Exhibition Notes for Zero Frames per Second
MFA Computer Art Gallery, New York City
August 18 - September 19, 2008

Kurt Ralske: Detail from Motion Extraction: Alphaville (1965, Godard), 2008, Archival pigment print, 43" x 43"

1__ The Erotic Reverie of the Screen

It began, like many questionable endeavors, with a strange dream. In a darkened cinema, a film flickers across the screen. But the screen is not a normal screen made of fabric. Instead, it is some weird kind of living creature. A sentient being, perhaps an extraterrestrial, conscious, breathing. The screen-creature is sensitive to the light that is projected onto it. And it enjoys the sensation. The beams of light moving across its body are as pleasurable as a lover's caress.

Later, in the dark. The audience has gone home, the projector has been turned off. The screen, now alone, recalls the various accumulated sensations produced by the now-departed film: the warm throb of bright images washing across its entire surface. The ticklish thrill of a fast-cut coming-soon trailer. The steady upwards caress of the closing credits. In the dark, the screen drifts in a state like an erotic reverie.

Strange dreams are rarely a good basis for deciding one's future course of action. However, in this case, it seemed a leap of faith was being offered in an interesting way. So, whatever, why not try to represent the memories of a sentient screen? Indirectly, this led to the works in Zero Frames per Second.

Kurt Ralske: Detail from Motion Extraction: Faust (1927, Murnau), 2008, Archival pigment print, 43" x 43"

2__ The Residue of Time: Memory and Meaning

Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." The present (the "now") exists as an incomprehensibly tiny thing, razor-thin between the past and future. It is for us an infinitely small burst of sensation. It does not in itself contain meaning. How do we assemble tiny units of sensation into something coherent, something meaningful?

Raw sensation attains meaning by being correlated with stored information. In our memory, we have stored a lifetime of sensation. Similarly, language (ideas, symbols, images) functions as the memory of culture. By participating in shared knowledge, we absorb older, richer content, and gain new ways of correlating present with past to produce meaning.

As a film can be said to leave two hour's residue of images on a screen, our life experience leaves a residue of a lifetime of sensation and language. This residue is identical with the self.

Kurt Ralske: Detail from Motion Extraction: Solaris (1971, Tarkovsky), 2008, Archival pigment print, 43" x 43"

3__ Motion and Rest

My way of working is to locate an interesting pre-existing artifact or system, and subtly intervene to allow a transformation to occur. In the right conditions, the gentlest touch can cause an artifact to reveal a great about itself and the world. I prefer the "good cop" approach for getting materials to spill the beans.

The still images in Zero Frames per Second are each created from an entire movie. Every single frame of a film (usually about 150,000) contributes to the final still image. The film is written like text, left to right, top to bottom.

In the five square images, only what was in motion throughout the film is drawn. The motions of actors, the motion of the camera, jump cuts, lighting changes are all visible, but static parts of the original film image are not. In the two larger images (The Golem and Alphaville), a different strategy is used: all motion is drawn on one line, and all stasis is drawn on the next.

The images can be thought of as merely a data visualization of the information contained in the film, but done in a somewhat idiosyncratic, unscientific way. There is no expressive intent. Once the algorithm was complete, the remaining choices were limited to only: which film? how big? what aspect ratio? The intent was to convert the cinematic experience into "residue": something without duration, narrative, or signification. What is visible is only the workings of motion and rest.

(Kurt Ralske, August 2008)