Gestus can be viewed as an extension of work in the tradition of experimental cinema. Experimental filmmaking can be seen as a radical critique of the conventions of linearity and transparency that characterize the conventions of “classical” or mainstream narrative cinema.

Classical narrative cinema organizes stylistic parameters mainly to facilitate the clear and consistent communication of story information. The image is framed to direct the viewer's gaze to narratively salient figures. Narrative saliency is determined with reference to the goals and conflicts of human, or anthropomorphic, characters. The action supposedly unfolds in a coherent spatiotemporal domain that serves as a background for the characters to pursue their goals. Aspects of cinematic style and technique are treated as subservient to the purpose of communicating narrative information.

This mainstream narrative system always binds movement to objects and places. In this respect, classical narration draws on well-established features of ordinary cognition. Our awareness of movement is typically bound to specific objects and locations. Viewers do not typically attend to the visual qualities of movement. We focus instead on something moving. We are interested in what is moving, not how it moves. Cinema is conceived of as an art of movement, but movement is always attached to object and subordinated to narrative.

Experimental film and video makes like Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, or Sue Friedrich have explored alternative systems of representation. In their work, technical and stylistic parameters like film stock, editing or camera movement are asserted as ends in themselves, and the temporal organization of shots is not subordinated to the communication of story information. Filmmaker Hollis Frampton, for instance, has called for “progressively more complex a priori schemes to generate the various parameters of film-making...” (1)

In line with this tradition, the Gestus project explores alternative methods of representations from three closely connected directions: kinetic abstraction, aesthetics of disorientation, and procedural form.



The Gestus project aims to abstract movement from narrative and from object, making movement salient as an end in itself. It follows a strand of avant-garde cinema that draws on the power of formal abstraction. Whereas our experience of the cinema is normally directed towards people, objects, and events, Gestus encourages spectators to disregard narrative content and pay close attention to visible movement as an end in itself. Rather than seeing motion in terms of narrative and object, we focus attention on the rhythmic qualities of motion, those that depend on its speed and direction.

The Gestus software might display a human hand alongside a bird’s face, for instance, thus revealing the kinetic resemblances of otherwise heterogeneous objects. Sometimes one has to recognize that two different objects, such as a person and a river, or a dog and a tree branch moving in the wind, are moving in the same way and the system displays them side by side. This interplay of similarity and difference underpins the main aesthetic effects of the Gestus system, the abstraction of movement from the thing that moves.



The multi-channel display cues the viewer to engage in an active process of visual thinking, scanning the various images in an effort to identify the similarities between them. Sometimes, the viewer easily detects similarities but in other cases the movements are very subtle and occur in different areas of a crowded image, posing a sharper perceptual challenge. Perhaps a dropping hand near the bottom of one image corresponds to a leaning shoulder near the left edge of another. The viewer’s gaze becomes restless as it scans simultaneous images, attempting to identify analogous movements. The system invites, challenges, and sometimes frustrates the spectator’s cognitive-perceptual skills. In this way, perception itself becomes a subject of the work.



The final aspect of this project is the interconnection of algorithm and visual form. The algorithmic methods used to compare movements generate the form of the work. The procedure is, at least in part, the content. The formal-aesthetic characteristics of the work are derived from the algorithms that produced it. To quote filmmaker Malcolm LeGrice, Gestus tackles “the question of procedure as a determinant of form.” (2)


(1) Quoted in James Peterson, Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order: Understanding the American Avant-Garde Cinema (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 112.

(2) Malcolm LeGrice, Abstract Film and Beyond (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1977), 88.