Marea — a conversation on realtime cinema

Alex Murray
Aug 20 · 5 min read

The following article was published in the Spring issue of Lodown Magazine.

Marea (2018) is a programmed film by Alex Murray and GVN908 that renders in realtime from live security camera streams. In the first stage of this ongoing project, Marea poeticises the contemporary world in which images are received at such high-frequency that meaning can only be grasped a posteriori. This fluid, entropic model of production seeks to confront traditional narrative structures by reimagining the possibilities of contemporary cinema. Marea proposes a model for script development influenced more by realtime game engine software and high-frequency trading than linear production processes.

How did the process of creating a coded film come about?

— The project came about after discovering the insecam.org website, which is a website that archives a database of security cameras from around the world. At the same time, I started to get interested in the narratives that could arise from hacked content. For instance, I was writing a soap opera that was written from the email leaks of Sony Picture Entertainment. It was a scattered mess of information, yet I was fascinated by the recombining of these fragmented stories. You would read about the same characters in different emails, like a torn-up film script. I would try to imagine the characters that were in these emails. Most of the time the information was scrambled, so you couldn’t read them in any linear manner. To understand the story you had to reassemble it, reassemble this scrambled time. Alternative timelines would arise through the error of reading emails in a non-linear way.

— The project happened without the clearest idea of how it would function as a film. Until recently, it was a technical exercise. We weren’t sure what was possible to achieve by coding a film, or something that resembles film, from very unusual live streams. There was the slow realisation that we could scrape this giant archive of realtime images, all these images of the world, and have them tell a story.

Marea in Italian means tide or flood. Why was this metaphor used as a title for the film?

— Security infrastructures are seen in a really dystopic light, not only in the way the art world deals with surveillance but also the way surveillance is negotiated politically and socially. The “tide” or the surging of a primordial ocean interested me in that this vast ocean of cameras was like prehistoric lifeform swimming around, not quite making biological sense yet, but also being the basis to which new life is formed. We were able to take from this pool of information and create something completely new with it. It was liberating — like how do you hack these infrastructures of control and turn them into new stories, or new life, let's say. How do you free yourself from the confines of the political reality in which you find yourself swimming around in and invert it to become a positive thing?

— In a sense, this primordial ocean describes something before life, or before the story. These kinds of narratives are constantly evolving but never evolved. It’s a creative power that never fulfils itself. It’s an interesting and complicated concept because it doesn’t lean in any direction. The problem is that it could remain in this constant state of meaninglessness. But it also empowers these non-narratives, not because they strive to become one, but because they renounce their desire to be one.

Describe this concept of the end of history that you narrate in the film.

— The narration opens with the statement “We look at the end of history and it reveals itself as a flickering mirage”. For me, this articulates the flood of data that we receive in realtime. By standing at the edge of history, and by this I mean receiving a buffer of images with such a high velocity that it has yet to have an ascribed historical significance, all images cease to tell a story. At this moment we start to question the ways in which we shape history or assign meaning to an event or object.

— Streams of video content are replacing rendered content. Now, everything is much more based on live feeds. So what histories are going to be chronicled when history is happening at the same time as it is being rendered, when there is no event that is speculated upon, written down and then legitimised? When human beings, which unfortunately are at the centre of most stories, are no longer making anything worthy of being retold, what stories do we tell? It may sound sad but it reminds me a lot of the Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction by Ursula Le Guin. She wonders why it’s not interesting to hear the story of ancient people picking berries, but why it’s interesting to hear the story of the hunter going off to kill the dinosaur. We are in this moment where the stories of people picking berries are the only stories left. It’s obvious because it’s all we see and how we behave in social spaces — we watch superheroes on the screen without ever experiencing any “real” stories ourselves.

And how does Marea provoke this concept?

— To illustrate this point, the Truman Show exposes the ultimate flaws of the traditional film narrative. As soon as you remove the main character from the script, in this case when Truman goes missing from the show, suddenly the Hollywood narrative falls apart. All the actors are on standby, waiting around for their cues, waiting for Truman to reenter so the narrative can continue. At this moment, the camera can no longer keep up with the subject it tries to capture. The metaphor might seem silly, but Marea takes off from this point. When the actors are missing, the only option left is to narrate the plot holes and the action that is erased from the frame. If we attempt to capture a particular subject and write it into existence, the concept of the film misses its point.

— The whole purpose of the security camera is to prevent action from taking place, so the stage is predetermined and action becomes collateral. So our method was to empower these events and actors that are otherwise bureaucratic, mundane and insignificant.

In order to view Marea (https://marea.today), use a modern browser and click the screen when the titles have loaded. Music composed by Diego Navarro.

Alex Murray

Written by

Australian artist, living in Belgrade and Sydney— https://alexmurray.info

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