Note: this is an edited version of a previous post in which I mistakingly attributed the thumbnails described below to YouTube as opposed to Tinypic. Thanks to Tom Moody for pointing that out.
In Tinypic Video Thumbnails, an 85 page artist’s book and .pdf by Travis Hallenbeck, the artist explores the convention of the thumbnail—the still image representation of an uploaded video file (in this case, the thumbnails generated by the video hosting service Tinypic)—and re-presents his own subjective response to them through the display of over 5,000 appropriated thumbnails organized in 6 X 10 grids which almost completely fill all but the first and final pages of the book.
Perhaps the initial thing to be said about the project is that pouring over this massive volume of thumbnails in densely packed grids effectively conveys the sense of surfing through a video website–an experience premised on scanning through hundreds of thumbnails, critically resisting the urge to click on a single one, waiting for the “right” video to catch one’s eye.
However, unlike the heterogeneous mass of thumbnails encountered in a conventional surf, Hallenbeck’s images are,
(1.) All singularities in their own right:
One views a medium-wide framing on a ten-year old girl in faded blue jeans and a striped tank-top holding a brown clay bowl in the middle of a backyard garden in circa 1970s film stock; a medium-wide framing on a fist-fight between two young men in their 20’s wearing baggy shorts in the middle of the woods shot on marginally pixilated digital camcorder imagery; a medium framing inverted 90 degrees on the sunlight pouring through a floral-patterned curtain illuminating a cat jumping over an armchair in an otherwise black room shot on relatively sharp digital video.
Each image resists being swallowed wholesale by the database as each one affords the viewer something to hold onto—Barthes may have called it a punctum—that which pricks one.
(2.) Intentionally patterned–there’s a structural order which emerges from the chaos here.
Hallenbeck seems to have narrowed down the iconography of his surf to a few key themes, which appear regularly through the grid. Here is a representative sampling:
1. Young people getting fucked up at random times of the day or generally goofing off
2. Skateboarding video imagery
3. Pixelated digital imagery
4. Obsolete technologies
5. Minimal abstractions derived from glitches in technology
6. Swimming pools
7. Empty wide shots of natural settings
8. Empty baseball fields
9. Empty bedrooms
10. Empty living rooms
The first two themes—youthful goofing around and skateboarding—lend the pattern a light, often humorous, and positive vibe.
However, these positive images are generally surrounded on all sides of the pattern by the heavy, melancholic, and negative imagery identified in the subsequent categories listed above.
The result is, on the one hand, a bummer: it seems to swallow the hope and freedom associated with youthful debauchery and skateboarding up in the surliness of empty rooms, landscapes and technological glitches.
It’s nostalgia for a past time, but a bitter nostalgia.
On the other hand, there is another relationship to time in Tinypic Video Thumbnails.
The work is a labor—a daily, almost religious, performance lived in the present of each moment, as Hallenbeck surfs, scans, and reflects back on the database.
One feels the volume of images, of course; but one also feels the volume of time spent sifting through images, the performance of the surf as an intentional work of art.
Perhaps one could say that the secret message of the book is this affirmation of daily web surfing.