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Steven Bode, Film and Video Umbrella: “Babel Fiche began as an online call for user-donated video content in which people’s singular and disparate perspectives on Life, the Universe and Everything might offer a patchwork cross-section of contemporary experience. If YouTube is the accepted star-chart of this strange new online cosmos, Babel Fiche is a self-consciously small-scale satellite. […] Distilled and compressed onto microfilm, these cryptic thumbnail images went on to inspire their own mini-narrative. Featuring contributions from writers Gaia Holmes and Stefan Skrimshire, a resulting 18-minute video imagines this time capsule of found footage from the vantage point of the near future, where archivists pore over, and labour to piece together, these once-familiar everyday scenes. Embellished by an atmospheric soundtrack by musician Graham Massey (808 State), Griffiths’ project reminds us how images of the past are so often lost in translation yet continue to speak to us all the same.”

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8 August 2012: Babel Fiche launches at Castlefield Gallery

For its re-launch, Castlefield Gallery is pleased to announce Babel Fiche, an exhibition of new work by artist Dave Griffiths for its annual solo exhibition Review. With the world in considerable political, economic and cultural flux and turmoil, there has been recent evidence of a return to interests in socio-political themes in contemporary visual art and the 3 main exhibitions for 2012/13 have been programmed under the overarching annual theme of World In Transition referencing these issues as points of departure.

The Babel Fiche exhibition features two ambitious new works by Griffiths, Deep Field [The Photographic Universe] and the film Babel Fiche, developed from a Film and Video Umbrella commission and co-produced with Castlefield Gallery. For the past few years Griffiths’ work has involved the use of ‘cuedots’, microdots and microfiche, exploring a fascination with what was conceived of as ‘redundant’ technology with the advent of the digital era. These newly commissioned works further develop his interest in this area.

Griffiths’ film explores the human urge to collect, categorise and remix images through a critical questioning of the future of digital image archives. Video fragments from personal and public archives were collected and re-presented from the compressed contents as still frames printed on an edition of unique colour microfiche plates. Making sense of the excess imagery littered on the internet as well as in our personal hoards of photographic images and film footage, the project imagines how future generations may perceive the current times. In the making of the film Griffiths involved a number of collaborators, to broaden the scope of response to the archive content; Applied ethics writer Stefan Skrimshire and poet Gaia Holmes as scriptwriters, musician Graham Massey producing the soundtrack, and artist and filmmaker Joe Duffy as editor.

Griffiths alters our seismic understanding of time and history. He orchestrates a disjuncture between the actual, its documentation, consequential archiving and concepts of time-shifting, treating them as malleable components to be expanded, shifted and contracted, radically reappraising the production and consumption of culture. In Griffiths’ film the analogue image archive re-emerges as an object of scrutiny for a future generation of archaeologists, with a mise-en-scène of Manchester’s cityscape shot at the top of the iconic Beetham Tower skyscraper.

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5 July : artplayer feature on Babel Fiche shoot

Video folks from artplayer.tv came along and filmed us shooting Babel Fiche scenes at the top of Beetham’s Tower. Their website’s just gone live, and here’s the report: “In this episode of inFocus we talk to David Shrigley at the Hayward Gallery about his Brain Activity exhibition, we visit Yorkshire’s major new art gallery The Hepworth in Wakefield and we take a look at Babel Fiche – a collaborative film project by Dave Griffiths using microfiche.

artplayer inFocus #5 from artplayer.tv on Vimeo.

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2 February 2012: Storyboard & Beetham shoot

Shoot day rapidly approaches! Next Wednesday the location filming for Babel Fiche gets underway. We have a 10-strong crew shooting 500 feet up on the 43rd floor of Beetham Tower, Manchester’s iconic skyscraper, infamous for whistling to the city during high winds (thanks to the glass blade sat on top).  Take a look at the Babel Fiche storyboard, and how the animation and location scenes blend together.

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18 January 2012: Cast & crew announced, plus animation tests

As Babel Fiche enters 2012 there’s loads to report about funding, cast and crew, script development, location, and early animation tests.

Funding: It’s fantastic to announce that Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery are now a co-producer of Babel Fiche, alongside Film and Video Umbrella. This has allowed me to extend the original scope of the project to include some location scenes and more ambitious sound design.

Cast & crew: Babel Fiche is now moving into production! Scripts by Stefan Skrimshire and Gaia Holmes were completed in November, and their voices will now be embodied in the roles of Gaia and Stefan, played by Alice Brockway and Daniel Coll two northern actors with extensive stage, TV and film credits. Auditions for these roles took place in late December 2011 with casting director Lucia Cox. The remix ethos of Babel Fiche continues right up to the recording, as new interpretations from Lucia, Danny and Alice mean the script is tweaked during rehearsal.

Voiceover recording has now been completed at Airtight Studios, Manchester.  You can hear the full voiceover recording here: BabelFiche voice output_mastered

The rest of the soundtrack composition will be by Graham Massey – a pioneering musician noted for his involvement in early Manchester techno group 808 State, and projects such as Toolshed and Sisters of Transistors. Location scenes will be filmed on the top floors of Beethams Tower, Manchester’s tallest building, and will be crewed by emerging northwest film professionals including DoP Sean Lomax, 1st AD Lucy Lincoln, and art director Rhiannon Clifford.  Here’s some photos from the recce showing crew at work and view from the Tower:

Animation: The microfiche plates have arrived back from Zurich, courtesy of Genus Microfilm – they look fantastic. In these acetate film surfaces individual video clips have been embedded frame-by-frame, with each cell measuring roughly 1.5mm height. This is how they look:

Here is an early animation test, combining the microfiches with stop-motion shooting. The microfiche is magnified onto a perspex screen, the film tray is adjusted by hand for each single frame, and everything is shot using a HD camera.

The clip is from lucidity03, clip of a plane landing at St Maarten’s beach in the Bahamas.

I practiced swooping gestures, and using tilt angles to give more distortion in the gridlines. Bounding lines also allow for interesting grid layouts. Although the microfiche plates are in pristine condition, the machine attracts dust into its glass tray, lens, mirror and screen – so lots of artefacts creep into the final result giving an ‘analogue film’ feel. The animation is rather jittery, mainly because I repositioned frames by eye. When I use iStopmotion and onion-skinning the motion should be more refined. There’s also a grainy look, caused by filming off the ground perspex screen. I quite like it, but will try other smoother surfaces out, eg. Mylar.

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28 November 2011: Microfilms now printing in Zurich

Here are sample images of the completed microfiche layouts which are now being printed at Gubler Imaging, a specialist microfilm bureau based in Zurich.  You can see the incredibly sharp image quality which is achieved by their photo-laser process.  Everything is laid out in a file which would measure  5.5 metres as a paper print – but the layouts are actually compressed onto acetate plates measuring just 148 x 105 mm (A6).

A grid reference is used to identify the clips on each plate. The icons show any future researcher how the fiches can be viewed by simple means – light source, magnifying lens, and the eye.

Some clips have their accompanying audio embedded alongside as waveforms that could be scanned and re-converted into sound.

As soon as I receive the microfiche plates  in early December I can begin animating frame-by-frame. Sample shots will be posted here as they are created. More news soon!

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9 November 2011: Design sketches for fiche animation

Have been busy on the layouts, trying to solve the problem of fitting over 40 video clips, each 20 seconds long, onto a few microfiche plates. The image shows stacks of frames, where each clip is broken down into a contact sheet – each frame will be approx 1.7mm height to the naked eye. Colour coding will help to identify each clip and link to the contributors, along with a grid reference to coordinates . All this aims to codify the plates with an archival character – where the contents would be recognisable as information. Hopefully it will speed up the navigation of the plates, and shooting the animation.

Below is the animation apparatus. A simple light source and lens. Babel Fiche will be shot on a tiny digital spy-camera with macro lens, so that individual tiny frames, 1-2mm height, will be detectable.  The animation process is rudimentary stop-frame shooting – frame-by-frame. The spy-camera can be mounted or handheld – allowing for fluid gestures across the fiche.

There are a myriad of possibilities for a handheld macro lens and a dense bank of images. The animations I hope to produce from Babel Fiche should give a sense of immediacy and discovery – as the fictional future narrators (Stefan & Gaia) navigate and comment on the archive. I love the way Borges writes about the labrynth, and see the archive, and the Internet, as a similar multidimensional space which we weave our way through. The sketches below show potential ways of macro shooting through playing with pace, loops, tracking, angles, and transitions.

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31 October 2011: Scripts reports – two drafts for Babel Fiche animation

In September 2011 two writers responded to the Babel Fiche archive with imaginary voiceovers from the future, which you are invited to download and read. Stefan Skrimshire‘s script adopts the distant voice of a Mancunian philosopher who discovers the Babel Fiche archive. Through examining these image fragments from our current times he exposes our unclear archival instinct. Why did we preserve these images, and what histories were we trying to communicate?  Adopting the role of a future-philosopher, Stefan expresses a deep regret in the lack of self-belief in our current thought and action. This voice detects a deep pessimism in the archive, compiled in a nihilistic age of collapse. Instead of a confident, clear vision being inscribed in the archive, he finds that faith in the future is eclipsed by a paralysing fear, ignorance and panic. The philosopher observes our restless movement and quest for immortality, but also notes our defeatism and lack of a clear social destination.  Read Stefan’s script.

Gaia Holmes‘ script from the future also ponders our accelerated life, as evidenced by these clips from the everyday. This poetic anthropologist looks back on our present mindset as a hatred of stillness, as we ceaselessly navigate and adapt our constructed world. It is a present which we shun in favour of craving for the future, which consumes us; a restive running from place to place and scene to scene that mangles our bond with time. Gaia’s voice wonders about our relationship with objects and one another. The loss of our ability to appreciate and understand the present leads to a mass abandonment of things, or their encasement in archive silos. Our patterns of bodily movement indicate our acute isolation from others. Read Gaia’s script.

But despite their bleak analysis of the present, both scripts offer glimmers of promise for a restored grasp of time and ethical responsibility. Return soon for more Babel Fiche updates, including final scripts, storyboards, photos of the animation process, and sample clips as they develop.

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23 September 2011: Writers announced!

Two writers based in the North of England have been selected to contribute texts for the Babel Fiche animations. Stefan Skrimshire is a philosopher, author and filmmaker whose work discusses future apocalypse and utopia – ideas evoked by the narratives of politics, religion, climate change and terrorism. Stefan lectures in applied ethics at Leeds University. Gaia Holmes is a poet, teacher and radio DJ based in Halifax who is known in the UK for her festival readings, and Comma Press collection Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed. Her second collection Occasional China, is published in 2011, and she teaches creative writing at Huddersfield University.

Stefan and Gaia both adopt the viewpoint of future Mancunian citizens who encounter and interpret the Babel Fiche at different stages in its lifetime. Its collected video fragments will inspire far-flung laments that reflect on our contemporary anxieties, motion and uncertain destination.

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4 July 2011: Call for Tweets and Call for Writers now open.

Deadline 27 August 2011 – NOW CLOSED

Compose a response to the Babel Fiche archive, which can be viewed here. You are invited to suggest a short text, storyboard, script, set of instructions, or other experimental approach to steer the work of studio animators. They will navigate the microfiche plates using miniature lenses to shoot a series of stop-motion animations, and your writing will form the basis for visuals, voice-over and sound design. There are modest fees available to serious contributors.  Learn more about the ideas behind Babel Fiche. DEADLINE:  27 August 2011 for completed texts! Please send your proposal as soon as possible by getting in touch here.

Tweet your response to the Babel Fiche archive, which can be viewed here. All Tweets will be printed along with the video frames in a unique set of microfiches.  Tell us how a future citizen might interpret these fragments. Go to Twitter. Suggest a ‘user instruction’ to help them decode our times using the microfiches. Learn more about the ideas behind Babel Fiche. Begin your Tweet with @dgriff #BabelFiche. DEADLINE:  27 August 2011.

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29 June 2011:  Call for Tweets and Call for Writers opens on 4 July!

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27 June 2011: Design work now beginning

Design for a set of microfiches. All the video clips are being converted to stills – around 15,000 video frames. These digital images will then be stripped into grid layouts, a bit like the sample detail shown to the right. There’ll also be a set of ‘user instructions’ contributed by Twitter – some rules for a future citizen to think about when decoding the visual information. The actual microfiches will be printed onto acetate during August at Gubler Imaging in Zurich, one of only a handful of specialist bureaux worldwide who produce colour microfilms using laser technology.

All the digital files are compressed onto 6 microfiche plates, each measuring 105 x 148mm.  These will carry the Babel Fiche archive into the future and last 500 years.  From September, the animation stage will begin, with a studio team interpreting your writing and tweets along with the video frames, to create short stop-motion responses. Get involved in the writing and animation!

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1 June 2011: CLOSED: Call for Video Clips

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1 March 2011: Babel Fiche launches!

Babel Fiche is a crowd-sourced film that collects and remixes video footage from online contributors. Babel Fiche is an imaginary media for future anthropologists. It asks which behaviours, objects, traditions and conflicts we want to communicate to a future world. Today’s human cultures, physique and technology will inevitably develop out of all recognition. So how might a future species translate our current times?

During March-June 2011 we are gathering and selecting contemporary clips which describe everyday life around the Earth. These movie fragments will be be converted to a series of still frames and printed on colour microfiche – a photographic medium capable of lasting 500 years and simply requiring light and a lens to reveal its contents.

This Babel Fiche archive aims to reveal some intriguing glimpses of our relationship with the present – our reflections on patterns, weather and space in the natural world, and our travels through cities and transport networks. Our celebrations and identities as recorded through ritual gestures, dance and music. Other clips might observe our uncanny connections with objects and fellow creatures, and reveal our imaginary projections of the future.

Send in a short clip for inclusion on the microfiche archive. Discuss the clips and critically influence the archive  Learn more about submitting a clip. Submit now – 1 March – 1 June 2011

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