:: Article

Cinema of Interface: Metahaven’s Digital Tarkovsky

By Mike Corrao.

Metahaven, Digital Tarkovsky (Strelka Institute, 2018)

Enter the digital badlands / where Metahaven are exploring / a new kind of film /a cinema of the interface / offering Digital Tarkovsky / an essay written / in the likeness of its subject matter / published electronically / understanding you will read it / on your mobile device / and in doing so you will experience this / conversation first hand / your encounter with the essay itself / an example of the Digital Tarkovsky / itself //

The authors of this text / Metahaven / are a Dutch design studio / primarily artists Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden / who employ a variety of mediums / short films / text / fashion / etc. / displayed in spaces like / MoMA / Instagram / Dutch Institute of Art / Tumblr / etc. / work with a distinctly digital quality / often co-opting / recontextualizing / imagery from corporate and governmental sites / such as the Adobe Premier “media offline” screen //

With Digital Tarkovsky the studio is working / with the Strelka Institute / a non-governmental education organization / to assemble a text with the desire to outline and define the unique aesthetic qualities of the digital landscape / arguing the internet is not a new television / but a new kind of cinema / comparable to the works of Andrei Tarkovsky / known for his motifs of duration and dreamscape / in which our digital fragmentation is recontextualized in relation to / zones of spatial and temporal anomaly //

Metahaven maps a / change of means / rather than experience / in other words / we have not entered a world without idle time or waiting / we have entered a world where idle time is performed differently / not sitting in silence or walking in nature / we are waiting for the next series of notifications / the next excitation in the wave of news and information / Bergson’s duree sprouting a new visual arm / rendered tactile on your feed / where timestamps fluctuate / from past to future to present / a cycling collage / this fragmentation likened / to Tarkovsky’s slow cinema / where time becomes a dream / ambiguous in its movement //

While the digital landscape changes with an incredible speed / this does not mean it is devoid of slowness / our experience of this fragmentation is limited to the constraints of the body / this is to say that we cannot stare at the screen forever / we must sleep eventually / in the scope of our individual experience / this is our slowness / this is when we wait / there will always be someone who is awake and online / but our personal encounter with this greater structure is given a natural rhythm through our need for sleep / this fragmentation flourishes in the lag time / a picture never complete / obscured by the algorithmic editing of social media / but Tarkovsky says that the assembly of the shots is not the source of the rhythm / instead it is the pressure of time that creates it / there is a sense that the user can never have a complete context / we are instead only witness to segments of the greater collage / latching onto disparate details across various platforms / attempting to assemble the context for increasingly obscured images / memes made in reference to their predecessors / presented without the metonymic footnotes that would render them coherent //

In their mapping of the longue duree / this temporal fragmentation / Metahaven draw from the works of Deleuze / Bergson / Husserl / transcribing a cinematic understanding of time / of the time-image / onto our digital experience / and begin the process of coding this / cinema of the interface / the Digital Tarkovsky / by opening themselves to a new line of questioning :

Why then bother cinema’s temple with its surrounding digital camping grounds, with social media fluff, YouTube clips, disappearing Snapchat pictures, manic text messages, animated gifs, manipulated Wikipedia articles, Instagram stories, fake news websites, failing Skype calls, Pokémon Go, stickers, overlays… why bother cinema with interface?

Capital C cinema is a mechanical process / its methods haptic / presentation isolated / shown to an audience sitting in the dark without interruption / but cinema of the interface does not function this way / it is more ubiquitous / projected from every computer screen and mobile device / content not bound to the mythological auteur / instead often user-generated / the product of a non-plan / likened to Tarkovsky’s interview-esque script for the film Mirror / it is cinema without scaffolding / realized as it is produced / it is not the result of physical action [filming / cutting / projecting] / the medium does not show evidence of a manipulated material / rather it is the result of a greater multiplicity / data amassing from a field of unrelated sources / news feed forming from the organic dictations of anonymous figures / a temporal object not formed temporally //

Discussing Solaris / Metahaven bring forth a quote from an interview / where Tarkovsky / talking about the negative qualities of the concrete/ says something along the lines of / the space stations were beautiful to construct, but I think the film would have been better without them / that is, the film’s location / the hard sci-fi environment of the spaceship / asked too much of the audience / took them too far away from the film / removed them from the very human qualities of the narrative / citing Stalker as the more tactfully executed of his genre films / Metahaven introduce the idea of / the partially found / where proof is not so haptic and presentable / the sensation that renders Stalker’s Zone an anomaly / is the same that defines our   relationship / to the abstract environment of the digital / in the manner that the Zone behaves without clear causality [or progression] / the interface evolves in obscured patterns / Soft Evidence traverses the uncharted territory of missing without a map. It articulates the lyrical vocabulary of powerlessness / revealing the digital landscape in all of its unknowable forms //

To support their thesis / Metahaven take on the task of / defining /or at least identifying / the aesthetics of the Tarkovskyan Image / examining the various facets of / the director’s work / the ambiguous supernatural elements of Mirror / the strict science fiction of Solaris / the Zone of Stalker [noted as an imaginary place both internal and external to late-socialist reality] / each of these micro-analyses adding / new terminology / to the greater essay / soft evidence / the non-plan / longue duree / poor image / kino brush / which later resurfaces as a kind of shorthand / concisely building the matrices / connecting Tarkovsky to the digital interface / allowing the essay to / slowly build  / towards something much larger //

Cinema of the interface becomes / more than a recontextualization / it becomes an attempt to / define our relationship to / digital landscapes / to map online experiences / one of those experiences being the book itself / sold as an e-book  / with each page split into thirds to fit the dimensions of a screen / and with this in mind / the concepts of Digital Tarkovsky / become more tangible / as they are directly related to your reading / this experience furthered by / some unconventional / choices in formatting / occasionally the text of the essay is interrupted by brief montages / CUT TO: The essay. But you’re on your phone / sections of the text often bookended by interludes / textual scenes edited together / audio clips collaged in microscopic doses / their presentation preceded by the / language and terminology / which triggers their appearance / then followed by new analyses / allowing the essay to shift / from being exclusively informative / to being an experiential example / of what it wishes to identify //

AMSTERDAM, NIGHT STORE. Security camera. The SECOND NARRATOR enters the night store.

Machines and their cinema control the long take.

INSTAGRAM STORIES, projected on a vertical cinema screen. An AUDIENCE watches in amazement.

Like the uncontextualized images of the internet / these interludes are often / devoid of background or set-up / their connection to the essay is undeniable / the language of Metahaven carrying consistent across both modes / but there’s a lack of time and space / who is saying these lines to us? / where they are being said? / when they are being said?  / they appear on the page as if examples or figures / or as if the writers have stopped talking to us for a moment / and are instead talking amongst themselves / discussing something about what they have just written / what they are about to write / or perhaps something entirely unrelated / in this moment showing a willingness to / participate in the Tarkovskyan aesthetic / performing the non-plan / toying with the rigid structure of the academic essay / mutating this form into something more malleable and exhibitive //

Digital Tarkovsky closes with a discussion of / dashcam videos [most of which come from Russia] / distinguishing between compilations of traffic accidents / and the less uploaded unedited footage / the latter being of interest to us / an example of the longue duree / of a slow / often mundane duration / where an event may happen / but its happening will be / surrounded by a wealth of nothingness / of waiting / of lag time / but / when something eventually does happen / it is thoroughly witnessed / the meteorite that flew over Russia back in 2013 / made visible from every angle / thoroughly documented / a non-plan projected into the greater interface / and / in this final example / Digital Tarkovsky reveals itself as an important text / a work of prevalent contemporary theory / attempting to identify this new landscape in which we / cannot help but exist //

Mike Corrao is the author of two novels, Man, Oh Man (Orson’s Publishing) and Gut Text (11:11 Press), one chapbook, Avian Funeral March (Self-Fuck), and many short films. Along with earing a Best of the Net nomination, Mike’s work has been featured in publications such as Entropy, Collagist, Always Crashing, and The Portland Review. He lives in Minneapolis. Learn more at www.mikecorrao.com.


First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 5th, 2019.