UnMovie is a weblication consisting of a Stage (a chat room) and a Stream (an endless flow of images, without beginning, without end, without any narrative line). On the Stage five bots (A.I. personalities) float around in virtual space and talk to each other. Often you cannot make sense out of their dialogues, which makes it a comic absurd 'bot dialogue'. The bots refer to famous people and the bot dialogues are based on texts written by these people: dogen (based on the learning of a zen master from the 13th century), drella (Andy Warhol's philosophy), geisha (based on conversations from a cyberlover's chat log), tark (A. Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time), nietzsche (from the book Beyond Good and Evil) and dylan (all song lyrics by Bob Dylan). The visitor's avatar can mingle with the bots and talk to them if they want to listen to you (sometimes they try to avoid you). Your words are added to the large database out of which the bots compose their sentences and in this way you influence the bot dialogues.
The Stream is made out of a database of 7,500 video clips taken from the Internet. Each video clip is linked to a keyword; when that keyword is used in the Stage, the video clip appears on the Stream. The script for the selection and editing of the videoclips is determined by the dynamics of the dialogues on the Stage.
The artists want to make the audience part of 'a cybercinematic experience that compresses past, present and future into pure time, like existence time itself'. Unmovie was influenced by the philosophy of Deleuze, who introduced the concepts of 'image-mouvement' and 'image-temps'. Deleuze himself was influenced by the work of Henri Bergson, who talked about 'la durée', (this concept is difficult to translate into English, therefore I prefer to keep the original word in French). It's useful to quickly introduce Bergson's idea about time, before elaborating on Deleuze's philosophy.
Science gave us a false conception of time, 'le temps spatialisé' as Bergson calls it: time that can be divided into separate moments (with a notion of 'before' and 'after'). This is because we add spatial 'images' to time. Bergson declares that "dans l'espace, et dans l'espace seulement, il y a une distinction nette de parties extérieures les unes aux autres." (In space, and in space only, there is a clear distinction between exterior parts in relation to one another). On the other side, there is 'la durée réelle', as the philosopher calls it: concrete, living time that cannot be mathematically measured. Bergson states that "(La durée pure) is the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our Ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states. (The Ego need not) forget its former states; it is enough that in recalling these states, it does not set them alongside another, but forms both the past and the present states into an organic whole, as happens when we recall the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another." (Bergson cited in Gunn, 2002). A stream of consciousness so to speak, in which past, present and future are not forced into a linear timeline, but move dynamically into and away from each other.
Now, according to Deleuze, movies until the 1950s were based on the idea of image-mouvement (Classic cinema), while after the Second World War, filmmakers began experimenting with the idea of image-temps (modern cinema, including among others Jean-Luc Godard). Hollywood productions which are still made today also fall under the category of image-mouvement. Image-mouvement sees the separate image in relation to the preceding and subsequent image, the image is 'trapped' in the deterministic bodice of the movie. Frame after frame cause-effect chains are weaven into each other: 'Actions are linked to perceptions and perceptions develop into actions' (Deleuze, 1990, p.51). The question one poses with every image is: What shall we see in the next image? Images represent a sequence of actions and time is 'installed' in the movie by editing the images/actions one after another (24 subsequent frames express 1 second in a movie).
With the concept of image-temps, present, past and future are compressed into one infinite moment. The image is no longer related to an action, but to a virtual, mental image: 'Instead of a linear development, we get a circuit in which the two images are constantly chasing one another round a point where real and imaginary become indistinguishable'. (Deleuze, p.52). The contemplation of the image itself is made central, not the direction in which the image points (towards a final ending in the story). While the image-mouvement is firmly placed between past and future events, the image-temps is the representation of time itself, it is pure time. This demands a whole new perspective on the image: 'Now, when we find ourselves in these purely optical and aural situations, not only does action and thus narrative brake down, but the nature of perceptions and affections changes, because they enter a completely different system form the sensory-motor system of "classic" cinema.' (Deleuze, p.51).
Stage and Stream are both examples of images-temps. The title UnMovie (ungoing movie) itself points to the breaking down of time sequences, out of which 'pure' time is born in this ungoing flow of impressions. The visitor sees this endless stream of ideas and images without any causal, temporal or theoretical coherence. Past, present and future brought together in one moment (it is not a coincidence that texts by historical famous people are used). 'This would be less a function of reality than a function of remembering, of temporalization: not exactely a recollection, but 'an invitation to recollect'. (Deleuze cited in Totaro, 1999, p.5). The fact that historically important personalities are put on stage, is in fact an invitation to remember these people. According to Thomas Wall (2004) the image-temps is fed by the idea of maximum potentiality and insecurity: 'It is a complex-surplus of possible connections. (...) Not a state of things, the milieu will always have been the purely modified, the purely unreliable, questionable, complex, and problematic.' (Wall, p.3). This aspect can also be found in the Stage and Stream. On the Stage, visitors can add data that influences the bot dialogues and can produce new speech combinations (the purely modified). The Stream shows video clips, but the visitor can never predict which movies will follow and how to interpret the sequence (the purely unreliable, questionable, complex, and problematic).
This element of flexibility and unpredictability is also used in the development of the UnMovie project. For every exhibition a new setting is built with different objects or sculptures. For DEAF04, a reflecting sculpture called the Japanese teahouse was built. Inside, the visitor found himself in a quiet space where the sunlight played with the reflecting walls of the sculpture.
The interactive aspect in UnMovie lies more in the act of contemplation and reflection than active physical movements. This is very clear when being in the Japanese teahouse: there are no screens, no information, no beamers, you can just relax and chill out from the 'overstimulation' in the media-saturated exhibition space. You can have a cigarette by the window and enjoy the only stream of daylight that is allowed in the exposition space. In a way, while being in the Japanese teahouse you become part of an image-temps in 'real time'.
The artists wanted to present images-temps as an alternative way of looking at images, as images-non-mouvement or un-moving images that result in an... un-movie. The quality of the art piece lies beyond the physical presentation, in the mental image-inary space where Buddhist philosophy, Bergson & Deleuze meet each other in a long-streched moment of time.
More information about Unmovie: http://www.unmovie.net
Interview with Philip Pocock & Gregor Stehle on the 9th of November 2004 at the DEAF04 festival.
Deleuze, G. (1990). Negotiations: 1972-1990. (pp.46-61). New York: Columbia University Press.
Gunn, J.A. (2002). Bergson and his philosophy. http://www.blackmask.com
Wall, T.C. (2004). The Time-Image: Deleuze, Cinema, and Perhaps Language. http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol8-2004/n23wall
Totaro, D. (1999). Gilles Deleuze's Bergsonian Film Project.