“Since non-places are there to be passed through, they are measured in units of time . . . They are lived through in the present . . . Everything proceeds as if space had been trapped by time”
(Marc Augé, Non-Places, 83)
i. for frequencies sake:
Lovers blinded by blue wavelengths and interspersing frequency, prehensile digits mime and gesture across the great hum of pixelated expanse. Young Canadian filmmaker Kurt Walker tells a story of the unseen and unseeing, forsaken and dematerialized life still resonant beneath the gleaming condensation and radiant glow of LCD screens. Riven with lossless and lossy files, love exists but it’s modulated and temporally indexed, spectral and weightless yet numerical and algorithmic. It signals and loops, feeds-back and computes, screen-snaps subversions against the horizon of an always imminent server shutdown and reboot.
s01e03’s title anticipates the film’s itinerant reality, what anthropologist Marc Augé conceptualizes as postmodernity’s proliferation of ‘non-places’: undistinguished and anonymizing spaces between particularities and localities; spaces which are interstitial, transitory or homogenous, nondescript and intervallic, such as airports, transit stations, freeways, parking garages, and alike. Unremarkable, the non-place title suggests almost an indifference, a label as merely an indicator for an organizational logic, to differentiate the indistinct, one episode from another, within an inexistent series or season. Writing in collaboration with Michelle Yoon (co-founder of the alternative distribution platform and cooperative, Kinet, which launched, supports and streams s01e03), Walker’s multi-medium experience mobilizes the unassuming and often quiet protest of everyday transience and mediation. Atomized and alienating cities carved out in ruthless cycles of disinvestment and dereliction, speculation and dispossession, displacement and gentrification. Urban spaces are fugitive, no longer built for people or habitability, often inhospitable save as manufactured vacancies for the inflated accruement of real estate capitalization.
Walker and Yoon draw upon the ready-made intertextuality of mobile and electronic conversation through its discretized distribution and multiple dislocated nodal modes of reception and amplification. Alienation and isolation are punctured and punctuated. Audiovisual communications and expressive text-icon and aural interludes entwine; auditory vibrations notify and chime. Chance and contingency redistributes within the bandwidth circumscribing silent and sonically transmitted nonverbal language; electronic and pulsating grids and networks induce an ambient surround shaping diegesis.
Blue interface, scan lines, chimes, [connecting . . . ]: s01e03 begins medias res. A conversation, as its typed, appears across the screen. Birds chirps fade in, the blue fades out. Without explanation or disambiguation, transition occasions. We are with the camera, fixed in front of a two-storied house across the street. It is evening on a lawn with a bicycle; two people in-frame hug goodbye. One departs via a bicycle and one departs via a car which just arrives.
The typeface of a ticket transparently overlays the house: information is conveyed regarding the passenger’s name, boarding time and gate. A blue intertitle returns with an ominous and deep-tone warning: [ sever shutdown: 24 hours remain ].
The camera drifts and we become passengers, traveling along the vicissitudes of a ride to the airport. The plot is less linear than modular: s01e03 exists somewhere between the perpetual loss of a dying enfleshed and lived world and the ever ephemeral online world and virtual-(e)scapes of multi-player Final Fantasy XI.
Walker and Yoon let the movements and rhythms of spaces unfold, the automatic contrivance of lens-based framing feels neither forced or awkward. Images are composed and afforded through various improvised tracking shots of urban spaces and architectural interstices. Concrete behemoths and angular structures intersect with the wide framed vistas of transportation’s gliding, incidental reflective glass overlays and panorama. Seamlessly weaving 16mm, digital video and video game, makeshift chyrons, mobile devices and attendant GUIs entangle in a common visual vernacular, an increasingly undifferentiated drift. Various interfaces within the virtual world of Final Fantasy XI and the icons and graphics of communicative technologies super-impose, revealing the cinematic form of everyday life: of shifting surfaces, transitions, intersecting planes of existence, scintillating, refracting and scattering lights.
iii. machines do dream
We begin to float, cast-off by the camera’s assumed perspective of the woman in transit, propelled as we slip towards an omniscience nearly oneiric. The uncertainty in character perspective and ambiguity in coordination between image and text, sender and receiver, sound and image, imbues unfolding sequences with less a narrative logic than pure movements: spatiotemporal contraction and swelling, bleeding and blurring. One movement flows into another as the camera’s perspective disanchors from a stable frame of reference or point of view.
We find ourselves surveying across both virtual and actual landscapes becoming more undifferentiated. Solidity — which in a filmic world typically indexes or can be inferred as a direct link between the lens and the point of view of a character, an established referent or environment — becomes more fluid and indeterminate. An inflection marks a phase-transition where the conferred power and solidity of an image to inform meaning loses ground or stability, gravity gives way and the image becoming liquid and eventually vaporous. s01e03 is often vaporous as role-playing avatars bleed into images from the concrete world in movement, manifesting the gaseous state of the camera’s autonomous conscious, as philosopher and cinephile Gilles Deleuze theorized.1 The image of movement becomes a fluxion of indeterminacy as the ground and cognitive assurance of a subject-making link between image and perspective, action and resolution, destabilizes, disarticulates and decoheres.
Images compile simply but are not simple. They are less immobile settings or scenes than well-crafted like hinges: they join and revolve, fasten and dovetail, vibrate and syncopate. Walker’s pictorial syntax, analogue and digital machinima infuses both contemporaneous and vestigial traces, sampling and inter-knitting multiple audiovisual mediums with hyper and supplemental-textual epistolary. It is striking the near complete absence of verbally articulated dialogue in s01e03. Though the film is replete with words, typeface, glyphs and graphemes, its unspeaking reminds us how unutterable, unenunciated and ineffable love often can be. The verbal absence speaks not louder than spoken words, but with less pretension. On the ineffable, philosopher Stanley Cavell writes, “For the word is silent to us; the silence is merely forever broken. Poems and music incorporate that silence when they speak the world.”2 In s01e03, verbal absence speaks not louder than words but silence and gaps as the wor(l)d.
It is hard to resist invocation of the great silent film era love stories, their delicate and agile editing and artistry, mime and metonym, fragments and close-ups, intertitle and textual overlays. Walker’s lover’s etude exudes the formal poetics of the 1920s Epstein’s Coeur Fidèle and Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Lovers. Yet s01e03 is neither tribute nor throw-back, neither imitation nor reproduction. Like the aforementioned silents and exemplary love stories across all mediums, s01e01 is a love story which transcends generations across spaces and temporalities, yet it is also one which critically inflects the indices of its own time, right on algorithmic time.
s01e03 is hypnagogic: it exists in an episodic liminality. The seventh art inhabits, inheres and expands through its computational children. Love is a melancholic blue yet expansive, time is interminably suspended: between sleep and awake, immediacy and mediation, between bodies and screens, between actual and virtual. Spaces and places reverse, they are neither here nor there; somewhere is, is anywhere, nowhere is now here. Like cinema, like dreams, like love, like remembering a dream where one is in love, everything doubles, every place is always elsewhere, unceasing, ungraspable, already multiple and boundless.
1. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I, 2007.
2. Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed, 1997, 150-1.
All images are stills of s01e03 by Kurt Walker (CAN/US, 16mm, Digital Video, Screen-capture, 57 mins, 2020). Courtesy of the author.
The film is available for viewing at http://kinet.media/movies/s01e03.