Rhythm Aesthetics: Vine & contemporary mobile moving image production practices

Curator's Note

Written with Will Lockett

To better understand the creative capabilities of Vine’s limitations, we analyze its formal elements. The interface centers on a timeline: the video recording begins as the user touches the screen of their mobile device, and the recording takes place only so long as they’re touching the screen. Given this touch-and-hold interface, there’s no post-production editing: edits can be made by letting go of the touch before the end of the six seconds, framing a new shot, and then touching again to capture the next image in the montage.

One of the main reasons for Vine's success is that its specific mode of video content production allows for, both, the appropriation of aesthetic tendencies, such as the GIF, and the distancing from other contemporary aesthetic tendencies, such as the faux vintage aesthetics of Instagram and Hipstamatic.

Vine’s developers insistently dissociate themselves from these apps: 

Old things are beautiful, but new things should look, well...new. That's why Vine doesn't have a play button. It also doesn't have a pause button, a timeline scrubber, a blinking red light, or dials and a brushed-metal finish to give you the impression that you're using a dusty video camera. (vine.co/blog)

This description can be nuanced in two ways. First, Vine does have a play button; it’s simply the entire screen: Vine is relying on the user's habituation to the touch screen interface to pare down the number of icons and avoid the simulation of an antique UI. Second, although apps such as 8mm (2010) and Cinemagram (2012) tried to use the faux vintage in order to popularize moving image mobile-social-networks—and Vine is perhaps wise to dissociate itself from these products—Vine is in fact relying on similar processes of appropriation to drive the development of new forms of individualized creative practice. 

In other words, we're arguing that, although Vine doesn’t use the faux vintage to do so, the basic parameters on Vine still allow users to tap into aesthetic attributes that are specific to preexisting image production technologies: particularly looping GIF animations, the jump cut, and framing tropes specific to the embodied practices of mobile image production. The former two appropriations are related to moving image technologies writ large, whereas the latter are common to mobile-device image production. These formal elements of Vine can be tied to the need to create an information-rich creative 6 second video loop within a system of constraints.


You put forward a really good argument. It actually made me think back to the 1998 Hamster Dance (mirrored at http://originalhampster.ytmnd.com/). But I've noticed that this kind of use of throwback aesthetic (pardon the crude terminology) is coming into the forefront in media like games (see Evoland, Fez) and film (constant re-releases). Do you think that this could all be part of some sort of societal nostalgia, or is it something else, perhaps solely the fault of platform constraints as is the case of Vine?

I love that you hit on this point of constraints, which is a major factor in its mystique -- it's both frustrating and freeing at the same time. Technological constraints often generate creativity and we can trace that back, as you do, to the beginnings of motion based visual media like film. It also raises the question of the social context of constraints. Consider early filmmakers who had to work with enormous constraints to produce films -- from time constraints to lighting to the sheer hazards of working with bulky equipment and untested chemicals. Interestingly we talk about the constraints of Vine -- it's only 6 seconds, sound is limited, etc. So on the one hand we have a societal nostalgia for visual aesthetics of 100+ old film, while on the other hand we bemoan the constraints of a video sharing mobile app, the convenience of which would have made early 20th century filmmakers salivate! It's ironic, even for a non-hipster.

Ah, Vine - finally a filmmaking platform I cannot break! The cat was the first choice, but lacking opposable thumbs as it does I was asked to step in for my debut. Not being a new media (if we're still calling it that) person, I have not given it much thought, but I was instantly struck by Vine's parallels, especially in its short-capture brevity, with the earliest days of cinema (and the elective affinities of precinema). With Vine this is self-conciously constraining, yes; so it was for the filmmakers who were asked to contribute to 1995's Lumière and Company. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/watch-lumiere-company-films-by-s... Will we soon have a Vine version? Please tell me it won't be just Greenaway. Of course, Vine would scoff at this idea of using their 'democratizing' media in this way; they would be right, but they would still be ideological.

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