Friday, January 14, 2011

On Stillness and Motion

Scurry from Jonny Gray on Vimeo.

[Elements of this video come from here and here.]

A tree has movement.  It grows.  But it does so slowly, in ways that are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.  Meanwhile, around the tree, things scurry and run, fly and fall.  The tree, itself, marks this continuum of motion with a grounded trunk and branches that must not be too rigid, that must wave in the wind: stillness at one end and movement at the other.  But even that rigid trunk has a little flex to it.  And in some cases, trees have been known to walk.  I am not talking about J.R.R. Tolkein's Ents (although they are very cool); I am talking about the walking palm trees of Costa Rica.  What a wonderful and strange world we live in!

So, if we view stillness from some frames of reference as a kind of motion, can we also see motion as a kind of stillness?  Perhaps when the motion is contained within a stable frame?  Is that stable frame the space around the motion?  Or is it the way we interpret the motion -- as cyclical or goalless or imperceptible if you observe it from far enough away?  Perhaps we most transform our sense of motion and stillness through interaction, through the work of working together even when we are alone.

This week I have been working with collaborative art on-line and the metaphor of a tree.  I've been thinking a lot about things that change states and our resistance (sometimes) to that movement, even when it is unavoidable.  I've been interested in the desire and dread to fix things (art, people, work, etc.) in place, to own them, to not let them go.  And I have been thinking about the remix, the ways in which things are constantly made into other things and how that is both a violent and a creative act.

The two pieces I borrowed in my video above resonate for me with this tension.  Craig's sound piece is generated from a program that translated the data of a still photograph (the "Anarchy Tree" of the original @Platea trunk post) into a MIDI sound file, which he then processed and mixed with other sounds (including the woodpecker soundfile from the trunk post).  In other words, the stillness of image literally becomes the temporal movement of music.  Similarly, Deborah's  "Green Man" video series plays with the idea of the fixed camera focused on the fixed tree in dynamic relation to the movement that goes on around the tree and a medium meant to capture images in motion.  I wanted to put these two pieces into dialogue, adding a bit of my own video work in keeping with the Tree-Blog aesthetic. 

Even documenting the Tree-Blog event has had its own dialogue of stillness and motion. The map is, in some ways, an attempt to fix the ephemeral, or at least provide a guide to its murky trajectories through a variety of internet terrains.  As I have made the map of the Tree-Blog project each day, I have constantly had to adjust it -- shifting branches to accommodate other branches, re-clustering nodes as they begin to interact, adding in posts I missed from the days before.  In other words, the growth of this tree (even as map) has not been a simple linear path, but a constant shifting and reworking.  Growth, like evolution, is not precisely linear.  Seemingly fixed positions have to shift.  "Permanence" is a fiction, a concept created by fantasizing humans that doesn't really have a corollary in nature.

@Platea is a collective of artists who explore what it means to make art on/with/through social networks of digital information exchange.  We tend to favor Twitter as the location of most interest (as revealed by the "@" and our catchy subtitle, "tales from the stweets").  But if Twitter is the medium of choice, then we truly do embrace the digital scurry -- the frenetic motion of short messages, streaming information, and posts with rapid expiration dates. 

Even so, we also concern ourselves with documentation of our projects.  We take care to make clear attributions for borrowed works and illustrations.  Some of us make clear statements that our contributions are copyright protected and are not available for others' use.  Others are interested in using social media to "crowdsource" work that will appear in gallery installations and/or be sold.  That is, there are elements to this work that don't want to be ephemeral or lost in some undifferentiated network of exchange.  

All of which is simply to say, we constantly negotiate this tension of permanence and flow, the lasting and the ephemeral, the individually owned and the collectively enmeshed.  I hope this Tree-Blog experiment will not disappear too quickly into the ether of the net; we have certainly tried to document it.  But all trees -- even the old giants -- one day fall.  And I have a suspicion that our Tree-Blog may prove to be more a mimosa than a sequoia.  But hey, out on the "Alkaloid of the Month" branch, Jason tells me dried mimosa root is a moderate hallucinogen -- so at least there's something in there to help keep the visions coming.

Thanks to all who have checked in at my blog this week and taken a chance to participate in @Platea's Tree-Blog project.  


  1. Very cool mix ! - it works really well with Craigs sound. I Like the idea of relative movement;the sense of stillness and motion and permanence. Really like it !

  2. wonderful project and a thoughtful and sensitive account of your experience, thank you, i had fun

  3. Thanks for the kind feedback, friends. It was a wonderful experience, and I loved all the amazing work everyone did. You can find the final map for the whole project here:


Please Comment