Thursday, 9 September 2010

Jeremy Welsh on the project POLARSTAR


Let’s say it has to do with navigation; there is a space to be traversed, a route to be followed, and there are instructions to be followed. Things happen. The world is bigger than the map. We use abstractions to communicate our understanding of the physical world, but nature has ways of her own and try as we might we can never reduce the complexity of the world to a reliable set of descriptions. A boat on the vast ocean is, more than anything, an act of defiance and a statement of faith in our ability to interpret and translate nature’s chaotic behaviour. Somehow, miraculously, this tiny vessel manages to negotiate the treacherous terrain of an aquatic body in constant motion. It returns to harbour, the place where humanity’s domain gives way to that of the tides and currents, the mythic realm of Poseidon. Poseidon and Polaris - leading characters in this narrative that will be translated into a cinematics of the unstable.

Audiovisuality, a concatenation of the realms of two senses, is, in Polar Star, a negotiation or an act of translation between distinct and separate, but nevertheless related forms. A series of abstractions that are, to the navigator, a means of interpreting the physical world, become “real-ised”, given physical form as optical data that is converted into sound waves. Each of these conversions becomes an auditory narrative that unfolds and develops over time - but the plot line of the narrative escapes us. We may listen closely and observe the internal logic of the development of this sonic journey while becoming aware of the correspondence between what is seen and what is heard. These are phenomena that can be observed. We can talk about machineries of vision, the arts of reproduction, but will this help us? A film editing bench, some light boxes, cables, loudspeakers - the apparatus whereby we experience this displacement of (de) contextualised information - function both as mise-en-scene and as the central characters of the drama. A drama which is, and is not, the retelling of a story; which is, and is not a meditation on the mechanics of reproduction that have come to shape our understanding of the world.

Cinema was said to be the defining art of the 20th. Century, the most industrial of arts for the most industrial of centuries. Contemporary Art’s almost pathological obsession with the archeological remains of cinema’s pre- or early history suggests either a yearning for a materiality that disappeared with the advent of digital media, or else a quest to unearth lost narratives belonging to cinematic experiments that were eclipsed by the rise of industrial film. From the early sound and image compositions of Walter Ruttman, through the collage films of Stan Brakhage, the visionary narratives of Maya Deren, the expanded cinema of Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable to the film installations of Tacita Dean, there is a rich seam of other stories and under-explored potentials running through the history of the art of cinema. Some of these forgotten narratives have been rediscovered, adopted, incorporated into the mainstream language of audiovisuality, but more often than not, their particularity is lost in translation. Content becomes stylistic device, becomes sign for a certain cultural attitude, becomes cliché, becomes discarded. Contemporary image culture is a voracious devourer of all styles, all formal innovations and all histories of the visual.

Postmodernism was the age of deconstruction, a period in which everything was taken apart and some things were put back together in new combinations. We talked of the “recombinant” a kind of genetic re-coding of cultural artefacts. One of the characteristics of art in the present era seems to be a sort of trans-historical simultaneity of forms, narratives and situations that fundamentally challenges our conventional, linear reading of history. Time’s arrow does not seem to fly in a straight line or a in single direction. Old and new technologies are merged to devise hybrids that transcend the intended use-boundaries of their constituent parts. Old and new media shed their oldness or their newness and become instead choices in a palette of possibilities to be explored by the artist whose researches produce an understanding of how this or that, connected to that or this, may equip us with new or better tools for aesthetic understanding. This is indeed a form of sensuous knowledge. It may defy logic and will certainly require leaps of faith. It is knowledge that will be whispered in our ear using words we have not yet learned to understand, or that will be revealed to us in the form of images whose significance we will have to decode. We will have to translate this information into terms that we can use but we must translate with great care, subtlety and delicacy so that the fragile kernel of enhanced understanding can still be found, rather than lost in translation.

Jeremy Welsh
Septenber 2009

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