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“Lossless” SIGNALS FROM BETWEEN by Rebecca Rafferty

January 15, 2014
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Limited as we are, humans will forever grasp at some intangible and possibly nonexistent mode of perfection — a perfect experience, or perfect conveyance of action, of story, and of meaning. As we use technology to hook and drag ourselves forward in time, it provides enhanced tools for interpreting and conveying our experiences. But sometimes, as technology becomes more widely available, sacrifices in quality are made in order to spare expense. In “Lossless,” an installation of experimental film and digital works by filmmakers Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin, acquired in 2011 by George Eastman House and currently on display in the museum’s Entrance Gallery, the unconsidered space between technological touchstones is explored through bits of visual fascination.

As we continue our unending correction of our tools, we seldom linger to consider the transitional spaces between what we used before and our bright current manner of interpreting our time here. There is more information floating around in energetic wavelengths than we have the ability to focus on or take in, and though our recording devices may act as extensions of our senses, only a limited output of information can be experienced in the present, digital format.

Baron and Goodwin point out that everything is organic and temporal. While may believe each new media pushes us further toward an immortal record of art, their work underscores that when we transfer data to a new mass-produced and ultimately fragile state, some of it is lost, compressed, distorted. In this exhibit, the artists dwell in the playground territory between states, invisible to and disregarded by most.

In “Lossless No. 1,” Baron and Goodwin attempt to visualize the difference between film and digital video by isolating a particularly powerful sequence of 48 frames from “The Wizard of Oz,” scanned from a 35mm film print, but also extracted from a DVD release of the film. The artists then digitally subtracted the DVD frames from the scanned film frames, leaving an image that reveals the difference between the analog and digital formats. The result is 31 seconds of Dorothy’s ruby slippers clicking together, over and over, the shoes, her legs, and her dress a shimmering beacon, an immortal moment of intense wishing.

“Lossless No. 2″ is three minutes of heavily compressed digital video, from Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s 1943 film “Meshes of the Afternoon.” Haunting scenes flow together as if a surreal painting has come to life. The dreamlike movement of a woman’s arm unzips the scene to reveal her face and bust, and a loaf of bread becomes a tunnel that a figure walks through, all to buzzing, beeping, jarring segments from Teiji Ito’s 1959 soundtrack, edited by Baron and Goodwin.

Compression lends a similar effect on “Lossless No. 5,” which is a three-minute digital video of a water ballet film by Busby Berkeley. Bodies become flowering abstractions, blooming and undulating forms slowly twirl and revolve. One scene resembles a chain of duplicating bacteria, snaking around each time it doubles its numbers. The watery, almost kaleidoscopic effect is ethereal and mysterious, slow flowing movements giving the sense of a sacred ritual.

In “Lossless No. 3,” the keyframes — reference frames that define the starting and ending points of smooth transitions — from a digital version of John Ford’s 1956 Western “The Searchers” have been removed, resulting in a fluid movement, “unanchored from the original photographic print,” per provided information. Horseback riders slide along the landscape, trailing pixilated fragments of themselves, as if leaving traces of their presence on the scene. A man turns his head and his lips run along his face as if smeared with make-up, blocky clouds slide across the sky, and splashy cubes are kicked up when the riders cross a river.

Perhaps the most abstracted result of Baron and Goodwin’s toying with digital media is “Lossless No. 4,” derived from Ernie Gehr’s 1970 “Serene Velocity.” The picture has been removed, leaving only the vectors that describe apparent movement within the frame. Here, a black void is filled with a grid of white dots from which white lines are anchored and shift about hypnotically. This is the digital medium, stripped down to its skeleton and exposing the formal qualities of the film. It is much like encountering not a foreign language, but an inhuman language; a language meant for machines, though created by humans.

Essentially, Baron and Goodwin create shifting pop-art portraits of the white noise of our electronic experiences. They succeed in pointing out to us what has become commonplace, yet unrecognizable as interesting phenomena to consumers, just as Andy Warhol recorded and distorted the logo- and icon-riddled banality that had spread like rot over an America drunk and lulled by the war teat. This work smartly reflects the mesmerizing dance and confounding role that media performs for us.

The nature of everything is to pass away; the nature of humans is to resist that. We may never find the trick or solution to this great dilemma, but we continue to pursue it in stops and starts, like that pair of ruby heels, clicking away wishes the dark.



Through February 23George Eastman House, 900 East Ave.371-3361,eastmanhouse.orgTuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.| $5-$12
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All That Glitters: final lecture notes

December 12, 2013
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Thanks for playing along with this experiment. I count it a success even though we only covered about a third of the material I hoped to cover. I want to go over some of the promised material before it’s over.

I regret that we never got to the homemade piezo-crystal contact microphone. It’s mostly easy: the hard part is getting your crystals to grow large enough to be useful. The musician Leafcutter John has an excellent article on growing your own crystals for work in sound. I was planning to show you his technique—check his website if you want to try it.

Let’s talk about a few things about light works. We’ll start with reflection, move on to refraction, discuss mirages. We’ll conclude with a bit about rainbows.

Let’s start with a question. Can you see light as it moves through space? You see the light emerge from this laser pointer and then again when it hits the wall. What’s going on between these two points? Now, imagine a larger system: light streaming from the sun. The daylight sky is full of light: light bouncing off clouds, light hanging on particulates, etc. But the night sky is dark. Space is dark. Why don’t you see the light when you look into the sky that you know is full of sunlight streaming by?

[Sidebar: there’s a nice essay on Air Light by Lawrence Weschler]

Let’s say I have another laser pointer and I cross the beams. Will we see that co-incidence? Will the rays interfere with one another? No.

This leads to a classic debate in the 17th century between our friend Newton the alchemist and Christian Huygens. Newton believed light a particle (the corpuscular theory), and Huygens believed light a wave (traveling through aether). Who was right? Yes, both. How can that be? What evidence can we see in our world?

Does anybody have a mirror? Ok, I’ll use this camera. Oh, or the silver apple on the back of my phone. Can I see the beam as it bounces off the mirror? Yes. Why? What are we seeing? I don’t know exactly, but it’s probably diffusion from something on the surface or possibly diffraction. Does diffraction even work with lasers? Not sure. But we can see an interaction between the surface of the metal and the lattice of the metal.

So we bounce this beam off the mirror. We can get closer or further, change the angle, etc. and it behaves this way. Is anybody surprised by this behavior? No, good.

OK, I poured a little bit of my protein drink into this water bottle so we can see the beam. Looks like I put too much in, but let’s see if I can show you. See, the angle of the beam changes with the angle of incidence. From above it’s negligible, and it becomes more pronounced as we increase the angle. What’s going on here?

The light seems to be moving more slowly in water. And then it emerges from the material at the same angle—and speed—as it entered. How does that work? And why does it seem to take a longer path. Would you expect that?

I hope to show you by the end that reflection and refraction are really the same thing. These media absorb the light and then re-emit it. The photons are absorbed exciting the material to the point of emitting another electron. Crazy game.

I want to talk about earthquakes for a minute—this will help you appreciate how weird waves are and that waves have properties that inform the weirdness of light. Who has been through an earthquake (all). Do you remember the 1989 quake in San Francisco? Why do you think that the Marina was destroyed while the rest of the city was mostly ok. It wasn’t because the quake was closer to the Marina, rather it has to do with the material those buildings were built on.

Waves travel differently in different media. A loose, less dense material will increase the amplitude of a transverse/shear wave. What does that look like?

Compare the laser beam traveling  through dense substrates such as water and glass.

This illustrates something called the Principle of Least Time. Most vectors travel as efficiently as possible through media. Generally that means that they will take the shortest path. But here we see the light path bending on its way, This does not seem efficient .What’s going on?

Let’s the example that Feynman gave to a room full of young men in 1962. There is a pretty girl in a boat yelling for help. You need to choose the quickest path to get to her. Given that you can run faster on land than you can swim in the water, how will you go? Straight of course. Or maybe you would sit on the bank and calculate it very carefully.

Now, let’s look at the mirage. I’m talking about the water that you think you see on the road on a sunny day. Is the water there? No. What are you seeing?

OK, imagine a mirror is on the same road. What would that look like? Water, because it’s reflecting the sky. Same with the mirage except that it’s not reflecting the sky exactly. It’s a refraction, and the light is moving in a weird curve. This is the path of least time. wtf? How does that work?

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Today: Glass Creative Collective Symposium

November 20, 2013
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in art, work

I co-authored a proposal to work on a Google Glass project at CalArts. Today the team will present to the Google alongside colleagues from RISD, USC, NYU and UCLA. Here is a transcript of my talk.

Thanks, Google for this peek into the future! I personally would vote for this functionality to be actually embedded. My students groan when I tell them that I’m waiting on my networked molar. That certainly would be convenient.

I will say a few more words about Joseph Cornell. You know him from his sculptural boxes but he also cut experimental films from found footage. Monsieur Phot is made from a sequence of Sterograms from the late 19th century. Cornell cuts the stereo images in half and creates a sequence with street urchins, a Harp player, chandeliers, gaslamps, horse-cars, a sumptuous ballroom, etc. Suddenly as extraordinary and colorful pheasant bursts out of this leaden imagery and a photographer dressed in the style of the 1870 tries to catch it on a glass plate. He fails.

Follow Cornell one more step. The photographer who tries to capture that pheasant winds up with something. He failed to catch the pheasant, but in something strange and lovable came from trying. His desire to capture something as extraordinary as a colorful pheasant is familiar to all of us who work in new technology. Just as familiar is that moment of squeezing the bulb just a little too late.

We have also been talking about changes in how we consume media. Until recently we had a garage full of negatives and hand-printed photographic books made by our friend Morrie Markoff. He shot rolls of film on trips to Europe and Mexico, selected the best, and printed them into books that he made. Some of these books are 70 years old now. They look crisp, the paper is bright, thanks to his care in producing them the images remain as he produced them. He can look them over on his 100th birthday this January and reflect on how -he- has changed, not the media.

Our consumption of media is nothing like Morrie’s. My media is like pebbles dropped in a pool. I send ripples to my people all appropriately placed in circles I defined precisely for this purpose. There is no album, only ripples.

So that I don’t leave you on that melancholy note I’ll tell you a quick love story. I watched plenty of TV when I was a kid. Every day I watched Star Trek and Gilligan’s Island. I was weirdly sensitive to the quality of the image: I knew the difference between the texture of a classy/high value show shot on film and others (Soap Operas!) that were shot on video. I fell in love with the silky image without all that upscale flicker or grain. I didn’t care that she lived on wrong side of town.

You can’t know the new technology until it’s used. You can probably see already that we used Glass in the wrong way. The project grew out of constraints and we chose to use this clean new technology to share the messy images. Join the Hangout and you will see paint covering the nice clean video image and sound derived from the sound of brushes and fingers on glass. I’ll leave it to you to report on the color and habit of the bird that got away.

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Rebecca’s introduction: Glass Creative Collective Symposium: Venice, CA

November 20, 2013
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Rebecca Baron

I wanted to talk briefly about the origins of our project. My original proposal was to make a Super–8 movie based on an unrealized scenario written by Joseph Cornell called M. Phot. The scenario features a photographer who is taking pictures around New York City with a view camera. Each time he ducks under the cloth, a brilliantly colored pheasant runs through the frame, but he’s never able to capture it on film.

When we started meeting together, we realized for a variety of reasons that we wanted to make something else, but that idea of pursuing the ephemeral stayed with us throughout the process with Joseph Cornell figuring as a kind of patron saint of our project.

So, we decided that we didn’t want to make something practical. We didn’t want to make a tool. We wanted to see how we could use Glass in all its specificity to make something expressive. What you see in the video behind me are some glimpses of what we decided to try. We wanted to work materially and have that materiality meet the virtual world of Glass. Partly because Glass frees up your hands. So let’s not then use our hands to type on a computer keyboard or touch screen, but let’s touch materials and this is how we came to the idea of doing paint-on-glass animation in relation to video streamed by Glass.

We wanted to use the networking capability of Glass as well, the idea being that one person out in the field somewhere would stream video to someone in the studio who would paint into or in relation to the video image and then pass on the video image plus the painted layer they created to another user who would then create an additional layer and so on. We imagined doing this as a site-specific installation, maybe painting on windows around an intersection or something like that but we had a lot of trouble getting the hangouts to work. After some brief remarks are made by the rest of the team, we ‘re going to try a networked demo here with the help of the staff here. So cross your fingers. But first, I’d like to introduce Doug Goodwin who was a collaborator on the project who’s going to say a few words.

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Performance setup at Google

November 18, 2013
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performance elevation


Hi everyone,

Here is a quick sketch of different ways to intervene with the image and how that image might appear in a Google Hangout. Note how you can create a Circle/Hangout four yourself and have a video chat between your computer’s camera and Glass. Like this:

  1. Create a new Circle/Hangout in Chrome
  2. Join the Hangout in Glass
  3. Start a video-capable chat client on your computer (iChat, Messages, Adium
  4. Activate your computer’s video camera
  5. join the Hangout on your computer
  6. Open an image, video or the Hangout—fill the screen of your laptop
  7. Mount a sheet of glass between the screen and your head
  8. paint on the glass, capture the process with Glass

Please try it out and let me know if it works!

Now, how do we put all the signals together into a layered composite? I’m leaning towards an analog solution: i.e. projecting the feeds on a screen and shooting that with another camera.

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TONIGHT: Lossless opening at the Eastman House

November 14, 2013
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in art


From November 14, 2013 through February 16, 2014 in Entrance Gallery


Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin. Lossless, 2008. George Eastman House. Courtesy the artists.

Lossless (2008) is an installation project by Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin that explores the possibilities of the transformation and distortion of images—and ultimately the creation of new ones—within the digital realm.

Lossless explains in vivid and eloquent terms the impermanence and fragility of the digital image. Given the current transition from analog to digital in the creation and exhibition of moving images, Baron and Goodwin’s installation has achieved the status of a poetic manifesto on the issues surrounding the radical transformation of a mode of visual expression. The technological aspects of this transformation are obvious, but their consequences go far beyond the replacement of an apparatus by another one.

Los Angeles-based filmmaker Rebecca Baron’s work has screened around the world at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the New York Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, the Viennale, the Whitney Museum of Art, and many other venues. Now teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, Baron has also taught at Massachusetts College of Art and Harvard University. Douglas Goodwin’s films have been exhibited internationally at the Toronto International Film Festival, London Film Festival, Pacific Film Archive, Frankfurt Film Museum, and many other venues. He has taught at CalArts, MassArt, and Emerson College.

Lossless was acquired by the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House as part of the museum’s collection in 2011.

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Super Bowl worthy!

February 12, 2013
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in work

This little fantasy shows a gamine fetching arrival information on her Nexus 4 smartphone. She runs down the stairs to catch a Redline train arriving at Metro’s Wilshire/Vermont station.

It’s a fantasy on at least two levels. Metro doesn’t have wireless connectivity in the stations (pass–she just entered the station). But most importantly the app isn’t finished yet! I am right in the middle of writing the application to push alerts to Google Transit. Give me a couple of weeks, ok?


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