&nbrs;Beyond Resolution


Deep Screen Resolution
In 2013, I was invited to play a concert with Knalpot during The Night of the Unexpected in Moscow. The invitation came from the Russian government, to celebrate 100 years of trade organisations between NL and RU. Coincidentally, it was timed just after the implementation of a new law against gay propaganda in Russia, which put a strange context of power and control on the event.
A mediator working for the Dutch embassy in Moscow helped us to obtain a visum. In the process he demanded a ‘map’ of my setup, a rider (the list of technological requests) and a list of gear. He also spoke about ‘permitted AV-behavior’. I explained I would use the live sound of Knalpot to generate synced video. In my rider I asked for an analogue-out resolution.

Then The Night of the Unexpected was there. The venue was big and we were to setup in the middle, on an island. A big projector graced the prow of our island, pointing at a big, professionally suspended black screen - a screen for back-projection, in this case setup to be projected on from the front. Instead of RCA, the producer handed me an HDMI (digital) cable, and an analogue to digital convertor. 

Surprised at what seemed like problems stacking up rapidly, I turned to the producer of the event. An eye opening conversation took place:

< What will we do with the screen, where will I project?
> This is the screen (pointing at the black screen)
< Since we are not able to project from the back, we need a white screen, not a black screen.
> This is the best technology available in Moscow.
< Black screens absorb light, they do not reflect it - this means the projection will not show from the side on which you project (but on the back).
> This was the most expensive. I ordered the best technology in Moscow.
On your rider you did not specify that you need a white screen.
< We can test it… Can I have the RCA cable I requested on my rider?
> [lady points at HDMI cable and analogue to digital converter] We have this for you, it is better.
< I requested analogue out. I need to send my output unconverted, straight from my synthesizer to the projector, because it is synced with the band.
>This is not possible. 

While nothing resolved, it was only when the rehersal had already started I finally realised my main problem: in the corner of the island, a Russian video engineer (or what I would like to call the ‘Russian video police’) took my videostream, screened it for any ‘offensive’ content, while taking the liberty to cut and overlay the stream shown to the audience at any time, corrupting its intrinsic analogue qualities by adding digital macroblocks (digital video artifacts) and introducing an aspect-ratio conflict. But, most importantly: adding a two second delay to my synced and live generated video feed. 

In the end, my performance became a barely visible disaster. But as a result, one thing appeared to me very clearly: the shortcomings of my understanding of the term resolution. During the performance, I could clearly see the difference between the resolved image on the screen available to the audience and the image resolved on my check monitor. These images did not just differ in terms of size or aspect ratio, but also in terms of esthetics, power and timing.

As Gonring writes in his PhD paper, besides a width and height, a screen also has a ‘thickness’ and ‘depth’. The ‘thickness’ of the screen acts as an immediate veil, showing only a final resolution, while shrouding (most of) the technologies involved in the process of resolving the image. The ‘depth’ of the screen involves the procedures beyond (or behind) the screen: the processes involved in creating or ‘resolving’ the final resolution. 
The term ‘resolution’ thus needs to be redefined and expanded for the field of media arts. This expanded definition should involve a reflection on what processes and trade-offs between materials and their protocols take place, not only perceived from the perspective of the audience, but also as experienced by the producer, performer, curator or reviewer.

A drawing of my setup during the Night of the Unexpected, Moscow, 2013. 

The Russian black screen, in the process of cleaning before the performance.