Monday, 17 September 2007

Negative Cyberspace

Image from Wikipedia

The notion of
negative space has been around in photography and art for a long time. The most famous example is of course Rubin’s vase (above). Negative space is the space around an object. It defines the very form of the object we perceive as positive space.

In traditional Japanese art negative space is often prioritised, a technique known as ‘ma.’ What is interesting is that increasingly this concept is not just limited to Japanese art, photography or modern art. The concept of ‘ma’ has begun to find its way onto the web, via film trailers; spoof film trailers are almost a genre on Youtube these days. Thousands of them float around the web. But they are arguably a kind of experiment with negative space; the space surrounding an object (in this case a film) that doesn’t actually exist. (Like the white space in Rubin's black and white image.) We are fascinated by them. Indeed one of the most talked about things in the wake of the release of Taratino’s Death Proof (rather than it’s original Grindhouse) is the fact that by releasing Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s two movies as separate entities, a series of
spoof trailers commissioned by the two directors have been axed as a result. According to John Patterson “the real loss here is the fake trailers that Tarantino and Rodriguez inserted before and between their retro-sleaze classics.”

We are it seems drawn to negative space, drawn to the ‘fake’ and what is in fact not there. It is a creative force; as the modernist sculptor Alexander Archipenko once said "it is not exactly the presence of a thing but rather the absence of it that becomes the cause and impulse for creative motivation." (Quoted by Grace Glueck, New York Times, April 14, 2005). The critics want to see the trailers for films that do not exist more than they do the films that do exist.

It is no wonder then, that Trailer Trashing is still a hot phenomenon in the digital world. Trailers are after all, simply ‘the object’ (the story of the film) surrounded by a load negative space (music, voice-overs etc.) which sets the tone and thus define the shape of the object/film story for us. Trailer trashing simply finds new meaning in this negative space by altering or playing up the background that defines the form of the object. The trashed version of
Sleepless in Seattle is a perfect example of this. It is the background ‘negative space’ surrounding the clips in this trailer that transforms it into a horror movie instead of a romance; or in other words, leads us to start to seeing faces instead of vases.

The creation of negative space is an important part of remix culture. We are just as intrigued by hidden faces as we are by vases.