This video installation, created with Gillian Brown, presents a watery evocation of longing in which three swimmers approach each other and meet in an unexpected way. The installation is accompanied by a text from The Visible and The Invisible by the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty.*
Viewers enter through a dark corridor into an entirely blackened space and find themselves surrounded by a watery void. A video projection is reflected and refracted on mirrored walls such that three identical image planes appear to be hinged to a central vertical axis (the corner of the room). On the left wall, a swimmer appears in the lower left corner and slowly swims toward the middle. Shortly afterward, two more swimmers appear; one on the right wall and one on the “phantom” plane that recedes into deep space. Entering through a dark corridor into an entirely blackened space, viewers find themselves surrounded by a watery void. Slowly a swimming figure becomes visible in the lower right corner of one’s visual field, progressing inward. In time, this figure is joined by two symmetrical companions. One comes from the left and one comes from deep within the space in front. Through the alchemy of reflection, one swimmer has become three, moving in tandem toward the center. The swimmers advance is accompanied by a spoken text from The Visible and the Invisible by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Correspondences between the images and the enigmatic text pull forth a subliminal poetic undertow. The progress of the swimmers and the text create a loosely narrative sense of building expectation. When they finally meet, their bodies begin to disappear off of the edge leaving an astonishingly beautiful, moving Rorschach pattern of their remnant body parts and water-forms. The increasingly inchoate, yet symmetrical annihilation surges to a crescendo and then recedes in gradually diminishing explosions, ultimately leaving only the dark moving water accompanied by a low, repetitive drone. Because of the multiple reflections, the whole environment, including the floor and back wall, shimmers with reflected waves and the viewer feels encompassed by the sensuality of the water in it’s return to darkness.
*As soon as we see other seers, we no longer have before us only the look without a pupil, the unsilvered glass that gives us things in feeble reflection, a phantom of ourselves they evoke by designating a place among themselves where we see them. Through other eyes, we become for ourselves fully visible; that lacuna between our eyes and our back is filled, filled still by the visible, but a visible outside of our control. What is possible for this visible is to be the surface of an inexhaustible depth; this is what makes it able to be open to visions other than our own. In being realized, they bring out the limits of our factual vision. They betray the solipsist illusion that every going-beyond is a surpassing accomplished by oneself. For the first time, the seeing that I am is really visible to me. For the first time I appear completely turned inside out under my own eyes. For the first time, my movements no longer proceed toward the things to be seen, to be touched, or toward my own body occupied in seeing and touching them; but they address themselves to the body in general and for itself (whether it be my own or that of another). Because for the first time, through the other body, I see that, in its coupling with the flesh of the world, the body contributes more than it receives, adding to the world that I see the treasure necessary for what the other body sees. For the first time, the body no longer couples itself up with the world, it clasps another body, applying itself to it carefully with its whole extension, forming tirelessly with its hands the strange statue which in its turn gives everything it receives; the body is lost outside of the world and its goals, fascinated by the unique occupation of floating in Being with another life, of making itself the outside of its inside and the inside of its outside. And henceforth movement, touch, vision, applying themselves to the other and to themselves, return toward their source and, in the patient and silent labor of desire, begin the paradox of expression.
Three projection screens: 7’X7′(2) and 7’X3′(1). Three video projectors. (contrast increased here for the sake of illustration)
You/me is a work of projected video in a darkened room created in collaboration with Gillian Brown. It was initially produced for a symposium and exhibition of work by artists and scientists at Eight Street Gallery, NYC, entitled “Threshold: Limits of Perception.” The event was sponsored by Denis Pelli at the Perceptual Psychology department of NYU. It included works by Robert Irwin, Chuck Close, Barbara Takanega among others.
Description: On entering the room the viewer encounters three luminous screens seven feet tall and a total of seventeen feet across, that wrap around the opposite corner of the room. As the viewer’s eyes adjust the luminosity gives way to a suggestion of imagery so liminal that it’s hard to be confident it’s more than a perceptual artifact or a product of the imagination. Vestigial forms are so unfocussed and low in contrast as to be nearly imperceptible. Slow changes in movement and tone engage the viewer’s attention, as the images hover on the edge of decipherability. One experiences the emergence (and active nature) of perception as the images seem to coalesce out of light. Experiencing oneself perceiving, becomes part of the subject of the work. A soundtrack of soft wind hovers on the edge of seeming hushed whispering. In this quiet and luminous environment one is confronted with one’s own mind creating its illusions.
Harvard University Fellowship Project
Gillian Brown and I worked together on an interactive video installation as fellows in residence at Harvard University. The project was developed in conjunction with BioID(HumanScan), a German company specializing in face recognition software.An interactive artwork in which things seen in the corner of your eye, disappear when you turn around to look at them.
On entering a darkened room the viewer is drawn to move into an illuminated circle in front of a curved railing reminiscent of a ship’s prow. As the lighting dims one distinguishes a “porthole” in the darkness ahead, through which are seen images that reference navigation, mapping and ocean travel. When the viewer’s vision is directed toward the front, a projection starts up behind (this is accomplished using face recognition software — see Collaboration with Dialog Communication Systems). Colorful moving images are projected on scrims behind the viewer and reflected onto the walls and ceiling of the installation, hence entering the viewer’s peripheral vision. However, as the viewer turns around to see what is happening behind them, the projected images immediately fade away. The viewer glimpses the embers of an image – enough to tantalize but not to decipher. The rear projections reappear again only after the viewer turns forward. Available only peripherally, the elusive and sensuous projections behind the viewer slip from view when directly confronted, perhaps evoking longing for what is hopelessly lost or unattainable. In disappearing their promised richness becomes ever more desirable. One is left on the prow, looking forward, positioning oneself, scanning, narrowing in, searching, yet yearning for what’s behind. The mind seems split between directed attention and those more expanded, free-floating arenas of mentation which are ever present, but experienced fleetingly, obliquely, as they flee from directed attention. Scrutiny brings a narrowing of vision, ineluctably backgrounding that which is not being regarded. Science, among other disciplines, attains ever more satisfying answers to questions, but only, of course, to those questions that are posed. Much lies peripheral to the scope of the attentive gaze.
In order for this installation to be effective it was essential that the rear (peripheral) projections appeared and disappeared seamlessly in reaction to the viewers head movements. In the process of researching this problem, we communicated by email with Robert Frischholz, Vice President of Research and Development at BioID, a leading manufacturer of face recognition software. On hearing of the projects he was warmly enthusiastic and supportive and within a short time the research team modified BioID software to work with our installation. This interdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration was one of the most fun and satisfying parts of the project.
How it works:
Images from a small video camera located at the front of the installation, are constantly processed by the BioID software. When a face is detected (that is, when the viewer is facing forward), a signal is sent to an EZIO board (from Michael Rodemer, U. Michigan) which triggers the illumination of the rear video projections. When the face is no longer detected (that is, when the viewer turns around to look behind him), the projections are triggered to fade. Ralph Bunker (Gillian’s husband), wrote the Lingo code for Macromedia’s Director, which mediates the communication between the face recognition software and the EZIO board. The wonderfully creative people we worked with at BioID have now started a new company, HumanScan.
Two invisible gauze screens are separated by about four feet and projected on from both front and rear (see diagram). The result is four superimposed images that seem to hover hauntingly in thin air and that spill over onto the ceiling and walls surrounding the viewer; creating an effect of great depth and a visceral sensation of envelopment. The insubstantial and receding images seem to exist not in a distant space but a distant time, making the evocation of memory palpable. Images taken from both home video and commercial film allude to the way that memory is reconstituted from available material, public and private and the blurring of these sources in memory. The interplay of images at different depths seems to play out a poetic conversation between moments in time. A thicket of sound, both exotic and everyday(sprinklers, cars, children playing, conversation, carnival noises, fragments of song), are heard from a distance. The farawayness of the sounds evokes distant time in concert with the receding depth of the video montage. The rich relationships between images and sounds makes this (for me) an exceptionally painterly installation.
What is there in this universe that isn't natural? In Beltway I spent many hours driving around the Washington beltway at rush hour videotaping the fields of headlights and tailights. These were then projected onto two translucent scrims 4 or 5 feet apart (the same configuration as Unstill Then. Layered over each other, these rush hour artifacts were evocative of a field of stars or fireflies. My favorite installation of this piece was in a small forest within hearing distance from the Washington Beltway.