J. Tobias Anderson, video still from "879 Colour".
Credit : Source video magazine of contemporary art

Video | An artifact of Alterity

Motto : "In a world witnessing the appearance of a relative wealth the Otherness is the real rarity"
Jean Baudrillard

Turning Another (l'autre) into The Other (autrui).

There is a difficulty in terminological terms when it comes to the translation of the two French terms. L'autre and autrui, according to their respective context, may be rendered as "another" and "the other" respectively.

Autrui (the Other) is always the object of a verb or of a preposition and never the subject of a sentence. Autrui (the Other) is most frequent with reference to an action with ethical value and/or assessed from a moral point of view.

Autrui - pronoun; case, variant of autre. Another, the other people. This is the definition that Robert Dictionary gives for this word.

L'autre can be translated by "the other" only if it refers to the relationship between two people, between genders, between one human group and another.

In general terms, Alterity, the Otherness, means the passage of an existence from a state to another, with or without changing the nature of said existence. Plato's theory of supreme "genres" tells us that the otherness is "the other" always different from "one". Emmanuel Levinas noted that: "in the dimension of culture as opened by knowledge, whereby the human element assimilates the non-human and dominates it, judgment is asserted and confirmed as a return of the Identical and of the Other to the unity of One". 1

The de-structured and fragmented culture of our times allows us to assimilate the Other with a stranger, the alien. But things aren't always like that. It is obvious that the otherness, as well as its opposite, the identity, have become efficient instruments for different cultural policies. The otherness is hard to imagine if we were to disregard a sort of imaginary element specific to it, supposedly de-constructible, segmental in its essence; one that would allow us to return to what is really "pure" in the human being. The otherness is, after all, an exercise of the mind, meant to do away with the forms of radicalism that, more often than not, we are tempted to appeal to.

Contemporary art forms have managed to turn the otherness into wishful thinking, rather than into the real thing. The reason for this is that its forms cannot be reunited in a unitary circle within a suitably unitary, self-determining reality.

Alterity (The Otherness). Video.

Fundamentally, alterity, the otherness, means "the other way of thinking", often materialized into the refusal to acknowledge the finite character of the human being. The technique is the one that offers a brilliant way out of the world, in an open confrontation with it. By using a certain technique, the creator (the artist) comes out of the world, rethinking it, reanalyzing it, putting up another, highly subjective, make-believe world. Here I have in mind that part of the technique, which is included in new media, and especially the video-art.

It can be stated, without the risk of making extreme statements, that video is an artifact of the alterity. We can easily imagine certain artificial gadgets (video cameras, photo cameras etc.) ready to bestow their own objectives, which might step away from themselves, thereby simulating a sort of "self-conscience", "artificial intentions", "artificial wishes", however incapable of communicating with us. They can create their own continuous dimensions in space and time, leading their unconstrained existence on the premises.

The video image is a double of the real image, of the empiric. It is a construction of reality, nonetheless simulating "something". It remakes the empiric, giving it a new shape. Simulation belongs to the digital image. It is fully justified in deforming reality, by that it states that which does not exist, or that which exists, but in a different form. The easiest example at hand is the computer videogame. Any such game, meant for fun, has the tendency to be interpreted /understood as an entity in itself, definitely endowed with wisdom and wishes. In the digital world, the otherness is an interesting phenomenon. The line between "us" and "them" - the aliens - is fluid, while power, domination and authority are very much present. No doubt that the otherness presumes a high amount of simulation. It is interesting to note that this simulation always comes to life from the image creator towards the receiver. Things never happen the other way round. The image creator "simulates" reality, "delivers" it to the make-believe receiver. Simulation always presumes the existence of two equal forces: one that may stand for the world as it is, the other one that can fake the world. However, these forces are inseparable. 2

Video is, in a different form, an act, a process unfolding in combinations of different languages. The development of the video phenomenon is articulated through a system of communication of the type: creator (artist) - video - message - viewer (receiver). This system relies on a dislocation of factual reality, where there is no faith, will, power, knowledge or art. These functions of the artist are renewed by some sort of modeling that makes you, the receiver of the video message, believe, want, know and understand.

For the video theorists of the '70s and '80s, alterity, the otherness was directly related to two elements: the purity of the video image and the relationship between the artist and the video camera. After 1990 the alterity is examined in close relation to the artist exclusively. People are trying to find about the "weight", the technical means, the degree of sophistication in editing a video system, the emotional structure of the artist and the message that he/ she intends to convey. For example, Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau created a video installation, A-Volve, under the form of a complicated genetic algorithm, based on 3D bodies. A-Volve was an interactive "game" where each visitor could create on the computer its own life forms, creatures that got into contact with others, created by other visitors. A-Volve was, in the end, a game with a clear message: the possibility of creating artificial life and of comparing the virtual reality with the empirical one in which we live.

We can never transcend out power of observation, of speaking or knowing, without creating links to a point outside ourselves - the Other. The relationship with the Other is first accessible as presence, and only then as language. Our only chance to get into contact with the Other is to communicate with him. The two parts may communicate and, why not, may reach a agreement. If we need this agreement, then there no longer is a radical distinction between "myself" and "the other" but expression, expression from one to another, "a cultural event, source of all arts." 3

Notes :

1. Emmanuel Levinas, Among us - an attempt to think the other, All Publishing, Bucharest, 2000

2. Michael Taussig, 1993. Mimesis and alterity. A particular history of the senses. New York: Routledge

3. Same as 1

Bibliografie :


Jean Baudrillard, Marc Guillaume, Figuri ale alteritatii, Ed. Paralela 45, Pitesti, 2002

Emmanuel Levinas, Intre noi-incercare de a-l gindi pe celalalt, Ed. All, Bucuresti, 2000

Michael Taussig, 1993. Mimesis and alterity : A particular history of the senses. New York : Routledge

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