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The third post from the series VERTIGO by Curator in Residence Ellen Greig, focusing on verticality, power and the limits of the visible in artist moving image from the LUX and Cinenova collections.

Consider the optical sensation of being simultaneously caught in a moment of compression and expansion, where one experiences flatness and volume in interchangeable measures. This experience is contradictory, interchanging binary viewpoints within the observation of inhabiting a space, creating a temporal relationship between collapsing spatial divisions. It’s a double bind sensation of externally observing your occupation of interior territories.

In Sergei M. Eisenstein seminal essay Synchronization of Senses he remarks on “the absence of perspective”[1] in response to René Guilleré’s article, Il n’y a plus de perspective?, which focuses on the relationship between the dizzying spatial and temporal elements of jazz music and modern cityscapes. Eisenstein’s account of this “absence of perspective”[2] is reflected in the image of an urban space that is a “nocturnal sea of electric advertising…[where] far and near, small (in the foreground) and large (in the background) soaring aloft and dying away, racing and circling, bursting and vanishing…abolish[ing] all sense of real space…melting into a single plane of coloured light points and neon lines moving over a surface…”[3] He goes on to observe the “lack of historical [linear] perspective in a large part of the world today” correlating with a shift from individual observation, explored through the metaphor of “an orchestra where each player is on his own, straining to break up this in-organic whole of many units by taking an independent course–but bound together in an ensemble only by the iron necessity of a common rhythm”[4]. The “simultaneity of viewpoints from above and below, of mixed vertical and horizontal planes”[5] foregrounds the idea of collapsing viewpoints, which, as Eisenstein also notes, has a long history in art, from Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci, to Jan van Eyck and El Greco on to the Cubists and now within the mechanisms of film and video.

 

El Greco View and Plan of Toledo, 1610

El Greco View and Plan of Toledo, 1610

Oil on canvas, 132 x 228 cm

Linear perspectival models developed in the Renaissance by Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti focused on the observer as both the point of departure and the centre of the investigation. Within this system, the gaze of the observer is the privileged centre of the visible universe, situating the observer securely in three-dimensional space, appearing to offer a stable structure for the relations of things seen through the human eye.

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David Hall’s film Vertical (1969) subtly deconstructs the laws of linear perspective into abstracted heights through mapping an alternative topographical grid across the English landscape. The camera hovers above ocean waves ebbing in and out of an invisible shore, sculptural horizon lines colliding with vanishing points, observing aeroplanes criss-crossing the sky at anxious speeds, creating alternative frames to view within and outside of. Hall’s geometric self-made sculptures literally cut through the extant planetary subdivisions (land, air, water), marking horizontal space in relation to vertical space with simple execution, abolishing the illusion of a stable structure within which to orientate oneself.

 

Film still 1

David Hall, Vertical, 1969

Film still 1

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Film still 2

Film still 3

Film still 3

The idea of stable structures that create a framework to map – and to ultimately conquer – space are increasingly more elastic, more expansive and more materialised by the technical synthesis of mass telecommunication and computation. With this increase in surveillance and optical saturation, or the rise of an absent perspective, a binary effect occurs and results in a terrifying increase in invisibility. The ubiquitous disembodied and immaterial hands of technological power become the tools for increased invisibility, obscuring certain forms, mainly the productive body under capital.

Perhaps offering an alternative reading of the potential for the dynamics of power to be made manifest across perspectival and spatial relationships is Marion Reichert’s film Unus Mundus or How I Became A Scientist. Made in 1993, the film, through a collision of interior and exterior space, confronts and overcomes dominant systems of control and obscurity by oscillating between subject (technology) and object (motorcycle). Reichert’s film is a textured and transgressive story acted out in front of camera, regarding a female motorcycling-quantum-physic-enthusiast who comfortably positions herself within discourse and leisure activities usually associated with men.

As if literally stretching concepts of space and time, Reichert propels through the landscape on her motorcycle, describing how she overcame her fear of technology and scientific hubris with a little help from her fast-moving bike. Clips of the artist explaining quantum physics in a quasi-educational documentary set-up are intercut with computer animations of slow floating atoms in pixelated space and super 8 film, leading the viewer through simultaneous experiences of a variety of textures of flatness and volume. With the artist’s body ever present until digital imagery begins to operate as a surrogate immaterial representation of the mind, the film follows Reichert as she overcomes her fear of the closed worlds of scientific academia, ultimately exposing the largely unknown, and invisible truths in theories from quantum physics, chaos theory, synchronicity, parallel universes and Carl Jung’s ‘One World’.


Ellen Greig is a curator based in London.


Footnotes

[1] Eisenstein, Sergei (1942) The Film Sense, New York: Hartcourt; translated by Jay Leyda.

[2] As above

[3] As above

[4] As above

[5] As above