Purgatory EDIT Purgatory EDIT

Purgatory EDIT

A user-generated montage based cinematic experience by Ali Akbar Mehta

Purgatory EDIT is a user-generated montage-based cinematic experience. Based on the principles of the Yugoslavian ‘Black Wave Cinema’ movement, “standing for the subordination of form to the psychological contents of human ethical and metaphysical drama today”; and on Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ as “a means by which artists assault the senses of the audience”, it highlights the methods through which digital technologies affect subliminal visual manipulation, sensory overload, data fatigue, psychological reaction, and ideological numbness.

Purgatory EDIT, as an interactive audiovisual performance installation, is inspired by the Ludovico Technique, a fictional negative-aversion technique depicted in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on Anthony Burgess’s novel:

In the film, Dr Brodsky (Carl Duering) of the Ludovico medical facility forces Alex (Malcolm McDowell) to watch violent images for extended periods of time as his eyes are held open with specula, while being pumped with nausea-, paralysis- and fear-inducing drugs at the same time. Its objective: the development of a nauseous association when experiencing or thinking about violence, causing an aversion.

Still, Clockwork Orange, 1971 Still, Clockwork Orange, 1971

As a speculative installation, Purgatory EDIT mimics the Ludovico Technique (although without pumping participants with nausea-, paralysis- and fear-inducing drugs) that parallels the dystopian narrative of A Clockwork Orange, to scrutinise the boundaries between aversion and enforcement, proclivity and phobia. It explores the value of worldviews concocted through prosaic binaries such as ‘Good and Evil’, or ‘War and Peace’ and whether these meta-concepts make sense in the hyper-nuanced complexities of our world today.

Purgatory EDIT: Doomscroll Archive

part of Purgatory EDIT

Purgatory EDIT: Doomscroll Archive is an archive of moving images dealing with the representation of violence and conflict. It is sourced using archival war footage, movie and documentary clips, advertisements, newsreels, landscape panoramas, and home videos that depict violence in categorically different forms.

The onsite installation and accompanying online open-access database together form an ongoing archive that critiques existing media representations and the glorification of violence and examines the power of hegemonic representation within visual and cinematic vocabularies. It questions what it means to be (post)human in a new digital regime marked by the erosion of living matter, conversion of life into big data, rising ethnofascism and disintegrating democracies.

As a participatory installation, the Doomscroll Archive is based on Antoin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty – “a means by which artists assault the senses of the audience”. It serves as a foundation to be able to examine the boundaries between aversion and enforcement, proclivity and phobia; to investigate the worth of worldviews derived from banal dichotomies such as ‘Good and Evil’ or ‘War and Peace’, in order to determine whether these meta-concepts make sense in the hyper-nuanced complexities of our world today.

How do sensory perceptions of peace and violence blend with a deep dive into an epoch when our lifeworlds will be highly encrypted, where nuanced engagements give way to simplified declaratives driven by the attention economy? How can hope to have new sympathetic encounters of equals? How can we replace the Internet of Things (IoT) with an Internet of Accountability – as a decolonial praxis? What does accountability mean when we are trapped within our own filter bubbles generated by algorithmic bias and an increasing digital divide? What role may poetry have in a world space generated by code?

More than at any other moment in human history, we are now confronted by contemporary borders that manifest as incarceration camps, penal colonies, detention facilities and refugee centres. Countries are gradually becoming prisons to confine and contain undesirable bodies. Well-being and welfare for citizens and ecology are being replaced by security and risk management. Conflicts simply becoming tools for neoliberal capitalism to recycle pain. Such violence leads to long-term trauma, helplessness and precarity, causing significant negative influences on our social fabric. Yet, in a hyper-digitised world, forms of violence remain invisible or unrecognised. Recognising and narrating such experiences become difficult unless we find ways to understand how violence is defined and applied across micro (interpersonal), meso (institutional), and macro (trans-societal) scales.

For these processes to be known, they must be explored, visualised, satirised and challenged. In times where violence, conflict, and trauma are normalised as everyday happenings, the Doomscroll Archive performs the task of critical storytelling of historical narratives. By bringing together local and geographically distant perspectives on constructing historical narratives that shape our political landscape, it encourages its audience to revise and reconsider what stories we tell and how we share them. It casts the audience, not as a passive spectator, but as a critical witness – not to the macro tides of history, but to the fate of those invisibilised and marginalised within these histories of power relations, where one’s humanism can be located in their siding with the downtrodden.


Ali Akbar Mehta | Artist and Archive researcher

Anoushkaa Bhatnagar | Project management and production

Palash Mukhopadhyay | Online Database and Interface Design

Sanyam Varun | Archive manager & Research assistant

Aditya Rokade | Media processing and colour grading

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Purgatory Edit, excerpts

Purgatory Edit (working title) is an experimental cinematic experience.

Below is a short excerpt of the recording and stills, made during its initial prototyping and demo at Aalto University.

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Purgatory Edit, methodology

Purgatory Edit (working title) proposes to use the Emotive Epoc+, a head-mounted home MRI kit and a wireless EEG gear that allows a ‘reading’ of the viewer’s semiconscious mind-states, abstract emotions such as frustration, anxiety, excitement, meditation, etc. and translates it into as numerical values. These values are fed into VDMX, a VJ software, to generate an algorithm based real-time stitching of a ‘string’ of videos/images from the two databanks and uses this data as parameters to control the flow of video sequence.

  1. Archive

PURGATORY EDIT examines the power of hegemonic representation within historical, visual, and cinematic vocabularies through an archive compiled by collecting hundreds of video clips ranging from archival war footage, cinema, documentary, advertisements, news, landscape panoramas, and home videos. It performs a conceptual vocabulary analysis of keywords like ‘war’ and ‘peace’, ‘violence’ and ‘conflict’, as used within moving image media. Creating this archive includes a digital processing tasks such as:

  • Conducting research on types of video clips to be sourced

  • Sourcing video footage, sorting and categorising them

  • Designing an intensity map: used for categorisation and for the coding team as a spectrum reference

  • Generating metadata and tagging media clips according to intensity map

  • Slicing footage to extract required clips

  • Equalise resolution, aspect ratio, formatting, and colour correction discrepancies

  • Additional treatment of redundant media, such as noise removal and footage cleaning

  1. Analysis

This archive will serve as source material to conduct a ‘conceptual visual vocabulary analysis’ and study keywords like ‘war’, ‘peace’, ‘violence’, ‘conflict’ through the intersectional lens of violence and conflict resolution, neocolonialism, data hegemony and power relations. Such a study is essential to reveal how such concepts are used and represented within moving image media such as documentary, video, and cinema.

  • Categorise the types of violence represented in this archive, working together with Cognitive Behaviour and Neuroscience specialists

  • Create a violence intensity map

  1. System design and code dev.

The study facilitates the second phase of the project, the performance installation where the videos are categorised and organised into multiple video types as data banks, broadly divided into ‘War’, and ‘Peace’.

Together with UX Designer and programmer Palash Mukhopadhyay, I will develop proprietary software to utilise ‘Emotiv Epoc X’ – a wireless head-mounted home MRI & EEG medical kit designed to ‘read’ a user’s semi-conscious mind-state, represented as abstract emotions such as frustration, anxiety, excitement, meditation – and translate them into numerical values.

With this software, we will use these values as parameters that allow VUO, a popular VJ software, to generate an algorithm-based real-time stitching of a ‘string’ of videos from the video data banks. Through this built software and the Emotiv Epoc X hardware, participants’ brainwaves will be able to control a real-time juxtaposition of a pre-compiled and curated string of videos – its sequencing, intensities and specific types of video, as well as playback speed, fluctuations, and designed glitches.

  • Designing a bridge system that can read Emotiv generated values as parameters

  • Linking parameters to:

    • sequencing of video playback
    • frequency and rate of changing footage
    • video type selection (intensity map) as well as playback speed, fluctuations, and designed glitches.
  • Developing code for generating ‘procedural glitch’ on processed media

  • Creating an organisation system (database) to sort media

  1. Installation development

Finally, a virtual Cinema space is created using Unity, a VR software, where the real-time sequence generated by the participant is played out.

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European Media Art Platform (EMAP) Residency

at Werkleitz, Halle, DE

Ali Akbar Mehta and Jernej Čuček Gerbec will complete the coding and development of software at the EMAP Residency in Werklietz, Halle.