Some sections of papers by students about compositions created in the class.
TOUCHING PLAY:Utilizing Framing to Sensorialize Object Interaction
by Jana Ghimire
In this group’s own proposal, they write that, “when looking back at our childhoods, we all agreed that the memories we have are vivid, close up, abstracted snippets of objects and time.” Before having read their proposal at all—and right after I had first seen the work—I felt both excited and perplexed: Though I had just had an overwhelm of colour and sound, this experience also struck me as remarkably consistent and familiar. How was it, exactly, that they so beautifully called forth that elusive, childlike feeling? In exploring this awe of mine, I will specifically be reflecting on the artists’ approach to framing and closeups in relationship to their thematic goals.
Awash in a haze of fuzzy fibres, dancing lights, and shiny plastics, this piece’s first person perspective makes each clip border on ASMR-obsessive in tone. Enhanced by a disorienting, asynchronous soundtrack of carnival music, the experience of viewing this piece leaves us feeling simultaneously entranced and horrified. Like the sacchrine terror of a clown, these shapes are compelling and the vibrant colours are sickly sweet. All of this is enhanced by the decisions made for the camera frame, which is sometimes so creeping in its panning that it almost takes on a theatrical personality of its own.
In contemplating further, I came to realize this may have some relationship to the tempo of the clips. Most clips last roughly the same amount of time; approximately 5 to 12 seconds each. This consistent tempo of cuts has an equalizing effect: No one clip is particularly distinct from the next. With such a homogenous strategy, sequencing decisions become much less important than the overarching, enveloping blur. As I will come to discuss throughout, the adamant adherence to this expectation becomes both a forte and a possible drawback for the overall piece.
Returning to the camera’s behaviour, what is so remarkable about their framing technique is that it does an excellent job of evoking the intimacy of material exploration. The viewer is given just enough time to mull over the satisfying stickiness of glue, the thrill of a boardgame, or the mindless joy of an aimless scribble. It feels as though we are greedily stumbling through the items on hand, and this is enhanced by the voyeuristic wandering of the camera’s gaze.
In presenting a variety of objects, it does not become about a particular symbolic meaning of these handful of items. Instead, the often wandering frame (again, mentioned earlier) takes time to revel in the shapes and textures of each item. In this way, the artists have set up an interlocking dynamic between the objects, wherein the comforting commonalities of each one seem to merge into a nostalgic crescendo. We feel as if we are in a dreamstate. Because of these decisions, the work is not about examining the intricacies of each fascinating unit. In lieu of that, the objects’ interdependent similarities spur association and ignite the viewer’s imagination. Indeed, we watch as one oddity follows the next; sometimes the item is as self-evidently childlike as a doll, other times it is just a nondescript bundle of string.
On the whole, a mysterious anxiety builds up overtime; the ultracloseups always leave some visual context just out of reach. These closeups are repetitive in that we get the sense that the unexpected is lurking beyond the frame. At 0:40, for example, we cannot see the figurines’ upper bodies in full, and our curiosity is never fully indulged. While this work coyly teases us in this same way time and time again, any prospective annoyance is counterbalanced by the tactfully prompt tempo of the snippets. And though the artists’ never once employ a jump scare, the cameraman’s occasionally shaky grip lends a suspenseful, human element. These subtle choices are enough to keep our bodies viscerally engaged. I found my own body craning towards the screen before me.
Overall, this work makes good use of audiovisual’s treasured ability to evoke the familiar. That each closeup—which is just that, so very close up—enables us viewers to suspend our disbelief. The viewer is encouraged to implicate their own body in the sensorial landscape being shown to them: We imagine that these curious fingers are our own. Professor Kitsos has pointed out that fingers being in the frame is often unnecessary, even a bit lazy. However, in this case, their repeated inclusion absolutely lends itself to the thematic intentions (childhood play). But, more importantly, this decision sets up an interpretive guideline for the piece; wherein objects are to be experienced rather than objectively studied. That eerie, borderline phenomenological approach is a powerful one because it expertly triggers the viewer’s own memories, which then merge with their subjective interpretation of the work.
Having now walked through many of the successful uses of framing and closeups in this piece, I will mention one area that could have been pushed further. Regarding the revelation of space, I am not certain where the artists’ intended this to be. If I had to guess, without being instructed by the proposal, I would have suspected the blue glitter moment at 2:30, where the hand approaches the camera. (This is a very interesting, low-tech strategy that employs depth of field on a simple cameraphone. I also experimented with this for my own group’s videowork, using an egg.) Perhaps if this clip’s duration were exaggerated, it could have been a welcome contrast to the others. As a visual artist, I appreciated that the low resolution actually enhanced the interesting texture, but I do wonder if there may have been other opportunities to lean into that type of ambiguous, non-figurative abstraction.
Much in the vein of the late Mike Kelley, this work’s pinnacle success lies not in its ability to mimic the experience of childhood, but rather in its perfectly creepy depiction of a definitively adult psyche which can merely reminisce on childhood play. In other words, there is a bittersweet uncanny in trying to replicate that naive, exploratory relationship with all the satisfying textures of one’s world. Bolstered by the disorienting carnival music and hyperbolic oversaturation of bright hues, the artists’ suggest that their nostalgia is ultimately more tragic than it is innocent.