The Concept of Articulation

Cinema is not movement. This is the first thing. Cinema is not movement. Cinema is a projection of stills­­which means images which do not move­­in a very quick rhythm. […]It can give the illusion of movement. Cinema is the quick projection of light impulses. These light impulses can be shaped when you put the film before the lamp­­on the screen you can shape it. […]Where is, then, the articulation of cinema? Eisenstein, for example, said it’s the collision of two shots. But it’s very strange that nobody ever said that it’s not between shots but between frames. It’s between frames where cinema speaks. -Peter Kubelka, 1967

From [John Cage] I learned that chance is one of the great editors. You shoot something one day, forget it, shoot something the next day and forget the details of that…. When you finally string it all together, you discover all sorts of connections. I thought at first that I should do more editing and not rely on chance. But I came to realize that, of course, there is no chance: whatever you film you make certain decisions, even when you don’t know what you do. The most essential, the most important editing takes place during the shooting as a result of these decisions. -Jonas Mekas, 1988

The term “articulation” is used to describe many things: a person with an extensive and nimble vocabulary is articulate (adjective), we articulate (verb) a word or phrase when we speak it clearly and distinctly, and articulation is a key term in the practice of music making, describing the physical grasp of the instrument itself, the ability to make not just notes, but notes with specific character and personality – staccato, legato, vibrato. Additionally, the word articulation is used to describe something like physical positionality in the world -­ the Mars Rover has articulating arms, for example, to navigate the landscape and sample its environment for scientific purposes.

I am particularly struck by the use of the term “articulation” by elder shamanic experimental filmmaker Peter Kubelka, above, to describe the space between frames of film. To me it speaks to the unknowable, the un­transcribable, the anima or spirit of the work. Though instructions can be given for a piece of music about recommended articulation, every musician will articulate subtly differently, based on their physiology and personality.

Likewise, the concept of articulation functions on numerous levels with regard to film and video -­ from a more functional, performative sense of how one articulates a camera physically in space, to the very atomized articulations between any two frames, where actual tangible movement is not “captured” at all, but is inferred and invented by the mind and eyes of the artist and the audience.

My current work is an extended exploration of this idea of articulation. I work gesturally with various cameras, articulating with them as instruments and exploring how they express subtle personalities and proclivities as I relate to them. I have an ongoing practice of hand­processing my 16mm footage and spending lots of time in the dark as millions of molecules react chemically to reveal delicate gradations of shadow density, traces from a momentary, microscopic interaction between light and celluloid. Each individual frame passes through my hands, in the process leaving fingerprints, dust and scratches all over their surfaces, each mark its own subtle articulation of the very subjective and fleeting impressions contained within and between those frames.

(Cross-Posted at The Slow Film Movement.)

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