The Long Reach of the Very Short Video
by Wendy Richmond
This year, the Tribeca Film Festival held a new competition: #6SECFILMS. All videos had to be made using Vine, a Twitter-owned smartphone app for creating and sharing six-second videos. The four winners, and many of the submissions, were impressive: countless hours of effort had clearly gone into preparing and shooting the innumerable slices that made up each tiny video. One entry required more than two dozen takes and involved a team of thirteen people, wardrobe and makeup, elaborate lighting and an iPhone mounted on a dolly.
The selected artists made remarkable movies, especially considering the app’s limitations: no editing (Vine automatically stitches shots together in sequential order), no imported sound (ambient sound only), constant looping and, of course, only six seconds. But what really struck me was a comment that had nothing to do with the winners, made by one of the judges, Adam Goldberg. Goldberg, an actor and director, has created a series of posts that are shown in six-second installments. Many of his Vine “followers” have created their own spin-offs that fit into the interchange between his characters: Goldberg himself, his girlfriend Roxanne, her friend Merritt and a blonde wig. Reacting to this huge response, Goldberg said that he is excited to see what other Vine auteurs do with his characters and his particular aesthetic.
Very short videos are the visual version of tweets. And like tweets, their revolutionary aspect is not their individual content; instead it’s the context within which they are made, distributed, viewed and responded to.
As artists and designers, if we want to be innovative, or even relevant, we cannot ignore the framework that our work lives in. If we’re creating video work, we need to consider all of its contemporary contexts, from tools to audiences to digital and virtual venues. Remember Marshall McLuhan’s famous line “The medium is the message”? Today, the medium of video is most active in the realm of social media and smartphones. The short video’s potential for innovation and uniqueness lies in its mobility, brevity, easy-to-use tools, virality and the size and breadth of its audience. Together, this produces a frenzy of participation, a desire to follow and be followed. It’s the combination of all these characteristics that forms the new context.
If a single video itself is good, it’s interesting for its six seconds (or more, if the looping is well thought out), but what’s more exciting is the ripple effect—the bigger picture of making, sending, receiving, responding, remaking, resending.
Walter Benjamin, in his classic 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” explored the idea that the advent of reproduction—particularly with photography and film—would forever change the way people perceived an “original.” In this era, it’s a given that our work will be reproduced. What’s more, it’s likely that the reproductions themselves will be reproduced and appropriated into yet another context or medium. The growth in variables is exponential.
If Benjamin were writing now, he might call his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Redistribution.” His point would probably be the same: once a work of art is translated, multiplied and distributed into a new context, it becomes something new, some-thing that is no longer solely the work of the artist. A work of art in the age of social networks takes on a life of its own, especially when that work, and the tools used to create it, are so malleable.
In October, I’ll be teaching a class at the International Center of Photography in New York titled “Fifteen Second Videos on Your Cell Phone.” When I first conceived of the course, I worried that fifteen seconds might be too short. After writing this column, I realize that “shortness” can be a key component in enabling creative innovation. Brevity encourages lightness, speed and a letting go of preciousness. I hope this leads to a deeper consideration of how a video can morph beyond its inception.
Vine is one of many in the field of “mobile video social networks,” alongside Cinemagram, Keek, Pheed, Socialcam, YouTube, Vimeo and who knows how many more that will surely appear by the time you read this. One of the new apps I want to explore in my class is Snapchat, described on its website as follows: “Snap an ugly selfie or a video, add a caption and send it to a friend (or a few). They’ll receive it, laugh and then the snap disappears… There is value in the ephemeral.”
How will our art change when its most important aspect is that, once viewed, it immediately disappears? “Short” provides a new context. “Ephemeral” gets even more interesting. ca
© 2013 W. Richmond