Somehow, I’d missed Mark Hansen’s fascinating Spring 2004 Critical Inquiry essay, “The Time of Affect.” In the essay, Hansen discusses Bill Viola and Douglas Gordon’s experiments with time and video, using their work to explore phenomenological approaches to time-consciousness (specifically the work of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty), while criticizing Deleuze’s cinema books for their implicit assumption of a disembodied spectator. It’s a great essay, though I feel like I need to revisit it a few times before I’m ready to discuss it in detail.
Instead, I’ll use my reading of Hansen’s essay to frame my pointer to a couple of essays on video art that have appeared in the last few days. In The Age, there’s an article about video artist Bill Viola, whose experiments in slowness generally sound fascinating:
At first glance, the exhibition, appears almost conventional – portraits on a wall. But these portraits move. Slowly. Very slowly. The faces are shown in extreme slow motion and capture every delicate shift of emotion. This is not work that reveals itself instantly. Indeed, some works reveal themselves so slowly that viewers are advised to look, move away, then return. For Viola, that’s part of the purpose. Because, as Gandhi once said, there’s more to life than increasing its speed>
Many of Viola’s images are projected in extreme slow motion, with a brief event often stretched out over several hours, and excerpts of several of his video installations are available at his website. (check out The Passions for one very powerful example of his work). As Viola notes, this approach is also a highly political one:
The velocity and knee-jerk response to events happening in real time that television brings us precludes any kind of reflection or contemplation and therefore analysis. And that’s been one of the greatest political dangers in the post-war era. The idea of the reasoned, thoughtful response goes out of the window.
I’ll admit to some ambivalence about Viola’s project, at least when it comes to automatically identifying slowness with contemplation, but Viola’s project also presents a significant third term for Nick’s recent comparison between real-time film and the fragmented, fast cutting of many contemporary films. If Nick is right that viewing real-time film and video may remind us of our own mortality, then Viola’s project takes us to another register altogether.
Hansen also mentioned the work of Douglas Gordon, whose 24 Hour Psycho stretches the Hitchock film over a twenty-four hour duration, so that rather than seeing 24 frames per second, the frame changes only every few seconds. Gordon’s work, mentioned in the context of an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Musuem (recently profiled in the New York Times). As Hansen points out, it would be impossible to see the entire film in a single sitting (or at least within the limited hours that a museum is open). But what makes the work so powerful, in my reading, is the sense of anticipation. Because most viewers will be familiar with the Hitchcock film, watching and waiting for the next shot to unfold would, I think, make someone acutely aware of her position as a spectator. Hitchcock’s film, which itself is acutely aware of its role in positioning spectators, would seem to serve this kind of project very effectively.