Angles of Projection, Exhibition and Symposium

By Adam Kossoff

angles-of-projection-1.jpgAngles of Projection, Triangle Gallery, showing work by Tony Sinden (left) Cool Room (2002) and Ken Wilder (right) Intersection (2006)

Grey Spaces, Grey Matters: A review of an artists' film event at the Chelsea College of Art and Design

Walk into Tate Britain and go into the video space on the ground floor. It is completely dark. So dark it takes a good ten minutes for my eyes to adjust and locate the seating in the centre of the space. In fact the space is called the ‘Art Now Lightbox’, and was showing three short works by Melanie Smith when I was last there. Despite Smith’s work partly being about the exposure of the surface of the screen, this darkness- darker than any cinema I’ve ever been in- seems to want to hide the space of its screening, the framing of the gallery and the technology that generates the images. It reflects a return to the transparency of the image, the moving image as a window on the world. The pictorial of painting in the gallery, long since challenged, has re-surfaced in video art- is this the return of the repressed or the seduction of voluntary amnesia?

Angles of Projection took place at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, which, since its move to the former Royal Army Medical College, now stands alongside Tate Britain. In the Triangle Gallery, Angles of Projection set out to explore the moving image in the space of its screening. The curatorial intention was to show a range of moving image artists from different backgrounds and generations who deal with space in their work. To engender a ‘grey space’, neither white nor black, so that one could see relationships developing between the different work in the singular space of the gallery.

From Tony Sinden’s duplication of space and objects in the space (Cool Room, 2002), to Karen Mirza’s and Brad Butler’s three screen film projection (Structural Constellation, 2005), through to Ken Wilder’s double-screen corridor projection (Intersection, 2006), Kristina Kotov’s super 8mm footage projected onto the building wall and windows (Glass Fish and Postal Flight, 2005) and my own work of multiple zooms along the A12 (Terra Infirma, 2006) and a seven screen work around the framing of a bridge (Continuum, 2006) several themes emerged: (a) a play on the ambivalence of the subject/object nature of the moving image, (b) a revealing of the technologies and how technology frames and mediates the viewers, (c) how the concern with space leads to a concern with the language of representation, the invocation of memory, trace and spectral absence (as opposed to the assertion of presence and the durational in ‘black-cubicle’ work).

angles-of-projection-2.jpgTerra Infirma (2006, Single Screen Projection), Adam Kossoff

One example: Tony Sinden has been making moving image installations since the 1970s, using film and video. His Cool Room shows a filmed white gallery space in which Sinden is seen moving various objects around and carefully placing them in the space. The three objects that appear in the video are also seen in front of the projected screen, the chair, the ladder and the tennis ball. The viewer is asked to consider the various layerings, phenomological and representational, that occurs when moving image work is shown in the gallery.

The vanishing point and the language of perspective was a central theme in the first session of the symposium. Mo Throp talked about the “erotics of space” from the point-of-view of her work and how space and seeing could be viewed as an opportunity for overcoming the binary-polarities of the Other. Throp showed a video of her work Love Stories (2004), two video projections of erotic scenes from different films, watched from a love seat set up in the middle of the two screens. Watching the video documentation, what struck me as significant was the technique Throp had used to record her work, which edited together spectators sitting on the love seat looking at the two projections and their interchange of gazes. This revealed how orientation is generally sustained by the look and reverse-look of character based films and videos, what theorists once termed the ‘suturing of the gaze’.

Referring to Bernard Stiegler, I discussed the importance of technics, or technology, in understanding how we are orientated by moving image technology, in that it allows exteriorisation to take place, in the same way as writing. In contrast, I spoke of how Deleuze’s theory of cinema is an attempt to overcome technology, and film as an object, which undermines any notions of spatiality and ideas around representation. I referred to my piece Terra Infirma (2006) to bring in the idea of mapping and argue that single-point perspective actually allows a framing of space and time to occur.

Ken Wilder began by restating notions of spectatorship and sought to define this in terms of gallery viewing. He began by looking at recent video art such as Shirin Neshat’s work Rapture (1999), where the spectator is literally sited between two screens. He questioned whether this kind of work suffers from a limited understanding of spatiality which doesn’t address the spectators’ embodied presence within the space of its showing. He went on to discuss the notion of different “levels of reality” in early Renaissance painting, where painting is integrated into its architectural context.

angles-of-projection-3.jpgStructural Constellation (2006, single screen, three 16mm projectors), Karen Mirza and Brad Butler

Presenting the keynote paper, Margaret Iversen’s aim was to “sort out the gaze”, discussing conflicting positions around the theory of single-point perspective. She showed how Merleau-Ponty referred to Cezanne to offer an anti-perspectival position, and replace it with a pre-theoretical “lived perspective” that overcomes the mind-body split. Whereas Lacan located the imaginary within the idea of the vanishing point itself (and was adopted by 1970’s film theorists to prove that mainstream cinema allowed for dangerous illusions of autonomy and mastery), Damisch understands perspective as a model of the Symbolic order, as a visual grammar that positions the viewer. Iversen refers to Damisch’s discussion of Las Meninas to state that the imaginary allows us to forget the symbolic and the apparatus altogether.

In the afternoon Guy Sherwin presented a three-screen film called Under the Freeway Series (2006). Sherwin manually switched between three 16mm projectors, playing between geography and time, invoking a performance dialogue (‘man with three movie projectors’) with the sound and images of a San Francisco freeway from the point of view of the neighbourhood underneath, discussing the extent to which the environment frames us and the camera frames the environment. Karen Mirza and Brad Butler then showed The Space Between (2005), a single screen projection made from footage shot in India, which nevertheless is closely related to the three-screen projection shown in the gallery. What comes across strongly is the multiplicity of angles and shots that can be gathered together from any one space, and how this space is contracted and energised by the surface of the screen, the frame, the cut and the conflict of figure and ground.

Catherine Elwes spoke about the multiple spaces of monitor work and looked at how artists, from the 1960s on, adopted and adapted the technology of the TV monitor to explore its objecthood, working counter to the supposed transparency of the moving images. She mentioned a number of early video artists who used the monitor in the gallery space, such as Tony Hall, who made work such as Progressive Recession (1974), a multi screen work that caused the viewer to be made aware of the spatial and temporal architecture of the gallery.

The final speaker, Tony Sinden, took us through his work pointing out that in the 1970s and 1980s the gallery space could be used as a starting point for work, and that his film and video could be realised once he’d set up in the space. He showed images of his work from Housewatch, a site-specific moving-image collective, that culminated in Turbulence- Paper House (1992) in Japan. Other examples of his work that he showed also posit the moving image as an object in a sculptural and spatial context.

There were also a number of interesting discussions from the floor, ranging from issues around the frame, how this relates closely to single-point perspective, to a well made point that the loop in the gallery contributes to the sculptural context of moving image work. Chairing, Al Rees summed up the day by indicated that it was not painting that had kept the issue of single-point perspective alive, but film and moving image theory, referring, perhaps, to the ongoing conflict between the iconic and the symbolic that the moving image constantly invokes.

In Into the Light, the Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977, Chrissie Iles refers to Nicole Malebranche’s idea that the optimal space for philosophical reflection is a place that is neither too bright, nor too dark, but “dimmed” and “ambient”. This returns me to the idea of the ‘grey space’ where the spectator is cajoled into seeing the exhibition space as an informing part of moving image work.

Angles of Projection was curated and organised by Ken Wilder and Adam Kossoff and was funded by the research departments at Chelsea College of Art and Design and the School of Art and Design, University of Wolverhampton.