Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Games of chance and aleatoric photography

Music: Savath + Savalas. Assorted tracks from the album "La Llama". I guess you could say when Psyche-folk-rock meets downtempo electronic glitch.

Guillermo Scott Herren must be one of my favorite music artists. It would seem like when you integrate glitch into your sound it would end up sounding gimmicky sooner or later, but somehow he always makes it work, and his sound opens wide up everytime and gets deeper. My friend Alex and I sometimes use the word van veen to describe music, poetry, or art that really grabs us, or hits at the center. Van Veen is a type of claw machine that is dropped all the way to the ocean floor to collect a sample of sediment or something. It really scrapes bottom and lifts something fascinating back up to the light. Vanveen music is the type that I really want to listen to most often.

I began an aleatoric photography project with Stefani again. Only this time, it's intercontinental. Alea means dice in Latin. For background please check out:

Aleatory wikipedia
Aleatory music wikipedia

and the blog Stefani and Chrissy started

I'm pretty excited about it. Personally, I think it's amazing what kind of results the element chance will bring to art, and it's a tradition with strong roots in experimentation of all kinds. Accidental photography, and images made through processes of indeterminacy.

Here's the rules and resulting images for one game played by both Stefani (in California) and myself (in Korea). Hopefully the rules will start to mutate and evolve for many further games to come:

roll die:
1 - walk 10 steps
2 - walk 20 steps
3 - walk 30 steps
4 - walk 40 steps
5 - walk 50 steps
6 - walk 60 steps

stop. and roll die again:
1 - make a photo of something in front of you
2 - make a photo of something behind you
3 - make a photo of something to your right
4 - make a photo of something to your left
5 - make a photo of something below you (maybe not specifically "down" since it will most likely always be just ground, but anything in a downward direction)
6 - make a photo of something above you (maybe not specifically "up" since it will most likely always be just sky, but anything in an upward direction)

after photomaking:
1 or 2 - go right
3 or 4 - go left
5 or 6 - go forward
**(if any of these directions are blocked or impossible to pass, then roll the die again until you are given a direction that is possible to traverse)**

then roll to see how many steps you walk and begin again. Repeat as many times as necessary.

start: Family Mart, Jangseong-dong, South Korea
end: my home, the Hongik Apartment

results & remarks: At the outset, I became aware of certain geographical restrictions that I did not foresee while making the rules for this game. The area of Taebaek that I live in is essentially one main road that runs down the length of a narrow valley, so I could not readily proceed in left or right directions without excessively climbing up trail-less mountains or frequently hopping over a fence into a river. Due to these factors, I was forced to modify the game by eliminating the third dice roll completely. So the game became more like: walk straight down one road, and roll to determine how many steps you take before stopping to make a photograph. In many ways, I think this works even more nicely, as you end up covering a lot of ground along the way, and there's no danger of the dice leading you in circles. Furthermore, about three-quarters of the way into the game, I decided to play a bonus round and add one-hundred steps to every roll of the first die (so a roll of 6 would be 160 steps and so forth). This way I could cover even more ground and keep playing the game while walking the rest of the way back to my home. There were also many instances of blatant rule-breaking behavior that transpired openly. Many times, things would catch my interest while I was still walking the number of steps dictated by the die. And I still photographed them anyways. I decided to leave a few of these images in, indistinguishable from those made while exactly following the rules of the game. It seems like these games of chance are intended to be a catalyst for art-making, so in this situation, all rule-breaking behavior which leads to further or excessive production of images should be encouraged, if not applauded.

misc. findings: The images made so far through aleatoric photography seem to be very reductionist in nature. It's cool that it forces you to make photographs where and when you normally never would. So the games end up also becoming exercises in the act of revising or altering (involving reconsideration and modification of what you see in front of you by means of a camera). It's really different and interesting working in grids because the images lose their individuality, in a sense. Individual pictures only matter so much as they relate to and affect everything else around them, and so you have to give up your attachment to them, in a certain sense.

during photographing: The area of town that I live in is pretty low-income for Korea, and a lot of my students' parents are coal miners, since there's still an operational coal mine nearby (along with a handful of closed ones). I noticed while photographing that some people even live in makeshift shacks up on a hill by their small, almost terraced field of crops. Being the only foreigner to live in this part of town, I felt a certain distance form between myself and the place I live by photographing it indiscriminately. I gained more piercing and confused stares than usual, and I'm sure a tall American dude walking around making random photos and randomly throwing dice down on the sidewalk didn't help their confusion. An elementary school age kid, that I noticed staring at me earlier and making a disapproving face, came up to me while I was photographing a badly aging apartment complex and told me in polite Korean that I shouldn't take pictures. When I asked him why, I didn't understand his answer, except that it had something to do with "not seeing". I think it might have been the apartment complex where he lived that I was photographing at that time.

suggestions: Buy a stopwatch and integrate that into a similar type of game next time instead of counting steps. That way, it'll be easier to walk and observe the surroundings without thinking about counting up numbers all the time and often losing track.

Here is Stefani's grid:

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