CO-DIRECTING A FILM WITH MY DNA
My final project is a speculative prototype for interactive storytelling by creating a “prime editing” tool for film, through the use of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. I use the concept of “prime editing” as a (r)evolutionary framework within the editing of genes. I argue that this draws a relation between the editing as seen within filmmaking through the notion of montage. I use the code I have written while partaking a biohacking workshop with Slime Tech Lab, which focused on developing an interactive story through the cultivation of my slime mold. Throughout the workshop I was guided to attach 4 powered sensors that react on the slime it’s behavior and rapid growth. The sensors are connected to a raspberry pi that enables a form of communication between the slime and code that determines the visual components of the storytelling as prompt on an external computer screen. The code needs to be determined in advance, as for the input of assets (images, text, audio, video) and their attributes (position, color) ever as the parameters (“if” statements) for the variables (the switches connected to the powered sensors). You could technically say that there is a multiplicity in combinations of forking paths, like DNA itself, as of if-statements; “if this, then that”, set by me in advance. A somewhat choose-your-own-adventure, in which the slime becomes the author of choice as a result of its behavior. All I become is the director of input…
The slime mold as used within the workshop might entail a conceptual relation to envisioning the fast growth of the Internet. In terms of being a bright, vivid, living monoculture and its ability to grown in the pattern of nodes and branches. Historically, technologists have been using the slime mold as a tool and medium to represent a wide array of efficient systems, from the functionality of the Internet to the decision making patterns of algorithmic artificial intelligence. The Internet is considered to be a revolution of its time, resulting in activist art confined through the genre of net-art. However, I furthermore prompt the question of what the revolution of today might entail, as changes in bio-cultures, thinking of climate change, but foremost new scientific opportunities raised to a certain distinction of artistic practices and used as radical statements. Through this project, I also want to argue the subversive aspects that are encountered within the field of bio-cultures, and brought to attention through the modern takes of activist art, in terms of biohacking and bio-art. As ethical questions arise when thinking of the ability to edit not only film but for instance DNA. Addressing the ethical component of data collection, as I argue the cultivation of DNA in terms of personal ethics, as for myself becoming a Frankenstein creator. When taking into consideration the current revolution within Bio design that enables the possibility to edit DNA, through the use of “prime editing” entitled CRISP/Cas9, which is one of the most transformative recent developments in biotechnology. This sort of gene editing is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism. Within film, the tool of editing in terms of montage can hypothetically be considered as a genome. As a result of an interactive spatial montage, based on my input and code but directed and given its final shape through my DNA. Inflicting issues such as data collection and data input (The America Project, Paul Vanouse, 2017), the relation between human and technology, agency and co-authorship (“Technology in Search of an Artist: Questions of Auteurism/Authorship and the Contemporary Cinematic Experience”, Anna Notaro, 2006), non-linear, spatial storytelling and montage (Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database, Lev Manovich and Andreas Kratky, 2003). The project notes the relationship between interactivity and cinema studies in which this project draws on the hacking of a revolutionary framework through technologies that are available to the public today.
The Process and Critique of Creation
During the creation of the project, my role as a director has been mostly brought into place when I had to authorize the choice of input, as for the assets (images, text, audio, video) and their attributes (position, color). After all, all I became was the director of input. I decided to draw my reasoning moreover on the actual prospectus, written by Manovich on Soft Cinema OS, an adaptation of Soft Cinema. Whereas the key differences between both projects are that Soft Cinema makes use of Manovich’s database of media elements, as for the OS version, users can add to the database by uploading their own media elements to the website. I argue that the second case can be considered as another adaptation of “prime-editing” through film, by interweaving multiple people’s sources (DNA). However, it raises questions of a new model of co-authorship, addressed by Anna Notaro throughout her article. As for the collaboration between the author and the software, even as the use of an opensource movement. Another valuable critique Notaro addresses in terms of filmmaking, as for “cinema’s power over us, as it has been argued, is our lack of power over it” . Which I find highly referenceable when drawing it into relation in terms of giving co-authorship to an (artificial)intelligence of a machine, as for the use of software within Soft Cinema, or to natural intelligence, as within my version through the use of DNA. This raises several questions in terms of the actual authorization of the input by the DNA, in terms of what and how exactly does it direct/control the input, and how do I as director gain control over the direction of how my DNA directs. But to relate in terms of my directorial contribution. I mainly draw my reasoning for choosing the input based on Marina Hassapopoulou’s consideration of noting software-generated cinema to retain one of the most primitive socio-pedagogical functions of the cinema. As to Hassapopoulou; “software cinema trains the viewer in new modes of film spectatorship, and new modes of narrative and affective subjectivity, that correspond to the hypertextual ways in which we interact with digital technologies.” Which I establish within my final project, through the use of referential theories, as not only a theoretical contribution but becoming a practical input source within the project itself. Such as using Dziga Vertov Kino-Eye Manifesto (1923), as an underlying narrative within the storytelling through voiceover, to express his notion of the camera being a constructor. Which to me can be seen as referential to the working and growth of the DNA, as for having a mind of its own, ever as the working of (prime)editing and montage. In terms of visual footage, I choose to use found footage from my video archive, drawing a relation to the notion of remixing myself as for modifying my DNA memories. But perhaps in further editions (Sample Cinema “OS”), I could extend on the actual prime-editing of my DNA with that of somebody or something else. This draws me on addressing the ethical component of DNA extraction as seen within the bio-art by Paul Vanouse entitled The America Project (2017). As for DNA extraction within this project is bribed both by the intentional act of promiscuous fluid mixing of participant’s spit and the recontextualization of machine and scientific process into artistic expression. Ever as this technically sophisticated activity was performed live, for an audience, which extracts the secret and magical process from the bio lab and injects it into a human-scaled space of understanding. Vanouse states on his portfolio website that throughout this particular work, he hoped to pinpoint the highly-charged ambivalence of biopower as a form of (governmental) control. But on the other hand, through the attempt of presenting this ambivalence, his work becomes self-referral, as he is part of the ambivalence to address the ambivalence. Throughout my project, I became highly aware of my participation within a bio lab workspace, in terms of “giving” pieces of my DNA through the scope of a participatory workshop. Even though, I have argued that I considered myself to become “the director of input” in terms of the storytelling narrative. However, I also became the director of input by using a piece of myself as a starting input. Until now this is a trajectory I am not very confident with in terms of how this may have an affect within the future. Ever so I have taken this trajectory to critique a field of research, just like Vanouse, through showcasing its ambivalence.
Sampling the Input
I decided to write a “DNA sample”, which contains a set of rules that are used to determine the choice of input for my piece of Sample Cinema. It is based on similar rules that Manovich originally used to determine his input for Soft Cinema, as noted within his prospectus (ibid):
* While the soundtrack of each movie is fixed by the author, the visual track is constructed by the DNA sample. The DNA sample decides what appears on the screen, where, and in which sequence. The decisions are based partly on a system of rules and are partly random. In short, Sample Cinema can be thought of as a semi-automatic VJ-or more precisely, a FJ (Film Jockey).
* The source material for the visual track comes from a personal database. Each video clip in the database follows Dogma 95 rules: it was shot in continuous takes without edits using a hand-held camera.
* The length of each movie corresponds to the typical length of a music track (2 – 6 minutes).
* All video’s where to be made between 2018-2019 (Manovich; “1999 and 2002”)
* 2D animation, motion graphics (i.e. animated text), stills, 3D scenes (as in computer games), diagrams, etc. In addition, Sample Cinema supplements a “normal” video image with other types of lens-based imagery commonly used today by industry, science, medicine, and military: drone imaging (Manovich: “the low res webcam image, an infrared image, edge-detected image as employed in computer vision”)
* The script is cut into a set of 16 lines, as to the 4×4 options of sensors.
In terms of the attributes (position, color) ever as the parameters (“if” statements) for the variables (the switches connected to the powered sensors). I drew my knowledge once again from Manovich’s Soft Cinema. Similarly, in his database each clip is defined by several parameters, its metadata, transcribing its visual information, in terms of; subject matter, location, the contrast of the image, movement, etc. The software uses these parameters as metadata to decide which clips are knitted together. As fascinated as I am when I look at the aesthetic display of Soft Cinema, as for the software displaying the input in a certain grid. At first, I couldn’t figure out exactly what the software its generative rules in aesthetics were based on. I created a pattern based on the Soft Cinema episode “Texas”, adopting the variable choices and multi-frame layout of the Soft Cinema system to represent Manovich’s probably idea upon a “variable identity”. Ever so I argue that this choice of pre-made aesthetic that functions as a template for the software to contribute to becomes merely an underrepresentation of the software’s identity. Especially in the case, when arguing DNA to co-direct a film, I was anticipating on aesthetic choices to be generated through the DNA. Perhaps I was in somewhat high hopes that my DNA would outsmart me and make the aesthetic choices based on my pleasing, but this becomes quite redundant when arguing that my DNA actually is partly a presence of myself. Ever so within the scope of this project, I choose to resonate with Manovich’s logic of the “variable identity”. I used a similar pre-made aesthetic in which my DNA would resonate, similar to its functioning within the boundaries of a petri dish I suppose. As for setting the parameters of the variables, I choose a set of numbers that refer to the choice of a certain source within my database of input. As for sensor 1; footage, sensor 2; position, sensor 3; color, sensor 4: music. The voiceover is the only consistency within the scope of the 2-6 minute music track. Together, the DNA and I directed several versions. In terms of my direction, I decided to direct some variables identities by attaching the sensors to other effects of choice (zoom, speed, …).
For the presentation of my final project, in terms of this class, I decided to create a Google Drive Folder, which is accessible for others to share, use and (prime)edit. It includes an artist impression of the running P5.js code, as an online streaming platform. Including several edits by the DNA and a second screen view of a “live stream” of my DNA Sample. Which for the time being I used a time-lapse I found on the internet of a growing slime mold. As for the actual sample of my DNA remains to be protected from the internet until further notice. The actual code is a working code that I alternated from the existing code that was written by Slime Tech Lab and was used as a resource during their workshop. The final result, a piece of cinema, that portrays a speculative prototype, a sample, of “co-directing a film with my DNA” entitled Sample Cinema.
The project overall gave me an alternative perspective on the definition and functioning of directing a film. Within the context of cinema studies and film analysis, the role of authorship ever as the aesthetic choices became highly questionable. During the process itself, it felt I was moreover directing my DNA instead of co-directing with my DNA. As the choices that needed to be made upfront, as for input and parameters were very much so choices of my own likening, arguing that this was my input as the author. Ever so the end result serves as a non-linear story based upon the linearity of the sample its rapid growth as seen within the time-lapse. The directing of the film becomes a direction of life. When arguing the use of software as a co-director as seen within Manovich’s Soft Cinema in relation to DNA as co-director. I started to question myself throughout the process of what the differences are in terms of artificial and natural intelligence. Perhaps my choice of authorship in regards to that of Manovich are too similar, but through the terms of our co-directors, as for the software director and “natural” director, should have their own field of “genre” to be criticized and analyzed upon. As the driven concepts of both works differ. But how can the aesthetics be determined both aesthetically and ethically through the means of both the subject and the content? A question I hope to research more within the future iterations of this project.
In terms of how this non-traditional academic assignment has impacted my writing and ability to think creatively. Foremost its impact lies to me within the opportunity to not only theorize but also put theory into practice. The best part may even be theorizing the practice after it has been put into actual practice. Creating an all-round cycle, as for the theory doesn’t become only hypothetical. Even as the practice is not taken for granted as being only for “art sake” or aesthetically pleasing purposes. For this particular project, I also found it very insightful to be able to expand boundaries beyond the field of Cinema Studies. As this project becomes a cross-disciplinary with the field of biology as well. As some of the theories within both studies overlap, which gave me an additional understanding of how to approach and acknowledge another field of studies through my own specialization. That being said, I also do not want to underestimate another field of studies in its complexity and foreground knowledge, which through this project I had to do a lot of background reading in the working of another field of studies to understand some of its key concepts, as for DNA. The workshops at Gen Space were very insightful and most helpful in order to understand the field of Biology through a form of art practice, as for bio-hacking. Ever as the lab itself allowed participants to contribute their own knowledge and interests in open discussing, as most of the participants where students from NYU Tandon. However, the technical component of coding is another asset that I have come to terms with, which again is a very complex language in itself. The ability for me to create a well-round working prototype therefore needs some additional time and another helping hand to make it realizable. But, in my case, perhaps speculation is enough, as I used the theory and examples that were discussed in class, related it to another field of studies, and together, a practical form raised in terms of a prototype. Ever so, the prototype itself still needed actual input, which I found the most conceptual part of it all, as it needs to be grounded back to my knowledge based on actual theory in order to conceptualize the practice even more. Perhaps in that consent, it became rather over-conceptualized, as every aspect had very own reasoning relating back to theory. The project raised a lot of questions during the process of making that helped me re-think my thesis and concept I had as a starting point which was mostly theory-driven. Within the future, I hope to especially furthermore develop the concept of storytelling through DNA, in which I intend to seek the relation between this theory- and practice-driven concept and relate more specifically to its complexity and implications that the concept addresses.
 Manovich, Lev. “Soft Cinema OS” Rockefeller Foundation New Media Fellowships 2003 Project Cover Form.
 Notaro, Anna. “Technology in Search of an Artist: Questions of Auteurism/Authorship and the Contemporary Cinematic Experience”. 2006.
 Hassapopoulou, Marina. “Reconfiguring Film Studies Through Software Cinema and Procedural Spectatorship”. In NESCUS: European journal of Media Studies. 2014.
ALL WORKS CITED
Readings and Media (course material)
Notaro, Anna. “Technology in Search of an Artist: Questions of Auteurism/Authorship and the Contemporary Cinematic Experience”. 2006.
Hassapopoulou, Marina. “Reconfiguring Film Studies Through Software Cinema and Procedural Spectatorship”. In NESCUS: European journal of Media Studies. 2014.
Soft Cinema: Navigating the Database (Lev Manovich and Andreas Kratky, 2003)
Readings and Media (consulted)
Manovich, Lev. “Soft Cinema OS” Rockefeller Foundation New Media Fellowships 2003 Project Cover Form.
Vertov, Dziga. “Kino-Eye Manifesto”. 1923
The America Project (Paul Vanouse, 2017)
Workshop Slime Tech Lab (Images of Cultivated Slime/DNA, Terrarium, Rasberry Pi)
P5.js code as online streaming platform
Input sources: Valerie’s personal archive (2018-2019)
Compilation of “DNA” downloaded sounds < freesound.org >
Song: “Glass – Einstein On The Beach – Knee Play 5 – Orange Mountain Music”
Videos Slime Mold: “Timelapse video Pshysarym Polucephalum” (2014, Will Stevens, Youtube) < https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mvBSkt6LhJE > & “NJIT Swarm Lab slime mold timelapse” (2016, NJIT, Youtube) < https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3rWk6h0Syog%20%3E >
Workshop Slime Tech Lab (Ashley Jane Lewis and Ayodamola Tanimowo Okunseinde) October 20, 27 @Genspace, Brooklyn
Workshop Genome editing with CRISPR-Cas9 Nov 15-17 @Genspace, Brooklyn
External source outside Cinema Studies: Elizabeth Henaff, NYU Tandon Assistant Professor Bio Design and Micro environment exploitation lab.