SPEED OF LIGHT
17 August- 3 September 2011
Tamsin Green’s video installation Speed of Light presents us with a bifurcated vision or doubled point of perception. Two synchronised projections present parallel footage upon two separate screens, each turned slightly towards each other, triangulating a position between them towards which the viewer is drawn. This essay will investigate the motif of doubling, as it occurs in connection with a number of themes in Green’s practice, and appears to culminate in some way in Speed of Light.
Green’s work appeals to the ‘point of view’ This point is a protagonist in itself, that can be inhabited variously by the artist or viewer; but also stepped aside of to be contemplated from afar. In Speed of Light the distance between the two viewpoints is not equivalent to the experience of binocular vision. It disorientates the viewer’s sense of centrality in relation to the image, or otherwise makes difficult the synthesis of the two images. This doubling complicates what otherwise appears to be a familiar journey; the open roads and sunsets of adventure stories lived indirectly through cinema. The doubled space of perception works at odds to the simple directionality of the footage, which takes us on a journey towards the horizon, in a constant forward motion. The sunset has a romantic or allegorical potential; but Green’s complication of the protagonist’s position, through the dual screens, seeks to question this narrative rather than reproduce it. A similar investigation was undertaken in Green’s video installation Still Moving Image (shown at Kings ARI, Melbourne 2009) in which three separate projections displayed footage of a setting sun recorded in three different video formats: 16mm film, 8mm film and high definition digital video. The differing artefacts, gamuts and resolutions presented by these images became the object of attention, displacing any sense of photographic neutrality. Moving between the three projections (situated in three separate rooms) the variously repeated image allowed for the sense of both an emptying, and a returning, of the sunset’s seductive power.
Still Moving Image was also concerned with the multiplication of images, and their ambiguity in relation to a singular moment. In this sense Green’s work negotiates the double event of the photographic image. Through the repetition of sunsets, and the doubling or tripling of the image, we are asked to consider the relationship between the original moments recorded, and the temporality of their re-presentation. Like Robert Smithson’s Mirror Displacement (Portland isle, England) (1969) series, in which the artist positioned mirrors in a stone quarry and then photographed them, the artwork is neither simply the activity that takes place in the landscape, or the recorded image, but emerges in a consideration of these two times and contexts.1 This is especially apparent in a work of Green’s in which the lens is drawn into a relationship with a light sensitive area. In Landscape (Shown at Screenspace, Melbourne 2010) the video camera looks down on a piece of glass that is wedged within the grass. Unable to properly register the reflection, the camera overexposes the glass and transforms it into a glaring shape. While Smithson records the form of the mirror arranged within, and reflective of, the landscape; Green’s mirror becomes an area which cannot be registered, that the camera cannot properly ‘see’.
The Double Blind
The doubling of screens, suns, and the use of reflective surfaces in Green’s work has much in common with Albanian artist Anri Sala’s two-channel video installation Blindfold (2002). This work similarly features two video streams taken by two separate cameras, each of which are trained on large empty billboards. The billboards sport gleaming metallic surfaces, which reflect the movement of the sun; while people pass through the urban landscape below. When the sun catches the billboard at a particular angle it fills the camera lens with a blinding glare. The sun thus provides and then cancels the information available to the camera. Hans Ulrich Obrist explains: ‘the sun bleaches and burns up the surrounding image, destroying rather than providing visual information and, in Sala’s words, ‘censoring the sight”.2 Green has similarly investigated the line between illumination and blindness, attempting to photograph the sun directly in a number of works, including Looking (Westspace, Melbourne 2008). In this work the entrance to the small gallery space was almost blocked by a hanging perspex screen, onto which was projected direct video footage of the sun. Visitors were forced to confront this image, walk up close, and negotiate their way around the screen to see the rest of the exhibition. Similarly in Speed of Light the sun affords the occasion for the work, and, despite Green’s attempts to pursue it, ultimately determines the point at which it must end.
The doubling of billboards in Sala’s work speaks of either a transmission or disorientation between places; themes that are equally present in Green’s current installation. The communication between localities and points in time was also a concern of a recent photographic installation To and from the end of the world (shown at Conical, Melbourne 2010). This show featured two photographs hung at opposite ends of the space, each depicting a dark seascape with just a wisp of dawn light. In each photograph can be discerned points of light on the horizon, created by Green with a small torch. By opposing the two images the work alludes to a transmission between to two places, across the expanse of the sea. But rather than emanating from one point to be received at the other, both images feature light shining from somewhere just within the perpetual boundary of the horizon. The motif of doubling unsettles the logic of cause and effect; the images seem to mirror each other infinitely, rather than constituting a progression or a journey. The double, as repetition, problematises the sense of anticipation that might be read into the image if it was displayed singularly.
Recent work by Green has taken the theme of visual obstruction further, leaving light and the horizon to investigate the possibility of their absence. Landscape, cited above, also included a black canvas alongside the video, on which the word ‘landscape’ was written in Braille. In this work doubling takes the form of a translation into another language. In a sense the language of representation always blinds us to things, the word or concept ‘landscape’ blocks or denies the particularity of landscapes themselves. But at the same time language has its own sense of visuality, that is never simply separable from the operation of the eye. Green’s ‘picture’ points to a thinking of the landscape beyond the opticality which informs the tradition of landscape painting, and the thinking of two-point perspective more generally. The landscape is never simply seen. Not only is the concept ‘landscape’ readily translatable into a language in which the optics of the horizon is meaningless; it evokes a realm of experience of the landscape that is simply unavailable within the pictorial plane. In a sense the ‘image’ of the landscape evokes a visuality, or rather a sensibility of space, that is all the more affecting for lack of an optical stimulus.
Green’s interest in the eye, in works such as Surface Tension (Trocadero, Melbourne 2007), and her more recent occupation with blindness, attest to an interest in the suppositions of perception and image-making generally, rather than simply an interrogation of certain photographic technologies. Thus her experimentation with the way video produces effects of seeing, and of duration, is not simply critical of these apparatuses, but in turn looks at their ability to question the neutrality and naturality that is historically attributed to seeing. As Jacques Derrida puts it:
We can no longer oppose perception and technics; there is no perception before the possibility of prosthetic iterability; and this mere possibility marks, in advance, both perception and the phenomenology of perception. In perception there are already operations of selection, of exposure time, of filtering, of development; the psychic apparatus functions also like, or as, an apparatus of inscription and of the photographic archive.3
Despite the romanticism that Green often attempts to expose in the image, the image is not simply opposed to so-called ordinary perception. The image instead stands in a complex relationship with the eye; it is both formed through a certain history of looking, and continues to inform this history. It is thus incorrect to say that the image is simply deceptive; and, as such, there remains a potential in the image to rethink the faculty of perception. The photographic image, as double, opens a questioning of what we might believe to be original or prior to it. Speed of Light continues this investigation; doubling images, positions, trajectories and times.
- Stephen Palmer, 2011.
1. Owens discusses the relationship between the desert site and the documentary image in a similar group of works in: Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 29.
2. Anri Sala et al., Anri Sala (New York: Phaidon, 2006), 47.
3. Jacques Derrida, Hubertus von Amelunxen, and Michael Wetzel, Copy, Archive, Signature: A Conversation on Photography, ed. Gerhard Richter, trans. Jeff Fort (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2010), 14-15.