I want to look at some lesser known but very important multichannel video work by West Coast artist Peter Horvath. His work very elegantly challenges the boundaries and delineates concepts of the multiple frame and the out of frame, 2&1/2 dimensional space, and two dimensions of media unconscious– the filmic unconscious and the digital.
Horvath pioneered a connection between computer windows and multichannel video. Using computer language ‘aplets’ he created websites that worked like projectors– a single durational multichannel video is presented beginning to end using different-sized pop-up windows spaced through the screen and on top of eachother.
A few immediate observations:
These works strip the computer windows medium of its interactivity. Like the cinema projector: somewhere, back there, a machine is counting down to make all this happen at the right time—except here, it is somewhere ‘in there’ …some clock in the machine. All the computational power of the computer has been reduced to little more than a clock with a projector– the same apparatus as the sync sound projector. What is fundamentally different is the ‘camera’ that has created this screen. We are quite aware of another level of expression for Horvath. A set of expressive tools we would connect with Design: placement and orientation of different images, composition of negative space in the black, representation of a 3rd dimension communicating what’s on ‘top’ and ‘underneath’ (interesting: do we perceptually associate computer ‘windows’ with windows? Or with their other icons ‘folders’ and ‘files’, for overlapped literal windows reveal the same single image, whereas paper retains its image even when obscured). In addition to this, there is what we could term orchestration. Composition through time of multiple resonating elements. It is not a small thing to combine these two (I speak from experience). For design might provide rules for what guides the focal point of a layer– size, color, opacity, etc.– but adding orchestration is like playing with trump cards, because surely movement and manifestation draw attention beyond all static things. In addition there’s the question of how classic in-frame montage interacts with these design elements, as well as the special durational metonymy of multichannel: these different images enduring alongside eachother. It is a baroque cinema, overflowing and over-complicated with modes of expression.
Within this mass there are some very particular expressions/gestures that he uses. The frames become strong signifying gestures: equality or difference of size and position–the ‘on top’ being the most current, the similarly framed being in relationship, simultaneity of appearance signifying correspondence. A favorite moment of mine is in an early piece, Either Side of an Empty Room. The windows making up most of the film appear on top of a large, screen-sized, black window– a sort of stage for the projections. Then at one point, the stage manifests itself as video too… a dark cloudy sky that not only envelops the other scenes pictorially, but also in the structures of signification and association… this window has acted as a base, like the physical cinema screen, and now that screen itself has transformed into part of the film. There is another level of appropriated signification. It is the use of the browser environment (something that makes us realize that these works will be significantly transformed in time as the browser, internet, and personal computer change). The control bars of the windows mark the individual filmic frames, but they also refer outside of the entire filmic apparatus to the interactive medium in which they are composed. You can still move, close, minimize these windows, though Horvath gives you no reason to. As well there is the Quicktime loading sign. A common sign– one of those fascinating signs of the computer, like the hourglass, progress bar, blinking cursor, that signifies ‘I am on’. Though the computer is not ready to render the video for human eyes, it is perceiving. Within a narrative context these signs take on a role like a visual analogue to the music cue, like the sudden low strings that precede a shot of the monster: we are told, ‘something is going to happen’. Except here it is not the director that is manifesting but the computer.
What I’d like to point out especially is that these two things– the base layer of the window and the computer sign of manifesting—are materializations of a medium unconscious. The Quicktime sign is just an inscription of what the screen black always means… the undifferentiated, the potential, the chaos from which a new frame will be cut.
Bergsonian Time and the Multiplied Image
Bergson talks of tea in sugar, one dissolving one transforming, both inter-related in his own duration. “I must wait for it to dissolve.” I like Bergson very much. I remember him as the one that pointed out so emphatically that most problems of philosophy are problems of confusing qualitative issues with quantitative. This always made me think of problems like, “Is he better than me?” “Am I loved enough?” “Am I late?” What he means is questions of space and time. Space measured, time qualitative succession… a constant manifestation of irreducible difference. So the tea and sugar and me will never be resolved in time, only transformed. I think it is this special philosophy of time that gives due respect to the significance of multiple channels in communication. What is the difference between classic cinematic montage and that juxtaposition of imagery: multiple screens? The former replaces images in space– the isomorphic space of the screen replaced in time… a chain of succession. The multichannel allows a co-existence of duration: a comparison between durations in praesentia. It evokes a metaphor-metonymy comparison. Montage is an effect of comparison of durations in abstentia; though strung together we can only compare the present shot to the ‘shadow’ of the last, all the denotative thunder passed away. Where a montaged chain forces relationships, the multichannel presents them.
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