Reflection Paper on Glitch Off the Boat

 

 

On Friday, May 27, Shaina and I brought our completed glitch projects outside of Campbell Hall, where the annual Reel Loud Festival was being held. That was the day we were to premiere Glitch Off the Boat to the world (or to UCSB Reel Loud Attendees, at least). The project was a series of glitched photos from movie stills of The Cheat and Drums of Fu Manchu and a looped video sequence created using clips from the two films and Adobe After Effects.We entered this project with little knowledge of glitch art theory and After Effects editing. We left as glitch artists and adept film editors.

Our project was the product of hours of hard work. I had come up with the concept of using glitch as a way to showcase Asian targeted racism in pre-digital cinema. This would be achieved through taking footage of old American films accused of perpetuating Orientalism and glitching it into a looped segmentation. The looping would be symbolic of the continuous presence of Orientalism in media in the 21st century. Orientalism is, according to Edward Said in his book, Orientalism, “a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ (The East) and ‘the Occident.’ (The West)” and “The Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the orient.” As a graduating senior, I decided that it was time for me to do something personal, otherwise, I would have done video game glitches, since I consider myself an avid gamer. Being an Asian American woman is a significant aspect of my identity; it is my pride. I also consider myself to be a very political person (I was to be a political science major, before I changed my mind). As a film and media studies major, I knew of the significance my race would be in the entertainment industry, where race and ethnicity is often discussed. The internet has been a platform for people to call out the racism of Hollywood. For instance, hashtags on social media sites like twitter such as #whitewashing, #OscarsSoWhite, #StarringJohnCho have been trending all over the web, catching the attention of the mainstream news sites and ultimately opening dialogue among both consumers and content producers on how race and ethnicity is perceived and portrayed in visual media. This convergence of digital media has granted marginalized groups the ability to speak out against racism. I began to ask: How did marginalized groups speak up before the internet? Before the civil rights movement? How could they speak up when the federal law treated them like second class citizens? How could they be perceived as real Americans when the Motion Picture Production Code forbid the portrayal of interracial couples? With this line of questioning, I decided to focus my attention on the film media of the first half of the 20th century, which I would consider to be the height of ‘Yellow Peril’, the perceived threat of eastern influence to the west and the xenophobic perpetuation of orientalism. By taking a retrospective approach, I had hoped to restore the identities and dignities of Asian American actors in the silent era through glitch as both an aesthetic and a political function and to encourage dialogue on how orientalism is perpetuated in the digital era. We decided to glitch The Cheat (1915) and Drums of Fu Manchu (1940). The Cheat, directed by the iconic Cecil B. DeMille, is a film starring Japanese American actor Sessue Hayakawa. He plays a predatory Japanese merchant who, by the climax of the film, claims ownership to a white woman by branding her with a branding iron. I first came across this film in the FAMST 101a course. We screened the film in the Pollock theatre and I remembered being shocked at seeing an Asian man in a silent film! However, I was troubled by how Hayakawa’s character was being portrayed. He would reside in his “den of orientalism”, a dark chamber characterized by wax sliding doors, burning incense, and oriental artifacts. Our second source, Drums of Fu Manchu is a movie serial starring Henry Brandon as the titular character. Fu Manchu is a character so iconic that he has become the archetype for oriental evil masterminds. Fu Manchu was also exclusively portrayed by middle aged white men in prosthetic makeup. In both movie examples, Fu Manchu and Hayakawa’s characters are fictional constructions of Asian characters by white producers. Brandon’s facial features were transformed through prosthetics and costume; this is called yellowface. I believe yellowface is highly problematic because they are inauthentic and orientalist portrayals of Asians based on western perceptions of Asian facial features and culture that tended to be exaggerated and exoticized. The result of yellowface makeup is not of an Asian but of a caricature, an unnatural alien creature with slanted eyes of unrealistic proportion. It is disgusting.

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(Hugo Weaving transformed with Yellowface in Cloud Atlas. No, this is not an ‘Asian’ character. This is a monstrosity.)

Orientalism was also a problem that Asian American actors suffered from. Throughout his entire career, Hayakawa was victim to typecasting, only landing roles as orientalist stereotypes. By glitching these characters through masking, we are emphasizing their anomalous nature. Furthermore, by incorporating digital technologies with silent film, our projects take on an anachronistic quality, which is intentional, as we are also reflecting on Orientalism in American history and reminding audiences on how these instances are still present in media today. On a brighter note, by looking back at history, we can also see the tremendous progress that society has made. Yellowface and whitewashing are no longer ignored by the media but are treated as shamefully as it deserves to be.

The Reel Loud festival was my first time exhibiting any art project. Usually, I turn the art project in as an assignment, and I receive it back with a grade. The only audience of my artwork would have only been my teachers, professors, or TAs. This was a different experience. Time went into not only its creation but on planning how the art was to be exhibited. I had to create an art project that was to be exhibited to hundreds of people. I was unaware that our art projects were being judged. If I had known before, I would have probably reorganized the presentation of the exhibit, making it as clear as possible to the judges on what the purpose of Glitch Off the Boat was. I would have also taken advantage of our exhibition space through decoration and immersion. This project gave me an opportunity to learn more about how to use Adobe After Effects. I have only used it very briefly for very simple effects, but learning how to glitch, mask, and layer was life changing for me, mostly because I am an editor, or at least I plan to be a film editor in the near future. It has allowed me to acquired important new technical skills that I was able to show off in my Film 101E video project. This project also gave me an opportunity to learn the theory behind glitch art. It wasn’t just all about the aesthetics, but the powerful message behind the use of glitch. I based my project from an assigned weekly reading on the Glitch Feminism Manifesto by Legacy Russell. I applied her concepts as using glitch to undermine the duality of gender identification. In our case, we were to undermine the duality of the Orient and the Occident, and the white versus the other.

There is definitely room for improvement in terms of exhibition and communication. I wish I would have gotten more time to work on this project. As a senior currently enrolled in 19 units, my time was very limited. If I had more time, I would have spent more time checking out the venue. With that said, it was very useful to have a partner for this project. I was able to share my knowledge of video editing with Shaina; our project was a culmination of both of our editing skills. With the limited time we had, I think we did a pretty decent job. Due to a class that had conflicted with the exhibition time (from 5 pm to 7 pm), I was unable to be present during the exhibition itself, although I did assist in setting it all up. We played our video on a monitor and displayed our glitch photos on a table. If I had been present, I would have engaged with the audience. However, I do like the idea spoken in class of letting the art speak for itself without the intrusion of the artist. So ideally, I would have to time travel to the past, be present at the exhibit, and then compare from there. Having the glitch art exhibition outside instead of at an indoor exhibition space had its unforeseen obstacles. I remember that it was quite windy that day, and we had glitch art prints to exhibit. I wonder what would have happened if it rained. Our glitched art prints would have been destroyed. Finally, I believe the biggest room for improvement would have to be better communication between ourselves and the coordinators of Reel Loud Festival. It was not clear what equipment was being offered to us until the last minute. Ideally, my project would have shined if we had access to a projector, but unfortunately, the art exhibit budget was so tight that we were barely able to get enough monitors for the class, so a projector was out of the question. Ideally, if we were given clear information on what equipment we had access to early on, we could have better crafted our projects based on these expectations.

Overall, I am quite satisfied with how Glitch off the Boat turned out. The Reel Loud exhibit went smoothly. I learned more about glitch art, video editing, and art exhibition. It has been a great journey of artistic discovery, and it has finally come to an end. 谢谢!

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Final Paper

Shaina Goel

Professor Sakr

June 9th, 2016

FAMST 183

Final Paper

 

The Final exhibited project/installation for FAMST 183, Glitch Production, is titled Glitch Off the Boat. Sarah Ling and I compiled a series of clips from films of Golden Age Cinema and Cinema of the 1940’s, specifically The Cheat (1915) by Cecil B. DeMille and Drums of Fu Manchu (1940) by William Witney and John English and glitched them without audio into a video that is meant to be watched on loop continuously to reflect the perpetuation of racism then and now. The specific scenes chosen displayed the demonic and aggressive representations of Asian and Asian-Americans, connoting that the “orient” or “oriental” is an other that is a danger to society. Cecil B. DeMille has made many films that have been criticized for the racial representations of his characters, notably in Unconquered where Native Americans were represented as rapists and murderers. Thirty minutes into the Cheat the Asian male character Hishituru Tori, played by Sessue Hayakawa, Edith Hardy attempts to Tori back when he denies the payment and instead makes an advance on her and brands her as his property. Coupled with the racial representations at work in this scene involving an aggressive “other” is a melodramatic representation of a female who states she will commit suicide if claimed by Haka and yet when given a gun, does not enact the action followed by her objectification as a possession.

The project was installed outside of Reel Loud Silent Film Festival on the UCSB campus and exhibited on a monitor along side other glitched still images from various scenes in both films. Sarah’s still images were glitched using “Image Glitch Tool” and her Video Glitch Editing was done using After Effects. Sarah was also the overall concept creating pitching this idea half way through the quarter. Shaina glitched photos using Photoshop and VJ Um Amel Glitch Code and glitched video using Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro. Glitch Off the Boat is meant to comment on the demonic, antagonistic, and sexually aggressive representations of Asians and Asian- Americans in Classic Hollywood Cinema by using the theory of glitch as a medium to illuminate and make comments on such representations.

What I find fascinating the use of glitching in Glitch Off the Boat had alternative but also relating purposes to Sarah and I. Sarah saw the Glitch in our project as a way to “critique the construction of Asian male characters as oriental, eroticized, predatory and sexually aggressive to white women. They are always secondary to white men. These artificial and problematic representation of Asian men are an anomaly, a “glitch” of reality and the fictionalized white-washed cinematic world”. I completely agree with Sarah and did not even realize this interpretation and how it was a reflection of a fictional all white cinematic world. While Sarah sees the act of glitching as a way to dramatize these portrayals in an effort to display how ridiculous and offensive they are, I see the purpose of glitching in Glitch Off the Boat as both a way to dramatize these portrayals but also as an overall form of Digital Activism.

Glitch as Digital Activism, to me, means that glitch is the process by which we can advocate for a much more respectful and truthful cinema through, as Sarah was explaining, displaying the ridiculous tropes in cinema in 1915 and in 1940. Glitch can help to create a dialogue.

Prior to this project I pitched an idea for a glitch project where I would glitch close up videos of patterns in nature. My purpose in glitching close up videos of patterns in nature was the hyperbolize and display the micro aspects of nature that are hard to see in the naked eye. Glitching in this project would have been similar to the Glitch theory that was the basis for Glitch Off the Boat which was to illuminate and display the ridiculous of the patterns behind the racial stereotypes of the “orient”.  We hope to have inspired viewers to see, through an in-depth and critical analysis, the connotations and perspectives at work in such films and how they perpetuate sentiments of racism and racial stereotypes not only in film but in all aspects of media.

What I learned from this project was not only the production techniques of glitching using different processes and different platforms but also how to exhibit a work. When the piece was exhibited I found it difficult to be present as I was consistently disappointed by people’s apathetic attitude towards the work. They would come up, look at the screen and not even watch it on loop or not even watch the less than five minute video all the way through. People would not even read the logline or the treatment which would have given them a very nuanced understanding of glitch theory, how it reflects to our project/exhibit, and the purpose and concept behind our exhibit in general. If I had to do this project again I definitely would be present because there was something very fulfilling about watching and meeting the people who are enjoying the project you worked really hard to create but there was something also disheartening watching people disrespect it to some sense by not giving it a significant amount of time. I analyzed why people were doing this and I really think it was because our installation wasn’t the reason they were coming to the area. They came to enjoy the silent film festival, Reel Loud. If our Glitch Project had its own exhibit exclusive from other organized events I think the people attending would ONLY be attending for our installations and give it a more significant portion of their attention.

Places that could be productive to install our exhibit and have viewers come to the location with the purpose and intention of looking at glitch art would be at the Glass Box Gallery on campus and at the Asian American Culture and Art Festival at the Puente Hills Mall. Both of those locations would be great settings to install the Glitch Off the Boat project. The Glass Box Gallery would be a good location because it is a place where people go to see student work. The Asian American Culture and Art Festival would also be a good location as it would be an appropriate place to display the incorrect and humiliating racial representations of Asian Americans in the history of American cinema by critically analyze media, film and television promoting a more truthful understanding of the Asian American culture.

Another thing I would change in the project would to add sound. Everyone else’s project had sound and I think it would have gained the viewers additional concentration and added complexity to our overall project. Since we were the only project that didn’t have sound I think that instead of it looking like a purposeful choice by us it looked like a mistake or a lazy act by us. But it makes me think what type of glitch music or sound would I have added and I’m not quite sure. Similar to the concept behind the Kuleshov Effect, music acquisition and addition can have a big impact of the mood created in a movie or small film sequence. If I had a really nostalgic and emotional song in the background people would maybe see the film sequence as positive, but if I added extremely industrial music with a grim almost horrific mood to it people would be scared and it would add to the hyperbolizing of the horrific and demonic racial representations.

All in all this project was not only extremely productive a I learned how to collaborate with a partner which I found extremely fulfilling and inspiring as my partner is very intelligent and helpful, but also productive in terms of production techniques. I got to learn Processing and glitch production using Text Edit, Glitch Code and Adobe After Effects. I think most importantly I learned the importance, significance, and impact behind having theory behind your art. For me, art that is solely based off of aesthetics is counter productive. Art with a theory and metaphysical purpose behind it is not only more nuanced and prolific in its meaning but also a way to touch people and share important ideas in a more complex and meaningful manner.