Tarble Arts Center / Eastern Illinois University – January 19 to February 24, 2008.
[in time time]
Statement by Pat Badani ©
Artist and Director:
(Exhibition co-produced with the Tarble Art Center)
Production Assistance for “ping-pong-flow”:
Nogginaut (Interactive Experience Design in Physical Space)
As with previous works, the new piece creates a “communicational space” in which I explore materials as social practice in addition to notions of representation, codes, conventions and mediations. It is an installation that presents the viewer with two time-based pieces: an intimate, split-screen looped video with sound; and a silent, screen-based interactive animation. The pieces are bound together by their related concerns: consciousness and reality, time and memory, and the relationship of sender and receiver in a communication channel; yet differentiated in their embodiment and in their speculative vantage points, specifically in the way that images and human experience converge.
Regarding the intimate, split-screen looped video with sound titled [8-bits]:
The work began during a trip to Buenos Aires where I traveled to spend a couple of weeks with my ailing 86 year-old father. As a means of spending quality time with him I suggested that we play a “game’ whereby we would take turns sharing personal experiences: an exercise in “memory”, but also in “imagination” given the fact that details pertaining to past experiences are partial and that imperfect memory invites imagination and creative embellishment through storytelling. I was in Buenos Aries for only a couple of weeks and I was aware that the suggested exercise involved recollecting a massive amount of material that would keep us talking possibly for hundreds and hundreds of hours. This has already been suggested by Albert Camus in “The Stranger” where the main character, Meursault, could entertain himself by filling in the holes of his imperfect memory with imagination and declares: “I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored.” With this in mind, I made the project manageable within the allotted time by creating a self-contained framework for the conversation game. We would take turns telling each other one “happy” memory pertaining to one particular decade (bad memories were not allowed). My father called this a game of “ping-pong”. In his case, because he has lived 8 decades, he would need to tell 8 stories. Because what is stored in memory are bits and fragments of experience, this gave the work its length (8 minutes) and its title: [8 -bits].
This process unlocked my father’s past as the subject of our present conversation and provided the conceptual coordinates for this artwork (time and memory, consciousness, the relationship of sender and receiver in a communication channel and point of view).
Memory flashbacks bridge time and allow us to live simultaneously in the past and in the present. It appears to some that memory, and then personal creativity, precedes and directly leads to consciousness, self-awareness and individual identity; yet others claim that memory creates internal reality but does not make consciousness. Whichever the relationship of memory to consciousness, it cannot be denied that autobiographical memories are intensely personal; they establish where we have been and whom we were – and their recollection contributes to our understanding of ourselves, and our place in the world. Interestingly, as we age, we fear loosing our memory(ies). During this project, it became evident that many of my father’s memories were blurry, or difficult for him to locate in time. This “lack” of precision -chronological or otherwise- soon became irrelevant because what seemed more interesting to me was the quality and vividness of our dialogue.
Our conversations were a play between the use of Voluntary memory - a deliberate effort to recall the past – and Involuntary memory- a concept made famous by the French writer Marcel Proust, in which certain cues evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. In this piece, I exploit a feature of voluntary memories. Generally partial in most people, they tend to be foggy, blurry or irretrievable – which was precisely the case with my father, a characteristic accentuated perhaps by his age, or due to his illness, or both. In this work, what is important to me is to make visible the “essence” or the “flavour” of the act of remembering and, by extension, to point at the sinful status of “forgetfulness” in an information age like today where, the ability to retrieve information speedily from a large memory pool, is considered a sign of alert vitality; a triumph over loss and death (in a wired world, a single note of forgetfulness can sound like you’re shamefully unplugged and not worth listening to).
As a recording device, I chose to use the video function of two 7 megapixel cameras that we each held with a monopod –I felt that this “low-tech”, non-obtrusive, documentation device was appropriate given the intimate autobiographical quality of the “home movie.”It was important that my father be given control over the film, and I did so by giving him one of the cameras to operate, while I used the other one. By doing this, I already established more than one point of view for the project. In terms of the viewing camera, the set-up resulted in a “static” and a “mobile” point of view- with my father holding the camera in a fixed position, while I moved it around his face as he talked. It was also important that my father choose the language of communication that flowed from English to Spanish and back to English. I also incorporated a second aspect to the “conversation”. I asked my father to make a drawing of a particular object, space or situation central to each story. I thus created a “communicational space” with its own aesthetic and conceptual framework, one in which autobiographical communication was both language based and visual.
Recording device: Video function of two 7 Mega pixel cameras held with monopods.
The video editing process involved compiling the following material:
1) my father’s video clips documenting his oral stories (his camera view + my camera view)
2) my father’s drawings and video clips documenting his “pictured” stories
3) slices of literary or screenplay texts addressing the issues at stake in this piece: the relationship between consciousness and reality, the mysteries of time and memory, the relationship of sender and receiver in a communication channel.
These texts appear as dynamic “flashes” and were appropriated from:
1) various short stories by Argentinean essayist Jorge Luis Borges
2) Die Lady Die, a 2005 novel by Argentinean writer Alejandro Lopez
3) Conversations with Other Women, 2005 film by Hans Canosa, Screenwriter Gabrielle Zevin Carter
My father’s drawing mapping the Trip to Los Angeles.
Pat Badani ©
Video of my father mapping the Trip to Los Angeles
These elements (video, still images and dynamic text) will be displayed using a split-screen narrative structure in order to simultaneously show relationships between elements and points of view in time. This effect is in synchronicity with the characteristic of the screen’s frame as well as with a feature of human memory itself, in that neither one represent a seamless view of reality. This technique, where two or more fragments of information are presented simultaneously, relies on the “attention” of the viewers and enlists them as perceptual editors. It is probably interesting to point out that the process of recovering memories also has to do with “attention” -what my father focused on during recall - a mysterious and subjective process in and of itself.
Regarding the second piece, the silent, screen-based interactive moving image titled: «Ping/Pong» (my father talked about our conversation being a game of “ping-pong”, and
this, of course, made me think of Performance Video artist Valie Export and her work “Ping-Pong” in which she analyses the relationship between viewer and screen…more about this further on…)
My interactive work creates a circuitry of communication between a computer-controlled, animated image, and gallery visitors. Visitors will see a projected portrait: a person seemingly asleep, or “unconscious”. As a result of the visitor’s proximity to the portrait this one will open her eyes transforming the spectator/visitor into the work’s activator. As the visitor continues to move in the space, the portrait will continue to react accordingly. This interactive feature of the project is the result of motion capture and behaviors written in the computer program executing the animation. Visitors will think that the virtual portrait is responding to them in a way that only a flesh-and-blood individual does. This incident establishes a relationship between waking and consciousness, between self-awareness and awareness of the Other, and between sender and receiver in a communication channel that is non-verbal. Most importantly, this is experienced in ‘real time’. What is happening is essentially suspended, fixed, in the present moment with no evidence of the past (memory), perhaps suggesting a future where everything is virtually possible.
In a lecture delivered by Valie Export in 2003 titled “Expanded Cinema / Expanded Reality” she talks about the relationship of the viewer to the screen and points at the dominant character of the cinema screen as “a medium to be manipulated by the director”, a subject she dealt with in her 1968 film “Ping-Pong”. She claims that, in traditional projections, regardless of how much the viewer is pulled in, the relationship is based on shifts between the image of reality (portrayed on the screen) and the experience of reality (sensed by the viewer in the present). “Viewer and screen are partners in a game with rules dictated by the director, a game requiring screen and viewer to come to terms with each other”. Further, Valie Export proposes: “To this extent, the viewer's response is active. But the controlling character of the screen could not be demonstrated more clearly: no matter how involved the viewer becomes with the game and plays with the screen, his status as consumer is hardly affected – or not at all.” She expressed the need to emancipate the screen in order to emancipate the viewer: “the viewer deals with the screen, and yet it does not react.” She stated that without the action of the viewer, without a direct experience of codification, the film remains incomplete.
In gallery or museum exhibitions showing screen-based works today, viewers habitually perform the role of observer described above. However, in my piece, viewers enter the space to find that their gaze is returned by the artwork. The proposed interactive feedback loop establishes a relationship between artwork and viewer that is specific to new electronic media, modifying what W.T.J. Mitchell refers to as the “picture beholder relationship.” The electronic portraits’ responsive feature sets this type of situation apart from viewer experience in more traditional artworks. If in [8-bits] the viewers are enlisted as perceptual editors, in «Ping/Pong» they are enlisted as activators.
«Ping/Pong» explores the process of sending and receiving wordless messages between organic and artificial agents by means of body language, specifically “proxemics” and “eye gaze.” The visitor’s proximity to the animation provokes a series of reactions in the portrait, namely, in the way that the portrait gazes back at the participants. “Proxemics:” body positioning in space, and “eye gaze:” visual connection made as a person gazes into the eyes of another, sets up a dynamics of watching and being watched, a situation in which observer and observed interact with each other spatially.
Spatial relationships and territorial boundaries directly influence our daily encounters. This spatial, non-verbal communication between human bodies habitually handles distance in order to send messages during the course of social interactions. Thus, individuals define their attitudes according to the spatial positions they adopt before others. Changing the distance between two people can convey a desire for intimacy, declare lack of interest or fear, and increase or decrease domination. In addition, individuals also use eye gaze in order to maintain a measure of control over such space. Meeting the other’s glance implies an interlocutor. A spatial relationship between Self and Other is thus co-created. This communicative space between two subjects is thought of as intersubjective, it relies on the self-consciousness of the respective partners, as well as awareness of each other’s presence.
However, «Ping/Pong» is composed of human and non-human (electronic) agents, and visitors establish a communicative relationship with this computer-controlled, seemingly “thinking image,” an image that appears to also have self-awareness (consciousness). As a prolongation of Valie Export’s thoughts on the matter, it would be interesting to further speculate about the altered status of moving visual images when they become responsive to the viewer, as well as the altered status of the viewer who encounters these responsive images.
Some of these speculations could be further nourished by new media theory and philosophy on the relationship between perception, human bodies and machines in the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, McCarthy & Wright, and Burnett, among others; texts by “dialogue philosophers” who have written on the relationship between Self and Other and intersubjectivity, specifically Mead, Buber and Jacques; and writings by Edward Hall on non-verbal communication (body language.)
Some of the questions I am interested in are:
- “Humans are physical beings with evolved brains and evolved minds. Humans are also moral agents with consciousness and will. How should we try to reconcile these very different visions of our humanness?”
- “When objects take characteristics of the human (they work perfomatively and take on agency,) how are the dominant divides between subjects and objects, ideality and materiality, called into question?”
- “What are traditional philosophical views about the relationships between subject and object?”
- “What are some of the new views about this relationship and how did they evolve?”
- “How do new scopic technologies determine the structure of lived experience?”
- “How does interacting with an intelligent computer agent contribute to shaping our experience of the social?”
- “What kinds of communicative relationships do we establish with responsive, electronic non-humans?”
- “How do the visual arts contribute to contemporary philosophical debate about the topic?”
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