Project 3: Place in art

Exercise 3 – Gallery visit, continued

Focus piece 2:
Convergence d’images vers le port, 2016, ultra-high definition (4k) digital video installation, 4 synchronized projections, mute, 8:06 video loop. Artist’s collection. Produced by Jeu de Paume, Paris, for this exposition.

Photo documentation:

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Still from Campus’ convergence d’images vers le port (2016). I took the photo standing in front of one of four screens, projecting what Campus calls “videographs.” The viewer watches this fishing boat slowly come into the harbour at what looks like early morning; gulls (not pictured) fly in the background.
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Another still I took of a different projection. The angle shows the darkness in the room, which enhanced the image’s clarity and informed the mood around the piece. This image also shows the gradual transition from full color to black and white video.

Notes:

  • My friend and I spent a bit of time with this piece. Very different from Anamnesis, this piece can’t be described as fun, but offers a more purely aesthetic and emotional experience of a specific place (Pornic, France), in rather unspecific time.
  • First impressions/words: beautiful, vivid colors, calming, vacation, village, timeless, slow, altered reality, poetic, immersive.
  • Physical experience
    • Convergence d’images vers le port is the last piece in the video ergo sum exposition. You approach a particularly dark area (the whole exposition is rather dark), toward a closed-off room with an entrance at a discreet angle. The room is empty and dark, save four video projections on each wall and any spectators. The projections are large-scale but do not occupy the entire space of the wall.
    • Projections feature four, 8-minute “videograph” (Campus’ term for his photograph-like videos, where the camera records images, often nature or landscapes, without moving) loops of different, everyday scenes from what appears to be—and is—a very old traditional (in the Western sense) fisherman’s village (in France).
    • The palette is striking and yet soft. Looks made of velvet. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the image fades to black and white.
    • Imagery seems so real as to be unreal. Seems like the video is going slower than real time (the flapping of gulls’ wings in the background appears almost pixelated, the movements oddly “sticky.”
    • The room is small enough that, in order to stand far enough back to take in the whole of one screen, or to pan back and forth visually between two or more screens, your field of vision is most likely compromised by the silhouette of another spectator. Spectators are free to move about the room and engage with the projections as they like.

 

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Photo taken of my friend filming and/or taking photos of this piece.
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Photo taken of a man who, like us, spent a lot of time with this piece and did not employ mobile technology to “document” his experience.

(Further) notes about Peter Campus:

  • Campus says “instantaneousness” of video is essential
  • Emphasis on interaction between viewer and medium
    • A pioneer of video art, he had experience working in art and knew folks didn’t spend much time with each piece. His initial works were ways of resolving this problem, by inciting the viewer to interact with and complete the work.
  • Also more generally concerned with themes of:
    • human interaction with media
    • relationship between viewer and work of art that s/he completes
    • spectator passivity and/versus activity/agency
    • body identity
    • reality and/versus virtuality
    • self-transformation
    • presence, absence
    • existentialism
    • narcissism
  • After ten years of interior-focused video art (1969-79, exploring themes of self, shadow self, dark sides, double sides) most often featuring the artist, he got fed up, wanted to cast his gaze outside, turned to (landscape) photography.
    • Notion of landscape as the “inside-out” of a (self)portrait. (note: interesting link to etymological exploration of “landscape” in Place essay)
    • He maintains that even an exterior gaze is still informed by the interior; we bring specific values, decisions, essence to the way we look outward, the things we choose to see, focus on, the meaning we create.
  • Campus returns to video in ’95: felt right.
  • Technology had changed the physicality of video art significantly. He embraces it fully in his work.
  • Interested now in looking outside and inside at the same time, as in a journal.
  • For Campus, four key attributes of a successful work of art include: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
    • He says the “physical” is the most difficult attribute to create in video.

Notes about convergence d’images vers le pont:

  • Convergence = Campus’ first philosophical reference to cinema; he wanted the piece to be the same and different
  • In cinema, he says, we expect and experience fantasy, escape: we sit there, are comfortable, images come past us and we lose ourselves in them.
  • In art, for him, there is a necessary materiality.
  • In convergence, he wanted to present very large images without asking the spectator to disappear into them.
  • Of the viewer’s experience, he says:

You’re not being controlled. You can create your experience within the space.

In light of my own experience and research, how does Campus’ convergence d’images vers le port deal with themes of time and place?

The oldness of the place was fresh for me; I saw its history had permeated the harbor walls. The men fishing unchanged, attached to the sea and their living from it. These were discrete moments in a continuum. As I observed and recorded these images, visitors to the town looked safely from afar, seeing, but untouched: observing nature. – Peter Campus, 2016.

This piece deals quite directly with themes of time and place. The viewer is invited to contemplate high-definition, vivid and large-scale “videographs” of scenes from everyday life in a small fisherman’s village. The village is what is appears to be: a place where, as Campus is quoted above (taken from information panel), the men are unchanged, attached to (figuratively, emotionally, historically) and living from the sea.

Time is referenced in its near-absence or apparent irrelevance. The projected images slip slowly and almost imperceptibly from a super-saturated, beautiful-morning-sky-at-dawn color palette to black and white: a deftly-accomplished feat. This technique draws the spectators attention to the deep connection between history and place (and the people of this place), described by him as a continuum.

On perhaps a more complex level is the way the spectator wanders into this space and occupies it as if in a kind-of dream. The aesthetic experience is more or less predetermined by Campus, but our experience to time and place (memories of a similar place; personal context: where we “are” in our hearts and minds at the moment of viewing) is essential to our emotional and spiritual experience (key for Campus, and always subjective) of this piece.

Finally, there is a kind-of irony, not unrelated to these themes, that to so beautifully convey the timelessness of this world, Campus employed state-of-the-art, ultra-high definition video technology, which is explicitly linked to the present. Also of interest is the juxtaposition of the hearty, almost cliche characters who occasionally enter the scene (steering a boat, walking along the dock as though for the 8,000th time) seemingly removed from urban concerns about time and productivity, simply living their lives in the here and now, and the so differently-framed spectator of contemporary art, many of us sporting our own state-of-the-art mobile devices and using them to make video of the video, or take photos of the photos: desperate to take home with us (for free) a piece of the strange, slow and peaceful life projected on the walls of a room in an art museum.

Sources:

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