Scenes of Provincial Life
Submitting InstitutionWrittle College
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing, Data Format
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Summary of the impact
`Scenes of Provincial Life' exemplifies the practice based research of M.
Szpakowski. It was ground breaking in its presentation of "art" video on
the world wide web, and involved both conceptual and technical
experimentation/research/ development which fed into other activities and
outcomes offline, which then fed back into the work itself. The sequence
generated offline presentations including 78 screenings of works from the
sequence in the period Sept 2009 - Dec 13 at film festivals and galleries
on 5 continents, fed into a substantial body of applied work with school
students (2 DVDs and a CD ROM, screenings at the BFI and the Shortwave
Cinema) and informed Szpakowski's approach as editor in chief, co-curator
and writer on the pioneering online curated video resource DVblog (2005 -
the present). This research has also fed into writing on short form and
online video for the journal MIRAJ and for Furtherfield, the leading UK
digital arts platform. It is important to note that, although this
document covers the period 2009 -13 the project began in 2002/3, assuming
its current format in 2006.
- A live question in 2002/3: can video be in any sense idiomatic to the
web? This had been disputed on grounds of bandwidth and because of a
general prejudice amongst artists engaged with the web (prior to
YouTube, Vimeo and Web 2.0) in favour of computationally driven,
interactive or generative work.
- How does one needs to alter one's approach to video making to take
account of the nature of the web as a mode of archive and delivery? —
subsidiary considerations include the qualitative difference of watching
work in a small window in front of a personal computer as opposed to on
a large screen with others; the nature of dialogue about such work
especially online; the particular appositeness of a kind of diaristic
approach exemplified (and vindicated) by the explosive rise of the blog
- Is the era of the early web in any way comparable to the early days of
film, TV or indeed video art?
- What does it mean as an artist to be able to show one's work without
curatorial gatekeeping? Does presenting work side by side with amateurs,
hobbyists or "outsider" artists affect the value of the work or the way
it is produced, read and consumed?
- Questions of copyright/intellectual property arising from the ease of
download of work on web pages.
- Questions of remix and collaboration arising from same.
- Do the above considerations mean that we can talk of a specific
aesthetic arising out of video on the web and has this had impacts
beyond the internet? Furthermore, with the increasing speed of
connections and the convergence of devices such as computers, phones and
computers is this now an era that is finished?
In addition there are some non-web-specific questions arising out of the
ease of use of digital technology. A further area to explore has been the
relation of image and sound. Experiments with the same images and
different sounds and vice versa and made a whole sub-sequence of works
which eschew sound altogether.
`Scenes of Provincial Life' interrogates these questions through
practice. The work within it hence embodies many of the following issues:
technical, conceptual and aesthetic.
Technical issues: different methodologies for creating image material —
straightforward videography, videography on portable or pocket devices,
the expressive and communicative use/problems of image and sound
compression, animation of various kinds, found/appropriated content and
remix, scripting interactivity or generativity within video software such
as QuickTime, live streaming from external sources such as traffic cams.
Conceptual/Aesthetic: "ownership" of image content, collaboration
(including collaboration with non-artists and children), treatment of
text, the loop and palindrome loop as web idiomatic modes of presentation,
glitch/compression issues as expressive devices, the specific character of
the computer resident image.
The key research insights that underpinned the impact are hard to
encapsulate in text insights that are essentially practical in nature. It
might be better to say that the questions listed above presented
themselves as new problems to be solved in the making of effective web
resident work. The fact of having successfully found solutions then
informs a number of other things, a process succinctly encapsulated in the
notion of praxis. It was insights and techniques gleaned from the Scenes
of Provincial Life sequence that enabled Szpakowski to work in successful
partnership with young people in a way that used the digital to provide an
extraordinarily level playing field for collaboration. Digitisation of
data, drawings, text, sounds enables young peoples' work to be "set"
within artist generated framings and backgrounds which as in the setting
of a jewel or the framing of a picture shows the work off to its best
advantage and maximum clarity. Digitisation also enables the placing side
by side of work by both young people and the artist in a uniform and
The final form of each of the 450 or so pieces in the sequence was
determined by Szpakowski and they are available at http://somedancersandmusicians.com/vlog/ScenesOfProvincialLife.cgi.
In most cases he originates both sound and image; occasionally material is
either collaborative or appropriated. The nature of the research as a
series of practical responses to questions arising from a new
constellation of technical, social and artistic factors is described
References to the research
Details of the impact
Underpinning of impact:
The set of discoveries, technical and aesthetic, arising out of being a
pioneer in the project of using the naturally diaristic possibilities of
the Internet to create and distribute a coherent yet diverse sequence of
moving image works.
An increasing facility with digital techniques and equipment used for
this and the experience of the use of a wide range of soft and hardware
including pocket devices.
Extent of the impact:
- Parts of the sequence have been shown offline in a wide variety of
contexts, both galleries and screenings, at venues including the Hong
Kong Contemporary Art Fair, as part of the UK Cultural Olympiad and at
film festivals including the Festival Internacional de Videoarte in
Argentina, the Madatac festival in Madrid, the Cologne Conference and
several Berlin Director's Lounge events in Germany (see REF2).
- Work on the sequence has "seeded" other projects, both
personal/artistic and "applied". In particular the "applied" projects
include a number of Arts Council/Creative Partnerships/A New Direction
funded projects in London schools. The outcomes include — the use of
short videos as part of a series of maths centred computer games made
together with young people, a documentary, made in collaboration with a
single class of primary school children, and following their science
education over the course of a year and an adaptation of an Icelandic
Saga to make a film using the very grown up methods of Straub/Huillet to
work with two classes of 8/9 year olds. Approximately 250 children, 25
members of staff and 500 parents were directly involved in either the
activities or viewing their outcomes, a figure multiplied by the
distribution of the pieces on DVD and CD ROM. Copies of the DVDs of
these outcomes are available on request.
- Particular educational (outside of HE) outcomes of the
application of these techniques and experience have been that the
technology has proved to make inclusiveness easier. The work has also
impacted upon fully comprehensive groups i.e. children with leaning
and/or behaviour difficulties, children with little or no command of
English have always been fully engaged. The bulk of this work has been
in London schools but Szpakowski has also conducted moving image based
work at the 20-21 visual arts centre in Scunthorpe working with various
groups from families to young offenders. Feedback collected from young
participants from Primary Schools has been very positive and they have
stated that their participation in the work has aided them to improve
- The work has fed into "applied" video work for Tell Tale Hearts
Childrens' Theatre Company both in the use of video within
performance and in creating video pieces that both document and extend
footage of performances, to be used by the company for archiving
and publicity purposes. The touring piece `Beneath the Waves' used video
projection within the performance in quite complex ways including
interaction of the performers with pre-recorded video. Being able to
conceive and troubleshoot this sort of work was made a great deal easier
by the wide palette and experience arising from the Scenes of Provincial
Life. Particularly , the piece `Beneath the Waves' toured to an audience
of approximately 2,200 on the pilot (Yorkshire) tour and 7,200 on the
subsequent national tour
- In terms of personal/artistic work the "Scenes of Provincial Life"
have in turn fed into the video component of another of Szpakowsi's
project "12 remixes" (see REF2) and has inspired Szpakowski's
journalistic work as co-curator and editor of the online resource
( 60 more pages follow by using "prev" link). Since late 2006 to the
date of writing (7th November 2013) there have been over 32,000,000
successful page requests on DVblog and a summary of the long-term report
for the site from December 2006 is as follows (figures in parentheses
refer to the 7-day period ending Nov 06 2013 at 2:46 AM):
- Successful requests: 32,073,396 (44,801)
- Average successful requests per day: 12,663 (6,400)
- Successful requests for pages: 23,763,929 (35,938)
- Average successful requests for pages per day: 9,382 (5,133)
- Failed requests: 5,892,040 (374)
- Redirected requests: 269,479 (201)
- Requests with informational status code: 1 (0)
- Data transferred: 7.88 terabytes (15.81 gigabytes)
- Average data transferred per day: 3.19 gigabytes (2.26 gigabytes)
It's important to emphasise that the success of DVblog has depended
directly upon informed commentary on new work by those (Szpakowski
and co-curator, Israeli artist Doron Golan) themselves involved at the
cutting edge of making related work. In Szpakowski case the discoveries
from "Scenes of Provincial Life" have created a conceptual and
terminological framework for a new area of critical activity.
Sources to corroborate the impact
#1 Literacy co-ordinator, Southwark Park Primary School.
#2 Administrator & Exhibitions Co-ordinator, Furtherfield Gallery
#3 Area Head & Associate Professor, Peck School of the Arts,
University of Wisconsin.
#4 Director of Media Arts, Givon Art Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel.
#5 Research Fellow, British Artists' Film and Video Study Collection
Central Saint Martin's College of Arts and Design
#6 Reader in Fine Art. Slade School of Fine Art, University College
#7 20-21 Visual Arts Centre, Scunthorpe, UK
#8.C.E.O., A New Direction, UK
#9 Award Leader, MA Curatorial Practice, Falmouth University
#10 Director, Tell Tale Hearts Children's Theatre Company.