Session Title:

  • From Still to Moving Image

Presentation Title:

  • Gestus




  • This paper describes Gestus, a digital art project that investigates cinema as an art of gesture. The project comprises an archive of found footage from various genres and periods, all of which emphasize body gestures. Each sequence has been digitally processed using a custom software that analyzes its movements and compares them with the motion content of other sequences in the archive. The software uses this information to reorder the frames of each sequence and so alter the expressive content of the gestures depicted in them. The algorithm is a machine that (re)writes the gestures. The processed sequences constitute an alternative cinematic archive that can be exhibited as a multichannel video installation.

    This paper describes the conceptual background to the project. Gestus was inspired by 19th century motion studies and by the simple actions recorded in early silent films. This tradition documented and displayed gesture as such, often against neutral or dark backgrounds. It isolated gesture from any spatial or temporal location and focused attention on its intrinsic kinetic properties. As philosopher Giorgio Agamben has noted, the original vocation of cinema was the purification, analysis, and exhibition of gesture. The hegemony of Hollywood narrative cinema, however, marginalized this gestural obsession. As character-driven storytelling became the dominant model of mainstream filmmaking, the purity of gesture was subordinated to the demands of narrative structure. The Gestus project returns to gesture as the fundamental aspiration of cinema.

    This essay describes how this project developed out of a critical investigation into the fundamental elements of the modern visual culture. It pays particular attention to the interplay between expressiveness and “mute speech” (Jacques Rancière) and the interplay of difference and repetition in the cinematic image.

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