Review of Between Film, Video, and the Digital by Jihoon Kim
Bloomsbury Academic, NY, NY, 2016
416 pp., illus., 60 b&w. eBook, $89.09
We watch YouTube clips from different periods in cinema and television history and note how distinct material changes in moving image technologies affect expressive forms. And we do this on a digital platform that both preserves and annihilates these distinctions. It is this paradox of having access to a vast archive of media-specificity (silent films, TV sitcoms, video blogs, remix video art) within a rapidly evolving hybridity (digital convergence) that makes for complications and misunderstandings in the field of media. In Between Film, Video, and the Digital, Jihoon Kim brings a needed clarity to this post-digital and post-media age, not by defining more precisely the boundaries between moving image technologies, but by providing the conceptual tools for understanding their complex hybridization. Kim “theorizes the reconfiguration of an artistic medium and its specificity in the context of post-media conditions that enable hybridizations of film, video and the digital.”
The introduction to the book provides an invaluable historical context to the debate between theories of medium-specificity, intermediality, and post-medium and post-media hybridity. The major theorists on the topic – Krauss, Carroll, Cavell, Doane, Bellour, Ranciere, Manovich, and Rodowick – are all given voice. Cinema’s medium-specificity, according to Cavell and Doane, is the camera’s analogue recording of light and movement, its access to contingency and chance in the world. Arguing for hybridity over any limiting medium-specificity, film theorist Noel Carrol introduced the term “moving image” for works on film, such as scratch-on or flicker films, that don’t engage with Cavell and Doane’s indexicality. Carrol writes, “film is not one medium, but many media” with the potential for many expressive forms and applications. Rodowick, in response, proposes “a dialectic of medium specificity and hybridity with regard to a medium’s internal differential and its possibilities for being aligned with what is outside it.” In the “new media camp”, Manovich argues that cinema is “a particular case of animation that uses live-action footage as one of its elements.” Indexicality is an optional feature. In the digital domain, cinema joins evolving hybrids of animation, text, sound, graphics, photography, and computation.
Acknowledging the important arguments on all sides, Kim takes as a practical point of departure Rodowick’s dialectical approach. Kim writes, “hybrid moving images demonstrate that it is more productive to identify different moving images grounded in the variability of a single medium or the differing combinations of more than two media, rather than insisting on a moving image category.” Kim formulates two classes of hybridization. Diachronic hybridization, where two or more moving image technologies are coexistent, is a “transition from old media (photography, film and analogue video) to digital technologies.” Synchronic hybridization is the sum interrelation of different media, their histories and technical operations that “reposition the components … and call into question, traverse, and redraw their formal and generic boundaries.” The book’s chapters go on to discuss these forms of hybridization, not by labeling particular works this or that, but rather by seeking to illuminate each work through “an ontology of coexistence and interrelation” in the various media components. The chapters focus on five categories “as conceptual tools”: videographic moving images, hybrid abstraction, transitional found footage practice, intermedial essay film, and cinematic video installation. In each chapter, Kim brings together an array of known and some lesser-known artists working with hybrid moving images: Taylor-Jonson, Viola, Tan, Steyerl, Sachs, Marker, Farocki, Aitken, Ahtila, Douglas, Gordon, and many more.
Between Film, Video, and the Digital provides the reader with an essential theoretical framework for understanding post-media art. The dialectic of coexistence and interrelation treats media as evolving hybrids made of distinct “material substrates” and “aesthetic constellations.” The book is also an insightful guide through the rich variety of moving image art through the 20th century and into the 21st. Ultimately, according to Kim, the work is “concerned with a host of concepts that the rich traditions of cinema and media studies have pursued in theorizing: indexicality, movement, duration, materiality, archive, historicity, memory and apparatus.”