Each and every form of miximal expression can trace its roots to historical schools of theory and practice, and so does visual media. Admittedly, the majority of this blog relies heavily on examples of visual media (what are quaintly known as film and television) to illustrate the most-popular forms of the miximal genre. While I’ve covered a few examples of music genres so far, such as mashups and remixes, and artistic techniques, such as collage, the wealth of implementations in the visual arts is vast and diverse and frequently eludes the casual observer.
Not unlike staring at the stars in the sky, it’s hard to tell a nebula from a galaxy—or, in this case, a cutup from a mashup—without the proper tools and background. Since this section of the blog is simply a quick overview, I’ll limit this to just a few examples for now.
Probing deep into the time tunnel well beyond the Dramatic Chipmunk remixes, we find a well-documented 1920s movement within Soviet film culture known as Soviet montage theory that attempts to officially define the various techniques of the cinematic montage. This school was arguably led by Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein, noted theorist and film director of such epics as Battleship Potemkin and Oktyabur (known in English as Ten Days That Shook the World). In Eisenstein’s writing A Dialectic Approach to Film Form, he explained that “montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots,” whereas, in the actual audience perception “each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other.” He promotes the idea that the meta creative meaning is not present in any of the individual clips or elemental artifacts but rather is born as a completely new idea altogether—meaning that it is transformational rather than purely a derivative work.
The film montage technique has been explored in so many wonderful and tragic ways, from the likes of the first Rocky film in 1976 that featured a “training” montage that falls far short of a definition of transformational, to the compelling car-accident attraction of director Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space that relies heavily on dreamlike (or nightmarish) acid-trip imagery to somehow create a narrative (of sorts).
The montage, like other creative techniques, has evolved to include new forms of technology and creative narrative. Compositing (placing a foreground image over a completely different background image source) and computer-enhanced alterations to images, such as morphing (for example, creating a series of computer images to create a smooth visual transition from one thing—such as a person’s face—into another thing—such as a werewolf’s face), have expanded the capabilities of filmmakers and visual artists alike.
Eisenstein’s theories are further refined by Michel Chion whose book Audio-Vision, Sound on Screen explores and ultimately defines the connection between audio and visual media. Canadian film theorist William C. Wees, emeritus professor of English at McGill University and the editor of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, explored the visual machinery of perception in his book Light Moving in Time: Studies in the Visual Aesthetics of Avant-Garde Film, in which he states, “there is the avant-garde’s traditional emphasis on vision, on film as ‘an art of the eye.’ On the other hand, there is the study of visual perception, the science of the eye. My goal is to bring both approaches to seeing—the cinematic and the perceptual—into a single discourse on vision and the visual art of avant-garde film.”
The Eisenstein theory of montage, the Chion deconstruction of the relationship between visual and audio media, and Wees’ cognition arguments on the “Gestaltists’ theoretical premise of an isomorphic relationship between perceived forms and specific electrical fields in the brain” are all important factors as he suggests these baseline understandings "...may tell us a great deal about the formal structures of visual art" so armed we endeavor toward the understanding of one early and pioneering superstar of miximal visual media: Negativland.
The group, whose work is described as both experimental music and sound collage, originated in Concord, California, in 1979 and later became the main subject of Craig Baldwin’s documentary Sonic Outlaws about the practice of “Culture Jamming or subverting the purity of traditional media.” Be sure to check out tabTV's essay on Culture Jamming as well as the video playlist.
Negativland’s visual works are typified by the combination of multiple layered and composited visuals, many from popular film and television programming, as well as still images, to create a multimedia visual canvas set to an equally mashed-up audio track.
Its video work titled Gimme the Mermaid features an angry-faced Ariel (the little mermaid) providing the visual face to a recorded phone tantrum of a very angry (reportedly) Disney lawyer yelling and threatening horrific consequences to the copyright violator portrayed in the video as Shiva. (Full disclosure: Disney brand violation is a particularly favorite genre of mine.)
In 1991, Negativland became the infamous test case for miximal corporate copyright infringement when it was sued by Island Records over the sampling of the original U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” In today’s terms, it is almost impossible to believe that Campbell Soup never sued Andy Warhol—if he were alive today, he’d surely be in hot water. Stay tuned: There is much, much more on Negativland found in my meMEguide under detournement.