V. Vale [RE/Search] sees Biosphere at RML, Sat Sept 15, 2007, 8 & 11pm, San Francisco.
The Recombinant Media Lab (RML) environment (developed and curated by Naut Humon) is an experimental rectangular room featuring ten video projections (full 360 degree video imagery on all four walls of a 6:4 rectangle) with 16-channel sound emanating from speakers all over the room and implanted in the floor. Miraculously, there doesn’t seem to be any feedback. Thus the sound and imagery is capable of fully immersing the audience.
The audience sat in a “u” pattern on folding chairs, with most of the people facing each other while viewing the screens placed just above head level. The two artists, Geir Jenssen from Norway (music) and Egbert Mittelstadt from Cologne, Germany (visuals) sat at a table by the entrance (against the the shorter wall of the rectangle), manipulating their laptops, a DVD player (?) and some mixers (?) with dials and sliders. Often Egbert spoke quietly into a microphone – was he talking to the control booth, or triggering some audio signals? Sometimes both artists had their left hands supporting the sides of their faces while they stared at their laptops, ostensibly issuing “commands” with their right hands on the laptop keyboards.
During the first performance, the visuals were telephoto close-up shots of businessmen with briefcases walking below, through an airport? There were vertical bars, then these businessmen again. The sound sources seemed to change periodically, like a kind of sweeping stereo demonstration recording.
Probably the most startling experience involved spotting when Biosphere combined “living” film footage with still footage from the same filming, so that a “living” sequence would darken and fade into a “deathly” still image. This was happening at unpredictable points in the room, and was easy to miss if not continually inspecting all the screens. It was like watching something come to life and then die – the closest I’ve seen to an artist playing God.
Another favorite experience was when a huge panorama was being revealed from left to right, or right to left, across the entire 360 degree room. These panoramas had some repetition in the visual image, which led one to conclude that in the future there may be no repetition, given more time for R&D-ing this rectangular-room immersive-environmental technology. However, most of the time only a few of the ten video projectors were utilized. It was easier to focus on just one screen, and the net effect was to make those times when all ten video projectors were being utilized have more of a “wow” impact.
The total event was akin to watching a program of short films which contrast with one another. There were the hyper-urban airport/train station/subway station panoramas (modern-day stage settings for alienation and random human encounters drenched in anomie), an interesting street panorama with cars filmed in Portugal – these were “urban.” We watched humans waiting and walking on train platforms, their bodies morphing into thin and fat liquid shapes. We watched a nude dance company (?) transform into biomorphic shapes and patterns a la Yves Tanguy or Roberto Matta. These were human/urban subjects. Then, by contrast, there was “nature”: a 360-degree sequence shot on a lake, with forests on the shore in the distance. Two “still” sequences framed a “living” sequence in the middle filmed at hyperspeed, with the water literally rushing by, courtesy of the miracle of time-lapse photography.
How does one “judge” a performance duo like Biosphere? Even though the ambient music was always compelling, sometimes it seemed like the visuals were interchangeable – i.e., different music soundtracks could have been used for a particular visual experience. The sequence featuring a 360 degree filming of being on a boat in a lake surrounded by forested land had particularly appropriate and more “natural” sounds, while the 360 degree filming of, say, an Asian train or subway station had more “urban” sounds. Of particular interest was the occasional interjection of near-subliminal recordings, some seemingly taken from random street recordings, e.g., “I’m leaving now. Don’t follow me.”
So it is difficult to “judge” the experience which Biosphere presented us. First of all, the The Biosphere performance immediately raises questions like:
What is it like to play with time? How is it possible to play with time? What experiments have been done to play with time? How is this like playing with death and life? What is the meaning of travel? As it was impossible to always see all the screens at the same time, every person in the audience probably had an at least slightly different experience. So there was the element of experimenting with audience dynamics – the spectators, after all, complete the work of performance art, to paraphrase Duchamp.
As the world’s populace becomes increasingly besieged, inundated, deluged and finally surfeited with millions of images and countless soundtracks – the world has become a huge immersive film characterized by the cut-up, in which very little (in a larger context) “makes sense.” Also, life is going by faster and faster – some people travel daily through airports, subway and train stations, streets, and on water in boats, not to mention automobile driving over paved surfaces or roads. Consequently, some artists have resorted to presenting performances which utilize just a few images (aka visual environments), and through prolonged exposure to them thus indelibly imprint them on an audience’s long-term memory banks.
We need to slow down time, to make sense of our environment, to make sense out of our life, to [RE-]discover its purpose… Surely this is one of the most important goals we can have now. At any given time, it’s the artists who articulate the most pressing problems of the society. As life is whizzing by faster and faster, with less and less time and silence for reflection, it may well be that we need to slow down time, to get more out of every second on this planet, to find beauty and meaning even in the most banal manifestations, signs and symbols of our environment… – V. Vale, www.researchpubs.com [founder of RE/Search Publications, and Search & Destroy magazine, in 1977, San Francisco)