Lifelogging the Living Canvas: Dylan to YouTube
The above YouTube clip, from Minneapolis artist Phil Hansen, doesn’t appear to be all that 3pointD, at first, but appearances can be deceiving. It’s a full five minutes of some really nice action painting with a unique twist (which I won’t give away; hit the Play button already!). In an unbelievably fortuitous moment of technological serendipity, I happened to be listening to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues on iTunes when I was watching this, and had the YouTube soundtrack turned down. All of which engendered a small epiphany about the history of lifelogging and the origins of the mixed(-up) media we enjoy today. Read on, if you dare.
The video is pieced together from what appears to be stop-motion photography of Hansen painting 30 pictures on his torso, one after another. He spent 20 hours in the actual painting, with a 10-hour break in the middle — including sleeping with the piece still stuck to his chest. This is a very nifty use of the technologies at our disposal these days, new and old, including paint, camera, video editor, Internet, and Web 2.0 (not to mention pillows) — and check out what he does with it at the end. Stop-motion photography, of course, has been around for ages. But being able to share your work so immediately via something like YouTube is a recent development (though even that is not all that new, given the accelerating pace of change).
One thing about this clip that’s special to me is that I discovered it in a twisting path from browsing Twitter, which lets you post little one-liners about what you’re up to from the Web or a mobile phone. Though Prok seems to have missed it in his excellent account of last night’s metaverse meetup, this was part of my answer as to the value of lifelogging. One of the great things about having people lifelogging is that it allows a great deal of discovery. This was the original value of blogs, which started out as collections of cool links that people were interested in sharing with friends or the public (before blogs became about what I had for breakfast). Spread this discovery out into the 3D connectivity of the metaverse, and you start to approach some really cool possibilities. Even on the flat Web, in the few days that I’ve been playing with Twitter and looking at the Twingly screensaver, I’ve already come across several things that were valuable for me to know about in a 3pointD way.
At the end of this post,I’ve blogged the entire discovery chain (coinage?) of how I found Hansen’s YouTube video, but right now I want to get back to Bob Dylan and Subterranean Homesick Blues. If I hadn’t been listening to that song when I was watching that video (made possible by the many miracles of modern technology, of course), I wouldn’t have been put in mind of the 1967 D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back, which follows a young, smooth Dylan on a short tour of the U.K. The clip that came to mind was, of course, the one that accompanies the song I was listening to. Check it out below and see if you can spot what excited me about it.
The clip shows Dylan with a bunch of cue cards containing snippets of lyrics from the song. As the lyrics pass, he drops the next card. It’s a totally informal shot, with Allen Ginsberg talking to someone in the background. It’s also one of those clips that’s always been incredibly compelling, for reasons it’s hard to put a finger on.
It might be a slight stretch, but I see so much of the future (i.e., today) in that clip — and not just because Subterranean Homesick Blues is really a proto-rap song. More to the point, what’s happening in the clip is that Dylan is giving what’s essentially a digitized performance of the song. He isn’t singing, or even lip-synching. He’s “performing” each lyric by displaying an emblematized version of it in a less analog medium than the original song (though a medium — stylized writing — that’s not quite digital, of course).
What’s cool about this is that it’s exactly the same thing Hansen’s doing in the YouTube video at the top of this post, only Hansen’s using more up-to-date lifelogging tools. The 30 pictures he paints on himself are 30 people or works that have influenced his own work and his thinking about art. He could have made a Web-based slide show of the originals, but instead he chose to paint emblematized versions of those images (on his torso!), and to display them in a medium (stop-motion photography) somewhere between the analog and the digital.
I’m really interested in the way these two pieces of film match up, and the fact that lifelogging, in various forms, has been around for ages. The Dylan clip is also interesting for the faux informality of it, which to me is one of the effects that lifelogging is increasingly having these days. One of the misconceptions about what we’ve been calling lifelogging is that it is limited to the quotidian moments of breakfast-eating and going to the store. To my eye, it’s more of a set of tools we can use for anything from diarizing to creating various kinds of works of art. Back when Jerry and Arin and Susan I gave our little talk after a screening of Four Eyed Monsters, one of the points I raised was that the cave paintings at Lascaux could easily be thought of as proto-lifelogging; they were just a record of what a few creative cavemen had been up to recently, recorded with the tools at their disposal. If they’d lived today, they’d probably have Twittered it.
Call me crazy.
â€¢ browsing the public timeline on Twitter
â€¢ spotted Twitter user kroosh, thought she was cute, clicked through to her profile
â€¢ clicked through kroosh’s profile to her blog
â€¢ read down her blog until I found the post with the Hansen clip
â€¢ clicked through to the Wooster Collective site, where kroosh originally spotted the clip
â€¢ read down their blog until I found the post with the clip
â€¢ clicked over to the YouTube page containing the clip
â€¢ clicked through that to Hansen’s page describing the project
â€¢ blogged it up on 3pointD