Still moving

[Spring 2005]

by Cheryl Simon

The photo-based installation projects featured in this special issue of Ciel variable exhibit a paradoxical sense of temporality. Although all are presented as time-based installations, hence moving imagery, the prevailing temporal logic characterizing this body of work is that of stillness. For this reason, the temporal sensibility here is more akin to that generally attributed to photography.

Many of the works are built from or upon still images or still subjects. The movement added is minimal, almost imperceptible –  a tree bends to the wind, a cloud floats, a human subject moves, ever so slightly, breathes deeply – so that when something does stir it usually appears surprising or even incidental. These juxtapositions of still and motion-picture media have the effect of unsettling our expectations and understandings of the temporal and/or historical dimensions of each technology. In the works featured here, the respective temporal logics of photography and film shift through their combination. Animated by slight movement, the still basis of these images no longer signifies time passed but suggests instead the perception of time beginning; the photograph no longer testifies to “what has been” but suggests possibilities of “what might be coming.” Likewise, the movement in these pictures does not function to perpetuate the present time at which the film was taken, as one has come to expect. Weighed down by a static establishing shot, the works seem instead to force a discrete moment from the past into the present time of the viewing experience. Time is not in the image so much as it is before it, in the future, on the side of the viewer, on our side of history.

Significantly, a heightened historical consciousness seems to suffuse this new media art. As many of the writers in this issue have observed, the temporal conceits given rule in this body of work also call to mind some of the presentational forms, devices, and effects used and engendered by experimental procedures and commercial applications of photo and film technologies at key transitional moments in their histories. Will Straw discusses Adad Hannah’s time-extended “tableaux vivants” insofar as they recall the effects on narrative time by the transition to sound in motion-picture production. Likewise, as Cheryl Sourkes and Vincent Bonin observe, Stan Denniston’s and Fiona Tan’s fixed-frame cameras bring to mind the shot conventions carried over from documentary photography to film. And, as Valérie Lamontagne and I have noted, both David Claerbout’s and Tetsuomi Anzai’s weavings of still imagery and film can be seen to produce something akin to the “neither-nor-ness” of Marey’s and Muybridge’s early experiments in the representation of time and motion. With each reference we are reminded of the relative precariousness of our temporal sensibility. In this regard, these “stilled videos” also raise questions concerning the impact of recent technological change on the conventions and forms of representation engaged by these technologies, and the kind and quality of their various subject effects. By upsetting the traditional temporal functions of photo-based media, these works emphasize the great extent to which and how very subtly representational forms give shape to our knowledge and perception of time. By extension, they also invite speculation about the kinds of temporal expressions that we might expect with the emergence of new virtual technologies. Perhaps, as Randolph Jordan suggests discussing the works of the NomIg Collective, these new photo-based works signal a new consciousness, an awakening of a perception better attuned to an as-yet-imperceptible temporality that exists on this side of the image, on this side of history, in the now and in the future—a temporality of becoming.

I would like to thank Jacques Doyon and my colleagues on the editorial board of CV for giving me the opportunity to explore the subject of the emerging “genre” of “still video” work. Alexandre Robertson deserves special commendation for his many inspired contributions to the production of this issue. Thanks also to the artists and writers, especially Tetsuomi Anzai, Vincent Bonin, and Adad Hannah.