THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS
A DIGITAL INTERPRETATION OF INDEPENDENCE
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON
OCTOBER 7, 2007
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS
A DIGITAL INTERPRETATION OF INDEPENDENCE
THE INTERACTION OF FORMAL PROPERTIES
The Battle of Algiers recomposes scenes from the 1965 film of the same name by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo for display as an interactive pictorial montage to be view from a Web browser. The original film is a reenactment of the Algerian nationalist struggle leading to independence from France in 1962 . The digital artists, Marc Lafia and Fang-Yu Lin recomposed the film along a photo or cell-based structure to be viewed as well as interactively participated by the viewer. The cells or photos scenes are displayed showing the French Authority and the Algerian Nationalist in an active struggle as represented by stills from the film. Once the viewer initiates the site, it is immediately notice how the cells appear and disappear in the space provided. The viewer is able to define different (other than the program default) settings forcing interesting movement of the photo scenes in accord to these different rule sets .
When the photo scenes or cells of the two different camps intersect, they trigger video responses and in turn display each side's tactics (as depicted in the film) in accord with the viewer’s interactive rules, if any have been applied .
In Lafia’s and Lin’s interpretation of Pontecorvo’s film, their The Battle of Algiers film has become the new medium. Daniel Coffeen, a rhetorician and theorist at University of California at Berkeley asks, “if film is implicitly computational, what happens to it when it's taken up by computational technology?” . This concept has long been a focus of Lafia, who is a filmmaker, digital media artist, and information designer. It is not surprising that he is partnered with Lin, himself an interaction designer and emerging multimedia artist, whose work explores and expands the boundaries of human-computer interaction .
These modes of viewer interaction become the rules for this application. The French Authority photo scenes appear to remain, for the most part, stationary on the selected space of the display. While the Algerian photo scenes pop up then disappear and reappear simulating a striking ambushing. This action appears to be random and interconnected. The photos are displayed with such directional forces they move the viewer from one end of the screen to the next. This visual action adds to the rhythm of the photos being displayed on the screen. Soon the scale and proportion of the images begin to enlarge showing more information of the battle between the forces. The resulting action of displayed photos provides for an ever-shifting accumulation of shapes and effects. These shapes create a contrast between the negative space of the unpopulated screen and the photos that are present. The original boundaries between the French Authorities and the Algerian Nationalist begin to cross over and overlap in design. The presence of one group to surround the other to obtain the upper hand is apparent in how the space on the screen is occupied by each of the opposing forces .
Pontecorvo's film tells us that cinema can demonstrate the duality of power and politics. Whereas, Lafia and Lin tell us that the planned or computed organization of these photos and displayed on a surface can increase the effect of the cinematic experience upon a viewer. The calculated, algorithmic dynamics of their work moves beyond film and cinema to become a new type of cinema making machine, a machine of algorithms and calculations.
In their interpretation of The Battle of Algiers, the two artists seem to take their personal evolvement with the process of creating a new form of cinema using the digital world of the web. If I allow myself to ignore the computational emphasis the artists were working toward, I could simply enjoy watching the photos appear and disappear. At the same time, it tells a story of a struggle for change against that of tradition, not only for the people in the presentation, but for the artists as well. For me this presentation focused more on the film's modes of movement. The formal design properties of motion, repetition, and directional visual forces are seen as the individual photo scenes meander and collide with each other. The scenes speed and drift throughout the work as it executes based on either the default settings or those that I establish. Points of intensity, lines of force and flows articulate and amplify the film's multiple display of these images.
As the site allows for viewer interaction, I could simply zoom in or out and set boundaries for this cinematic-machine to execute within, and in an instant it takes on a new form of development. Although conceptually, the outcome is always the same, the two forces are at war with one another, the way the images are displayed is always different and curious to watch unfold.
For me, the most important point is seeing this contrast between the film, the people, the new form of film, and the artists. This presentation stands out as one paralleled dichotomy. On one hand, these two artists have rebelled against the traditional medium of film to create a new independent way to express a cinematic experience with the viewer. Their concept seems to parallel the two forces in the original film, one of tradition, the French Authority and traditional film, and one of making way for this new independence, the Algerian Nationals and the digital world of dynamic, interactive cinematography. On the other hand, it appears that, as with all things political, social and as well as artistic, change is inevitable.
1) Lafia, Marc & Lin, Fang-Yu, The Battle of Algiers, Co-commissioned with Tate Online, Tate Modern, London, 2006, http://artport.whitney.org.
2) Lafia, Marc & Lin, Fang-Yu, The Battle of Algiers, Co-commissioned with Tate Online, Tate Modern, London, 2006, http://artport.whitney.org/commissions/battleofalgiers/algiers_v1.0.html.
3) Coffeen, Daniel, “Film, Play, Power and the Computational, or Byting Celluloid: On Marc Lafia's and Fang-Yu Lin's The Battle of Algiers”, Net Art, Tate Online, Tate Modern, London, February 2006.