Please wait a few moments while we process your request
Please wait...

Woody Vasulka

Artifacts, 1980

Woody Vasulka, Artifacts, 1980 (full version) (video)
Woody Vasulka, Artifacts, 1980 (full version) (video)
In Artifacts, Woody experiments with constructing and deconstructing digital visual imagery. Moreover, he is interested in the possible ways of manipulating the electronic vocabulary on the basis of algorithms. The videotape visualizes this process-oriented restructuring of analogue into digital images. Line composition and pixel structure are revealed as the visual effects of digital "scanning," where the modulation of x/y-signals causes horizontal and vertical expansion and the gradual deceleration and acceleration of image data ultimately generates morph effects. In constructing digital visual imagery, and, in particular through stripping the electronic vocabulary off its "material" algorithmic basis, Artifacts is, first of all, a dialogue between analog and digital image processing. It is also a dialogue with the machine, because again, Woody uses his own hand as a primary creative tool. However, in contrast to Vocabulary, the task is to visually present the transformation processes "layer by layer" and "number by number."

In Artifacts, Woody demonstrates the tools of the complex Digital Image Articulator (b) that he found necessary to construct because the computers available on the market in the 1970s were not designed for real-time image processing. In the 1979 unpublished manual for the Digital Image Articulator (c), Woody Vasulka, Jeffrey Schier, and Tom Moxon describe at length the functioning of this system. In principle, the Digital Image Articulator processes encoded images. Once the image has been converted from analog to digital, the numeric content of the "image" gets scanned and stored by eight frame buffers according to the luminance value of each single section of the image; that is to say, each luminance value is assigned a numeric value. The range of numbers that can be assigned to each value in the dark/light scale determines the amount of discrete intensity changes that will be displayed on a 128-by-128 pixel grid. The frame buffers store single frames or sequences of frames. The microprocessor connects to two of the four busses that feed the image buffers. "By controlling the two busses, reading and writing may be done to different locations in two different buffers. This gives the capability of various picture transformations, such as picture inversion, compression, expansion, edge extraction, and outlining." (1)

While each buffer is connected to four busses that carry control signals, address, and data information, a sequencer and a 256-word-program stores, and gives instructions to the microprocessor. The address section (x/y-address-formation circuitry) is responsible for generating the horizontal and vertical timing signals to scan out, or to write, digitized video information for the image buffers. The modulation of the x/y-signals allows a continuous modulation of the buffer scanning to create scan processing effects, where the modulation of the deflection signal results in compression and expansion, in readjusting height and width of image forms, and even repositioning of the horizontal and vertical axes. As stated in the manual for the Digital Image Articulator, "In raster scan graphics two schools of thought are prevalent when dealing with image formation. One is the processing view, where signals are seen as real-time signals that may be delayed, modified, or switched, but must conform to the restrictions of ‘real-time.’ The other approach is the buffer or storage mode, where information is taken in and stored as sequences of still photographs and replayed or recalculated as a memory array." (2)

The microcomputer interface connects a LSI-11 microprocessor to the video processor and allows it to request usage of a particular buffer. Once the buffer request sequence is successful, a block of data may be written in, or read, from the buffer. The LSI-11 is also responsible for setting the buffer priority registers on the eight image buffers. The output selection logic is responsible for routing, and the run, single stop, and stop of the video processor—functions that are needed to construct micro-programs that create imaging algorithms.

In the light of the technical level of digital image processing that was available for Artifacts it seems ironic when Woody makes reference to the pictorial motif of the artist’s hand (adapted from the classical tradition of handcraft). In response to the production methods of artists who maintain control over their own image, Artifacts allows a transformation to almost unstructured pixelation (stripping off, and in reverse, adding up layers) in the digital imaging process of this motif. Evidently, the production methods in electronic culture require that the artist acknowledge that he/she co-produces with the machine. As Woody explains in the voiceover to the videotape Artifacts: "By ‘artifacts’ I mean that I have to share the creative process with the machine. It is responsible for too many elements of this work. These images come to you as they came to me—in a spirit of exploration." (W.V.)

Subsequently, in the off-commentary, Woody asks the viewer to use the videotape interactively by switching the VCR on and off several times while blinking the eyes—in order to experience interval effects. This, of course, is not meant to share the digital experience of real time with the viewer, but rather reminds the viewer of the technical difference between the tools used for creating video imagery and the media environment in which we view it. Significantly, when the viewer is asked to produce intervals using the VCR, there is another layer of media criticism involved, because the interval clearly belongs to film language where the interval is needed in order to, at the same time, separate and connect individual frames. Certainly, Woody’s instruction "to interact" does not bridge the media difference between video machines and digital image machines, but is rather another statement about media specificity that is important on the technological level. Woody, particularly with Artifacts, describes the necessary precondition for thinking about another level of vocabulary. With the incorporation of the Digital Image Articulator, his applied research into visuality takes the "electronic vocabulary" one step further to the "syntax of binary images." However, as stated above, with digitization the interest in the audio/visual vocabulary (particularly in this early phase) focuses on the image, because, as Woody explains in his notes to Binary Images, therein lies the greater challenge.

Yvonne Spielmann © 2004 FDL

(1) (Woody Vasulka, Jeffrey Schier, Tom Moxon) The articulator manual (unpublished technical manual for the Digital Image Articulator, c.1979) (74) p. Daniel Langlois Foundation, Steina and Woody Vasulka fonds, VAS B63 - C1.

(2) Ibid.