Shama Khanna

Flatness is a research project featuring contributions by artists, writers and computer specialists engaging in ideas around the screen based image and immaterial culture after the internet. The website flatness.eu tests the possibilities and limitations of the web as a creative site and space for viewing.

flatness.eu extends from the artists’ moving image programme ‘Flatness: Cinema after the Internet’ I curated (with sub-curators Ed Atkins, Anthea Hamilton and Oliver Laric) at the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival 2013, returning to the small screen to present many of the works, and research and writing about them, online.

There is no prescribed way of reading the content on the site, but dipping in and out is recommended. The Autumn edition (the second since the site was launched in the Summer has a number of newly commissioned entries by Mercedes Bunz, Jason Dungan, Nicholas Hatfull, Kate Hawkins & Eloise Fornieles, Duncan Marquiss, Jonathan P Watts and Eva Weinmayr as well as texts by Mark Fisher and Jan Verwoert reproduced from other, older curatorial projects.

The book, ‘Flatness’, printed and distributed by AND Public, was published at the end of October 2013 at a joint launch event with Manual Labours at X Marks the Bökship in London. Coinciding with the publication release, 'Flatness' was the focus of a discussion event at Chisenhale Gallery as part of the gallery's '21st Century' artistic research series with guests Dr Mercedes Bunz and Marianne Forrest (Auto Italia). Documentation from the event is available to listen to here.

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In the midst of the nervous polyrhythms of precarious life, in the midst of its mixture of driven-ness and melancholy they [the protestors] invent a surplus. In the midst of subservience they create a desire to not be taken into service in this way…

- Gerald Raunig

Flatness is a precarious term in itself: In different instances it can refer to the synthesis of the screen within everyday, physical experience - the mirror through which we see ourselves or the stage on which we perform, or it can suggest the flattened hierarchy of circulation on the internet, or the timeless feeling of scrolling through news feeds and endless emails, the flat, a-temporal affect of surfing surfaces. If there is an aim for such a research-led, transversal project it could be to re-appropriate time and timeliness within the simulated realm of digital, immaterial culture and economy.

Flatness, guided by a quote by lauded film-maker Robert Bresson famed for the radically pared back or, as Dennis Cooper observed, 'inhumanly efficient' interactions of his models (a term he preferred to actors), considers a noticeable lack of realism in the work of contemporary artists. Instead, the image surface is activated as the locus of desire and contingency, a space open for interpretation, rather than distraction. Anthea Hamilton describes the sensation of looking which inspired her recent work Venice (The Kabuki Version) (2013),  

The prowess of the image consumes me and language is interrupted, thoughts come in the staccato beat of the Noh chant via the four-to-the-floor of progressive disco. …

Chewing Time (2013) by computer practitioner and researcher Robert M Ochshorn has a similar effect of simultaneity – flattening the linear time of John Smith’s original film Girl Chewing Gum (1976) into a single moving image. The viewer can move the cursor to start the playback at any point in the video, ‘freeing them’, Ochshorn says, ‘from the ‘tyranny of time’. Writing about the work, Anthony Iles describes how, like the machine-like performances of Bresson’s models, the experience of watching is autonomised from human sense perception. He draws a comparison with the speculative risk of high frequency computer trading:

Time has been spliced, cut, chewed and spat out. … the flattening out of the field becomes the ground from which the previously inconceivable can take hold.

Thinking about the status of art and its image as it circulates online (be it on social media, Ubuweb or Contemporary Art Daily), one of the project’s approaches is to consult computer specialists for insights into their work. As much as we, as users, engage with the distribution (sharing, cutting and pasting) of material on the web, it is their role in engineering code and setting protocols, that defines our experience. As their ‘language’ becomes increasingly specialised, some amount of structural insight is important to be able to engage critically with the same materials. Equally, there are contributions to the website, such as Mercedes Bunz's essay about Watching a Werner Herzog Film on Kickstarter, which examine how artists are working within existing protocols to challenge assumptions about them.

The project as a whole attempts to instil a sense of presence and duration within provisional positions (a broad grouping which includes artists, political protestors and workers who engage with digital media and the internet as tools), away from a self-alienating drive for newness which serves to render these faculties as yesterdays news.

Curated by Shama Khanna
Web programming by i-n-t-e-l-l-i-g-e-n-t-s-i-a
Funded by Konstfack, Stockholm
All texts, works and images either belong to the artist, author or photographer named or are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-a-Like 3.0 Unported License.