Time (Part 3)

September 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

This last part of the series will be about perception in relation to time. From the reversal of time in advertising to the reflections on time displacement through media, the structuring aspect of time seems primarily geared at perception. Gilles Deleuze talked about modern cinema as a way to “crystallize time” (Cinema 2: The Time Image). In Videofilosofia, Maurizio Lazzarato (1997) contended that visual media are “condensation machines of time” which impose their own indexicality. Following Bergson, Lazzarato finds as much truth and beauty in the moving image as an aesthetic form, as former generations could find in the written word.

That media change the perception of time is not a new claim, but digital media seem to flow in both the direction of acceleration and punctualization, the latter being equal to slowing down perception to a minuscule instance. The close-up, the long-distance shot, still life,  slow-motion shots and similar optical forms have punctualized the flow of moving images. While hundreds of frames flicker by, the image remains the same and is presented to the spectator for inspection. It is literally the experience of the duration of time, which is then offered in the visual medium, independent of the narrative, aesthetic or material qualities the image will have in a sequence.

In the video by William Basinski of the 9/11 site the music and images double the impression of time passing. Especially in the 64-minute version of Disintegration Loop No. 1.1, video and audio track play against each other by contrasting two models of time. While the loop is cyclical, the passing of the smoke against the skyline dissolves linearly. Basinski created the loops while digitizing tape recordings. Surprisingly, the 20 year-old tape was gradually disintegrating as the coated plastic tape slid by the magnetic reader head. This gradual abrasion process of the material is documented in the audio loops.

“[T]he loops themselves are stunning, ethereal studies in sound so fluid that the listener scarcely registers the fact that it’s nothing but many hundreds of repetitions of a brief, simple loop that they’re hearing. I imagine that life within the womb might sound something akin to these slowly swelling, beauteous snatches of orchestral majesty and memory-haze synthesizer. The pieces are uniformly consonant, embellished with distant whalesong arpeggios and echoing percussion.” (Review by Joe Tangari, 2004)

Basinski ascribes a religious quality to these loops, which seem to develop their own reality by proceeding in time. In an interview from 2009 he describes his first experience of the time dimension and how it played out in the recording:

“I was just blown away by what had just happened and I was incredibly moved by the whole redemptive quality of what I’d just experienced, that each of these loops had disintegrated in its own way and its own time, yet the life and death of the melody was redeemed in another medium. I was a Catholic growing up, I thought, maybe there is hope after all! [laughs].”

Basinski’s music is built around the slowed down alteration of audio sequences.  Each loop can be discerned by certain vague, repetitive elements, but the gradual linear variation creates a perception of time passing as such. Against the accelerative drive of electronic music in the 90’s, his pieces foreground the perception of details and gradual change. By puncturing a linear flow and reassembling it into discrete, cyclical units, Basinski reverses the drive of time to devour its own echo in the moment of passing. Time passing is presented on a golden tablet.

“All we can expect of time is its reversability”, said Jean Baudrillard in Cool Memories 1980-1985 (p.23). Linear and cyclical time do not necessarily relate to each other. But in digital media, both time dimensions play out simultaneously, which might explain our stupefaction with coming to terms with immediacy, where our brain is trained to reflect on perception only in retrospect. The beginning of reversal starts from the instances between each unit, from the void of silence.



Human Patterns

October 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

Under the motto “Voir, Observer et Penser” the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris is currently exhibiting about 100 photos by German photographer August Sander (1876-1964). Sander is best known and admired for his work on human types, professions and social classes. His “People of the 20th century” is an attempt to give an image of the people of his time and stands at the center of his human typology. Directed against expressionism Sander employed photography to “create a universal language” by an “objective” image.

His photos show beggars and stars, peasants and artisans – people from all sides of society at the beginning of the 20th century. His magnum opus has been reissued in a collector’s edition of 7 volumes. The exhibit in Paris also features some of his little known landscape portraits of German rivers and mountain regions apart from botanical studies.

August Sander: Brethren, Westerwald (about 1918) Ⓒ Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Köln

August Sander: Brethren, Westerwald (about 1918) Ⓒ Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur - August Sander Archiv, Köln

Characteristically, images are captioned with types of people rather than individual names. His concern lies with patterns in culture and how a social environment shapes posture and facial expression. A “factory owner” posing in tuxedo with his glitzy wife in front of a villa is juxtaposed with a “brick layer” – carrying bricks. His portrays are carefully crafted for each subject alike and allow space for self-reflection. Similar to his landscape studies of rivers, patterning is the overarching theme that he seeks to capture and objectify with his camera.

How individual are you?

The problem with looking at such a typology at the beginning of the 21st century is to assume a perspective that is not by default self-referential. Hyper-mediatised as we are, it is difficult to look at an image of an individual and consider it as typical of a larger group. Where we are looking for self-expression and uniqueness, Sander’s photos upset this longing by defying individuality to the people depicted.

Backpackers by exactitudes

Backpackers by exactitudes

A similar focus of a human typology can by found in the Exactitudes project by Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek from Rotterdam. This selection of hundreds of photographs, sorted by types of people and ways of clothing shows how consumer culture intensifies patterning: in clothes, hobbies, music styles and cultural preferences. The objective of typecasting might be a similar one here but in its editorial line, exactitudes underlines the uniformity of consumer culture in full conscience of its heterogeneity.

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