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The Abandon Normal Devices Festival

Filmmaker and installation artist Geoffrey Alan Rhodes tells Dazed why he's so keen to subvert cinematic structures

The cinematic tradition has increasingly become a favourite area for visual artists to test and question the paradigms they perceive as often taken for granted. With the advancement of technologies, the ability to re-edit a piece of film has broadened the possibilities of interacting with its narrative in fascinating ways – something the artist Geoffrey Alan Rhodes is dedicated to exploring. His latest project, ARambo, is being showcased at the Abandon Normal Devices festival in Lancashire. An extension of his previous 52 Card Psycho, which used video technology enable a mash-up of Hitchcock’s Psycho via playing cards, users will be able to mix up scenes from the four Rambo films to create their own little world. Dazed Digital spoke to Rhodes about how and why ARambo allows us to interact with and experience cinema.

Dazed Digital: How does it work?
Geoffrey Alan Rhodes: Well, I like the term "augmented reality" (AR) to refer to media displays that combine virtual elements with real or live-video elements. Virtual reality was all the rage in the 90s, with labs installing “caves” wherein someone could be surrounded by all virtual interactive graphics and sound. AR came after, and the technology used in ARambo is marker-based tracking, one of the first AR technologies. Basically a live camera feeds to a computer that is constantly searching for 52 unique markers that are printed on a deck of cards. The augmentation is very simple. The computer replaces each of the cards with footage from a film. The end result is that a user can play cards with a movie. It sounds basic, and it is. What's new is your interaction – the user's relationship to cinema.

DD: Why did you choose Psycho?
Geoffrey Alan Rhodes: It's the film that's always brought out to trot when a video artist wants to reference modern cinema – I guess because by some it's considered the height or the end of modern cinema before things changed. I was probably thinking of Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho or the photographic image of Psycho in Jim Cambell's Illuminated Averages series. I'm a big fan of video art. What is amazing is that I first imagined using the shower scene from Psycho in this project, then I went and counted the shots in the sequence, and if you begin with Janet Leigh flushing the toilet, and you end with the shot of the drain, it's exactly 52 shots long!

DD: What gave you the idea to mash up films in this way?
Geoffrey Alan Rhodes: It was pretty crazy mashing up the Rambo films. I've loved working with them, partly because I grew up with them. First Blood came out in 1982. It was the first big Hollywood film to really talk about the guilt of Vietnam. And then First Blood Part II covered the Reagan years, in some ways the height of the cold war. Rambo III, in 1989, marks the end of the cold war and portrays the now ironic alliances with the Afghan Taliban. It is an amazing thing about historical documents. These films in their time helped reinforce the current narratives of America, but unlike public sentiment, they remain the same so that now, 20 years later, we can still hear a co-star tell Rambo about the noble religious martyrdom of the Mujahideen – which, in its heroism, conflicts strongly with our current narratives.

DD: What does the viewer/player get out of mashing up these films?
Geoffrey Alan Rhodes: On the content side, I am basically creating a 52 channel video installation, and I have to try to make these 52 channels relate to each other, in real time, in 52 potential combinations. What I am trying to do in ARambo is create a relationship between 52 micro-mash-ups of the four films. I am pulling out of the films the iconic moments – being hunted, being traumatized, fighting, explosions, death, sadness – and sequencing them across these 52 channels of video so that not only do the clips relate (like normal film) to the one that came before and the one that comes after, but they also relate to other clips playing in other channels. The goal is to create an interface through which we can deconstruct these films; see their ideologies stripped bare, and feel the expressive power of the films' gestures separate from their narratives.

The Abandon Normal Devices festival takes place in Cumbria and Pennine Lancashire, March 15 to April 10, 2010