transcending the need for story (or how I dumped the Documentary)

Posted: January 7, 2010 in All and Sundry, MA Media Studies, new york

Among the equally interesting and cutting-edge courses offered in the course listing of the MA Media Studies program at the New School where I’m currently a graduate student on my first year, two practice production courses have obsessed me. I look forward in anticipation for the day when I will finally be  able to register in these courses because somehow these courses embody what I really wanted to explore passionately for the last 5 years or so, except that I didn’t get the chance to explore these interests further back in Davao because I was so caught up with working for a living. Just recently when I begun to examine my life, forcibly to say the least because I had to for my academic goals plan last semester, did I realize that I have actually begun (at the surface) exploring these media art practices that I am currently wanting to engage in.

When I entered the Media Studies program last August, I was very sure of my plans, my focus: I will follow what I wrote in my study objectives and personal statement as part of my university application, I will follow the proposal I made for IFP when I attended the research training last year. In other words, I was confident that I knew what I wanted to focus on. I wanted to focus on the Documentary and Interactive Multimedia Storytelling. Period.

But as most cautionary tales of graduate school would have warned me, I slowly found myself in the middle of the semester feeling lost and caught in a dilemma. Having Creative Writing as my background by virtue of an undergraduate degree, for years I was caught up with storytelling. I wrote fiction and creative nonfiction, I even went into journalism. And even went into photography that always has to tell a story, such as photojournalistic practice. These experiences influenced my decision to pursue the documentary. But there was something about the documentary that was very limiting to me once I started in the New School. The idea of capturing reality always under the framework of storytelling or constantly framing it within a narrative frame, following almost the literary standards, felt to me like roaming around a cage. I wanted to pursue more of what images and sound bring when taken out of context, outside of the narrative frame, how they distort perception, how they betray/validate expectations. I wanted to transcend the narrative frame, leap out of its limiting fences, and just explore the unknown depths of storytelling. At least those unknown to me.

To some extent, I wanted to efface the trappings of the creative writer in me. Erase the mannered meaning-making, and look beyond the story the way it’s conceived. Because there is more to story than the creative writer. There is more to story than the filmmaker. Despite that storytelling as a cultural practice is still almost/often associated with them.

It even amuses me to have an MFA Creative Writing student (one of Johnnypanic’s classmates) tell me during one of those accidental coffee sessions with J that “wow, we’re still in the process of mastering what we can do on the page!” after I told him about my plans to explore interactive multimedia storytelling. As if the page is only defined within the bounds of the book! I secretly thought how amazingly limited his view is.

I discovered that sound is storytelling too. The noise of the subway train. The people murmuring behind me. The crowd in the Yankee stadium. Those audio experiences can be stories too.

And so despite that it was difficult to let go of the documentary just because it is easy and apparent to connect such practice with social change, development, all the other pre-requisites one must show a passion for in order to be called a social leader in IFP standard, I let go of that track, and completely plunged myself in unknown waters.

(One major factor that made me decide though was the fact that I also have a limited number of credits to take within the 2-year period. I have to make the best of my stay here, pursue something I’ve always wanted to do but never got the chance to do back home.)

But the course that was really responsible for making me decide to explore more of what I know and don’t know has something to do, ironically, with a word I often encounter in Creative Writing especially in Poetry. The word is Synaesthesia, “the cross-wiring of sensory perceptions.” Poetry tries to capture or embody this experience often, as literary critics say, with success.

But it is quite wonderful to know that words fail you too. Truly, synaesthesia is best explored in really dealing with sense perceptions in the different media. This is what the course on Projects in Multi-Sensorial Spaces offered to me–a window crowded with possibilities but not too cramped for me not to be able to breathe.

Here is the description:

Synaesthesia, broadly defined as the cross-wiring of sensory perceptions or a synthesis of the arts, will be the lens through which students will be encouraged to design and produce innovative media works that explore our relationship to the built environment and the urban experience. The course is organized as a theory and production seminar for which students will produce art installations with a heavy emphasis on intersensory experience. Lectures and readings will focus on models of perception, relational aesthetics, and phenomenological thought as they relate to the synaesthetic inquiry. Work reviewed in the lectures will include selections from Neo-Concrete Art, Kinetic Art, Fluxus, and New Media Art, among others. Assignments will include selected readings and group discussions, a series of cumulative digital media projects, and a final installation art piece to be exhibited at the end of the semester. Students will have the opportunity to use different kinds of video, audio, and multimedia production tools for project assignments.

But even then, it is still difficult to shake off the need for story without falling easily on the comfort zone of Creative Writing pillows. 🙂 Perhaps then I might be able to explore more and be crazily experimental with this other course I am also passionate about called Web Technologies in Media Projects. The sample works are mind-blowing and refreshing that I am very sure I won’t be bored and disappointed. Here is the description:

With the proliferation of Web 2.0 and mobile internet devices, network media technology is increasingly redefining ideas of community, intellectual property, privacy, mapping, the “public sphere”, etc.. In this course, we will engage the shifting digital landscape by creating dynamic web, video, audio, text, image, and installation projects. Students will learn the syntax and application of a variety of advanced web technologies such as Actionscript, PHP, RSS, XML, streaming video, and databases. We will draw inspiration from a range of artists/works, including Cory Arcangel, Siebren Versteeg, Jacqueline Goss, Judd Morrisey’s “The Jew’s Daughter”, Zach Layton’s “Network Sonification”, Cat Mazza’s “Knit Pro”, “The Telegarden”, and Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken.”

Unfortunately, this course isn’t offered this semester and not even last Fall 2009. I have no idea if it will be offered at all throughout my stay here. The other course on Multi-Sensorial Spaces is offered this semester Spring 2010 though BUT it has a pre-requisite which I haven’t taken yet but which I am registered in for this semester. I have tried sending a query if this is a regular offering. Hopefully, it is. Because really, I am so excited to finally be able to pursue something like this for my thesis project. So help me God!

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