The Mandala

On Vimeo

The Mandala is a performative snapshot composed of 360 YouTube videos captured on March 6th, 2010. It features, from that day, the top 90 in each of the following categories: most watched of the day, most watched of the week, most watched of the month, and most watched of all time. The clips are arranged by category and by number of views, so that the clip with the least number of views for the day is in the center, and the clip with the most views of all time is furthest towards the edge. Each clip rotates around the center of the Mandala in a constant orbit at a rate that is different from every other. The further away a clip is from the center, the slower it rotates. The innermost clip takes 30 seconds per rotation, the outermost a full 3 hours. Each clip has been time-remapped so that in the time it takes to rotate once, the clip will play once in its entirety. All clips begin and end at the top of the their rotation.

In total, the performance of the Mandala lasts three hours. It begins with a single moment stacked at twelve o’clock and proceeds to stretch that moment out, slowly revealing the individual clips that are contained within it even as it plays each one. The movement of the Mandala is such that a single moment, despite the maddening scope of the content it holds, becomes an extended experience that is contemplative, even hypnotic. This captured moment from the Web becomes a thing in and of itself, its own macro-performance which compels us to stop and see the Web in a new way. And yet, on a micro-level, the meaning of the each clip is largely preserved. One can dive into the moment and watch a single subdivision of it as it runs through a performance of its own.
The hierarchy and performative rules of the Mandala make the following generally true for each clip: clips with more views are larger, further away from the center, take longer to rotate, and therefore take longer to play. This is important because it ensures that the Mandala has a performative logic that represents not only the quantitative relationships of one clip to another in terms of view count, but also the cultural implications of those relationships and the dynamics involved in forming them. The most watched clips of the day move more quickly and repeat at a higher rate because they are, culturally speaking, the busiest clips of the moment. They are also, culturally speaking, the most ephemeral and anonymous clips in the Mandala, which is why they are smaller and harder to make out or remember.
The most watched clips of all time, by contrast, move very slowly and repeat less frequently because they are more stable fixtures of popular culture. They have escaped the inward suck of the ephemeral, and have worked their way from the center of the Mandala all the way to its outer edges via the steady centripetal pull of cultural repetition. By the time a clip reaches the edge it has been viewed so many times by so many people that it ceases to be a video at all, becoming instead a shared reference for millions — a cultural meme. Accordingly, the outer most clips of the Mandala cannot be watched. They move and play so slowly that they become stills, serving primarily as cultural touch-points which have transcended the media experiences upon which they were originally based.

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