negative space as rhetorical tool . . .


. . . for building anticipatory joy/excitement/angst . . .

. . . cinema is an art of resonance . . .

i like this film. i don't need to say more, but i was thinking
that if i wanted to talk w/ my students about negative space,
this film could provide us with an interesting exercise.

1.) screen the film.
2.) ask students to pay attention to how they feel as they watch.
3.) ask students to jot "affect" or "emotion" words as they watch.
4.) discuss.

i do realize that we might not consider the blank blue screen as negative space, and there's an entire Rothkoesque/Reinhardtian discussion to be had there. still, in maybe what we might call "traditional" film terms, the "narrative action" doesn't start until 33 seconds into the film. how do we tolerate, appreciate, interpret, feel about . . . experience this absence? i like to think we can get at it via affect and emotion (experience and reflection/articulation). maybe rethink negative space and its value (because we continue to privilege *action*, the *purpose* or *meaning* as though its context were irelevant or tangential). and so but i think it could be fun and instructive. and not dull. and not conventional. and what i especially enjoy is the very "mundane" nature of what we are seeing. but of course, it's not at all mundane; i would love to read the emotion words students associate with this film's traditional "action," especially given the anticipatory confusion/frustration. for me, it's joyful, vibrant, and it comes as a kind of relief, even though i am a fan of Rothko and color field imagery as a kind of action. but so is my relief due to the ways in which i have been prepared to view narrative action? are there ways of reshaping my inclinations to respond conventionally? would this be a valuable project?

lovelylittlefilm from Steven Ball at directlanguage.


Steven Ball said…
Dear Bonnie

Well yes I would start by resisting this idea of ‘negative space’ and the idea that the ‘narrative action’ in ‘traditional’ film terms doesn’t start until 33, or whatever, seconds in, because from the outset you are somehow conflating space and time. Of course the real answer is that the ‘narrative’ starts at 00 secs, if you want to view it in temporal terms, and that 33 seconds of apparently nothing (literally visually), is 33 seconds of an image of some space, which is never nothing and always inscribed politically, culturally and geographically. But that’s not visible in my video and this might be a problem of ‘negative’ space, which is to say that no space is truly negative, or politically, culturally, geographically, neutral or empty. The allusion to Rothko might also be an allusion to the sublime, which of course goes hand-in-hand with the mundane, the everyday and the uncanny (unheimlich) in a Freudian sense.

I think its interesting to think in terms of the problematic of the distinction between an articulation or representative reproduction of notions of space and time in this regard, something that has occupied me recently. I was recently reading something that Elizabeth Grosz wrote in ‘Space, time and perversion’ where she cited Irigary as claiming that (in the West) time is conceived as masculine (proper to a subject, a being with an interior) and space is associated with femininity (femininity being a form of externality to men). Time as the projection of the interior, conceptual, introspective, space is provisional, exterior, and negotiable. This is too much of an uncomfortably gender-based binary for my liking, but nonetheless an interesting way of locating the issue. Perhaps the ‘cinematic’ tends towards the temporal, the narrative, the ‘masculine’, in Irigary’s terms. Perhaps my little video, as not conforming to the cinematic narrative conventions, is more an investigation of spatial concerns, which nonetheless has inscribed in its temporal dynamics a narrative suspension. My work broadly is in that area of ‘experimental’ film and video which has a tradition of resisting, or suggesting an alternative trajectory to, the hegemony of narrative cinematic convention, to the point where sometimes the possibilities of those readings get overlooked.

But going back to the everyday, the mundane and the uncanny, and the fact that the video was made in the particularly everyday, for me, surroundings of the Southbank in London, close to my home, where there was a temporary water amusement/fountain set up and the video was made simply by shooting the blue of the sky with the occasional and increasing incursion of the fountain spurts.

Anyway, I thank you sincerely for your interest. Keep in touch.

i agree w/ your reading of my use of "negative space" as problematic. i have simply been exploring the matter recently and thinking in terms of what we *conventionally* ("we" being hideously overwraught and writ massive) think of as "narrative action" vs. other, remainder, excess, or negative. it's a very simplistic binary that my allusion to Rothko wanted to provoke.

so i dare say that your resistance is right on the mark. at the same time, i thought i might find pedagogical value in using the film to explore the matter with students in our work on visual rhetoric.

whatever the case, it's a lovely film!
Steven Ball said…
thanks :)
it's nice to be useful
well, and i simply love watching this film. it brings me joy and is like a simple reminder of the Good via the simple ;)