Motion within motion: investigating digital video in light of substantial motion
Initiated by personal experiences of misrepresentation and stereotyping in relation to Iran, its people and culture, and underpinned by a cultural position aiming to counteract their isolation and disconnection from the rest of the world, this thesis questions the surface of digital images to stimulate different ways of seeing and knowing. The research considers creative approaches engaging moving image in relation to the world outside of the frame, in tandem with philosophical enquiries. Theoretically and practically, it is inspired by the movement between figurative/representative and non-figurative/non-representative elements in traditional Persian-Islamic arts and schools of thought. The research is positioned amongst recent research on intercultural video, materiality of digital media, connections between Islamic and new media art, and new interest in Islamic and Iranian philosophy.
Classical Persian-Islamic philosopher, Mulla Sadrā Shirazi (I571-1641), in particular, provided a platform for investigating digital video and moving image art. Sadrā gives a sophisticated account of the relationship between temporal being and the infinite realm of the divine. Positioning substance between the invisible realm of the divine and the visible material world, he proposes an ongoing interchange between them. His theory of ‘substantial motion’ (al-harakat al-jawhariyya) posits movement and transformation within substance. Thus, substance is not fixed, but an act of existence, a process involving time and motion. Through substantial motion, every entity experiences the universe, in constant internal motion.
This thesis is the first study of Sadrā’s philosophy and his theory of substantial motion in relation to digital video and moving image art, theoretically and practically. Sadrā’s theory of ‘reality’ opens up questions and discussions concerning technological characteristics of digital video and its representational and figurative qualities. The concept of substantial motion suggests methods for moving beyond the surface of the image to search for new creative potentials in relation to the world outside of the frame. Methodologically, aspects of external and physical movement informed the gathering of visual and conceptual material (mainly in Iran). Notions of internal movement informed the analysis of the collected materials and their elements.
Concepts such as the ‘point of view of a minimal part’ and ‘becoming-pixel’ emerged in regard to digital video. The pixel, as an analytic unit within such an approach, suggests different modes of time and motion compared to the experience of time and movement within the overall frame. In this thesis, the pixel was investigated as a minimal part in relation to aspects of time, motion, and change within frames – to develop, for instance, a new understanding of the relationship between the digital image and the ‘real world’ and to unfold possibilities of new ways of seeing moving images. Sadrā’s view of time, motion, and reality, in relation to a becoming entity, suggested ways of reading digital video and its minimal parts, in which the latter’s becoming is informed by the outside of the frame. From this perspective, the exegesis expands on existing scholarship of video art practices. It tests the creative potentials beyond the apparent surface of moving image, which are not limited to figurative and representational aspects driven by human-centric points of view.
Through a focus on substantial motion, the thesis creatively explores ways of seeing from a non-human point of view. A series of digital videos engages pixel, frame and the outside world. Articulating the interwoven relationships between unit and unity (or, a pixel, the frame and the world), the videos move between figurative and non-figurative elements that already exist within a video image (such as pixel, time and motion). Zooming in and out of frames, splitting images into units, and using different modalities of time and motion, they reveal the inner activities of the frame. The outcomes, in turn, inform decision-making for video practice and conceptual developments.