Project 3: Place in art

Exercise 3 – Gallery visit

Context: This exercise asked us to visit a gallery featuring contemporary work and select, sketch, take notes on and research two pieces that focus on the themes of time and/or place.

Exposition: Peter Campus – video ergo sum – 14/02 – 28/05/2017 – Jeu de Paume
Curated by Anne-Marie Duguer

Focus piece 1:
Anamnesis, 1973, closed-circuit video installation, originally installed at the Albion Gallery, London. Black and white video projection.

Photo documentation:

campus-stef in movement.jpg
Photo of my friend interacting with Anamnesis. She’s about fifteen feet from the screen/projection. The image illustrates both the live and delayed video projection, which encourages spectators to linger, “test” and interact with the piece. To take this photo, I was positioned to the far left and outside of the camera’s field of view.
campus image - leigh
Photo of my friend and I having fun with Anamnesis. We took photos and made a short video of the “four” of us swaying back and forth. Here, we’re positioned about fifteen feet from the screen, standing directly in front of it, mobile phones in the ready position.

Notes:

  • (My friend and) I had a lot of fun with this piece; it captivates the spectator’s attention and offers a range of experiences, layers of interpretation.
  • From a distance (before direct interaction), you see a screen projected onto a wall, a single camera hanging above it.
  • The screen projects two images (one live, one with a three-second delay) in black and white.
  • First experience: a confrontation
    • Passing by, I saw, peripherally, my own shadow/shape projected in the screen. It caught my attention and I paused to observe myself in real time. As if to satisfy some desire I didn’t know I had to observe myself as if unobserved, a second version of myself appeared: like a shadow self, trying to catch up with the body it belongs to.
    • This brief delay (three seconds) produces a striking opportunity to stand back and observe oneself as one might observe an animal in the wild. You notice subtle details a mirror or a “selfie” won’t provide: your “resting” expression (how shadows sink into your face), your gait and posture, how old you look, the way you occupy space in the room but also on a screen. There’s a (very fleeting) feeling of having seen a ghost, of being confronted by a stranger you somehow recognize.
    • Choice of black and white, grainy projection reinforces the “distance” one feels from this vision of self.
  • Second experience: curiosity, play and performance 
    • Once I understood how the piece works, I wanted to have fun with it, interact purposefully (and goofily) with that second, delayed self. We’re often so serious and busy trying to intellectualize our experience in museums and galleries; this piece isn’t intellectually flimsy, but it does invite us to have fun, be silly and laugh; I appreciated taking advantage of that.
    • The interactions between strangers and friends was also interesting: my friend and I choreographed a silly dance where we appeared to be four, swaying awkwardly.
  • Third experience: observing others (observe themselves)
    • From a dark corner of the room, it was interesting to watch other visitors interact with this piece: some stood in serious contemplation, some moved in and out of the frame doing funky dance moves, some monopolized the piece for long minutes at a time, fascinated by their own “performance” of self or using their mobiles to make their own “selfie of a selfie” film.
    • I noticed that the piece (like many others from around the same period) is open-ended, an experience necessarily completed by the spectator.
  • Interesting links to “selfie” culture
    • This piece is concerned with our relationship to time and delay, but also how we “encounter” ourselves.
    • To me, it seems like Campus touched at the heart of a cultural phenomenon he couldn’t possibly have predicted. In the 70s, video recorders were heavy, clunky and not accessible to everybody. Forty years later, the opposite is true, and mobile technology and social media have informed a strong culture of self-documentation, self-curation, image manipulation, etc. This piece draws on a lot of the same impulses to self-obsess, self-admire, self-critique, also to observe and “perform” self.
    • The grainy, black-and-white aesthetic corresponds to a current nostalgia and appetite for “vintage” aesthetic; while it’s intended as a distancing technique, I think a lot of contemporary viewers are quite accustomed to seeing their own image aesthetically altered, thanks to popular apps and photo filters designed for just that purpose.
  • Further research about Peter Campus
    • In 60s Campus was a student of painting and cognitive psychology; discovered video art in late 60s and brought these interests together
    •  Campus considered a key player in the development of video art, starting early 70s
    • The difficulty of installing his works has been a barrier to broader exposure; the current Jeu de Paume expo is the first Campus expo in France
    • Work explores “processes of perception and vision, exploiting the characteristics of both the electronic and digital image.” (cited from exposition brochure)
    • Aesthetically influenced by minimalist contemporaries but in early years deeply concerned with exploration of self, themes of death and isolation
    • Expositions are highly interactive; many of the works are completed by visitor interaction, play, and explore spectator’s problematic relationship to his/her own image.
    • Earliest work uses complex mechanics and camera arrangements to comment on themes including surveillance, relationship to self/-image, how we experience space, place, how we use visual information to construct meaning.
    • Campus took a nearly 20-year hiatus (78-96) from video art to devote himself to (mostly nature/landscape) photography. From interior to exterior focus in his art.
    • Return to video medium was marked by vast technological changes, improved mobility and accessibility, the digital age.
    • Continued to explore the message in the medium, creation of “videographs” (poetic, peaceful, intimate and “slow” footage of landscapes, familiar environments).
    • Most recent work featured in exposition was created specially for the Jeu de Paume expo
  • Further research about Anamnesis
    • Definition of “anamnesis” (from Oxforddictionaries.com, accessed 20/03/17):
      • Recollection, especially of a supposed previous existence.
      • Medicine: A patient’s account of their medical history.
    • According to exposition pamphlet, the piece creates a “temporal gap in the simultaneeity of the transmission of pictures […] The only way to remain single is to stay still. The beholder sees himself simultaneously in the present and in the past, which might also be interpreted as a future image detached from the present.”
campus sketches
Some rough photo-based sketches (using felt, pencil, pen, charcoal, collage and tracing paper) of my friend and I interacting with Anamnesis. At bottom-left, I’ve pasted a photo of the piece, cut from the exposition brochure.

In light of my own impressions, sketches and research, how does Campus’ Anamnesis deal with themes of time and place?

Anamnesis is concerned with our relationship to time and self, which is perhaps at odds with our everyday descriptions of time and self. We can’t literally exist in two moments or places at once, nor can we simultaneously occupy multiple bodies. When we first experience this work and see a second, almost ghost-like projection of ourselves lagging behind the “real time” projection we expect, it’s a bit jarring: rare are the opportunities to witness the body we inhabit in action, carrying on—if only for a fleeting moment as it (the delayed image) races to catch up to the present—as if unobserved. In Anamnesis, we can’t reproduce this spontaneous experience of the past; we’re lucky if we experience it once. Indeed, we pass from “witness of self” to “performer of self” as soon as we understand what’s going on.

Yet, as much as we’re accustomed to seeing only one self reflected back at us in the mirror, there is a truthfulness to seeing a strange and distant (effect created both by time delay and black and white image) double of our body in motion, to seeing one version of a self engaged with one activity and another version of the same self preoccupied with something else, trying to catch up to the present. We describe time as a linear system but I think we often experience it differently: it’s very possible to be engaged in one activity, in a particular place, at a particular moment of the day, but to absolutely be absorbed by the possibility, the memory, the experience of another moment: these are separate but not unrelated existences inhabited by one person, and Anamnesis gives presence to both(/and).

Sources:

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