Fig. 1 Distil (2018), stereo headphone sound, blindfold, water, ink, paper, Perspex, archival pigment prints, video projection.
Trial Presentation 1
Distil is a four-part installation work consisting of sound, photography, objects and video projection. Each component is derived from the process of ice melting onto an inkjet print inside a small Perspex tray. Materials are abstracted in different ways to create a temporal archive of process. Manipulated time states are presented through different types of time such as; duration (sound and video), real- time (evaporation of water in trays in the gallery), clock-time (sound and video), memory and still-time (photographs). The slowing down and speeding up of these times states through digital interferences encourages Distil to cross temporal boundaries, and to present a process in moments, loops and space. The slipping of time is intended to facilitate close examination of an intersection of nature and culture through the technological processing a natural resource.
This work’s primary focus is to explore the idea of entropy - that ‘energy is more easily lost than obtained’ (Smithson 1971, pp 11) - through a direct depiction of changes and iterations of matter. Entropy, or the second Law of Thermodynamics, relates to the outward movement of energy particles. Entropy is present in the process of melting, as water changes from frozen and solid to a warm and liquid. Like ice melting, Entropy is irreversible - things will always deteriorate without the option of putting it back together (Smithson 1973, pp 301). If technology was engaged to re-freeze the water, the state of the substance would be so changed that it would in fact be a different visual material. The water takes on colour during this process, it evaporates and varies in consistency and volume. Distil is an open-system because it loses energy as the ice melts under environmental conditions.
The work seeks to play on Bergson’s (1988, pp 35) idea that internal perception is memory, and external perception is matter by introducing interruptions and disconnections between sounds and vision. The first encounter of this work is a headphone sound piece in the foyer, there are two sets of headphones and two blindfolds on hooks on a white wall. Listeners are invited to wear the blindfolds as a symbolic gesture to interrupt the connection of the senses. The suggestion of this may encourage listeners to simply close their eyes, which was a common outcome during the trial presentation. Without sight, the listener hears sharp, high pitched sounds that interrupt silences as time expands. There is repetition and elongation of sound events in time. To the untrained ear, the sound material is not immediately clear. This work is cyclic, it has no end, beginning or set duration. The duration is determined by the listener, however the work is not intended to be listened to for long periods - it’s unvaried and possesses prickly sonic characteristics.
On entering the gallery there are six warmly coloured abstract photographic prints hung as a grid on the wall, balanced by a large video projection of similar visual content. On the floor below there are three low wooden plinths bearing trays of coloured water (see fig. 1). The intention is that when the audience moves from listening to seeing, the process starts to become clear. Presenting the first encounter of the work in sound, means that the sonic remnants of the the process remain in the memory of the audience member. As the work is visually uncovered, the sound memory is able to connect the sonic composition from the foyer as the sound of ice melting and cracking.
The visual content is intended to be abstract aestheticized representations of process. The warm colours were chosen to be bodily rather than ice-like, with the purpose to move away from a direct connection to global warming. Making this connection to the human body might highlight intersections of nature and culture. The work does possess subtle hints towards environmental concerns without being didactic or too direct. It was stated in the critique that the prints on the wall could be aerial landscapes, or microscopic investigations of bodily cells, that the images leave questions unanswered. These observations made it clear that there was a certain ambiguity to the visual content, that the photographs and video have a seductive and highly aesthetic nature. The work would have benefitted from being more spread out, and possibly presented in different rooms to further explore the disconnections, different time-states and scale.
Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube (1963-65) (see fig. 2) informed this work as an example of an open-system that reacts to it’s environment. The never ending process of condensation creates an ever changing and random visual image on the Perspex. The work will continue to create an unpredictable and non-repeated visual pattern like that of a living organism reacting to it’s environment (Galanter & Levy 2003). This water based process was a starting point for Distil. However, where Condensation Cube (1963-65) captures the evaporation and feeds it back into the work meaning there is no end, Distil lets the the water go as it evaporates. Therefore, Distil does has an end point to the process - when the water fully evaporates and we are left with the dried out and distorted inkjet print as a by-product.
Remains (2016) (see fig. 3) by New Delhi artist Vibha Galhotra shows a piece of fabric drenched in sediment pollutants from the Yamuna river, then placed and set in resin. This work crosses time boundaries in poetic ways by presenting a frozen moment in time which will last forever. The permanence and scale of this work gives it substantial weight, and also evokes ideas of mortality and the body. Dealing directly with environmental issues relevant to the pollution in the Yamuna river, Remains (2016) is successful in outlining the importance of time for our society and environment through this gesture. This work brought forward ideas for how we can represent time in a gallery situation. Remains (2016) is the result of a video piece by Galhotra titled Manthan (2015), where the artists has extrapolates material from matter through different ways of mediation. This became and important signifier for Distil during my research.
Questions that have arisen from the trial presentation of this work that will be explore in coming weeks:
What is our perception of time through different mediums?
How does sound play out in memory?
What happens when we disconnect sound and vision?
How does perception of scale interact with the reading of a work?
How does the mediation of a process affect the meaning of a process?
Do we need all the elements? Is there too much in this work? Is there enough space for questions?
Bergson, H (1988), Matter and Memory, Zone Books, New York.
Galanter, P and Levy, E K (2003), ‘Complexity’, Leonardo, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp 259 - 267, The MIT Press Stable, Cambridge, MA.
Smithson, R. (1971) “Entropy and New Monuments“, in Flam, J. (ed.) Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings. Berkley: University of California Press, pp. 10 - 23.
Smithson, R. (1973) “Entropy made Visible / Alison Sky“, in Flam, J. (ed.) Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings. Berkley: University of California Press, pp. 10 - 23.
Galhotra, V (2016). Remains. Resin, fabric and metal 8 x 5.5 x 94 inches, New Delhi, Exhibit 320.
Haacke, H. (1965), Condensation Cube, perspex, steel, water, 305 x 305 x 305mm, Tate Modern, London.