It Finds Me
'And yet, again like dreams, certain moments from films viewed decades ago will nag as vividly as moments from childhood.'1
Small movements have the power of returning: a small gesture, a wave or a look, a movement that would normally be overlooked but that has made an intense impression on you. The instant one of these actions takes place it can return from the depths of your memory and begin to play over in your mind at anytime. These occurrences remind me of an element Roland Barthes discusses, in his book "Camera Lucida", called the "Punctum". It is something within a photograph that reaches out and "pricks" the viewer. For example, a detail, an object, an expression, etc. It is not necessarily a photograph that the viewer would choose. It could seem as though the punctum, itself, finds the viewer's attention.
'This time it is not I who seek it out…, it is this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me.'2
The Punctum is not something that can be studied or learnt, it is purely subjective. It is a private experience between the viewer and the photograph. It brings the thoughts and memories of an individual viewer into the viewing process. Barthes describes one photograph, which has a punctum for him, in a way that reminds me of the movement occurrences I am trying to describe,
'Wilson holds me, though I cannot say why, i.e., say where: is it the eyes, the skin, the position of the hands, the track shoes? The effect is certain but unlocatable, it does not find its sign, its name; it is sharp and yet lands in a vague zone of myself; it is acute yet muffled, it cries out it silence. Odd contradiction: a floating flash.'3
It is hard to explain why certain movements play on the minds of individual people and what it is that has caused them to remember an instant that could date back to their early childhood. Some of these remembered movements stem from the moving image and are, therefore, possible to find and consider again. Since I have become aware of these occurrences I have located three of those that persist in my mind. They consist of fragments from a film, a television programme and an advertisement. All are linked to being watched repeatedly in the late 1980s to early 1990s, when I would have been no older than ten. One clip is taken from the introduction to a children's science programme which was televised and played to my class at school, I may have viewed this introduction once or twice a week during a school term. Another clip is from a film I watched on numerous occasions after receiving it as a Christmas present. The final clip is taken from an advertisement which would have been played countless times between television schedules during its period. For the exhibition I will divide these three clips into a succession of still images and each series will appear inside its own zoetrope.4
Unlike Duchamp's Precision Optics, which bears reference to the mass culture of the time5, I am resisting the advanced technology of today's digital age by using a primitive device from the 19th century. The clip plays when the zoetrope is spinning but now the viewer can choose whether to watch the illusion through the zoetrope's slits or look at the mechanics of the illusion from above. Through the power of thought you can imagine you are, simultaneously, existing in two places at the same time, the past and the present become merged. On account of its double vantage Max Ernst has likened the zoetrope to the experience of a dream:
'…the model of vision he was intent on exploring was the peculiarly mediated perceptual field of the dream. The experience of the dreamer as spectator or witness to the scene of the dream as a stage on which he himself or she herself is acting, so that the dreamer is simultaneously protagonist within and viewer outside the screen of his own vision…'6
I am interested in how to reveal something which is completely hidden and how close you can get to retelling that experience in an authentic way. Dreams are so personal that the dreamer can only explain a version of what they have experienced. I have worked with my own dreams by attempting to draw them. After this I covered each drawing with crumpled paper to allow glimpses of the drawings to be left visible. For me, this is closer to how I remember the experience rather than exposing the completed drawings which, in any case, bear little resemblance to the actual dream. My work is often dealing with a screen that acts as a divider which can cover and reveal and about catching a glimpse or a flash of something before it disappears. What do you remember from that experience and what came before and after that fragment?
'Ultimately – or at the limit – in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes.'7
Roland Barthes is commenting on what you remember after looking at a photograph. The time after looking at a photograph can tell you so much about how you were affected by it. It is a time of reflection. I have been working with long pauses between film clips that are barely a second in length. It acts as an alternative to closing the eyes and you catch a glimpse of the moving image as though it had an on and off switch. The outcome of one process, working with long pauses and small movements, took the form of flick books. I consider it important that the viewers can operate the speed of the clips and stop the movement as they wish. Zoetropes and flick books also present the viewer with a clue to the length of the clip which is clearly demonstrated by size of the device. We need breaks, pauses, gaps and silences as they are essential for processing information– they are crucial! It is also important to have breaks in between the images, as the zoetrope rotates, because they are what cause the images to be perceived as movement.
The zoetrope's cylindrical shape and rotating function not only points to the repeating effect of these occurrences but also to the return of something from the past into the present. A movement makes its mark by being viewed repetitively over a certain length of time and comes back nagging as vividly as moments from childhood.
1. The World Viewed, Stanley Cavell. Sights and Sounds, chp 2, p17.
2. Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes. Chp 10, p26.
3. Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes. Chp 22, p51/53.
4. A 19th-century optical toy consisting of a cylinder with a series of pictures on the inner surface that, when viewed through slits with
the cylinder rotating, give an impression of continuous motion.
5. "There we find the same tapping into forms of mass culture – in this case both the revolving turntable of the phonograph player and
the flickering silence of early film – as we also find an explicit reference to the nineteenth-century optics that underwrote these forms."
p60. THE IM/PULSE TO SEE, Rosalind Krauss.
6. THE IM/PULSE TO SEE, Rosalind Krauss. p.58/59.
7. Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes. Chp 22, p53.