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REDUNDANT GOTHIC CORRIDORS

REDUNDANT GOTHIC CORRIDORS – DOUG HENRY 2000

“Four centuries after the ‘solutions’ of the Renaissance and three centuries after Descartes, depth is still new, 

and it insists on being sought, not ‘once in a lifetime’ but all through life.”

    -Maurice Merleau-Ponty

A set constructed in the gallery at Harbor College.

2-D representations of 3-D space, from renaissance paintings to contemporary news and advertising photos, are based on a fixed point of view.  This set piece uses the device of forced perspective (familiar to many from first year psychology texts or Fun Houses) to externalize the point of view.  Once the point of view is out in the room, it can be taken or assumed by a viewer who will see the constructed illusion of 3 dimensions just as it would appear in 2 dimensions.  As the viewer moves away from the fixed pov however, their perception of the illusion begins to distort until, at some point, it completely breaks down giving way to a recognition of the materials from which the piece is made and its configuration within the actual 3-d space of the room.

 At the back of the set two small LCD video monitors play footage of people reading.  The monitors are positioned in such a way that in order for viewers to see the clearest brightest image (a limitation of the technology causes there to be a single, best viewing angle – point of view) viewers must assume contemplative poses much like those of the readers they watch and present a similar image through the set to anyone who chances into the gallery.

As each viewer moves to explore the set they add to their role of a spectator viewing it, the role of performer acting in it.  The movement of viewers in and around the set initiates an ongoing series of linear sequences, interactive narratives, a new one commencing each time someone enters the space.

THE COLLABORATORS

Inspired by the insight of the classics scholar Milman Perry that the great Homeric
epics were built out of set phrases and formulas- clichés,  The Collaborators is a
reevaluation of the role of novelty and originality in the production of art works.

“I don’t have an original idea in my head and I’ve been developing it for thirty years.”

             –Doug Henry 2006[1]

Was it April first, I don’t remember now when I was invited to show at the Warschaw Gallery in San Pedro.  Presented with the opportunity to fill this distinctive space I inventoried the contents of my gin soaked brain for a stepping off point.  I knew what I didn’t want to do– and that was start with one of the many ideas that just POPS into my head.   These ideas seem to bubble up from the unconscious workings of the mental hardware.  Since I don’t really know their origin it’s quite possible they are being placed in my head by some external force or entity.  At any rate, despite the fact they have popped into my head, I don’t feel comfortable claiming authorship of them.

So, forsaking inspiration, my goal would be to devise a method.

 I set to work first by reviewing everything I knew or had ever thought to see if perhaps it was already there so to speak.  No luck so I extended my search.   Now the results of a search, even the most exhaustive search are in large part governed by chance. And as it happened, quite by chance, I stumbled upon a book entitled Modern Genre Theory[2] and in this book I read the phrase:  “… the term (genre) seems almost by definition to deny the autonomy of the author, deny the uniqueness of the text, deny spontaneity, originality and self-expression.”

“Eureka!” I thought to myself.  What power, what a marvelous tool that can produce something without the need for all that other, potentially HIGHLY overvalued, because it is completely assumed and unexamined, who-ha. All I have to do is identify some genres and, like an engine of creation, they will do the rest.   

My search led me back through history to the tutor of Alexander the Great (Immortalized in the Hollywood blockbuster Alexander – by now in the ‘Action/ Adventure’ section of your local video store) the great Greek philosopher and categorizer, Aristotle. It turns out that Aristotle, though perhaps one of the greatest scientific minds in all history was also a man who appreciated a nice, round number.  He divided the world up into ten categories.  Why ten you ask?  Because Ten is the first number with two figures.  Ten contains the two numbers necessary to create a binary system- 1 and 0.  Ten is the number of perfection in the Pythagorean system.  It’s the number that includes both the human and the divine.  The Tetrakytis: 1+2+3+4=10.[3]  The all, the absolute, harmony.  Because the 1 is the beginning the 0 is the Ouroboros, the snake devouring its tail that stands for cyclicality, infinity or unity.  Finally, because Ten is one more than 9 but one less than 11.  It’s not eight, nor four, neither is it sixteen (riffs on both This is Spinal Tap[4] and Monty Python and the Holy Grail!! – both found in the ‘Comedy’ section of your local video store).

Aristotle, it seems, was trying to find a way to make sense of the world that was more abstract or simple than to have to deal with each and every possibility as an isolated and separate case so he organized all that is, was and ever will be under ten different headings.  Time was separated from substance, substance from quality, quality from quantity and so on, until he had distilled all of god’s great creation into ten categories: Action, Substance, Quality, Quantity, Relation, Place, Time, Situation, Condition and Passion.

Armed with his ten categories Aristotle could now look at the seamless blur of all that is and group such disparate things as dirt, water and wood under the single unifying heading of ‘substance’.  He could see that granularity, wetness and hardness were properties or ‘qualities’ of dirt, water and wood respectively—not ‘substances’ themselves but qualities of substances, and in this way he set out to make sense of the world.

Now here’s the magic: The categories were originally conceived of as razor thin lines that could separate different from like—not things themselves but a mental instrument to organize and compartmentalize things– yet they take on a life of their own and become things in themselves!  Without naming any particular ‘substance’ the very word substance conjures a unique image in the mind of one who hears it that, though perhaps vague and non descript, is distinctly different from that conjured by the word ‘place’.  This image is the reduction or simplification that was originally intended when dividing everything into categories but it is also a complication—the addition of ten MORE to all that is, was or ever will be!!

By now the parallel between Aristotle’s ‘categories’ and ‘genres’ is obvious to the astute reader.  A genre like a category creates an image or impression of what is in that genre that is not any one specific member of that genre.[5]  In other words, if I say I’m going to write a poem in the ‘epic’ genre you immediately form an impression of ‘epic poem’ that is a composite of all epic poems and yet no one specific epic poem and that impression is the genre, ‘epic’. It is added to all the epics that actually exist.

Meanwhile, back at the book; Modern Genre Theory another passage read: “… the word genre now seems…to be operating…as a valorizing term, signaling not prescription and exclusion but opportunity and common purpose: genre as the enabling device…”

Genre, I was discovering, could be an antidote to all the vain and isolating notions of uniqueness, originality and self-expression that have become the stock in trade of the academy for the last seventy five some odd years to the exclusion of more inclusive notions of how art might work![6] 

Now that I understood some of the mechanics of my new ‘engine of creation’ I could go on to elaborate how I would employ it to fill the Warschaw gallery.  First I needed to identify the genres I would use.  I decided the list should contain ten genres (for the reasons listed above) and set out to find them.  The search came to an abrupt halt when I came upon this list in the play Hamlet by Wm. Shakespeare (a great version starring Nichol Williamson in the title roll can be found in the ‘Classics’ section of your local video store):

 “…The best actors in the world, either for tragedy,
comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-
comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
poem unlimited…”

Dot dot dot indeed, I realized my list would be somewhat arbitrary.  Since it was going to be up to me, I decided my categories would be familiar rather than novel to facilitate engagement with others.  The field was narrowed but still vast.  I felt like the character played by Bill Murray in the beginning of the movie The Razors Edge, on a definite quest but with an as yet vague outcome.  (This is a dynamite version of the story by the way—MUCH better than the Tyrone Power version despite what people say.  Check it out in the ‘Drama’ section of your local video store.) 

Unfortunately or otherwise, working for a living prevents me from devoting one hundred percent of my time to my art interest and so my quest for genres had been put on hold when one day quite by chance, while I stood at the return counter of my local video store gazing idly around the room waiting to returning a late DVD it hit me. …!  

Eureka, Eureka!!!  Next to Aristotle’s list of ten categories I would posit a list of the ten sections of the video store:

Aristotle’s categories 

1. Action

2. Substance

3. Quality

4. Quantity

5. Relation

6. Place

7. Time

8. Situation

9. Condition

10. Passion

 

1. Action

2. Sci-Fi

3. Comedy

4. Drama

5. Foreign

6. Children

7. Classic

8. New Release

9. Special Interest

10. Porno

 To the sections of a modern day video store.

The correspondence was striking to me but of no consequence for my project so from that moment on I abandoned Aristotle and concentrated on the categories found in the video store.

Bear with me for one last trip to the book.  From Modern Genre Theory I discovered that the way we categorize is historical and constantly evolving—the genres we have are of our time and place;  “…a society chooses and codifies the acts that correspond most closely to its ideology; that is why the existence of certain genres in one society, their absence in another…” and more importantly that they are not necessarily shaped solely by a set of internal features or attributes:  “…symbolism existed historically; but that does not prove that the works of authors identified with symbolism have discursive properties in common… the unity of the movement may be centered on friendships, common manifestations, and so on.”  May actually be in part glued together by such external relationships as FRIENDSHIPS!!   

Eureka, Eureka, Eureka!!! All the pieces were falling into place.  I now had the plan and the powerful but strange new formula necessary to begin to generate material to fill the Warschaw gallery.  Here’s how it worked. 

The names of the genres are like incantations.  All I had to do is say the word ‘drama’ and the images would start to fly like ghosts that were particular to ‘drama’ but no one specific ‘drama’.  Since these images are specific without being particular (or particular without being specific?) they are everywhere and nowhere.  This observation lead me to the conclusion that the work I needed to fill the Warschaw Gallery could be extracted from the very gallery itself!! 

The first step was to go into the community of San Pedro and enlist the participation of a group of bright, interested and fearless friends, acquaintances and strangers with whom to collaborate.  Without having to sit down together and spend weeks, days even hours hashing out what it was we were going to do the genres would provide a common, yet unique to each individual, understanding. 

As we worked to build each generic we were all able to share a common vision yet no two of us were sharing the same vision.[7] 

The ghosts began to fly!!  The resulting material is a reflection of the conceptions of each member of the group yet it does not match the conception of any one member of the group.  It emerged from the building that houses the gallery and the minds, personalities and relationships between each and every individual that participated in making it! [8] 

It is as unique as a finger print[9] yet as familiar as a common kind. 

It is a manifestation of a transformation:  The reduction that is each genre is a production in each mind and so the many distilled into one becomes the one created into many; the 1 the beginning and the 0 the snake eating its tail – the cycle, unity, the infinite. Oh god DAMN what a story!!![10]

[1] As quoted in the web log STAMP TREE CHAIR—it’s a real blog, you can Google it…….

[2] It’s a real book, you can find it on Amazon.com

[3] The arrangement of bowling pins

[4]  My cousin produced this incredible movie, swear to god!!!

[5] You could get all technical on me and say it’s a set of features or list of characteristics or rules that can be listed and that its not a vague image but if I say ‘detective story’  my guess is an image ‘ll pop into your head before you can think of a rule or feature set.

[6] Though it may seem as though I have a bias its not that I don’t appreciate the finger print or poop of the individual artist, its that I regret the mindless privileging of these at the exclusion of all else; e.g. legibility, community and common purpose.

[7] For my part, as the one primarily responsible for the content of the exhibition, I felt obliged to supplement my impressions of each genre with online research (see appendix ‘A’). 

[8] I’ll take the lion’s share of the credit and the blame since it’s my show, but otherwise!!

[9] For those who want to collect a one-of-a-kind – I mean, everything in the show is limited edition so, maybe not one-if-a-kind but at least not-MANY-of-a-kind

[10] In the first person narrative genre! Am I whipping this or what!!

INSTALLATION VIEWS                       THE MOVIES

STILL LIFE w/DANCER

Doug Henry and Joe Potts, 2008

Still Life w Dancer is a psychosexual exploration in three-dimensionality across flat surfaces and into extension.  Viewer/s in/voluntarily ‘dance’ in/to a still life as s/he/they view digital movies on small digital picture frames.

The video installation, STILL LIFE WITH DANCER coincided with the centennial of the birth of cubism, a movement widely viewed as the first stematic attempt to break down traditional modes of representation.

Just over 100 years ago, cubism was born in the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso. It is possible that this painting was the first salvo in an all-out assault on traditional modes of representation, but a parallel significance was highlighted by the writers of the book: Art Since 1900.  In their book the authors identified this painting as an attack on the white, heterosexual, male collector essentially calling him on centuries of stolen pleasure gleaned by voyeuristically gazing at the naked bodies of women who were trapped within flat surfaces and unable to gaze back.  This was the first painting to ‘gaze back’ depriving the collector of his privileged position as the one who does the gazing, instead nailing his feet to the floor and turning the spotlight on him, making the viewer in effect the subject.

Doug Henry and Joe Potts installation celebrates the first centennial of the emergence of the viewer as participant.  They took as material inspiration the 1966 film: Breakaway by Bruce Conner featuring the choreographer singer/song writer and (in the movie) risqué dancer, Antonia Basilotta (a.k.a. Toni Basil of  ‘…oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind hey Mickey…’ fame) and hired several dancers to be subjects for a significant portion of their project.  By happenstance, only the women were able to make it to the shoot.  Also, by happenstance, the camera crew (five people with cameras) was composed entirely of white men.  

The videos use the superficial conventions of cubism to produce a sensory overload- not a violent, numbing, barrage (though Joe frequently does that in his audio performances and recordings) but rather just enough to constitute the feeling of too much. Samples are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form. Instead of presenting samples in their original context, they present samples from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the sample in a larger matrix. Often the samples intersect at seemingly random points, removing a coherent sense of conventional space and altering the perception of “the flow of time.” The content and context planes collide, interpenetrating one another to create a disorienting ambiguity.

The implied first person narrative which is the convention of mainstream film and video (“the screen image is equivalent to my eyes“) is abandoned. Instead the viewer is cast adrift in a dense forest of disconnected images, left to grope for directional signs as images fly past; “The screen is equivalent to my brain.” The illusion of a forward progression through time and all that it implies disappears and is replaced by the absolute and ever changing present. The viewer is not passive but neither are they free as they co-create the work with them in an interactive electronic fascism.  This time the spotlight is literally turned on the viewers as they unwittingly become dancers in a video still life .

Integral to STILL LIFE WITH DANCER, is a density of imagery achieved by layering or adding together past the point of ‘enough’ to ‘too much’, as determined by the threshold of intelligibility of the discreet elements being added or stacked.  The signal to noise ratio is tilted toward noise and the communicative or expressive potential of the work to convey any kind of linear sequence of discreet particulars is overridden by and enduring kind of overallness that is just present.  The work remains ‘over, or out, there’ in a way and resists any attempts to be ‘brought in’ or internalized as any kind of description, summary or story.  It cannot be ‘read’ so continues to exist outside any conventional sense of ‘meaning’ since none can be extracted from it.  It persists in the form of a take it or leave it proposition and, if the choice is ‘leave it’ it comes with an unsettling feeling of doubt (reservation uncertainty) that something is being missed.

Just as century ago cubism  served as a harbinger of the effects of technology on culture, video cubism points towards information technology and its effects on the individual within culture. The daily bombardment of images we undergo has become an old story. It’s possible that, in our increasingly post-literate society, scanning media for meaningful content sharpens and enhances our ability to cope with the increasing complexity of the greater world at large. But, as we become more and more active participants in the matrix of information, it may be equally possible that this barrage taxes and finally surpasses our ability to process information at all, resulting in a collapse or implosion of our capacity to make meaningful discriminations and ultimately leaving us in a mental state that parallels constant, looping, multi-leveled channel surfing.  Whether these scenarios hold potential for a positive outcome for human beings is yet to be known. 

THE CABINET

 

Two different restorations of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari superimposed over one another and staggered in time to make the characters appear as phantoms in each others scenes.  This composite is projected toward the windows of the trailer onto rear screens behind perforated metal panels that create an illusion of three dimensionality.  A large public address audio system within the trailer plays an aggressively loud composition by Joe Potts that, from outside, makes the trailer appear to vibrate as if it were about to explode.

 

HOLOGRAM PROJECT / SPECIAL EFFECTS

SCREEN PERSPECTIVE

Let’s start right at the surface, the first appearance. Euclid imagined that the eye “casts a look”.  The rays of this look strike a screen.  The screen is the surface upon which the image will appear.  It may be static or it may move.  It may appear flat; it may appear to have depth. If it appears to have depth it will be the kind of depth Euclid understood to come from linear perspective.  Suppose the content of the image projected on the screen was of a shallow, superficial nature.  Would that, combined with the flatness of the screen, overcome the appearance of depth created by the linear perspective?

Looking at the screen one sees a flat surface with delineations and areas of color on it.  Looking through the screen one sees the likeness of a human face illuminated by a glow of red.One may select which perspective to adopt to see flatness or to see depth.

The first hologram I ever saw was for sale in a 7-Eleven store for seventy five cents.  The year was 1965, I was eleven years old and completely captivated by the seemingly magical object.  It was the image of a model human skull imbedded in a glass disk about the size of a half dollar and hung on the end of a cheap metal chain.  I was amazed by the three dimensionality and apparent depth of it not to mention a bit taken with the choice of subject matter.

Flash forward 30+ years.  My associates and I have taken on the project of making a hologram.  Starting from zero, with absolutely no knowledge (or interest for that matter) in how to make a hologram, we begin from scratch to make one.  We are making a hologram as part of a project to make a multi-media artwork that will in some sense itself be holographic. The term holography comes from the Greek, holos – whole and graphe – writing- writing the whole. In addition to making a decent transmission hologram an integral component of the project will be the creation of a record of every step in the process that could one day be presented on many screens simultaneously.  From purchasing the first materials through to the examination of the finished hologram and everything in between.  The goal will be to produce enough recorded information to be able to  ‘write the whole’- to describe the process at once and in all its facets and to do so in a three dimensional world that exists as millions of swimming dots on an assortment of flat- two dimensional, surfaces.  This aspect of the finished project would then in a sense mirror the isomorphism and flatness of the hologram and vice-versa.

BACKGROUND

Through reading I became aware of a ‘holographic’ theory of the universe that suggests: “…that our universe, which we perceive to have three spatial dimensions, might instead be “written” on a two-dimensional surface, like a hologram.”[1]  I do not understand the science behind this claim but what is interesting to me about the idea is that the surface might contains all there is and that the depth we perceive behind it is, like a hologram, made from the information contained on the surface.  “…the … holographic principle states that … the physical processes of the universe can be wholly described by the “screens” or surfaces through which the information is observed.”[2]  The surface we disparage with pejorative uses of terms such as ‘shallow’ or, ‘superficial’ is in fact the screen from which the world of ‘depth’ is actually made.  How many artists have done more than merely hope that the work they were about to undertake on a flat, two dimensional surface would actually ‘create’ a world.

 

SURFACE- AN INTERSECTION OF SCIENCE AND ART[3]

There are many seemingly magical properties of holograms.  On the one hand the science behind them was considered important enough to earn its creator a Nobel Prize while on the other hand the manifestations of that science today are chiefly security markers and cheap novelties.  Holography exists at the high and low extremes of science and culture.

In the hologram we find an intersection of the abstract and the representational. What is actually recorded on the surface of the holographic film or plate is an abstract interference pattern.  By aiming diffused laser light through this abstract pattern a virtual image is produces that appears exactly like and in the same place in space as, the original subject used to make the hologram.

The information captured on the holographic film or plate is distributed over the entire surface in such a way that the image produced may be literally cut in half and each half of the hologram will still contain the whole image- each half cut in half- a quarter of the original, will still contain the whole image and on, we imagine, to infinity.

The philosophical (and mystical!) dichotomies of the One and the Many, parts and whole and high and low that we find in the technology and processes of holography show us a link between abstraction and realism.

Realism and abstraction seem to exist at opposing poles and yet in a hologram we find the simultaneous existence of both.  The realistic image found in a hologram is the result of an abstract interference pattern recorded on the surface of the plate or film.

 

In a very real sense holography accomplishes and consolidates the subject-less abstraction- the “all over” ness of a mature drip painting by Jackson Pollack, such as Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950 in which the whole is echoed in the details and vise-versa, AND the photo-realistic self portraits of Chuck Close (actually reflection holograms) in which the coherent whole exists infinitely as itself in every tiny piece of the surface.[4]

 

CONCLUSION

In linear sequence, we started from scratch with no knowledge at all of the theory or practice of holography and worked our way through to the production of a reasonably clear hologram, but in presentation we break the sequence down into chunks that can be shown on multiple surfaces and in a more simultaneous fashion all at once.  This work is both spatially and temporally fractured in order to make it read as much as a pattern of images as it does as discreet documentary clips of the action.  It is simultaneously representational and abstract in parallel with its subject.  By echoing the structure of the holographic experience in the structure of the movie we attempt to start into motion a film that is what it shows what it is what it shows in an infinite loop.

 

 

[1] Jacob Bekerstein, Information in the holographic universe,Scientific American, August, 2002

[2] “Holography.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 1 Jan 2007, 10:55 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 Jan 2007

[3] I am not a scientist and make no claims, beyond those of an interested layman, to scientific knowledge.

[4] Closes work over the past 20 years has dealt with the relationship of the abstract and realist and pushed the limits of accuracy his grid could contain and still produce a recognizable image.

RECENT BEST IDEAS

In September of 2013 I stumbled into an internet platform on which people from all corners of the globe were offering a wide variety of creative services for, what seemed to me, impossibly little money.  Some of these ‘gigs’ were boilerplate in nature requiring a minimal amount of original work, but a great many others were fully customizable and quite open-ended.  I was appalled for an instant, for all the reasons you can possibly imagine, but in short order my rat-like brain began to think of ways I could exploit this dubious resource. I quickly brushed past the recognition that whatever I made in this way, though unique as a finger print would still be just one of many bastard siblings multiplying and spreading as other people put their DNA, so to speak, into these same ‘gigs’.  As I eagerly looked through the listings, a veritable smorgasbord of access to low-priced human effort, I could only guess at the machinations taking place on the other side of the screen.  Hmmm.  After some handwringing about who might be doing what to whom, followed by a thorough risk/reward analysis, I decided to engage in this economy.