Texts Index | Playing in the black box |Playing in the perceptual fields: 
Exhibition Review

Conversation Between John Statham and Bruce Hanks 
- December 13, 1997 
John: So here we are, trying to come to grips with these images of yours, and almost every category, or even word that I can think of is called into question. I don't even know whether I dare call them images, but what else can I call them?
Bruce: Yes. I had a conversation this afternoon with somebody, because the question came up, are these photographs and, although they're not, they're displayed as photographs. It's really a matter of expediency and cost. 
J: But any resemblance to photographs is coincidental, so to speak, to the extent that they're photographs, the photograph is almost a's not the nature of the work...
B: Yes, the other thing is coming from a photography-based background, my previous work being black and white photographs, of course I'm going to stick with it because it's familiar, even though this is a departure from anything that I've worked on before. I've never worked in colour. I've never worked with video, in the sense of finding still moments from motion, which is one of the ideas behind this.
J: Can you tell me how these images, since I'm going to use that word, come to be? How are they generated? How do you trap them and turn them into what we see before us now, in this particular form?
B: I have a little Camcorder, and most of the sources are fairly ordinary. It's just stuff that I'm shooting with the kids growing up, days at the beach, walks in the park. I'm just videotaping for no real reason other than that I have this tool and I'm using it. But in terms of what we're seeing here, what I became interested in was the fact that whereas photography freezes a moment in time, video is in motion, things are always changing. That's the nature of the medium; it takes a 30th of a second for the full image to appear because it's been scanned line by line, and as one line is being scanned, it's also being simultaneously erased to make room for the next. So, electronically, it's intriguing. The medium is always in motion, and I wanted to arrest that. I wanted to see what happens when you take the motion and bunch it, you compile it over a space of time. I've found a way of playing with this that allows me, in essence, to keep the image on the screen but at the same time, remove levels of luminance as the tape or video plays. Sometimes, however, two or more images are compiled to create one.
J: Which seems evident, from time to time here, but I'm never truly sure whether it was a superimposition or not.
B: Right. Because I think all things are possible within the medium. There are no limitations, it's an exploration...
J: Now give me the title of the exhibition again, in full...
B: "In the Perceptual Field: Sidelong Glances at the c.r.t."
J: O.K. To me, "Sidelong Glances" says a great deal, and I have a sense of just that as I look at these images, because everything seems fleeting, fugitive, forming and dissolving.
B: Yes, it is, and I think that maybe it's my way of dealing with the world in which systems and structures are presented as permanent and absolute, and I have difficulty accepting that. The desire was to see just beyond appearances into process... very much into process...
J: Into fluidity and unfolding...
B: Yes, and if it works at all, there is that fluidity that one experiences when watching film or video that is somehow frozen and captured in this body of work. I've always loved video walls. I've loved the idea of a bank of monitors, but every time I've come across one, it's been very frustrating because it's always moving, and I just want it to stay still. I want to just meditate on the moment. I don't want to see what's coming next. I don't want to be rushed. So, here is my own way of creating that; I'm creating an illusion of a video wall in which the motion is in the mind of the viewer.
J: So, curiously enough, you've fixed all these images that imply so much motion and change.
B: If that works, that's part of what I've set out to achieve.
J: It seems noteworthy to me that, as we pursue our discussion, we're not in the presence of the exhibition or the installation in its final form. What we're sitting before are several images, one of which is going to be very large as well as some of which are going to be in light boxes...
B: Yes, and monitor shells...
J: And three banks, each composed of nine images...
B: Right.
J: And, what we're looking at, at the moment, is... variations, if you like, of these images, which I've already seen in another form. I've seen them before on a monitor. That was my first exposure to them. Seeing them now in the form of these 4 x 6 prints, I have a sense of recognition. And yet there's an element of surprise, because they don't look the same... and I expect them not to look the same again when I see them in the installation.
B: And they won't look the same on the Web either.
J: I trail off at the edge of my ability to grasp what this is. Is there a single work here? Is there a single exhibition? Or is it something that's susceptible to many forms of presentation; is that part of what it means? I have a sense of everything refracting into everything else, perhaps infinitely. How far could this go? Is there an exhibition, an installation in a form about which we would traditionally say, "This is the exhibition. Here's the painting. Here's the original."
B: I don't know. Even within photography, the negative is a reproducible object. One can make a million prints from a single negative, and distribute them wherever. These images (sidelong glances) are a digital file, and it would be possible to send the entire show over the Net to a gallery, a printer, to a friend anywhere in the world. They could download the information and recreate the show without any essential loss.
J: Now, as a painter, and I guess with a traditional education in painting, and an attachment to it, I keep trying to apply some known categories to give myself a frame of reference when I look at your work. So, I think: abstract, representational, classic, romantic, organic, mechanistic, image or pattern. I keep trying to get a grip on something - with great difficulty. It's evocative, but ungraspable, disappearing and reforming. And yet, I sense that there are themes and if I could stand back far enough, or make some connection, I might read something specifically in them. Could I? 
B: It would be up to you. I'd place no meaning on these other than what visually excited me at the time I was working on them. Although I would never present a photography exhibition that would mix, say, portrait, landscape, and still-life, etc. it somehow seemed here that it didn't matter what the final image was. The whole process of creation had a background unity, if only due to the fact that they were all screen shots. But, they certainly are diverse, and there is no consciously chosen theme....A painter develops a mastery of the stroke of the brush that he or she chooses to use to portray how they feel on the canvas, and I'm working with kind of an electronic canvas. It's a still canvas. It's stretched over the frame, the edges of a t.v. monitor. But it nevertheless is a canvas.
J: Now, it's an interesting fact that you had no difficulty handing over to someone else the decision about how they were going to be arranged.
B: Right.
J: You had a friend who took on that task, and once she was convinced that this was how it should be, you accepted it.
B: Yes.
J: So there's a randomness to what you shot, and you weren't overly concerned either about maintaining control, even over how they are presented. It seemed appropriate to you, somehow, to invite someone else to undertake the task.
B: Well, the whole project was so much process, and different people contributed various ideas along the way. I took the photographs to three or four friends, and they arranged them in different sequences, orders, patterns, according to how they perceived them. Every one of them worked. The only thing that I needed to establish was the map: Were these going to be horizontal? In groups of maybe two or three? Were there going to be solo images? And at the end of the process, I settled on three banks of nine, four duratrans and one large image. So, the arrangement of the images, in the banks of nine, is arbitrary, very subjective. 
J: It works for me. I've walked back and forth among these banks of nine for the last few hours....and keep seeing different things.....very much as if they were still in motion...
B: Then, if that is happening, I think I've been on the right track. I work in a television studio environment, and everything's in motion, and colour, and I've never really understood it. I've never really figured it out. I was so much more comfortable looking at the world through the lens of a camera, and printing black and white images. But when you're faced with it day in and day out, looking at a bank of monitors... every once in a while, something really amazing happens. And it is that sidelong glance. You're looking at something obliquely, and images occur on the screen that can never come back. And it's a moment of infinite beauty. The same thing happens when you're surfing channels, you're just getting these moments, these fleeting glimpses... and it's in those moments between the frame, between the image, where it's happening, and that's what's exciting. And that's what I tried to do here, I've tried to recreate those moments that don't really exist, yet are just behind the next image ready to appear.
J: It happens that you have in your living room one of the few paintings that can reconcile me to abstract art, a very beautiful painting by your friend Gary Berteig. It's very much a painting produced by imitation of a natural process; I remember seeing him at work on the series of which that was one of the results....and, it was interesting to me that your particular choice to frame that painting was to place it between two sheets of glass, more as if it were a natural specimen than a painting....and it leads me to think of how you take an interest in processes of evolution, whereas some of us may be more obsessed with halting the becoming and getting something fixed. As I was mulling all this over this morning, and looking at your work, it occurred to me that these are like fractals of culture as opposed to fractals in nature.
B: They're from my own culture, what I carry within me as I go through and perceive the world. The elements of my past are the references, consciously or not, in the work. I think the human mind, in its natural state, is quite chaotic; we're never thinking one thought at a time. There's always simultanaiety; we process information...
J: Stream of consciousness.
B: I've always loved that term. We're very the essence of this body of work is - you're correct in seeing it as fractals of culture, random moments I can extract from my life history and work, play with pattern, and present in the form in which they're constructed here. Perhaps somehow they take on the pattern of my process of thought. I think you and I both prefer the human element in our images, so I'm always looking for cultural elements, extracting them and reprocessing them through layers of video... If I'm fortunate enough to be able to continue the prcess I began here for another ten years or more, I might be able to answer the question adequately.
John Statham is an artist and neighbour of Bruce Hanks.. 

Texts Index | Playing in the black box | Playing in the perceptual fields: 
Exhibition Review