Rose Bond – Poetics and Public Projection: Layered History, Redrawn Memory

In 2002, I stood in the street in Old Town Portland, my eyes trained on the second-story windows of the New Wah Mae building. We were running an alignment test for my first animated installation, Illumination No.1.  When the windows lit up, I was caught off guard. My moving images, the drawings so repetitively familiar on the computer, seemed now to emanate from the windows. I had the sense they were no longer mine but belonged instead to the building and its layered past.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Dale Hing and the Pigeons, Still from Illumination No.1, Rose Bond, 2002

I believe we live in a society dominated by the moving image and increasingly colonized by multiple screens. My interest lies in the psycho-physical dynamics of projection in city or communal spaces. Human fascination with multiple flickering images may date to the earliest appearance of art, as evidenced by the Chauvet cave paintings of 30,000 BC, some of the earliest known cave paintings. On a guided tour of a replica of the more famous Lascaux caves, I experienced a kind of active viewing. My attention shifted from the images lit from below simulating the flickering tallow lamps to the uneven surface of the floor, protruding rocks, and the damp chill of the cave.

Accordingly, this paper focuses on aspects of multichannel animated work outside the traditional cinema, work that coexists with architecture—or more specifically, on work that attempts to imbue large-scale spectacle with metaphoric content. I will explore three overlapping lines of inquiry: poetics and place; multiple screens, windows, and remembrance; and collective memory or archive.

Poetics and Place

In the Poetics of Space, philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1994) writes of the house as an intimate place, a space that conjures both memory and imagination, suggesting that, from cellar to garret, the lived-in place that retains its shadows preoccupies poetry. Although for Bachelard “all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home,” the figure of the hut takes on particular significance (p. 5). Relating a story from Rilke, Bachelard concludes, “We are hypnotized by solitude, hypnotized by the gaze of the solitary house and the tie that binds us to it” (p. 36). In this light that keeps vigil on the far horizon, he sees a concentration of intimacy, a refuge so primitive and so deep it becomes valorized. Bachelard continues,

These virtues of shelter are so simple, so deeply rooted in our unconscious that they may be recaptured through mere mention, rather than through minute description. Here the nuance bespeaks the color. A poet’s word, because it strikes true, moves the very depths of our being. (p. 37)

Lest we be too swept away by Bachelard’s quoting of poet Richard von Schaukal, “O light in the sleeping house” (p. 37), someone who has taken the significance of von Schaukal’s conception of the hut to heart (and to the market) is the late commercial painter Thomas Kinkade. He is primarily known for his images of the cottage; they figure prominently on his website and even on products such as Glade air freshener: cottages positioned deep in the forest or along a deserted shore, each window lit from within. According to the biographical information included on his website, Kinkade remains America’s most collected contemporary artist. The appeal of his images is so broad that his marketing company, Media Arts, claimed that one in twenty homes feature some form of Kinkade’s art (Judkis, 2012).

Decidedly not charmed, however, essayist Joan Didion (2003) weighs in with a descriptive critique:

A Kinkade painting…typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister; suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire. (p. 73)

While Bachelard (1994, p. 33) extols the primal image of the hut as an invitation to “start imagining again,” he cautions that over-picturesqueness in a depiction of house can work instead to conceal its intimacy. Importantly, a house must retain its shadows, and a mere mention of it is more potent than a minute description.

Echoing Bachelard, comics theorist Scott McCloud writes of the power implicit within the argument for “less says more.” In Understanding Comics (1993), McCloud argues that, although realism represents the world around us, the cartoon in its simplicity allows us to identify with the world within. We are drawn to characters portrayed with a more iconic style. In McCloud’s framework, simplicity allows for implication. In this sense, animation—particularly animation that itself holds back on specific representation in favor of the silhouette or iconic character—would afford greater opportunities for suggestion, not unlike poetry.

Poetry, like many other art forms, plumbs for vertical meaning. Roger Shattuck, in his excerpted essay Proust’s Binoculars (2012), provides an interesting perspective on depth in art. “Depth, or what is called in optics penetration effect, cannot be found in a single image, a single instantané. Nor is it present in the lesser truths of intelligence” (p. 30). Shattuck quotes Proust: “As for truths which the intelligence—even of the most exalted minds—gathers in open work, straight ahead, fully lit, their value may be very great; but they have dry flat outlines and no depth, because no depth had to be crossed in order to reach them, because they have not been re-created” (Farr, 2012 p. 30) Depth, according to Shattuck, comes from recomposing life. Similar yet different: thus defines the essence of metaphor.

Shattuck (p. 33) argues further that the optics of time, especially the stereoscopic effect, are emblematic of the unresolved, relativistic nature of experience, memory, and art that trumps plot in Proust’s modern novel À la recherche du temps perdu. In the famous madeleine sequence, in which the smell of the small cake evokes an involuntary memory, two versions of an image are combined subjectively in a kind of Gestalt—it is no longer just the past but a heightened present, a moment bienheureux. Merely to remember something is meaningless unless viewed from another perspective or time. Memory and art have potency to juxtapose one image against another so we grasp meaning from doubles—two images converge in our minds into a single heightened reality. Multiplicity, then, brings not confusion but dimensionality, as I will argue.

Multiple Screens, Windows, and Remembrance

In 1959, in collaboration with Buckminster Fuller, designers Charles and Ray Eames suspended seven 20-foot by 30-foot screens across Fuller’s 250-foot geodesic dome in Moscow. Engaging seven interlocked film projectors, they presented Glimpses of the USA to five thousand people every forty-five minutes over a six-week period during the American National Exhibition. Beatrice Colomina (2009) writes insightfully of this work: “The huge array of suspended screens defined a space within a space. The Eameses were the self-conscious architects of a new kind of space. The film breaks with the fixed perspectival view of the world” (40). With multiple-channel work, there is no single-camera shot. In a break from the venerable vanishing point perspective, there is no privileged point of view.

The Eameses were intentional in their orchestration of multiple images. According to Colomina, they dismissed the notion of information overload, envisioning the War Room and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus as the model for techno-enabled information flow. For them, the three-ring circus was a both a metaphor and the design inspiration for Glimpses of the USA, with its multiple, simultaneous experiences, which seemingly exceeded the capacity for absorption. They used high-speed editing of stills and orchestrated bits and pieces that created connections between the otherwise unrelated images, techniques that were ahead of their time. They synced seven screens so that similar content appeared from varied points of view and locations simultaneously—milk bottles on the porch, husbands leaving for work, and cloverleaf freeway exchanges.

Prior to the publication of Gene Youngblood’s book Expanded Cinema (1970), the Eameses positioned the designer/filmmaker/artist as an ecologist who is as interested in the viewing environment as in the content shown. Taking up a somewhat different position, Youngblood believed an expanded cinema was essential for establishing a new consciousness. In Expanded Cinema, he takes the term Intermedia, coined by Fluxus artist Dick Higgens, to describe the often confounding mix of performance, cinema, and dimensional forms that characterized interdisciplinary work in the 1960s and applies it to large-scale projections at world’s fair expositions.

While the 1960s avant garde brought media to Happenings with projects like Andy Warhol’s EPI, or Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966), for the most part, independent artists were confined to using the throwaway 16-mm gear from TV stations to stage their works. An argument can be made that the equipment and technology needed to succinctly orchestrate multiple projections was simply out of the price range and reach for most artists. Corporations, on the other hand, used the world’s fairs of the 1960s as a vehicle to engineer innovative works utilizing the new technologies. The fairs provided some opportunities for collaboration between artists and engineers such as Bell Telephone Laboratories and E.A.T. (Experiments in Arts and Technology) on the Pepsi Pavilion in 1970. Walt Disney was also active in this period. His “Imagineers” used the 1964 New York World’s Fair to develop Audio-Animatronic characters for two new Disneyland rides: Pirates of the Caribbean (1967) and the Haunted Mansion (1969).

In Expanded Cinema, Youngblood concentrates on video artists such as Andy Warhol, who eschewed narrative and the entertainment values of mass media. Distinct from the avant garde, which seemed to revel in random, loud, and discomforting chaos, the Eameses appear to have held a beneficent and reassuring view of new media, a view stoked with American optimism and molded with a handsome sheen that was devoid of the dark side of modern life—no ghettos, no racial strife, no poverty. Modern communication, they believed, would be multiply channeled. Rather than seeing the seven screens as a negative or as visual overload, Colomina (2009) argues that the Eameses envisioned a truly modern paradigm and “treated urban architecture as a multichannel information machine.” (p. 50) She describes how they orchestrated multiple quick cuts to create numerous distractions and a state where “excessive input from different directions that had to be synthesized by the audience” (p 47). In other words, they harnessed distraction in a way to create increased attention.

In his World of Perception lectures (1948/2009), phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty (2009) points to the role art must play in getting us to see again—or as he says, to take a sideways look “at a world structured from a plurality of over lapping perspectives” (p. 16). Ponty is specifically referring to Cezanne’s cubist paintings, yet one might speculate a kinship with the very way the Eamses proposed multichannel viewing. In this light, it becomes interesting to consider differences between the fixed and relatively immobile space of the movie house and the freedom or imperative to move that is often associated with multichannel projection. How do mobility and choice figure into perception of multiple moving image screens when there is too much to see?

As designers, the Eameses created flows of images. They saw architecture as an experiential space for communication. Merleau-Ponty shared a profound interest in how people really see. In The World of Perception, he lectured on a coveted place of existence—of attaining a heightened state of presence through art—a state of being where fragments are restructured, and deeper, possibly more poetic understandings emerge (p.69). Merleau-Ponty calls the greatest achievement of art “to rediscover the world in which we live, yet which we are always prone to forget” (p. 32). This is a place he describes as being “hidden beneath knowledge and social living.”

In the space between image, object, and archetype may lie the poetic—the suggestion that opens to interpretation, a state continually unresolved. I agree with those who contend that buildings may hold stories in the same way Jan Svankmajer’s objects become keepers of memories. Indeed, Bachelard (1994, p. 47) posits that the house is not an inert box, as inhabited space transcends geometric space. In my installations I’ve found that the mix of architecture and animation—rear-projected light in the window of formerly inhabited spaces—has the potential then not only to illustrate events but also to actually resound or reverberate with the past in the way Proust might appreciate.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Street view from reprise of Illumination No. 1, Documentation still, Rose Bond, 2014

In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard footnotes a mathematician, Hermann Minkowski, who explains how a form comes to life (or fills with life) through the property of reverberation, “as if a well-spring existed in a sealed vase and its waves, repeatedly echoing against the sides of this vase, filled it with their sonority” (qtd. in Bachelard 1994, xvi). What is that moment or that turning point when a multi-windowed projection turns within? When does it transcend spectacle and become emotional, become resonant? When do people in the streets really see?

Film theorist Esther Leslie (2004) writes, “The sign is imprinted. The mark emerges” (p.59). Rear projection in windows evokes a feeling of emanation that differs from front projection imprinted on a building façade. Seen from the street, animated markings can betray a presence. As light in the window, they cohabit intimate space. My recent works may evoke history or explore a theme associated with the site as the animation converges with the architecture. My content, researched yet fragmentary, is framed by window casements and hidden by walls. Scrolling text, names, dates, statistics, shadowy silhouettes, and hints at gesture combine in glimpses profoundly tied to inhabited place. Impossible to absorb in a traditional single screen, multiple windows call for an active viewing.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Gates of Light at Eldridge Street Synagogue, New York, Rose Bond 2004

The Archive and Collective Memory

The archive cannot be described in its totality… It emerges in fragments, regions and levels, more fully, no doubt, and with greater sharpness, the greater the time that separates us from it.
Michel Foucault, The Historical a priori and the Archive (Foucault, 1972, p. 130)

I recently completed a five-minute prototype for a piece sited in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall in Washington, DC. My questions as presented at the country’s first national museum examine the evolving nature of knowledge and the changing status of objects we collect, archive, and value. The building can be interpreted as a setting for incubation—a site and an archive with an active narrative that extends from the past into the future.

In his introduction to a collection of essays on the archive, Charles Merewether (2006) writes that one of the defining characteristics of the modern era is “the increasing significance given to the archive as the means by which historical knowledge and forms of remembrance are accumulated, stored and recovered” (p. 10). The archive forms a foundation from which history is written. Seen as both museum and archive, the Arts and Industries Building has layers of history — from the objects archived, interpreted, and exhibited to the public, to its use of space. Over the past 130 years, it held classic vitrines, spilled rockets onto the Mall, and became a warren of offices, storage, and meeting spaces that administered to the larger institution. The decisions of what to collect in the archive were made long ago. The interpretation of the collection remains a dynamic process. In art, questions as to the constitution and authority of archives have informed works from Hannah Hoch’s Media Scrapbook (1933) to Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (1962) to contemporary artists like the Raqs Media Collective. Engaging the actual site—the Mall and the Victorian façade of the Arts and Industries Building—with imagined space of animated content is a heady endeavor.

To conclude, I return to my first installation in Old Town Portland when I realized that what was happening on the street seemed equally as engaging as the animation in the windows. To understand that phenomenon, I turned first to The Poetics of Space and John Stilgoe’s observation in the forward:

“Bachelard reveals time after time that setting is more than scene in works of art, that it is often the armature around which the work revolves” (1994, p. x). This observation coupled with Suzanne Buchan’s insight that animation has a “unique capacity to create spatial imagery that can have little in common with our lived experience of the world, and much in common with the imagination” (2005, p. 6) makes for a potentially potent mix.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Documentation still from Broadsided! At Exeter Castle, Exeter UK, Rose Bond, 2010.  Photo credit: Jim Wileman

There is much more to explore as screens proliferate in urban spaces. In particular, French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud’s ideas on Relational Aesthetics (1998), in which artworks are judged upon the range of interhuman relations they prompt. For Bourriard, the artist is a catalyst in the making of a social environment. In my creative practice, animation remains the medium to explore the mutable nature of the collective memory and my architecturally sited projections a way to experience them as community.

Rose Bond is a Canadian born media artist who lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Her short films have been screened in international competitions including Sundance and the New York Film Festival. Although her roots are in frame-by-frame, hand drawn and direct animation, her current work focuses on public site-based animated installations.

References

Bachelard, G., 1994. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Bond, R., 2012. Illumination #1. [Video Documentation] Available at: http://rosebond.com/work/illumination-1/ [1/30/17]

Bourriard, N., 1998 Relational Aesthetics. Dijon: Les presses du réel.

Buchan, S. and Janser, A., 2005. “Mindscapes, Spacetricks and Dreamscapes: The Artistic Imagination of Animation.” Trickaum-Spacetricks, Zurich: CMV.

Colomina, B., 2009. Enclosed by Images: the Eameses’ Multiscreen Architecture. In: S. Douglas and C. Eamon, eds. 2009. Art of Projection. Germany:Hatje Cantz. Pp.  36 – 56/

Didion, J., 2003. Where I Was From. Westminster: Knopf.

Foucault, M., (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock Publications.

Judkis, M., 2012. “Thomas Kincade’s polarizing legacy: How will the ‘Painter of Light’ be remembered?” The Washington Post, 12 April. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/thomas-kinkades-polarizing-legacy-how-will-the-painter-of-light-be-remembered/2012/04/07/gIQAov1G2S_blog.html [1-28-17].

Leslie, E., 2004. Hollywood Flatlands. London: Verso.

McCloud, S., 1993. Understanding Comics. New York: Harper Perennial.

Merleau-Ponty, M., 2009. The World of Perception. New York: Routledge.

Merewether, C., ed., 2006. Art and the Archive – Introduction. The Archive: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery and Cambridge: MIT Press.

Shattuck, R., 2012. Proust’s Binoculars. In: J. Farr, ed., 2012. Memory. London: White Chapel and Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. 30 – 40.

The Thomas Kinkade Company (2012) Thomas Kinkade: A Lifetime of Light. http://www.thomaskinkade.com/magi/servlet/com.asucon.ebiz.biography.web.tk.BiographyServlet  [1/26/17]

© Rose Bond

Edited by Amy Ratelle

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