Ten times ten folds
The prefix meta- conveys, on the one hand, the notions of succession, change, union or metamorphosis and, on the other hand, the idea of a higher plane, a greater unity or generalization – at times even of a transcendent nature – while, in some cases, pointing towards a certain operative circularity similar to that which can be found in the forms of language whose sole function is to explain another language. It also shapes the idea that information can only be produced as meta-information. However, etymologically, the prefix meta- may also be understood more prosaically as merely referring to the idea of a dislocation, something along the lines of an afterwards, a beyond, or even a standing by the side of.
Could there be hidden (or revealed) somewhere in this apparatus – presented as a hypothetical archive of images-movement – a meta-narrative, a totalizing abstraction able to explain something beyond the featured works? Could there be room here for a sort of discursive meta-language capable of operating from the images and the sounds that come together in space? Could this archive be instrumental in uncovering a story built upon these ten stories, which are at once so close and so far from one another? It would certainly be always possible to articulate for the nth time all those canonical stories of the assertion of video as a medium, which one never grows tired of repeatedly hearing, but I do not think this story could be one of those. Also, it is the apparatus itself that adds to the illusion that all could be just one story, by levelling and rendering equivalent different media, formats, supports and strategies, or bundling as a unitary whole ten stories as disparate as these. In fact, things cannot be that simple. On the contrary, I believe that the brief stories of these videos can only be truly confronted by a set of other minor stories. Any other approach would simply risk – by closing the circle that can be perceived already in the timid curve of the proposed sequential alignment for the disposition of the screens in space – confining the videos in themselves once and for all.
The fold depends upon very precise and at the same time very complex operative functions which, for that very reason, are not always explainable (although they are an explanation in themselves): that of the paper that is rigorously folded in two, then in four, then in eight and so forth; or that of the handkerchief that folds and re-folds on itself as it is put into a pocket; or that of the paper, crumpled in a hand, and creased multiple times. The fold is not only a result ofplastic forces that come to bear upon things, but also of those other forces that things prove capable of generating by themselves. The fold is an experimental encounter of things with another space, a space that is an authentic force field and a whole new topology.
Consider that we might fall prey to the temptation of generalization. In that case, it would have to be almost necessarily imposed by the insistent presence of the body. Since, in almost all the works selected for this apparatus, it is from the actions of one or more bodies, or from their shadow, that the time of the narrative unfolds, it could perhaps be possible to write ten times ten bodies, ten bodies that would be as ten works. The quasi-exceptions found in the films of Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark, or in the ready-made that is Antoni Muntadas’ video, are the absolute outcome of their different nature, partly because the two first films were originally shot in celluloid and also because Muntadas’ video reveals a character that is more accidental than built.
More than speaking of the body, these videos speak of its absence, or of its ghosts – the ghost of deferring, disappearing, and interruption. The shadow of things explains the body but, contradictorily, that shadow constantly demands a body, a presence. For that reason those ten bodies, even if multiplied by another ten, would always be insufficient to fill in all the shadows and ghosts that only a machine-eye knows how to produce.
‘Instead of saying that hallucination is a false external perception, it is necessary to say that external perception is a true hallucination’, wrote Hippolyte Taine in 1870. In fact, a hallucination is an image of something, even if that image is not completely real. Thence, all perception is hallucinatory insofar as it cannot be said that a true perceptual object exists, only elusive formless clouds. The camera (but not only) is like an eye-machine connected directly to the brain; and such eye-machine is a true hallucinatory machine. This is why the action of the camera, in its different apparitions, from photography, to cinema and video, allows for a breaking away from a purely optical visual dimension; the eye-machine is blind and potentially hallucinatory. That eye, which is both eye-machine and body-eye, or brain-eye – not separately but simultaneously – is a producer of meaning, a mirror that happens and makes happen, revealing un-thought imaginative faculties. That machine-body-brain-eye, when duly excited becomes a true producer of phantasmagorias, becomes a hallucinatory machine, similar to clouds and mirrors that have always been open spaces for the projection of imagination, giving a body to the un-thought. The machine-eye of the camera is a mirror capable of autonomous imagining. Within that scope, which is not exactly new (although it may seem always novel), nothing distinguishes the eye from the mirror anymore, nothing separates the machine-eye from the mirror that imagines and makes imagine, thus proving capable of producing its own ghosts.
There is time and there is a time outside of time. That which places us outside of time is the duration that renders every event irreversible, such as when a ball of thread comes undone slowly and uncertainly along the floor. In that sense, duration by way of repetition (one round and then another, one bump and then another) is that which transforms time into a thing of the body. Is it not in the interstices of repetition that the potency of the ghost is discovered? Repetition is the engine of hallucination, or at least of the discovery, in the sense of an escape from the return of the same, as Beckett, to a certain extent, teaches with his ‘Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good…’
The history of modern art is, in part, a history of the presence and victory of that duration that transforms time into an irreversible thing. Time, this transformed time, left behind the regular mechanics of the clock to anchor itself to those hesitations of its own that only duration can reveal. Only events can provide a measure of time and that is one of the lessons of the cinematic – that optics-mechanics that rendered time into a plastic thing. How to say this otherwise? Accelerating, retarding, repeating, diverging, hesitating, stuttering, art turns time into one of its media. Often, it had to awake us to time by making us fall asleep first, somehow like the hypnotist’s rhythms that wrap around us; at other moments it woke us up with a bang. Be that as it may, the cinematic proved capable of making us feel the thickness that is intrinsic to duration. Understood thus, time stopped being linear to become unpredictable, discontinuous and complex, and therefore closer to the gestures of everyday: irreconcilable times, diverging moments, inside and outside, a gesture that is repeated, a swaying, a rotation, a deregulation of the senses.
And if experiencing things is, first and foremost, to try again, to fail again, to fail in a worse way again and again, then it could only take place in the face of a gesture that becomes pure, and thus disconnected from any immediate purpose. It is thus that gestures gain a body, and with them that time that becomes an experimental object. Such are the experimental gestures of art, made of a gesturality that could better be termed as pure mediality (Agamben), as if it could be said of those gestures that they finally have a thickness of their own, a body. What is revealed by this pure mediality – through a gesture that attained to its own autonomous expression – is a medium that speaks and makes speak, like a mirror. Video, before the levelling brought about by digital technology, was the expression of a body allowing for an awareness, as a feeling of strangeness, at times discomfort, vis-à-vis its physical presence, which is also why we should remember how misleading may be the pure and simple equivalence between different media, formats and supports, as if the respective strategies did not change as the body changes, as if a different body could produce the same gestures, as if different gestures could produce the same body. These are the ghosts pertaining to each medium that offer them a body, and it is those experimental games with the nature of the medium that offer it a body, and it is those experimental games with the nature of the medium that produce new and unexpected instances of mediation, a sort of new language that reveals the un-thought of things. Other ghosts, other bodies, different medial thicknesses.
In images, like in everything else, there is an unstable potency, and that potency its their own un-thought, a sort of productive unconscious merely waiting for an opportunity to reveal its body. In fact, there is an un-thought of things, which shows itself more apparently whenever they begin stuttering and babbling. From a purely technical perspective, only the voluptuousness pertaining to vertigo (like that found in gestures repeated to exhaustion by the dervish gyrating on himself) has the faculty of awakening such un-thought. Which is why it is so important to abandon the body to pure and automatic gestures. In art, the media are often the field where the un-thought finds expression that is also all that cannot be said or thought of otherwise except via that which passes through bodies, not only ours but of others as well, especially through the bodies of those things that are like machines and seem to be bodiless until the moment when they begin hesitating, stopping and starting again, only to stop again and to immediately start once more.
All that may seem automatic in the functioning of a medium belongs to it by right. The effects of that automatic functioning are its vital signs, with more or less tachycardia. But, if actions are desired and conscious and gestures are automatic (Bergson), only pure gestures afford a taking of the pulse of the things of the world. Thence the contradictory game between the body and its ghosts, for mediation is always a thing of the flesh and of the affections, even if at every moment it may seem to deal with those other things that, being bodiless, assault us as if they were not.
Anxiety, psychomotor instability, restlessness; emotional instability, depression (in very rare cases leading to self destruction), hallucination; a sensation of distancing (not being oneself), insanity (potentially leading to self destruction); headache, dizziness; tingling and/or numbing sensation; changes in tasting (in very rare cases loss of the ability to taste); confusion and disorientation, sleep problems (predominantly insomnia), tremor, sensation of dizziness (spinning or falling), somnolence; diminution of skin sensibility, olfactory alterations (including loss of olfaction), abnormal dreams, balance alterations, poor coordination (due to dizziness), convulsions, altered concentration, speech disturbances, partial or total loss of memory; increase in skin sensibility; visual disturbances, including double and blurred vision; buzzing, ear noise.
This list has no rhetorical pretensions whatsoever. It is simply the rigorous pharmacological enumeration of the secondary effects of the medication that I incidentally happened to be taking at the time of viewing the videos, albeit with results that seem to want to persist in time. Moreover, this list is an expression of the psychosomatic, often visceral, effects that I came across – also due to mere suggestion or due to the force of my own experience – in several of the videos that brought about these ten fragmentary annotations.
15 March 2010
Antena 4: Embankment #7
Fundação de Serralves
ISBN / ISSN—