline like the luxury building of the Ballard’s novel ‘High Rise’ (1975) where the ideal complex starts an internal war. The complex was finally demolished in 1972, which was claimed to be “the death of modern architecture” by Charles Jencks, an American architectural theorist.

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“Pruitt-Igoe”, the architectonical design of public buildings in St. Louise. (1954).

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Cover of Ballard’s novel “High-Rise”

Since then, the vision of our personal spaces changed and there began to be isolated building for very concrete purposes such as schools, shopping centres, airports. Each of them with its own feeling, its own atmosphere.

This lecture was particularly addressed to makes us wonder what’s our relation with the space, whether our behaviour change when we are at home or away and why we feel free away from home although our roots call us to come back.

Our identity is somehow linked to the place we are coming from: home. It is so essential for our own identity that it is reflected on something as common as the Passport. And definitely this piece of information on this piece of paper will with no doubt determinate were else you would be able to go, for example, as not all passports are accepted everywhere. On the other hand, though, there are people that don’t feel identified by their native country and feel that home might be somewhere else. And, at the same time, I wonder myself what is home nowadays for all those who never stop travelling for business reasons, for instance. Do they have more than a place called ‘home’? But at the same time, the meaning of ‘home’ itself is inherently linked to one and only concrete place.

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Passports of the world that proves where we all come from. 

This last point can be linked to the second part of the lecture where we have been introduced to the concept of the ‘non places’. That is to say places with no memory, no history, no sense of identity. Airports are such a good example since they are places where people just go there to be guided to get to somewhere else, you are irrelevant and anonymous.

Milton Keynes, is a ghost experimental city 45 miles north-west of London created to solve the overcrowding problems in London but turned to be just a place to visit and leave. This artificial city can be considered as a non-space too due to its lack of identity.

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The artificial city of Milton Keynes.

Another interesting concept is the simulated spaces which are those unreal environments that just resemble other but are just fake images. Those would, for instance be, themes parks such as Disneyland were the princesses get “smiling training” before they start working, or Los Angeles which is an ideal city where everything pretends to be as it is supposed to be.

 


 

Reference List:

Augé, M. (1995) ‘Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of super-modernity.’ Verso Books

Ballard, J. G. (1975) ‘High-Rise’

Baudrillard, J. (1983) ‘Simulation and Simulacra.’

Hauer, G & October, D (2015) ‘Space and Place’ [Lecture to GMD Year 1] T303: Contextual and Theoretical Studies. UAL

· Surveillance ·

“Big brother is watching you.”

This is the sentences that all citizens of the George Orwell novel “1894” have stuck in their minds. However, the reality outside this dystopian world in permanent war is not that different: God has always been that ‘Big Brother’ that could literally see everything.

Similarly, there are other symbols all around us in our daily life such as The Eye of Providence in the USA dollars bills. This, today considered Illuminati Eye, was first related to gods since the Ancient Egypt times and later on, in 1797, taken by Thomas Smith Webb, author of the “Freemason’s Monitor”, as an illustration of Masonry. Then, the “All-seeing-eye” became a symbol of secret societies, power and conspiracy.

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Constant surveillance was believed to be essential to keep people under control. Nevertheless, there was someone who dare to go little bit further. The philosopher and father of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, laid down the theory that “power should be visible and unverifiable” with his new prison system, the ‘Panopticon’.

This new idea of prison consisted of a rounded building with a tower in the middle and all a the cells around following the round shape. Since the tower is mirrored, no one would be able to tell whether there might be someone in the tower or not, and therefore, all the prisoners will live with the idea that there can always be watched.

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Example of the Panopticon system 

Despite how efficient it was, the French historian and physiologist Michel Foucault argued in his 1975 book “Discipline and Punish” that “…the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.”

Nonetheless, this idea of the omnipresent and invisible power was not only applied to prisons but, once again, to control the entire population. As stated in by the essayist Niran Abbas in his book “CCTV: City Watch” only in the city of London there are approximately 4,2 millions of CCTVs and anyone who would wander around can easily be captured 300 times a day.

Taking this into account, it is easy to reckon that this is not only for the safety of the population but to record the behaviour of the society. Or maybe, just for the pleasure of gazing?

Throughout the history, many were the artists who found inspiration from voyeur practises. And, please, don’t think nasty, but there is an inevitable pleasure at staring at others. This can be reflected, for instance, in the work of many photographers such as the serie of pictures taken in the underground by the American Walker Evans or the ones from the window by the New York photographer Arne Svenson.

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Photography by Walker Evans 

 


Reference List:

Abbas, N (2003) ‘CCTV: City Watch’ in Kerr, J & Gibson, A. (Eds.) (2004) London From Punk to Blair. London: Reaktion Books.

Focault, M. (1975). ‘Discipline & Punish’. NY: Vintage Books

Glavey, P & Eysler, A (2015) ‘Sureveillance’ [Lecture to GMD Year 1] T303: Contextual and Theoretical Studies. UAL

Orwells, G. (1949). ‘1894’. London: Harvill Secker.

Smith Webb, T (1797) ‘Freemason’s Monitor’. New York: Crushing and Appleton.

 

· The Century of Self REVIEW ·

 

There are things we have never wondered ourselves about. For instance, why are women who smoke linked to the concepts of femme fatal? Where is the origin of this widespread belief? The answer to the mystery is the penis. Yes, you read it right! According to the father of the psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, the cigarettes subconsciously meant penis to women. In other words, women that would smoke were actually challenging the power of men, as a century ago women could not be seen smoking in public. Edward Bernays, nephew of the Austrian neurologist mentioned above, was the man who changed that and renamed cigarettes as “the torches of freedom” linking the idea of females smoking to powerful and independent women. Since then, the sales of cigarettes increased abruptly.

artworks-000012883436-lsjj2g-originalPhotograph of a woman smoking for the cover of the magazine ‘Life’.

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Frame of the documentary “The century of self” – the debutants smoking in front of the press for the first time.

This is probably the most meaningful example (and my favourite one) of how easy is to manipulate the mass using the knowledge and studies about human behaviour from Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939). This first part of four BBC documentaries begins introducing the audience the key idea that Bernays used to link mass produced goods to people’s desires: “there are primitive, sexual and aggressive forces hidden inside the minds of all human beings” and that “those forces that are not controlled lead individuals and society to chaos and destruction.”

The documentary strongly emphasises with live witnesses from those years fact that before that “social live experiment” started, no one was able to show in public their inner feelings and how people was keeping under control their desires by painfully suppressing them. Thus, the viewers can assume that beginning to talk about their own desires meant a liberation during the last years of the 19th century.

Moreover, it chronologically explains the start and establishment of consumerism in our society and the beginning of the mass democracy, which is the participation of the entire population of a country in the presidential elections instead of just the ‘privileged’ ones. For instance, when USA decided to take part in the IWW in 1914 “to bring the democracy to all Europe”. In this particular case, Bernays was required to portrait president Woodrow Wilson as “the man that made this world free” and made him become a hero of masses. After that, Bernays wondered himself whether he could produce the same effect on people in “peaceful times” as well.

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A frame of the documentary “The century of self” – the crowd.

And, indeed, he did it. Every company that required his services was only increasing their sales, doesn’t matter if it was the American Tobbaco Company or any retail company or even banks, all of them were indirectly taking advantage of Freud’s studies. Products were no longer presented as needs nor as desires, but just as goods that might talk by yourself. The way you dressed like was telling who you were, the car you were driving was telling which kind of driver you were, if you smoke… if you don’t…

In the other side of the coin, Freud began to write about human behaviours. He realised he had underestimated human instincts and that human beings were easily controllable in groups. That’s how he came up with the idea that democracy was probably not as factual as everyone thought, – like the philosopher Plató and many others discussed  hundreds of years ago, or as would claim Adolf Hitler years later.- and therefore dismissed the idea of trusting people despite their rational state, as their subconscious could still be manipulated.

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Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) 

And that’s the story of how his nephew made Freud lose all faith in human beings and become a pessimist while creating the bases of a new empire, that not even the Market Crash in 1929 nor the IIWW could pull down. This documentary sums up with an accurate flow all the mark spots that led our society to be considered the “century of self” at the same time that narrates how the shadow of Freud was following all the changes that were taking place meanwhile Bernays was using the crowd for his puppet show.

 

 

Alba