There’s a particular process that fascinates me, and I tell people about it all the time, but recently I realized I’d never actually written it down—so here you go.
Let’s start with a definition, and then I’ll show you some examples.
flip-flop(n.) the process of pushing a work of art or craft from the physical world to the digital world and back, often more than once.
That’s pretty abstract. Here’s an example recipe:
It’s step three above that is most crucial to flip-flop-itude, because that’s where it becomes clear you aren’t aiming for fidelity in these transitions from physical to digital and back. When you execute a flip-flop, you achieve effects that aren’t possible in physical or digital space alone. You also achieve effects that are less predictable. Weird things happen in the borderlands.
Here’s a real example. It’s a bit more complicated, and it demonstrates that the steps don’t all have to be executed by the same person:
Here’s another example with the contributors separated by space and time:
I mean, whoa:
First, this project from the now-defunct agency called BERG offers a nice tight flip-flop. The recipe goes:
And the results are striking:
Finally, here’s my very favorite example.
It’s not as direct as the recipes above, but it absolutely qualifies as a flip-flop, and it demonstrates the amazing possibilities waiting here. Think of each step below as a broad cultural activity, not a specific personal action:
I don’t think this wave of stuttering, slo-mo choreography would be conceivable without video. You need to see a human body move this way on a screen before you can imagine moving it that way on the street.
And what’s next? What happens when you give the dancer above a motion capture suit and pipe his moves back into a computer?
Here’s some more choreography that we would not be watching if a set of images hadn’t bounced back and forth between the physical and digital worlds. It's truly spectacular:
That, my friends, is how you dance the flip-flop!
In this KQED segment featuring several aging (and still amazing) Bay Area hip-hop dancers, a scenester named Chuck Powell says:
If you ever look at like, Twenty Million Miles to Earth, or the 7th Voyage of Sinbad, that animated style that them creatures be doing—that’s what they brought to the table and added to the boogaloo, too.
It’s cued up here. Click for the evidence, stay for the moves:
Okay, so: Twenty Million Miles to Earth, 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Both movies featured stop-motion animation by the great Ray Harryhausen with its signature stutter and sharpness. Here’s the cyclops from Sinbad:
Can it be true? It can! Ray Harryhausen was an unwitting contributor, via flip-flop, to one of the four pillars of hip-hop!
The euro banknotes, on their back sides, feature illustrations of bridges from different architectural eras. None of these bridges exist; the structures are all idealized abstractions. The idea, at the time of the currency's introduction back in 2002, was to avoid favoring one country over another. So, for example, here’s the ten’s imaginary span:
Idealized. Generic. Nonexistent!
In a suburb of Rotterdam, the Dutch artist Robin Stam is… building the euro-note bridges.
Here again is the ten’s span—no longer imaginary!
(The photo is by Klaas Boonstra; I have shamelessly copied it from the Spiegel website in the service of flip-flop scholarship.)
From real built bridges to idealized forms to illustrations on currency, back to real built bridges… I judge it so: Robin Stam has danced, as of this writing, THE ULTIMATE FLIP-FLOP.
March 2012, Washington, D.C. / December 2014, Berkeley
Really, the main thing to do here is sign up for my email newsletter. I try to make it feel like a note from a friend, and it’s easy to unsubscribe. Plus, there are occasionally … S E C R E T S